Aardvark snoring noises and car repairs

51yB+ZH7RoL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Whilst sitting outside a mechanic’s outdoor workshop waiting for the mechanic to repair our front window mechanism (again), Myron and I sat nearby and read some stories. First up for the day was one of our favourite African animal tales: ‘Awkward Aardvark’. As we got into position on a small cement wall nearby a local car owner came to join us. He too was waiting for his car to be repaired and Awkward Aardvark seemed much more enticing than watching the mechanics in action.

Upon entry of the aardvark snoring noises: ‘HHHRRR-ZZZZ!’ our car owner took over – clearly I wasn’t doing a very good job with bringing aardvark snoring to life. And that’s how we continued, I read the story, and our sound-effects-car-owner joined in several times for the aardvark snoring effects: right to the end.

I can’t think of anywhere else in the world where I think this may happen, but I loved it and so did Myron.


awkward ardvark inside


‘They were beating the young child like he was a mature man, pow pow pow…’ Words of encouragement?

“They were beating the young child like he was a mature man, pow pow pow, it was terrible!”

“The teacher spoke so rudely to the children, calling them stupid, saying they were acting like babies, that they were old enough for the next class but not smart enough. It was not good how the teacher was speaking.”

“I was moving around helping the children to write and the teacher told me to sit down. She said I would get tired. I told her that that was my job and continued moving around.”

“I lined the children up to walk them over to wash their hands, the teacher said to me, why am I doing that? The children know where to wash their hands, why walk in a line?”

Some of the statements above are quite outrageous and may even make you shudder. But you can’t understand how happy and encouraged I was to hear each of them this morning! All of these statements came from our first year student teachers from our new nursery teacher training college.

This week was the students’ first week on school placement, it’s called their Child Study Placement and they do a lot of observing of the classroom environment and a little teaching. This morning the students were buzzing with excitement when we started lessons, we started off by sharing their experiences of what they enjoyed about the week and what they found a bit challenging about their school placements. The comments above came from our students’ sharing about their challenges.

This is sort of another ‘you have to see it to believe the importance of it’ story. If you have been into Ugandan classrooms, or read a lot of what we or others have posted about education here, then you might understand a little about school discipline, teacher attitude and motivation. The incredible thing is that these students are now being reflective (after only half a year), not only about their own teaching but about what they are seeing.

I also recall back to orientation when it was difficult to get two words out of our students (or even hear what they said); now I had to say to them: ‘ok, summarise, and don’t take too long to share’ – I couldn’t keep them quiet as they paced out the front of the classroom re-enacting what they had seen in their classrooms.

Some weeks I question if I have bitten off too much to chew with the new nursery teacher’s training college, especially when it’s 10pm at night and I’m cutting up shapes or drawing a drum inside a letter ‘d’ for learning aids for lessons the next day. But after mornings like today, it is affirming, this is the right thing to do. We may not see the full fruition of our labour, but future children will. Pray for our students as we train them to take on ‘counter cultural’ practises and to be creative, inspiring, well-educated, respectful, reflective educators.

You might ask what was their biggest highlight? They love their new uniforms and they got many great comments about them. We’ll have to post some photos of them in their uniforms in the future…

For the love of reading…

We have become united for the love of reading!

This week was the second week in our new project with our local primary teacher’s college. We currently have a slot on the timetable teaching year one students once a week for the whole year, but this year we raised the bar and were granted another spot on the timetable to teach year two students ‘read aloud’ skills. That is teacher-speak for how to read a storybook aloud to children. We look at fluency, expression, asking different types of questions, and how to teach different aspects of critical thinking such as predicting, comprehension, summarising, comparing the text to your own situation, etc.

This might seem like a basic and not very exciting project to you, but if you know a little about education in Gulu or Uganda in general, then you will be tingling with excitement at this project!
Here, many student teachers may never have had a children’s story read aloud to them. And they, quite possibly, have never had the opportunity to practise reading a fiction book aloud to others (textbooks – yes, but storybooks, ah, pass). It has been so exciting to see some of these students come alive and in just two sessions bring stories alive as well. We pray that these student teachers will become excited about reading children’s books and want to read stories to their future students.

What is also exciting about this project is the many people who have come together to make it happen. We normally teach large classes at the college, there’s about 200 students and we wanted to have more intimate group reading sessions where we could listen to each student read and give feedback. So… we called in some more troops! We have volunteers and staff members from several other organisations, both Ugandans and expats, who have come forward and donated their time to make this happen. Missing from this picture below is our ‘van driver’ who has also volunteered with his 14-seater van from Football for Good to take us to the college and back every week!

What a team!


Our 14 ‘read aloud ambassadors’ – many in this picture come from other organisations but have a passion for stories and reading and want to see the love of reading imparted into our future teachers. Thank you volunteers! We are posing with our ‘question mark’ gesture. Please note that not all of our incredible volunteers made it this week, there’s a few other lovely faces missing that are well appreciated and loved!

read aloud 7

Leading a fluency activity with my group of student teachers.

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READ for Life new teacher Nighty leading a read aloud session.


Our PTC ‘queen bee’ Teacher Aleks putting ‘her all’ into demonstrating ‘expression’.

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Connect Education Centre Librarian Kate playing an expression game with her group of students

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Read Aloud guru (and author) Phoebe Wright playing the punctuation/fluency activity with her group of students.


Two of our Read Aloud volunteers preparing for class…

A police report and a big elbow

For those who pray…

There are two prayer requests that we would love you to join us in:

  1. Before we can get a Ugandan passport for Myron we need to complete his ‘long birth certificate application’. And the last jigsaw piece for this is a police report detailing when Myron was first ‘found’ by authorities.  We have a case file number for this report but don’t have a physical copy of the report. Dan has made several visits to the local police station to follow this up. What’s the problem? The report is over 2 years old, possibly not a great filing system and more than likely no-one wants to look for this report. The probation officer should have a copy of this report, and so should the children’s home, but Dan is getting ‘bounced’ by everyone. Please pray that we can ‘somehow’ get this report…
    We would love to go and visit our family in Australia for Christmas and the longer this takes the less likely this will happen. Being patient and waiting…
  2. Dan’s elbow has ballooned out. He doesn’t want to post any gorgeous shots… but just imagine a very swollen elbow that is now heading down his arm. Not sure of the cause, and possibly aggravated by a football fall on the weekend (World Cup practice!) He’s heading back to the health centre tomorrow to see our Dr mate.

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: https://globalreadingnetwork.net/publications-and-research/landscape-report-early-grade-literacy-skills

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.