They can read… where are the books?

question_markOur work with schools is going so well that we have a new looming problem – children can read but they have no books in schools to read! We have come up with what I think is a pretty awesome idea: a one-day book fair in September. Ugandan authors, illustrators and publishers from across the country will showcase their books as well as inspire head teachers and directors on the importance of having books in schools.

But we can’t pull an event like this out of thin air, it needs a little push start. We have budgeted for £500 ($AUS 950). If you would like to help make this day happen, just hop on over to our gofundme page we have set up for the day.



Corruption chain…


A head teacher of a government primary school says to the P7 teacher that he needs his pupils to bring in 2000 Ugandan shillings each for PLE registration (end of year exams). The teacher tells the students in his class that they need to bring in 2500 shillings for PLE registration. A child goes to his mother and says he needs 3000 shillings for PLE registration. Then the wife goes to her husband and says she needs 4000 shillings for their child’s PLE registration.

When the child’s father later visits the school he asks the office for a receipt and questions why the receipt is for 2000 shillings when he paid 4000 shillings.

True story from a Ugandan primary school. This is how thick corruption has spread…

Illiteracy in behaviour management?

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.

Alvin Toffler

A friend of mine shared this quote with me (as an encouragement) after I had a battle in the classroom yesterday morning. I had been co-teaching two lessons with our Ugandan team: the first was Language, followed by Behaviour Management. I went from a high of a joint rendition of Incy Wincy Spider with my colleague during a lesson on fine motor skills with our year 1 student teachers; down to rock bottom when discussing the recent case of the secondary student who died after being caned by his teacher in Mbale (from my last post). I used the newspaper article as a review discussion exercise and wanted our student teachers to reflect on this. Our students have had numerous lessons this year where they have learnt about Child Protection, what corporal punishment is and how it is illegal in Uganda. During our discussion one student said that the death could have been from ‘over-beating’. Over beating? Of course my next question was how many strokes is enough? The student’s response: ‘according to the government of Uganda, three strokes.’

What? Face palm!


Ok, we are all going to answer this question now, how many strokes is enough: I go around our students one-by-one: 3, 2, 3, 3, 2, 2, 3, 3, 2, 2, 0. Momentarily that lesson plan went out the window and I went on a rant. My co-teacher followed my lead and had her say after mine.

I told that student I would give him 100,000 Ugandan shillings if he could produce evidence for the three strokes being the maximum amount of strokes recommended by the government. He told me he would bring me the evidence next week.

It’s easy (in many ways) to teach student teachers how to teach reading and writing, mathematics, even skills in reading aloud and making resources. But teaching and re-teaching about behaviour management and positive discipline is an enormous challenge! Especially in a culture that believes strongly that ‘children’s ears are on their buttocks!’ 

Toffler has got me thinking and reflecting a lot about unlearning and relearning…



Satan, Police and turkeys threaten children

Shall I take you to the gate so those policemen can take you?

Do you want Satan to come for you in the night? For those talking, Satan will come for you in the night and throw you in the fire.

When you are in class you don’t talk. When you keep talking you will become like a turkey with a long nose. Do you want a long nose?

These threats were part of a local nursery teacher’s toolkit for behaviour management. I scribbled them down as I was observing her reading lesson to five-year-olds this morning. The longer I am here working in education in Uganda, the more I am learning about education and particularly how I cannot isolate the teaching of reading from the teaching of the whole child.


Above was part of my written feedback for the teacher. Although I have tried to stick to a very tight line of only supporting the teaching of reading and writing in the classroom, this is impossible! Good teaching and learning often comes from a good learning environment and we need to support (within reason) the wider learning environment. As part of a way forward, we are planning on identifying six local nursery schools which we want to attempt to raise up as model nursery schools – example schools to those around them. Not only will we be supporting their reading and writing teaching, but also three other key areas: group work with activities, positive behaviour management and reading stories aloud to children.

The school I was at this morning will be one of those schools. I was extremely encouraged when the head of infants (nursery and lower primary) commented how they had picked up some ideas from our student teachers, particularly how to read stories aloud to children and had now started including that in their timetable.

I’m quite excited with the next chapter of working with these six key schools… hopefully Satan or the Police will disappear from their behaviour management toolkit in the coming months, oh and the turkey too.



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THIS is part of the reality of working with Ugandan schools. Thankfully these cases are rare, but nonetheless absolutely heart-breaking when they do happen! Unfortunately caning, however, is not rare and would happen hundreds of times every day (in one school). This was one of the headlines in the news this week: not in Gulu district where we live and our main work is, but in a district with an organisation we are partnering with (click on the image to read the full article).

