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.

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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 🙂

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Game on!

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Snuggles by the poolside.

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Hippo’ing around at mini golf.

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Yes! It’s in the hole!

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Cracking spot for the first time on a horse!

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Learning how to swim with noodles 🙂

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Fresh fish

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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!’

Jody

 

 

 

 

‘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.

WTF.

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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Market score!

Today we took a detour in the labyrinth of the main market. Dan was on the hunt for shorts and look what we stumbled upon! We tipped out a crate of random small toys and found these gems! A mini lego figure – what? These guys go for around $5/£2.50 on eBay. We scored him for 1000 shillings (35c/20p). And the job lot with the incredible Bob the Builder, two Eeyores, three spiderman figures, decorated Tigger, Kanga and Roo and random dinosaurs went for 10,000 shillings ($3.50/£2). Pretty chuffed with our find!

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I’m different

We haven’t talked in our household about our skin colour being different; we wanted to wait until this came out naturally from Myron and see what he would say. Last week it came out in such a beautiful way during a couple of occasions. One was when I was reading a children’s story to Myron and one of the themes of the book was being different. At the end I asked him, is there anything about you that is different? “Yes, I’m black… but it’s good to be different.”
“My skin is like Uncle Mohammed’s” (and interestingly he was comparing himself to Mohammed, who works at a school about three hours away!)
He then says: “Your skin is white mummy, but daddy’s is a bit darker than yours.”

Last night I had a few more further reflection moments about our time with Myron and as a family. I remember when Myron first joined our family and how there were quite a few things that were really difficult: when he cried hours on end at sleep time, when he would go into tantrum mode when we didn’t give him what he wanted and the frustrations we both felt when we didn’t understand each other.

We have reached the moment I have been longing for! When we can express ourselves fully and understand each other (even to the point of Myron constantly talking in the car for hours on end); when Myron can go and visit someone or go to school but always know that he will come back to us and that we are a family. And when it’s bed time and he will be as quiet as a mouse (except to tell you to close the door because we are talking too loudly). We are finally there and loving it!

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Thanks for visiting Aunty Debs!

Myron: We can share because we’re friends… I’m sad because we’re taking Aunty Debs back to her home… Mummy, when are we going to go to England?

Yesterday in the wee hours of the morning we said goodbye to Aunty Debs who came to visit during her Easter school break. It was certainly a week and a half of work and play. Thankfully Debs is a teacher so I dragged her across the countryside (pretty literally) to help observe lessons, give feedback and encouragement, and also dabble in some teacher training. Certainly one of the most easy-going guests we have ever had.

Thanks Debs for visiting us! We will miss you, but so thankful that you finally came to see us and our crazy Gulu life.

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A day trip to the Nile River for lunch.

 

ABOVE: A welcome song at one of the village Speed Schools Debs and I visited. Blown away by the welcome by the class music director.

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Watching a pretty awesome local language reading lesson with schools we are working with.

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Debs teaching a maths lesson at the READ for Life Nursery Teacher Training College.

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One of the Speed School pupils leading his class.

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Myron and Debs 🙂

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Maths in action during Debs’ lesson at the college: counting beans.

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In the middle of a lovely boat ride up the River Nile at Murchison Falls National Park.

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Myron, Mr Elephant and Debs.

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A Speed School teacher being resourceful and using his phone to play one of our recorded phonics songs during his lesson in a village school.

A learning journey about learning

Five years ago I was teaching remedial reading/phonics lessons in a local government primary school in Gulu (Layibi Techo). I was using my UK ‘flashy’ flashcards from a commercial phonics programme I bought out in my suitcase, however I soon learnt that the Quentin-Blake-like drawings of snow, clowns, jack-in-the boxes and aliens wouldn’t really fly too well here. This was the beginning of my slow and long journey to try and adapt resources to the local environment. And not only to adapt and create resources, but also to teach, explain and demonstrate in a way that teachers could then transfer these skills into their own classrooms.

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The rough journey went something like this:

  • Write my own little teaching phrases suited to the local environment and ask my mum to draw pictures of these for me to put on my own flashcards I laminate.
  • This progressed to asking a local artist to draw these pictures to suit the local environment even more. He drew them, I printed and laminated them. But there was still a barrier… most teachers here don’t have access to laminators.
  • So next we made our flashcards by hand, using cardboard, and using sellotape to ‘locally seal’ them. Score!
  • But what about other resources? We would do a general training and then mention what resources teachers could make for their appropriate year groups. Fail! Merely mentioning anything doesn’t work.
  • Then we started making resources and demonstrating to teachers how to use them up the front at the end of the training. Hmmm fail again! Teachers need to feel, touch and smell them!
  • Over the past 2 weeks we hosted some practical resource-based trainings where we have 5 stations that teachers rotate around. We trained about 70 early childhood teachers over 4 separate sessions. Teachers picked up the resources and completed the activities like children would in their classes. We used local clay from ant hills, grass, sand, flour, chalk, water, local beads… We also supplied handouts for teachers with photographs of the resources they used and a brief explanation of them. I thought we had almost reached the end of our journey and training was completely transferrable. A couple of teachers thanked us for teaching them, for giving them new ideas and commented how they had never learnt these things from college. Score? Maybe? However there was one teacher who took my contact details so she could call me to ask me how to make the resources. Sigh. Possibly for some teachers we will make the resources together with them…

This long journey to help teachers improve ‘teaching and learning’ practices is completely understandable. We have been taught to transfer abstract ideas into our daily lives from a very young age. We also take for granted the research skills we have learnt since, realistically, we were in primary school! As adults and professionals we have instant access to information and we know how to find things quickly. If we can’t, there’s always a forum, blog, journal article, friend, Facebook group, etc that can help us. There is no barrier to our quest for knowledge. Here, the barriers are piled high! Critical thinking skills are rarely taught in schools; neither are research skills.

So when teachers start to implement these ideas in the classroom – that’s pretty flipping awesome! I am excited to see more practical classrooms over the coming months as our own learning journey continues.

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The letter formation/letter recognition table, ready for teachers! 

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nnnn-nest! In local clay, and don’t forgot to make some eggs for your bird’s nest 🙂 

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trace around the shape of the letter, with a locally made bead, in ant hill clay. Of course! 

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g-g-g-g-grass! 

Paperwork approved!

In between teaching, making resources and hanging out with Myron we can sometimes be buried in paperwork. Our latest paperwork victory is the re-registration of READ for Life. We are now registered as a charity (NGO) to operate in Uganda for a further five years. This is fantastic news and certainly puts the pressure off for a little while.

So we have two paperwork victories in the past two weeks: the adoption ruling for Myron and now re-registration for READ for Life. Now just need to work on the third one: registration for our nursery teacher training college. One step at a time hey 🙂

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