Digging, making bricks… but still not in school

We’ve been a little quiet online lately (apologies – very unlike us). There have been a few snags to blogging this year: obviously the biggest one was the government shutting down internet in the lead-up to and post national elections; and some social media sites are still blocked (more than one month later, VPN sales are soaring).

We aren’t really glass ‘half full’ sort of people, so we knew 2021 wouldn’t be a magical solution to last year’s setbacks. Schools in Uganda are still closed (have been since March last year, with the exception of the final year students so they can sit their exams). The government has organised a very slow, staggered plan for children to return, but there are still lots of question marks surrounding how this will play out.

The bigger question (unfortunately), is how being out of school for more than one year will effect this generation of school-children. We have already heard personal stories as well as generalised statistics of children who will not be returning to school (married, pregnant, continuing with the family business, or will stay to help their family in the garden; and yes, we are talking about primary school children).

The staggered plan to return children begins with oldest first to youngest last. Children in the first three years of primary school (6 to 9-year-olds) are expected to return in June for their 2020 academic year and complete it one month later in July. Yep, you read correctly – one month later! Ludicrous! There certainly hasn’t been any online learning opportunities for these children in their time off; maybe digging opportunities. If they get tested on digging and brick-making, then they will pass with flying colours! And what happens after July? We aren’t quite sure…

There’s absolutely no news about younger children (3 to 6-year-olds in early childhood education settings); and no announcement about when they can return to school.

And whilst our children remain at home, the education need here grows bigger and bigger! When our young children do finally return to school, especially those in the first few years of primary school; they will be depressing and intriguing days inside a classroom.

Although I would absolutely love to take a four-month vacation whilst we wait for children to return, we cannot be idle to this need! Next week our training calendar is full; and we are partnering with other organisations to train reading club volunteers; community teachers and volunteers for teaching small groups of children in local communities as well as in refugee settlements. Our work on radio continues with a new regular storytime slot, and we are planning to return to teaching daily with a local radio station.

This electronic pen will pause for now, but I vow to pick it up more regularly!

Students acting as teachers

This has possibly been the most beautiful and encouraging thing I have read all year:

Two of our education radio programs were being recorded every day by secondary students in South Sudan (yes – it even reached that far!) and used to teach a group of 12 children in their community.

Charles and James wrote their appreciation on the READ for Life Facebook page. I was quite surprised that they were listening in South Sudan, so I probed a little further.

Here’s Charles’ response:

And… microphones down for 2020

Wednesday was our final day of radio programs for 2020 – phew! What a year of radio!

Wednesday was our 618th radio lesson since March! It was a pre-recorded lesson for West Nile region in Uganda, recorded mostly for refugee children in the settlement camps. Although we pre-recorded the lesson, a READ for Life staff member was able to connect live on the phone with children calling in to answer questions – the children calling were able to answer all the questions well!

Our Gulu-based live lessons ended on Friday and Saturday at three radio stations. We were fortunate enough to have four different children join us in each of the studios (sometimes in shifts for social distancing reasons). The children did some beautiful reading on air, were able to share advice, answer questions and share their testimonies about how the radio programs have helped them learn during the period of school closure this year. It was somehow a bitter-sweet end. Bitter: of course it is sad to say goodbye to our learners on air. Sweet: we need to rest before 2021…To close the programs off we were also able to present prizes to children for regularly calling in and contributing to the radio programs.

We also want to thank all our sponsors, donors and contributors to the programs – Connect Education Centre, Save the Children, African Revival, Radio Maria, Radio Pacis, Mega FM, Old Mzee Books, Enjuba, Oasis Book Project, Pangea Education and many individual sponsors who made this possible but also a success!

Millions of children tuned in every day to listen. It was a privilege to serve practically during this period of school closure!

Give the gift of reading this Christmas

It’s the second week of December already! I know some of you have a few more presents to buy for people. Possibly those people who are hard to buy for? Here’s a suggestion: instead of buying something that may or may not be needed, may or may not be used, or may or may not be wanted, why not give the gift of reading to children in northern Uganda. 

Support our work this Christmas and let that be your gift to others! A gift that will be a blessing to more than one! Click here for more details on buying the ‘gift of reading’. 

