Package for the ‘white person’

Muno_picsThis afternoon I popped into a local printing shop to pick up some passport photos Dan had ordered. I walked in and asked: ‘do you have any photos for Daniel?’ The lady returned with a small white packet with the word ‘muno’ on it. I pointed at the word and laughed, in this area muno is the local word for ‘white person’. The lady joined in with my laughter. Then I asked her: ‘Is he the only one of these in here?’ I think she nodded, couldn’t quite tell, too much laughter.



Gulu Prison: Update and a Plan

So encouraged and inspired by Kiwi teacher/volunteer Phoebe Wright who has taken some of our teaching ideas and totally ran with them – taking them to another level with teacher training in the Gulu Women’s Prison.

The World-Once-Removed Weekly

Book Exchange

*This follows on from my previous post about the library – read that first 😊

We raided the library a second time. Books sat in piles on a table while we taught outside in the sun, waiting for the post-class book exchange opportunity. At some point Florence (prison pastor extraordinaire) nudged me and pointed, giggling. The guards do a lot of sitting around, and a lot of trying to knock mangos from trees with the butts of their guns. But today they had picked up books and were reading!

I later discovered one of these was Miriam, a gem among prison guards. She sees the value of books for female prisoners. She volunteered to house the books in her office and has requested shelves built. Best of all, she changes books for women on request between our visits, even carrying large stacks between locations so they can choose…

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Car window broke again (cable snapped) – fourth time this year! The result of a short-lived creative solution from local mechanics. It’s almost impossible to get these cables in Gulu without stealing them from another car or importing them from the west. So what local mechanics come up with is a wonderful solution if you rarely use your car windows: instead of using original Toyota parts, they use the clutch cables of Bajaj motorbikes (the common brand here). These clutch cables sell for the equivalent of 20p (30c); quite a bit cheaper than the $100 (£50) for the original. The clutch cables last for about a month, so… do the maths, we got another motorbike clutch cable… laughing all the way to the bank (and back to the mechanic again soon).

Challenges in education

Woman Reading Long ListOur work with READ for Life focuses mostly on one single challenge: the quality of teaching reading and writing. To help understand the context of where this fits into the bigger picture, here’s a list of many educational challenges in a recent USAID report looking at low-income countries in general, but it could easily be words painted about the Ugandan education system:

 Likewise, the teaching and learning contexts in many low income countries also present challenges. Schools are frequently under-resourced (e.g. lack of electricity, water, furniture, books, chalk, paper and even buildings); teachers are generally untrained or undertrained in effective teaching methods and in the teaching of literacy specifically; schools are often remote and hard to reach; classrooms are often overcrowded (especially in the early grades); and incentive systems to motivate teachers and other educators to do their work, to make extra efforts, and in some cases to show up for work, are either weak or nonexistent. Student and teacher absenteeism is high. Curricula are often overcrowded with content and facts to be memorized and skills are not emphasized; national policies on textbooks and readers often impede the selection or development of appropriate materials. Conflict and crisis situations also impinge on students’ socio-emotional health, executive functioning, levels of stress and trauma and ability to concentrate and learn in school. School fees or the opportunity costs of schooling are often too high for low income parents; corruption saps the resources of the educational system; the culture of reading in schools and communities is often weak or nonexistent; and children often face challenging home environments where parents do not have the time, resources or expertise to devote to ensuring school attendance, homework completion, reading in the home or other appropriate reading support activities; likewise, communities underestimate the contribution they can make to children’s attainment of literacy because so many members are illiterate (Brombacher et al., 2012; Collins & Messaoud-Galusi, 2012; Gove and Cvelich, 2011; Harber, 2014; Rugh, 2012; UNICEF and UNESCO Institute of Statistics, 2014; UNESCO Policy Paper 23, 2016; Verger, Novella, & Altinyelken, 2012).