THIS is also why we are grateful to be partnering with the Baptist Missionary Society (BMS) and the Ugandan Christian Lawyer’s Fraternity (UCLF) with their work on Child Protection in schools, and grateful for the expertise they have shared with our student teachers.

THIS is one of the many reasons why we have started our own nursery teacher training college, to train teachers in ALL aspects of teaching and learning and not just reading and writing; and to encourage young teachers to see the value of each child and to treat children with dignity and respect.

THIS is one of the reasons why Myron attends a small home-school co-operative.

THIS is one of the reasons why it is extremely difficult for me to recommend schools when parents, friends, colleagues and acquaintances ask me which school should they send their child to.

THIS is one of the reasons why we are still here…



Secret balloon ride anniversary

We’ve kept it a little quiet, and were a little late to celebrate… but we just returned from celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary at Murchison National Park! Myron doesn’t know the fun we got up to, so shhhh, let’s keep it that way 🙂

Myron was extremely excited to have his first sleep over at his friend’s house, the perfect escape plan for us: he thought we went somewhere for a ‘meeting’. Our meeting was two nights at two different park lodges (like a mini double holiday!), and a sunrise balloon ride over the park. It was the absolute peak of the dry season and we hovered over a very scorched and dusty savannah, but we still got to see warthogs, various antelope, and many elephants from above.

We tried to skimp a little and didn’t pay extra for an air-conditioned room for the first night. Big mistake! But that was soon overshadowed by the glorious balloon ride, having two lovely pools to ourselves (in two destinations), a bush buffet breakfast in front of the Nile, some lounging around reading fiction (yes, fiction!), and an incredible sleep in an air-conditioned room in the second lodge where we woke momentarily to a loud thunderstorm outside signalling potentially the end to a long dry season.

As we left the park the animals were also out, returning to yesterday’s dried-up watering holes which were now brimming with water. The rain brought a welcome reprieve to many, and those two nights away were also a welcome reprieve for us! As one season comes to an end, so a new one is about to begin…


Sleep, where art though?

Sleep-DeprivationIt’s 3.50am, I’ve been lying in bed for almost 5 hours listening to annoying disco music pounding from the nearby centre; getting more and more frustrated each time I check the time. I’m not even sure why I keep checking the time, just to clock what time I am still awake I guess. I have drafted and redrafted a letter in my head to local leaders about noise pollution although not sure if I will actually put a pen to it.

Pondered about the effectiveness of sleep deprivation as a form of torture, night day-dreamed about having a bedroom that was sound-proof and had some bad thoughts about what I would do (or say) to the local disco hall pumping out that lame music at this hour!

I do some quick research and discover that there are laws against noise pollution in Uganda, rarely implemented though. Weddings and funerals regularly break these laws. The last local wedding which interrupted our sleep was in our neighbour’s property. When our windows started to rattle, and the base vibrated through our bodies, that was a pretty good sign that we would have to sleep somewhere else for the ‘main night’ of the traditional wedding.

Dan tells me to put ear plugs in. But I just can’t bring myself to do it! Of course I’ve tried, several times in the past (for similar reasons), but I feel like I’m shoving chewing gum in my ear and find that just as annoying.

Apparently sleep deprivation can contribute to weight gain: there’s my excuse then! It wasn’t those sweets, snacks and chocolate biscuits in Australia that has stopped the zipper going up on most of my ‘teacher dresses’ here, it is not getting enough shut-eye. Sold!

Well I’m not officially suffering from sleep deprivation (180 hours straight of no sleep) and don’t plan to! Will do some afternoon napping before that happens! But will be ready for my grumpiness tomorrow and will try and keep that grizzly bear contained! I think I will write that letter… maybe after some sleep though.

Learning to stop…

frog-at-rest“We are a restless people. Restlessness is the opposite of being restful. Restfulness is one of the most primal cravings humans have. We crave rest to the point where we identify it with heaven: ‘Grant us eternal rest.’ Today, as our lives grow more pressured, as we grow more tired, as we begin to feel burned out, we fantasize more about restfulness. We imagine a peaceful, quiet place: we see ourselves walking by a lake, watching a peaceful sunset, smoking a pipe in a rocker by the fireplace. But even in those images, we make restfulness yet another activity, something we do… then we return to normal life… True restfulness, though, is a form of awareness, a way of being in life. It is living ordinary life with a sense of ease, gratitude, appreciation, peace, and prayer. We are restful when ordinary life is enough.”