We are developing…

Whilst completing my Masters my supervisor told me not to use the term ‘developing country’; instead it should be ‘low income’ country.

On Monday and Tuesday afternoon the term ‘low income’ just doesn’t really fit. 

Part of our teacher’s training college government curriculum includes a section on gender-based violence. I am very blessed to know a clinical psychologist in Gulu – she’s good at her job and boy can she train! She has lived in northern Uganda for longer than me, working in a wide range of areas, including gender-based violence.  

She agreed to come and run a training session with our student teachers – the opportunity was too good to miss so I invited all our staff to join. The two afternoon training sessions were bang on! 

At the end of the two afternoon sessions one of our female staff members shared how she realised she had been a victim many times in her life and how empowering the sessions were. This is a baby step but a very positive one nonetheless. We are in a nation that is ‘developing gender equality’; ‘developing a better understanding of human rights’ and ‘developing a respectful understanding of the role of women’. We as an organisation are also developing in those areas. The journey is far from over, but… we are moving! 

Page seven

For about six months Daniel has been teaching the children across the road. He has struggled to get them to write at length. Here’s evidence of his latest battle. I think he wanted a little more than this…

Rain, rain go away…

Here’s the road from outside our house to town this morning. I watched Dan slide/drive up it this morning. It’s been an unbelievably long wet season! Longer than we can remember. I’m ready for some dry season weather now…

The reading revolution

This is certainly one of the highlights of schools being closed since March – Dan’s class of pupils from our local community. Several days a week Dan will listen to the children read (as well as teach them). He must hear them read their borrowed storybook before they borrow another book (at their level). Although learning has stagnated for thousands of children across the country, these children are making great progress with their reading… and having books to read certainly makes a difference!

The rainbows amongst the clouds

Across the world I think we would all have to agree that this year is and will continue to be a challenging year! But amidst the challenges and grey clouds there are quite a few rainbows. Here are my 12 rainbows since schools closed in March.

  1. Spending a lot more time with my family (incredible husband and son).
  2. Having the privilege of homeschooling Myron (not sure if I will give this one up too quickly next year!)
  3. Starting up new ventures (radio programs) which have had a tremendous impact on the community.
  4. Listening to our team blossom into their read aloud skills (I just love how the character voices and sound effects have developed over these past few months!)
  5. The flexibility in time to allow for regular exercise and morning quiet times.
  6. The incredible resources I have been able to tap into made available by some lovely, talented and generous people around the world!
  7. I have read a lot more! I have possibly read more books for pleasure and enjoyment this year than I have in the past 10 years (apart from teaching books and required uni readings!)
  8. We have got to know our neighbours a lot more, mostly thanks to Dan spear-heading daily neighbourhood teaching sessions with children who live nearby.
  9. We started monthly family storytelling sessions and they are often the highlight of our month (now including storytelling capes!)
  10. Being able to spend some quality time on professional development of the wonderful team of teachers we have (and digging in deep with story reading and analysing skills, as well as activities you can do after reading a story – it has been so much fun!)
  11. Discovering an incredible team of dance teachers in the UK who teach Myron on Zoom – Funky Moves teachers you are literally an answer to prayer and have made a big difference to our lives!
  12. Slowing down. Breathing. And resting, well, a little more than before 🙂

Freedom of Simplicity

I have been challenged, shaken, stirred and much more through reading Freedom of Simplicity by Richard Foster.

This is certainly going down as one of the books that is going to (hopefully) shape and define and change me! I’m not an avid reader, and I can possibly count on one hand the books that I will read and re-read because they are such gems! Although I have finished reading it there’s still a lot more that I need to ponder, process and pray about it.

If you are a reader, or even if you aren’t a reader, why not give it a try!

“Christian simplicity frees us from this modern mania. It brings sanity to our compulsive extravagance, and peace to our frantic spirit. It liberates us from what William Penn called ‘cumber.’ It allows us to see material things for what they are — goods to enhance life, not to oppress life. People once again become more important than possessions. Simplicity enables us to live lives of integrity in the face of the terrible realities of our global village . . .”
Freedom of Simplicity by Richard Foster