I have recently returned from my annual visit to Kabale. I was accompanied by four All Our Children supporters who, like me, are retired teachers: Zena Bentley, Lindsey Blake, Annie Griffiths and Eddie Stanbrook. All four have been to Kabale several times before and are very committed to our sponsored young people and our other projects there.
This year Zena’s son, Peter (25 years old), came too. Like all young people who have accompanied us on our visits over the years, he found the experience uplifting and life-enhancing as he witnessed the passion for education Ugandan children and young people have and their resilience in the face of poverty. He made good friends too.
During our visit we focused on four main areas:
monitoring and supporting our sponsored children and young people
working with our adviser from Kampala, Atukunda Gertrude, and our local partner in Kabale, Tushabomwe Patrick, and his team on the support they provide for our sponsored students and planning for the rest of this year
contributing our expertise in education to a project funded by the Feilden Foundation with the aim of improving teaching, learning, behaviour management and school environments in 11 local schools (nursery, primary and secondary)
Yorkits (previously called Days for Girls), a project based in York with the aim of helping girls and women worldwide produce kits of reusable, washable sanitary protection.
Wellbeing of AOC sponsored children and young people
Nearly all our sponsored children and young people are now boarders rather than day students in primary and secondary schools or higher education institutions. This is important because meals and facilities for supervised homework and study are provided. The children we sponsor come from very poor homes where there is often not enough food for everyone in the family and no electricity for light for study in the evenings.
Although boarding facilities are very basic with dormitories often overcrowded and sanitary facilities primitive, Ugandan parents generally want their children to board, and a lot of schools insist that children board in the last year of primary school (P7, when they sit the national Primary Leaving Examination) so that they have more time for their learning.
Despite cases of illness and some tragic home situations (e.g. evictions, death of parents), most of our students looked well and happy. Schools are beginning to move away from using corporal punishment as a main form of discipline (see section on the Feilden Foundation Community of Practice project) and this has made a real difference to students’ confidence and happiness at school.
We met our 45 students together on two occasions. At one, Annie led a lively creative writing session to help them write informative letters about their lives to sponsors and to help them talk about problems they face. I went to all but one of the nursery, primary and secondary schools our students attend to visit them at school and to get progress information. Lindsey takes a particular interest in our 13 students in New Foundation Primary School and visited on several occasions, including observing lessons for the Feilden Foundation project. She has been instrumental in helping the school leadership to stop corporal punishment there.
We have some real successes to celebrate. Byamukama Joshua, whom we first met at a street children centre about ten years ago, has been appointed Head Boy at Kigezi High School, one of the traditional government schools set up by the British which has a good reputation nationally. We are very proud of him; the responsibilities he carries are quite considerable, including running a student discipline committee and representing student views to the school leadership.
At one of our meetings with all the sponsored students, he made a very nice speech. Joshua’s brother, Taremwa Derrick, also has a responsibility at his secondary school where he has been appointed Assistant Games Prefect. Atwebembeire Amon and his brother Taremwa Francis did very well at A level and are now enthusiastic university students. Francis has been a great support for our younger sponsored students and we think his choice of studying education in order to become a secondary school teacher very appropriate.
Several primary school students are high up in the rankings of their year and the spoken and written English of the New Foundation Primary School students has improved significantly. Two very needy nursery age children who have been sponsored during the last two years have shown remarkable progress and increase in confidence. They are unrecognisable from the sad, nervous, hungry children they were when we first met them.
The challenges for families of sending children to school in Uganda
Soon after arriving, we had a meeting with the students’ parents/guardians. Patrick attended and Gertrude translated everything into the local language, Rukiga, as many have not been to school and do not speak English.
It was a long meeting with lots of contributions from the parents/guardians, giving us further insight into the huge burden of gaining education for their children places on parents/guardians in Uganda. The major issue was “shopping”, i.e. the money needed for essential personal items in addition to the list of compulsory requirements issued by schools.
The money we send each term covers the fees and the compulsory requirements in full. The latter includes bedding, cleaning materials, clothes and body washing soap, toilet paper, exercise books, pens, calculators, geometry sets etc and also sugar, flour, and reams of paper to give to the school.