Extract from:

Stretching and growing but we need your help

Over the past year READ for Life has grown at such a fast rate, it’s almost hard to keep up! We’ve been reporting a lot of these improvements online and it’s been lovely to receive encouragement from many of you. It’s exciting and it’s wonderful to see schools improving however we can’t do this on our own. Six months ago we put out an appeal for donors to help fund teacher salaries (the main bulk of READ for Life expenses). And it’s time to send it out again..

We need about £6,500 (AUS$11,400) to pay four teacher trainers for one year. That includes their wages and transport costs for them to travel from school to school in the Gulu area for trainings and observations.

If 36 people donated £15 a month (AUS$26) then we would have enough to fund staff wages for the year.

We haven’t reached half of this goal yet, but we’re still trying and praying this will happen.

If you would like to donate a one-off gift or become a regular supporter of READ for Life’s work, then please click on our Donations page. We are a registered charity in Uganda and have partnered with Stewardship and Global Development Group to receive tax-deductible donations from the UK, US, Australia, New Zealand and some countries in the European Union.

Thank you so much for those who have come on board to support READ for Life financially, and thank you to many others who support our work in so many other ways.



Our readers are ready!

We have a few fingers in different pies and various projects we are working on at the moment – all related in an intricate web to help improve teaching and children’s reading here. One of our most exciting projects – producing some early readers for children – has come to a reality! We have created some early reading books, based on our phonics programme that we teach. Currently, no such books exist in Uganda and any that you can find are expensive western books with smiley white kids on the seaside – not what we are after.

This project began a couple of years ago, and we have been blessed to have quite a few volunteers along the way to help us write and edit the short readers. We recently partnered with another organisation and a local graphic designer to illustrate the readers and now the first set is taking up all table-top space in our house. There are three sets in total, and they follow a systematic approach to teaching reading – fantastic for Uganda when resources are few and there’s no big library or resource room of magic tricks. The readers are designed for children to read independently, hopefully they will be able to put their skills into practice and read alone. How motivating would that be!

It’s the beginning of the new term here now and we look forward to getting these readers into schools and running trainings on how to use them.



Up for air

Throughout the past month we have trained more than 400 primary school teacher, have overcome some staff challenges, set and marked our end of term exams at our newly established nursery teacher training college, ran around like headless chickens getting paperwork ready for registration of the college, and endured a challenging journey to get our first set of phonics readers printed!

So… we came up for air: 5 nights away, 2 nights of good banter with English friends and 3 nights in Jinja. And what did we get up to?

  • Family mini golf
  • Myron’s first time on a horse by the Nile River (Myron: Can we keep a horse in our compound? I will clean out the store and it could live there. Why couldn’t I go jumping with the house and jump over those rails?)
  • Splashing around in the pool
  • Fresh Fish!
  • Some serious card games
  • Lots of reading
  • Discovering story podcasts for long journeys

We have now returned like an avalanche and preparing for a new term. Myron is readjusting to not having our undivided attention for every second of the day. It’s going to be a big term with already lots queuing up, but at least now our heads are above water 🙂


Game on!


Snuggles by the poolside.


Hippo’ing around at mini golf.


Yes! It’s in the hole!


Cracking spot for the first time on a horse!


Learning how to swim with noodles 🙂


Fresh fish


A serious game of Uno,


Mummy, they were chopping him up like this…

“Mummy, t16193_1_xhey were chopping him up like this:” Myron says going into a re-enactment. Well, that’s not exactly what happened but he was attempting to fill in the blanks. This is part of the recount Myron tells me about his visit to town to get his tyres changed on his bicycle with Dan.

Myron and Dan were sitting outside a bicycle shop when someone yelled ‘thief!’ Within seconds a large crowd descended on a man and started beating him, kicking him and throwing rocks at him. A lot of the beating was with a large wooden pestle (at least two and a half inches in diameter; and about four foot high). Dan says he could hear the crunch from across the road as it hit the man repeatedly, he could see the swing but couldn’t see where it landed (he was told it landed on his chest).

After beating the man, the crowd then took him to the police.

Entrance: Interesting parenting conversation with a three-year-old about appropriate behaviour: quite difficult when you are explaining to a child that both stealing is wrong, along with the actions of how hundreds dealt with it.

