The Biff, Chip & Kipper of Uganda

After a long time (over a year) working with incredible volunteer writers, a talented local illustrator and designer, we have finally completed our first phonics early readers for Uganda! Here’s five readers comprised of short easily decodable stories. The stories slowly get harder with each book. Think: Biff & Chip/Janet & John of Uganda 🙂

We were fortunate to partner with NGO African Revival which funded the illustration and design work. Now – Set 1 books are complete! Set 2 are still in the design stages…

It’s a bitter sweet moment where I am absolutely thrilled that these books are out! African Revival has printed hundreds of copies for their partners schools in neighbouring districts which we are also helping with training. For the next three weeks we will be helping them to train teachers in how to best use these readers in the classroom. How incredible will it be to see children read these books in class! And the exciting bit is these children will be able to read these books independently! We have already given them the skills to become independent readers (at least for the words in these stories anyway).

The bitter side is that we haven’t even made our own print run yet to get these books in Gulu municipal schools, the main schools we are working with. Planning to hit some literacy trusts soon to hopefully subsidise the costs for local schools. Will update you on the journey…



We have a date!

We have a court date! February 22 – mark that date, pray over that date… it’s the day we go to court for our adoption hearing. We have all our paperwork (hopefully) and will sit before the magistrate. Pray that: the magistrate is there, he doesn’t push us back or defer our case for more ‘pressing issues’, and there’s no other paperwork they want us to produce. Pray for a smooth hearing and that soon Myron we be officially our son.

He is currently in his bed listening to Billy Joel (who he sometimes claims to be Bob Dylan since he plays a harmonica); and is yelling out ‘please tell me a story!’ When praying tonight he thanked God for stories, toys and jelly. We thank God daily for Myron and how he brings more out of us as a family!


Biggest training yet!

Tomorrow we begin our biggest training yet!

Over four days we will train 333 teachers in how to teach reading and writing in both English and local language. Thankfully we are splitting into 2 groups, so very roughly 170 teachers for two days, then another 170 for the next two days. Breaking down further into groups of a little under 60 for morning teaching sessions, then smaller groups again in the afternoon for practice team teaching and resource making.

There’s a few firsts:

  • Biggest group
  • First time to teach Acholi phonics
  • First time to bring in other local teachers to help us with the training (ones we have worked with a lot in schools)

Please pray for all the facilitators involved, that it goes smoothly, we are well received, teachers pick it up quickly and we have a great training!

“Teaching is my call”

“Teacher Jody, thank you for loving Uganda! I now realise that teaching is my call and I’m going to be a great teacher.”

This comment was said to me yesterday by the lovely Teacher Aidah from JENGA working in Mbale, eastern Uganda. She said it towards the end of a three-day training for teachers from across Uganda who travelled to Gulu for our training in the new Connect Education Centre. Eighty five teachers travelled from all over Uganda to learn new ways of teaching reading and writing to children. Some teachers even travelled two days to get here from near the Tanzanian border! I felt extremely encouraged after Aidah’s comments. Aidah is being mentored by the lovely Rhonda Smith, a UK teacher volunteering with Jenga in Mbale. Rhonda and her team will be partnering with us; working with local schools in Mbale on improving teachers skills in teaching reading and writing. Exciting to develop this partnership!

Rhonda gave Aidah a copy of my teaching manual last night and after many many thank yous, Aidah said:

“This is the next best book to the Bible!”

Well maybe not quite true, but certainly flattering 🙂

Hobby challenges…


Earlier days and happier times with these pigs… before swine fever.

Maintaining a hobby is not easy in Gulu… well my type of hobby anyway.

