Theft, opportunity, deception and scandal – part 3

‘No human being should have to spend time in that place’

Our local community recently attempted to kick-out a businessman from our small trading centre for sleeping around with under-aged girls. One of the ringleaders to this purge was Denis, one of the main bodas from the local stage who the community (and us) depend on to get things done.

Unfortunately this local businessman didn’t listen to the move-on advice and retaliated with his own form of deceitful revenge. Denis and the captain of the local boda stage were falsely accused of rape and later arrested and spent one day in a holding cell. Denis told me afterwards that the holding cell was so awful that ‘no human being should have to spend time in that place’. The community rallied behind him, however, and streamed throughout the day to the police station, delivering water and food.

While visiting us soon afterwards Denis spotted one of the women who had falsely accused him. He organised for a meeting with another of the girls (in our compound, away from suspicious eyes) and recorded his conversation with her on our phone.

The girls confessed that the businessman had paid them 25,000 shillings each (about £5.20; $8.70) to lie to the police and make-up the story about Denis and his colleague. Apparently two other girls had refused to lie.

Denis and his boda colleague then took the evidence to the police and cleared their name. A community meeting was organised, and the businessman’s father pleaded that they allow him to stay. The father claimed that if his son was expelled from the trading centre it would be like cutting off a limb from his body. The community succumbed to the father’s plea and the businessman remains.

Unfortunately here, it is easy to make up stories about people to get them locked away. It is common practice for people to make up stories about a foe on a Friday afternoon knowing that they will not be processed until the Monday morning. Just to teach them a lesson… with charges often dropped on the Monday.


Theft, opportunity, deception and scandal – part 2

Innocent by name…

There’s a boy named Innocent who lives just across the way from us, around 13 years old. He can barely read, has been out of school more than what he has been in school, and certainly is neglected by his family. His father is a solider and has remarried. The father spends the majority of his time away from the family and Innocent is left under the care of his uncle and aunty who clearly do not care for the boy a way a caring mother and father would. Innocent is known as a local thief and acts more like a streetkid even though he has a ‘home’ to live in.

Innocent attends one of the lowest performing government schools in our neighbourhood and his family has not paid school fees (about 30,000 shillings a term – £6.50, $11) for over a year. He also often complains of not getting fed very often at home; without a doubt he is a neglected child.

Over the past couple of years we have tried to tutor Innocent in reading and writing. We have had him do numerous jobs to try and earn his school fees.

But recently, things started to fall apart more than normal.

During the last school holidays we had organised peer tutoring. Dan had also organised for him to sell some goods at the small trading centre, which would be used to pay for his school fees. Here, we generally don’t like to be known to just give people money; in our eyes it is more empowering and respectful if we give someone the opportunity to earn it.

While Innocent was attempting to earn some of his school fees he stole 60,000 Ugandan shillings (about £13; $21) from a shopkeeper in the small trading centre. Someone saw him and a mob quickly formed. One of the workers called Innocent wanted to give him a terrible beating for spoiling their name. Our boda friend Denis intervened, thankfully, and gave Innocent a ‘controlled beating’ – otherwise he would have been left for dead. Mob justice is a frequent occurrence in our community.

Innocent’s small holiday trading ended and he was banned from the trading centre. Not long afterwards he was accused of stealing a small stove, mosquito net and money from his neighbour. It is hard to know for sure it was Innocent, however he was blamed and beaten severely for it.

There are numerous times like these ones. Like when I heard Innocent wailing in a nearby gutter, his arm swollen. I enquired what had happened: his brother had beaten him with a branch for not slashing enough of the compound.

Community gossip claim that Innocent was injected with a herb (maybe onion?) under his skin when he was a small child and that has placed a ‘stealing curse’ on him.

We continued to feel sorry for Innocent and try to intervene where we could. Although we were disheartened that he stole from the trading centre, we again got him to do some gardening work for us to pay his school fees off. This continued until we were alerted that spaghetti, eggs, cooking oil and milk was stolen from the small hut in our compound (where we used to live). At first Innocent flatly denied stealing it. But later he admitted it and we have been forced to also ban him from our compound.

We have spoken to his school head teacher about the situation, but no-one appears to want to act or do anything about it.