And earlier in the week:

“Mummy, I’m sad that Uncle Denis had his lip bitten off.”

One of our closest Acholi friends had his bottom lip bitten (almost completely off) when he was attacked by a customer with a knife: all over 2000 shillings (70c; 40p). Our friend had taken this customer to town earlier in the day, she didn’t have the money to pay him and was told to collect it from her in the afternoon. When he returned and waited in the afternoon, the customer picked up a knife from a nearby chapatti stand and ran at him. As our friend was holding the knife off, she lunged at him and took a large bite into his lip.

He waited at the hospital for a long time until we recommend he attend a nearby health centre, headed by a faithful Kiwi missionary doctor. He listened to our advice and received some sound and quick treatment. Denis was so thrilled he wants to take a chicken to the clinical officer as a thank you gift! Not even dwelling on the incomprehensible actions of earlier that day!

Misjudgement, killing and confession

During my morning jog yesterday (by the way that is an anomaly at the moment, not a habit); I stopped outside our local cathedral to chat with two Catholic Sisters leaving mass. I knew these Sisters quite well, so we greeted in an embrace and chatted for a while.

One of the Sisters recounted to me how she had witnessed a disturbing ‘mob killing’ a couple of days before outside one of the main markets in town. She watched a man fall from his motorcycle and initially went to see if he needed any medical assistant. Quickly, someone yelled ‘thief’, a mob gathered and killed the man. The Sister told me how she had tried to intervene but to no avail. She was pushed away and told to leave. She told me how she spoke to the crowd and questioned how could many of them call themselves Christians. Sister said that they replied they would go to ‘confession’. Sister was disgusted with this reply, and as she finished recounting this story she began a lament for Uganda: for justice and local people. ‘This could happen to anyone, you just yell out thief and… where is our country going?’

Later yesterday afternoon I mentioned this story to one of our regular local bodas. Of course he had heard of what happened, he hears of everything related to bodas! His version of the story was slightly different. The same events, the same outcome, but shared some of the back story. A father and son had had an argument and the son went off on his father’s motorbike. The father had alerted the local boda stage to look out for his son and his bike, and to let him know if he saw him. The rest of the events match Sister’s story; however he wasn’t a thief, he was an angry son. The burial was yesterday.

Sister’s lament and words ring in my mind. He was innocent…

Recently in our house group we have been talking about praying for ‘big things’. I haven’t been praying about ‘big things’ for Uganda very often; more ‘little things’. Sometimes corruption, injustice and mob justice seems just too big to pray for. How does one pray for things that are ingrained in a culture? And when you see it every day, sadly I become numbed by its regularity.

I want to join the Sister with her lament for Uganda… a lament which will include a prayer for ‘big things!’






‘These women are coming for your books’ – The strange story of the Gulu Prison Library

A beautifully written piece about literacy in Gulu prison, written by an answer to prayer: Phoebe. She is the sister of Kiwi friends of ours also volunteering in Gulu. Phoebe has blessed us in many ways, including writing many of our phonics readers, helping with our reading tests and now helping to create some teacher training on reading storybooks aloud to children. Phoebe – we love you and are thankful for your efforts in improving literacy in so many corners of Gulu!

The World-Once-Removed Weekly

I’ve been teaching basic reading, intermediate English, and Zumba in Gulu Women’s Prison for nearly three months.

A couple of weeks ago, I said to a guard who remarked on the women’s enthusiasm for learning, ‘I just wish they could have more things to read during the week, beyond what I can bring. Basic readers for the beginners’ class, novels and non-fiction for intermediate…’

Guard: ‘The prison has a library with many books.’

Me: (looking around wildly) What? Where?

Guard: In the Men’s Prison. Women are not allowed to enter there.


This is where I have to mention that I’m incredibly lucky to know Pastor Florence. Florence was once in prison herself, and after being released she fought to get an education and became a pastor. She spends several days a week in the prison – some prayer and singing, but mostly just hanging out with the women, who…

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