As many of you would know, I grew up on a farm and enjoy farming, primarily animal husbandry. After a couple of years of being here I bought four red cows. Just for a little bit of fun. And kept them at a friend’s place with other cattle. Anyway, after three years I still haven’t had a single calf out of four cows. After two years I was told four calves died which was quite surprising. After another year my mate said they calved so I thought: I’m going to move them. So I get out there and there’s no calves. I am again told that they have died. So… I moved four cows: three red ones and a white one. After I questioned where the other red one had gone my friend’s reply was: “Oh yeah, I slaughtered it, here’s the replacement.”

Second attempt of a hobby – which was also my work but I really enjoyed it – was a piggery. I built two good sized piggeries. After breeding for a couple of years and reaching a point where it was almost sustainable and being happy with the quality… we get smashed with the worst disease known to pigs – African swine fever. There is no preventative treatment and there is definitely no cure when you have it. A lot died and what remained we had to slaughter and bury – over 60 pigs.

Number three. I blogged about this before: but a friend and I were going into partnership to try and slaughter cows for big days like Christmas, New Year, etc. We bought two bulls in the lead up to Christmas and they were stolen a few weeks beforehand.

And now number four. The most recent. I have three sheep that I was hoping to breed with because sheep isn’t a popular meet here but it is my favourite. Two females and a male. Unfortunately the pen door was left open during the night and a pack of dogs came and killed and ate the female.

On all of those occasions, each one has been out of control – I am relying on other people. But that’s the way it is, where I live I don’t have enough space to keep any of these.

I’m currently looking for a new hobby, lol.


Here comes the thunder!

I am reminded of some lyrics from a Darrell Evans song: “I am pressed but not crushed… struck down but not destroyed“.

I am feeling pressed and struck down by traditional, possibly colonial approaches to education in Uganda. Five years ago I taught grammar and comprehension to primary-leaving pupils in a Ugandan government school. For pupils who struggled to read and write, I was following the curriculum and teaching them complex grammar structures and comprehension.

This year I am excited, but a little daunted, that we are beginning a nursery teacher’s training college to help future teachers so our children will no longer have difficulties at the end of primary. I sat down this afternoon to take a look at curriculum planning and end of year exams (set by one of the national universities) and when I read two of the papers my heart just dropped (or actually sped up). The first half of the ‘Language Development and Teaching’ paper is just like an end of primary English paper, full of ‘fill in the blanks’ grammar questions, rewrite the sentence using a different sentence structure and reading comprehension. How, oh how is this preparing teachers to teach language development to 3-6 year olds? And if this is what the paper looks like, this is certainly what teaching content looks like. There is no wonder that early childhood teachers graduate college not knowing how to teach reading and writing well and how to develop children’s language.

I have also included for your enjoyment a snippet of the ‘Teaching Mathematics to Young Children’ paper, set by the national university. Same deep gut feeling. The rest of the exam is very theory heavy questions with an early childhood focus. Rote learning teaching methods would probably help them pass, but I refuse to go down that path!

Now: to attempt a timetable that will balance preparing future early childhood teachers to pass these tests, as well as to help them be creative, inspiring, critical-thinking, reflective practitioners.


A section of the ‘Language Development and Teaching’ exam paper for year one student teachers, set by the national university.



The second page of the ‘Language Development and Teaching’ paper. 


A sample of the Teaching Mathematics to Young Children paper. 

Calm before the storm…

The calm before the storm… we have just returned from a refreshing week away in Fort Portal – the land of the Crater Lakes in western Uganda. Apart from a pocket of school planning and receiving phone calls about pigs and cows… we checked out! We stayed in a pretty incredible budget place, a campsite with huts by a crater lake with several troops of monkeys swinging, jumping and messing around us (even trying to steal our breakfast if we weren’t careful!)
We fitted in a 20km walk to a waterfall (our legs regretted it for the next few days); and were ‘day visitors’ to a couple of luxurious lodges.