We haven’t given up on Innocent, however the next step would be the local probation officer. Please pray for the future of Innocent.

Theft, opportunity, deception and scandal

Today I begin a short series (four posts) on community life living in Uganda. There are four short stories I want to share with you. I will begin with one today, then the rest should follow in coming days…


Dan with Ned.

The truth about the chicken

This morning Dan went to unlock the gate and was greeted by three women, one particularly agitated. It was the second time this woman had appeared at our gate. Three weeks ago she waved a dead chicken around in the air accusing our pup Izzy of killing it. She appeared the day after Izzy had got out for the first time and had a little run around, it was also after a severe storm. We tried to inspect this chicken, no bite marks, we were skeptical. We asked a lot of questions, we didn’t really get many answers, so the lady threw the dead chicken at our gate, threatens to kill our dog if it gets out again, she walks off and that was that. Quite a few passers-by picked up the dead chicken, also inspected it, and all agreed a dog was not to blame. Common theory of cause of death was stoned by children.

Today this woman returned, flanked by two at her side. Another chicken in her hand (this one alive), this time claiming our beautiful Ned had tried to kill the chicken and she says she has a witness. Ned? Not our Ned! If any of you know Ned, you would know that he would never do such a thing. He sometimes gets out, has a little run around the village, greets a few people, plays with some children, runs around with other dogs, then will reappear around dinner time (funnily enough). Dan was adamant that Ned didn’t do this. A heated discussion ensued for possibly 30 minutes. During that time Dan tried to call the head of the local boda group, he would know what to do, and he knows Ned J One of the lady’s was attempting to interpret the woman, but it didn’t appear she was doing a good job. Dan possibly said about 5 times that he would buy the chicken from her – not admitting guilt, but just to alleviate the escalating situation. Denis (head boda) arrives, speaks with the woman for a long time, and although he agreed that Ned didn’t do it he recommended that Dan buy the chicken from her. So Dan buys the chicken in question but the woman walked away still looking miserable; possibly because we wouldn’t take responsibility.

Less than an hour after the heated transaction we are told by neighbours behind us that it wasn’t Ned, they saw the whole thing, and it was another neighbour’s dog (which isn’t in a fence). These neighbours had to pull the dog off the chicken. They also claim that this other dog had also killed all their chickens in the past.

With this new evidence, Dan and Denis go on an evening walk through the village to find the owner of the chicken. Dan and Denis have a lovely little stroll and meet about three groups of people along the way. Each time they stop, Denis shares about the chicken event each time. Good strategy: publically let the truth out. Ironically the first group of people were the very neighbours who had intervened and pulled the chicken off.

Dan and Denis arrive at the owner of the chicken’s home, however she was at church choir practice and wasn’t in. Her son was, so they shared the updated story with her son and he says he will pass the information on to his mother.

On the way back, they meet another group of people, and Denis continues to share the truth about the chicken. Dan enjoyed interacting with these people along the way for two main reasons: 1: It was lovely to stroll through the village and the residents seemed so friendly. It was off our beaten track that we normally traverse. 2: There was a lot of talk of us being ‘part of the community’, and it was encouraging to hear people’s sense of justice. Many of those we met claim the woman was blatantly making up these accusations to get money from the white person which, in their eyes, was not right.


Ned – falsely accused of being a chicken killer.

Getting the priorities right – slashing?

gamba-grass-leavesMy incredible colleague, Teacher Catherine, travelled out of town to the local government primary teacher’s college this afternoon to continue with our early reading and writing programme which we are piloting with year one student teachers. Unfortunately she met the students slashing the compound. Afternoon lessons were abruptly suspended because the college is receiving visitors tomorrow. I just rang the head of English department at the college to share my concerns and enquired about these visitors. Who are these important visitors that they would suspend lessons for? A big NGO. Makes sense. Although we are an NGO, we are not funding the college, we are instead providing teaching and knowledge to the students (not how NGOs normally work here). A visit by a big NGO brings the hope of funding and perks; and of course cut grass could make that reality so much closer…


Growing and changing…

There has been a few rumours that Dan is ‘under the thumb’ and possibly that I wear the pants in our relationship. Publicly, I find no truth or hint of evidence in any of those highly creative stories.