Additional essential personal items vary according to individual students’ needs. They include replacement for torn or outgrown school uniform, shoes, repair of broken trunks, padlocks for trunks, replacement mattresses and buckets (for washing bodies and clothes), extra soap, pens and pencils, exam fees, school trip costs and materials for specific subjects in secondary schools like Art and IT.
We use our luggage allowance of two 23 kilo cases each to take as many things as we can which we know will be useful, including this year at least 70 pairs of shoes and a considerable amount of stationery. Fortunately, based on past experience, we had prioritised black school shoes in our luggage (most donated by Dulwich College). Some students were wearing battered shoes with broken backs and completely worn-out soles, and getting into trouble at school.
The same was happening with torn uniform items (not surprising when one set sometimes has to last for several years). This situation is inevitable as we are sponsoring children and young people from the poorest families in Kabale, some of whom are almost destitute. They genuinely cannot afford shopping for essential personal items when the women and children get the equivalent of £1 for a day’s toil breaking stones in a quarry or digging land for other people to grow food.
During our annual visit, we are able to meet the most pressing needs. Our sponsored children are truly grateful for the security the guaranteed payment of their school fees brings them and their families. At least they know they will not be “chased away” from school with a demand for an amount to cover outstanding fees or missing requirements, without which they cannot return.
Community of Practice
The Community of Practice project funded by the Feilden Foundation, now in its third and final year, has resulted in a step-change in teaching and behaviour management amongst certain teachers in the eleven schools involved. On this visit we observed 25 mainly very good active lessons in these schools (in nearly all of which we have sponsored students) and interviewed the leading teachers and headteachers.
We also ran a training session focusing on alternative strategies for behaviour management to corporal punishment to which we invited two highly inspirational trainers, Namusoke Edith and Ahabwe Edmund, from a project supported by a UK charity, KICS (Kanaama Integrated Community Support), which several of us visited last year.
Since our first visit to Kabale in 2007, teachers from William Morris Sixth Form in London and other UK schools have been supporting their Ugandan counterparts with ideas and resources to encourage more active teaching and learning.
The Feilden Foundation supports innovative and sustainable school building projects in Africa, including in a school in Kabale. The funding and expertise from the Feilden Foundation coupled with our educational expertise have become a powerful driver to support teachers in Kabale in meeting the challenges of the changes finally being introduced to the Ugandan national curriculum. This involves a move away from chalk, talk, rote learning and regurgitation of facts in exams to greater stress on activities in lessons, skills building and critical thinking.
Corporal punishment is supposedly illegal, but still widely used; widespread progress here requires a huge change in culture as well as training on alternative strategies.
The Kabale teachers involved in this project feel very proud to be ahead of the game and we found enthusiasm and high motivation amongst them, in addition to their new classroom skills.
Eddie and Zena worked very hard to support the Yorkits project and to ensure the kits of washable sanitary protection being made by a group of local Kabale women are of the top quality crucial to its success.
Before leaving, they put a leader for the group in place, Kesante Daphine, who completes a Business degree in May, and is a sponsored student. Eddie had raised money at home in Yorkshire to buy a sewing machine, suitable fabrics and other materials, and she helped the local group set up Yorkits in Kabale as a small business with a sales outlet.
Everybody who sees the kits is hugely impressed with the design and quality, and they have already begun to change the lives of girls and women who have them. Eddie will keep in touch with Daphine and guide her in her role.
It is always a pleasure and a moving experience to be in Kabale with the students we support and the teachers we work with. Seeing the children grow up and become successful at school is hugely rewarding.
We are often in awe of Ugandans’ resilience and determination to work for a better life. Once they complete education and get a job, the first duty they feel is to pay the school fees of their siblings.
Ugandans have to be entrepreneurial, to find ways of making a living, to look for second and third jobs to keep their families fed, yet they are friendly, cheerful, show humour in difficult situations, and are very welcoming to visitors. We love being with them.
Chair of Trustees