Ronald Rolheiser

This week our house group began a series on ‘Sabbath’ as part of Practicing the Way from Bridgetown Church in Portland. I just finished listening to the sermon for Part 1 of the series – brilliant! Perfect series for our life right now. When we meet at house group and we share about how our week was, everyone knows I’m going to say the word ‘busy’ before it comes out of my mouth. Let’s just say this series is timely for us!

I’m fighting that temptation to get a marker pen, scribble ‘To Do List’ at the top, and write down how we plan to have a Sabbath. Clearly I have a long way to go on this journey, but I’m looking forward to learning more, listening more, resting more, appreciating more and loving more.

Feel free to join us in this journey also. Here’s a link to Part 1:


Lunch with the ‘big boys’

Mid-way through last year we (READ for Life) were contacted by an international NGO working in Gulu to see if we could develop a partnership with them. We underwent a lengthy process to be considered an ‘official’ partner, which included attending meetings, sharing and writing policy documents, attending more meetings, and sharing more paperwork.

A couple of weeks ago we were called to a meeting with this ‘said’ NGO to the most expensive hotel in Gulu. We were told that we were now an approved partner and discussed a multi-million dollar project the ‘said’ NGO wanted us to implement. The outcomes required were quite enormous and would require a lot of work on our behalf: training about 375 teachers in almost 50 village primary schools; following them up all year, recording data, etc. We would have to expand our staff significantly, possibly even double our team.

We were quite excited about this opportunity: we knew we would have to take on other areas that were not our specialty, but we were happy to do that to have the opportunity to expand our work in a greater number of schools.

After that meeting at the nice hotel, which of course included a buffet lunch, we madly worked on our implementation plan and budget, along with advertising for new staff which we were told on numerous occasions that we needed to do and were surprised that we hadn’t done yet.

We put aside a lot of our current work and drafted plans and budgets, being as economical as we could. During the most recent meeting we shared our draft implementation plan and draft budget. We were asked why we were planning on hiring education staff to implement the education project and why didn’t we just ask ‘volunteers’ from the community to train the teachers. I went on my long rant about the importance of education and ‘volunteers’ (whatever definition you give to that word) would not cut it!

When the final figures were crunched our budget allocation from this international NGO for implementing the education part of this project for a whole year was less than what it would cost us to train those 375 teachers for four days during the holidays (transporting them to a secondary school to sleep in boarding facilities). And remember, this international NGO was given millions and millions of dollars from a donor for this project.

Needless to say, we will not be an implementing partner to this international NGO. Dan thinks we dodged a bullet, well maybe we did…



Bang! We’re back!

Welcome back to Uganda!

We’ve changed the names in the short true stories below to protect their identities (how serious does that sound!)

We’ve recently returned from a seven-week holiday in Australia. Many people have asked us since we returned was it as good as what it looked like on Facebook? Yes it was!

Many have also asked us: how are you settling back? Generally, well, but here’s some small insights to the realities:

Whilst away we paid Tom, a friend of ours, to stay in our house, keep it clean, and to do one main job for us on the house. The job would have taken about 2 weeks to complete. As we returned to a dust-ridden house in the middle of the dry season, the job was half-complete. On the positive side the dogs and guinea pigs are still alive!

Tom rang Dan a couple of times whilst we were in Australia. On one occasion he began the conversation saying that he had become a “very perfect” motorbike rider, practicing regularly on Dan’s motorbike (after being told not to ride it). He also tells Dan that his two sheep have died and he doesn’t know why.

Jack is a good friend of Dan’s and takes care of a few cows and the late sheep that Dan owns in Gulu. Jack takes a little time to make his way to greet Dan and after they sit down for a long time Dan hears how one of his cows has died – and the story gets worse… Jack’s grandmother killed the cow (and probably the sheep too). She feed the cow plastic bags knotted together that had been boiled in salt water. Why? Who knows, maybe she is jealous of Jack and Dan’s friendship… or maybe she is jealous that her grandson has a few cows that he is looking after.

Finally, a friend of ours picked up a letter from the National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC) which has been waiting for us for a couple of months. The letter was more of an invoice asking READ for Life to pay 4,250,000 Ugandan shillings (about $1,600AUS or £900) for the government to evaluate our phonics readers. To paraphrase, that is for us to pay government workers who are already on a salary to do their job. The letter was ready a couple of days before we flew out, I’m glad we received it when we got back, otherwise would have thought about this one too much on the beach!

Thanks for the welcome Uganda! Will have to blog soon on the positives to balance this one out. We have lived here long enough to expect these things to happen, and almost anticipate them. But don’t worry – we always bounce back!