And what is about to happen certainly doesn’t bring new evidence to light: Dan is stepping back from many of his responsibilities with The Recreation Project to come over and join me at our new organisation: READ (Reading Education and Development) for Life. Maybe it’s better coming from Dan…


Why thank you Jody…I can get a word in now!

Although it is my turn to talk, Jody has stolen my thunder and let the cat out of the bag. It is true, I will be joining Jody and the team at READ in a week or so. This decision is due to several factors which I’ll try and briefly explain.

The number one reason is Myron. As we are both keen to spend as much time with him as possible as we missed at least the first 18 months of his life, we haven’t hired a nanny but instead break the day up 50/50 between each other. I’ll do the morning shift and Jody the afternoon and visa versa. This has worked brilliantly for Myron although not so great with work. I’m finding I’m slipping further and further behind with work, to the point where I think it was going backwards.

The number two reason is, in light of the first reason I feel (and Jody feels) I was on the edge of burn out as I’ve got too much on my plate.

The number three is, Jody is growing ever busier as the NGO grows and I was regularly getting pulled into help here and there with logistics and maintenance on the classroom etc. This was also adding to the workload and stress levels!

Recognising the situation, I realised something needed to give/change. So we as a family decided that it would work much better for us if we are all sailing on the same ship.

Currently, I’m already doing some of his new role by overseeing the construction of a new education block in Layibi, Gulu, which is where Jody’s office will be and have access to other classrooms.

I will continue overseeing the classroom building project; but will also have time to assist Jody with the growing list of things to do as READ for Life expands. READ for Life has just employed their third Ugandan teacher; has two Peace Corps volunteers and is working in about 75 nursery and primary schools in our immediate area which we follow up.

We have started a website for READ for Life: but there is still a lot to do on it…

As READ for Life is now growing, we are looking for sponsors to support us in our work with schools in northern Uganda, particularly to help fund local teacher salaries. If you would feel like supporting our work, we are now registered in the UK with Stewardship, you can do this online.


‘Chief guest’ for the bikers

I wanted to post this a month ago, but the internet only allowed me to upload this short little clip now.

Last month I was the ‘chief guest’ at our local boda boda association annual party. This would be the equivalent of your local taxi drivers throwing a party (meals and drinks included) for the town. I was instructed not to turn up myself, but to await for a lift from one of the boda members. I waited… then my chaperone arrived. On reaching the destination I was greeted by two ‘ushers’ who took me to my place on the centre chair in the front row of a marquee. I was certainly made to feel important and loved. Admittedly, I am possibly their number one customer. There were a lot of speeches, a couple of comedians, dancing and a feast for the whole community: let’s party!


My official invitation to the event. 


Rough speech notes

Working with an outlier…

Last year we had four ‘control’ government schools where we were testing the children’s reading throughout the year (at the end of each term); but not working with the schools or training the teachers. We also had 16 ‘test’ schools which we were closely working with to compare against. For our ‘test’ schools, we had trained the teachers in improved methods of teaching reading and writing, then would try to follow up the schools with observation, feedback and further training when necessary.

Obviously we were hoping to prove (and have evidence to show) that the schools we were working with had better reading levels than the schools that we were not working with. However we encountered one problem – an outlier – Laroo P7 Primary School. This government school had not received our phonics training (although the deputy head teacher had attended a training of mine about 3 years ago). However the results for this school were better than some of the schools we were working with. How could this be?

At the end of third term last year, the average correct words per minute for P3 children (equivalent of roughly third grade) in the ‘test’ government schools we were working with was 31 words. At our control schools, the average was 17 correct words per minute, but Laroo P7 sat at 29 words per minute – what? They were skewing our results!
What was it about this school that was different to the other control schools? Our lowest performing control school sat at 7 correct words per minute for P3 children. How can Laroo P7 be so different?