We are now back and ready for quite a big year ahead (particularly big couple of months). We do update our prayer request page regularly, so do check it if you would like to pray for us, however here’s a few things that we are ploughing through right now:

  • Advertising for our new nursery teacher training college which opens in the first weekend of February. Please pray for students! There is a demand for high quality early childhood teacher training and we are slightly stepping out of our depth here, but believe it is the natural next step to take.
  • Planning for the college! Putting together the jigsaw of the required government curriculum and working out what we should add that would be necessary for the local context.
  • Still working on a few bits of paperwork needed to apply for Myron’s adoption on the Uganda side, then we can apply for a court date – would love for this to be soon!
  • Myron will be starting a home-school co-operative preschool for two mornings a week next week. Pray he transitions into this new phase really well.


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Merry Christmas! “We have chicken, rice and sodas”

Dan just got off the phone from one of his mates in Gulu wishing him Merry Christmas. Dan asked him: have you got presents for everyone? He replied: yes, I got gweno (chicken), I got rice and I have sodas. Christmas is almost in Gulu!

Although we have escaped Santa (he’s not going to be appearing this year, we will be standing in his place), we still have a tree (well… a branch), we popped up our locally made stockings, we have prepared crackers, and the presents are wrapped.

Other expat friends have commented that it doesn’t ‘feel’ like Christmas, more in reference to celebrating Christmas without snow and no fireplace. For us, well, it does ‘feel’ like our Christmas from home. Even though we can’t walk in and out of the air-conditioned living room (don’t need to in a grass-thatched hut), it’s still hot outside, there’s cold beer in the fridge, a decorated tree in the living room, Christmas playlist on request and presents wrapped in actual Christmas wrapping paper (note easy to come by here). This is Myron’s second Christmas with us. Last year he was quite young and the morning was a wipe-out after he cut his eyelid on the coffee table. We have much higher expectations for tomorrow morning.

Myron doesn’t really understand a lot about Christmas Day or its meaning as yet (naturally). At bedtime he thought it was his birthday tomorrow 🙂 We have been trying to encourage him to be involved in the gift buying for others (much to his disappointment that nothing we have bought with him has been for him)… we are not sure he is actually expecting anything for himself! He will certainly be pleasantly surprised.

Today we had a lovely Christmas Eve lunch with our dear friend and colleague Catherine – she cooked up a local feast (of course!) Followed by a beautiful evening with our Kiwi mates at our favourite local coffee shop.

We are looking forward to Christmas lunch tomorrow with friends (an assortment of 15 adults from six different nations).

However you plan to celebrate Christmas this year, we hope you have a wonderful festive season!

With much love,

Dan, Jodes & Myron xxx



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Blame the NGO, not Ed Sheeran

Our kiwi/Gulu mates wrote a thought-provoking blog about the worst aid fundraising video of the year. The video features superstar Ed Sheeran as the frontman for Comic Relief’s video appeal. Read it for yourself 🙂


The Radiator Awards highlight the best and worst aid fundraising videos of the year. Yes, this blog is about the worst: the winner of the ‘Rusty Radiator.’ Comic Relief (an NGO) fronted by Ed Sheeran won the prize, and the judges quite rightly shredded them for their video.

I blame Comic Relief. They had Ed Sheeran, a megastar and they butchered it. I only like Ed Sheeran more after this video – the guy has heart. They take him to where homeless kids are sleeping in boats, and you can see him trying to deal with the horrible situation “I can’t process this… My natural instinct is to put them in the car, and just take them. Put them in a hotel until we can get them sorted… Can we do that?” When you’re a rich western pop star with no background in aid or NGO work, what are you…

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Let’s spread some gossip!

We really want some gossip to spread… and it’s slowly happening! Gossip about children’s reading. Today the director rang me from one of the leading private schools in town to find out their results for our reading test. She said she can’t wait to find out and is very competitive. I think she told her teachers she would buy a bull for them if they are number 1 (sadly they just missed out). I have rang a few teachers and head teachers to tell them of their schools’ good results. And people are talking! We want this gossip to spread. We want to change the narrative of teaching and learning in Gulu and further afield in Uganda.