After some badgering from these control schools, we decided to train them this year and work alongside them; creating new ‘control schools’. I completed the training of Laroo P7 training this week and I can see why they are an outlier:

  • When I first entered the office to introduce myself to the head teacher and present a summary of their term 1 reading report, he pulled out a folder that had all our reading reports from last year to compare the results to see if there was any improvement.
  • The teachers were enthusiastic during the training and were engaged the whole time!
  • The deputy head teacher attended two days of the training and the head teacher sat in for part of the training.
  • My colleague and I were offered lunch at school each day (which we refused since we ate beforehand) but then we had to participate in some serious banter about why we were refusing their hospitality and would not eat their food. The conclusion from the head teacher was I wanted to achieve a “college figure”.
  • At the end of the first day the deputy handed my colleague and I a brown envelope each with what she described as ‘something small’ to help with our transport to get to and from her school for the training. I really need to elaborate about this point. To some, this might sound like I am accepting money from ‘poor schools’. But here is how I stand on this: apart from training and skills, I do not give away anything for free to schools. I recommend that schools buy a training manual I have produced; and when I hold centralised training in town I ask them to organise their own transport to get to me. I don’t give handouts: I have seen how in the past handouts, food, sodas and certificates become the main drawcard at training events and the content of what is taught is lost (or never even found). Paying for our transport (boda costs) shows that they respect us, they value what they are doing, and they want to show appreciate to us by paying for our transport. It also shows that the school is willing to invest in what we are doing and we will partner together to achieve something great. I was recently approached by a charity to partner with them (with the drawcard of potentially receiving some funding) but they wanted me to give things to schools for free. After much deliberation I am going to turn down this opportunity because I don’t feel it reflects how we work and will destroy the reputation of our organisation.
  • Finally, on the last day of training I spoke with the head teacher about our training manuals which would help teachers to teach their new skills, he told me to return on Tuesday and his school would buy 3.
  • The head teacher, deputy and all staff urged us to return soon to visit them and observe their teaching and help as much as we can. They also said to invite them to any further training we have and they will make sure their teachers will be there.
  • Finally, I explained the school’s reading results and how they are ranked number 6 out of 20 (even without the training). The teachers clapped and cheered; were proud that a “school like ours could achieve such results” (their words) and were adamant to improve their results for the end of term test.

Laroo P7 I am glad you are no longer an outlier but that we are working in partnership to improve education in your school.

Lashes for stealing meat and looking shabby

I have one main boda who regularly takes me to schools and any trips I need on a motorbike. He is also known around the community as the guy to go to for any problems and who will get things done. During our ride to a school today I enquired about how his boda stage was. What followed was an interesting story:

I gave someone five lashes. The butcher told me how his colleague had stolen some goat’s meat. And also, he was dressed very shabby and stank. So we got some Ariel (detergent), we had the basin and the water there, then we stripped him and washed him at the centre. We cut off a piece of charcoal sack for a sponge. We also ordered him to put on clean clothes and to wash his clothes, which he did there and then.

I enquired whether he got the lashes for stealing the meat or looking shabby:


Then later…

‘The man rang me to ask me for forgiveness for his behaviour and he was very thankful that I dealt with him like that.’

Do what ‘they’ want when ‘they’ are watching…

These words came out of my mouth today when talking to a deputy head teacher at a really low-performing government school in town:

You do what ‘they’ want you to do when ‘they’ come to observe your lessons. But when ‘they’ aren’t around, you do what is best for your pupils and to improve the performance of your school.

They being RTI (an NGO) and USAID – meddling with Ugandan schools and sadly making the performance gap so much wider between government and private schools. Fortunately the deputy agreed with me. Her reply:

That’s exactly what we decided to do! We now even have a separate lesson planning book to show them when they come, but we aren’t teaching the lessons in it. Only when they come to inspect us.

NGO part 4 – Give your money well

Interesting challenge. Where do you give your money? And what is the best bang for your buck? You may not agree with everything our mate Nick writes, but at least it gets us thinking and questioning…


“Many attempts to do good fail, but the best are exceptional”
(William MacCaskill, Effective Altruism)

My first 3 Blogs focused on NGOs in the developing world, but this one explores simple question that’s relevant to all of us. Where should we donate money?

Donated money can do a lot of good. William MacAskill calculated that each dollar you give away if used well can be 100x more beneficial to a poor person, than it will be to you. That dollar which could pay for one days food for a girl in a refugee camp might increase her wellbeing 100x more than that sugar rush you get from a $1 coke (which I’m drinking right now). Makes sense right? This is really encouraging and should make us want to give more of our money away. But we have to send that money the right direction, otherwise its could be…

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