Teacher-Pigs and Becoming Coffee Beans.. Just a day in the life.

Sometimes it is hard to do justice to the nature, the beauty, the wonder and the downright weirdness of this job. But we shall try. A day in the life of a Redearth representative:

6.30- 7.00 am:

Awoken by the blurry but rather lovely mixture of birds in the trees, lizards on the roof, cocks cockadoodledooing, church choirs singing,  calls to prayer from the mosque and of course the hollering and whooping laughter that is Stella’s morning hello. Breakfast, often in the dark or by candlelight as the power is out. Toast, cooked over a flame and an egg boiled on the hob.

7.30- 8.30:

Flying along the freshly rained-on red roads on a motorbike, alone for a moment, on the way to work. The sun not yet fully in the sky, throws a hazy, golden, light on the fields of green sugar cane, maize and beans in the valley below.  Birds and their morning music everywhere. The misty-blue, forested hills rising slowly in the distance.  Small gatherings of wooden or mud homes whizz across the horizon or are spied, nestled comfortably behind a bushy enclave of tropical trees, streams of smoke rising from them as breakfast tea is prepared. Children, barefoot on their way to school, smiling and waving, whilst men and women of all ages, their bikes and heads stacked high with produce to sell at the market, walk with all the time in the world.

8.30-9:00am:

Arrive at school: greeted by crowd of suspicious stares that quickly turn to smiles, especially if you attempt a Runyoro greeting ‘Oraire ota? (How are you?) Children running to see you, or running away crying in distress at having seen you (presumably due to disturbing alien whiteness of your skin).

Ushered quickly in to the heads office to sign the much revered visitors book and begin the days rounds of greetings to all those who you know or do not know –hand shaking, questions of ‘how is town?’ and ‘how is home?’ ‘How is the weather finding you?’ ‘greet the others from us!’ And then, after chatting some more with the head teacher or local priest, finally, work begins:

9:00-10:00am:

Visits to classrooms where you are welcomed, religiously by the entire class: ‘Good morning madam, this is P6 class, feel at home! *Claps* ’ . Observing teachers implementing the Redearth training with gusto and enthusiasm. Feeling proud, inspired. Visiting a second class and experiencing the absence of any indication that training has been given. Feeling disheartened. Taking classes yourself for demonstration, watching as the children stare at you, open mouthed with disbelief, taking several attempts to get the children to do what you want.

(“Yes, I really mean it, come up here and act like you are a mosquito’’)

Supporting teachers and offering suggestions of how to implement the training effectively. Feeling hopeful.

10:00am-12:00pm

Giving training: waiting in the spare classroom for at least an extra 30 minutes after the session was scheduled to start whilst the staff assemble.  (Ugandan rule – if it is supposed to start at 10, it starts at 11.) Watching as teachers with unsure faces break in to fits of giggles and raucous laughter as they are introduced to new games to warm up their brains or their bodies. Struggling to explain things in your best Ugandan-English, speaking carefully and clearly. Watching as the activities you have planned fall flat on their face due to your poor explanations but then, inevitably, with enough interactive activities and group competitions, having a great time with the teachers and building new relationships and trust. Occasionally, abandoning all due to torrential rain banging on the corrugated iron roof and gusts of wind blowing in through the windowless window and throwing you paper and plans everywhere.

12:30-1:30pm

Then lunch. Maybe it is insisted that you eat with the staff – sweet tea and cassava chips under a mango tree, beans and matoke(boiled and mashed) in the staff room. Maybe you go for a short walk to a neighbouring village, buy a roll (watch as locals ask in confusion “just ONE?! This is not enough!)  and a banana and again, find a tree for sitting and watching the world go by.

Your solitude is invariably disturbed by a gaggle of small children with torn clothes, dirty face and big grins, who have come to inspect you. Hair is pulled (not always gently), skin is poked and stroked, voice is giggled at and mimicked and all items in your pockets and bag are carefully investigated and experimented with, including the trying on of sunglasses or taking ‘selfies’ with the phone, until you find that you have company for as long as you would like it. When lunch is over, your newfound company escorts you off the land and shout ‘Muzhungu byeeee’ until you are out of sight.

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 1:30-5:00pm

The afternoon is probably hot and sticky and its usually off to another school, across the wide and open countryside, up steep and bumpy un-tarmaced roads and down in to quiet villages, sun on the shoulders and a breeze in your face. Otherwise by the window of the passangers seat of the car, discussing the ways of the world with Johnson: Mini-skirt laws, anti-gay laws, the rise of the power of women, the do’s and don’t of discipline.. the differences between ‘you people’ and ‘we people’.

Or, as happened recently, returning to Court View to deliver a training session to Redearth Reading schools on Storytelling. Greeting head teachers and teachers. Introducing some well-known stories. Discussing storytelling techniques and the importance of sharing stories with children. Reading stories to teachers in English and Runyouro. Making masks, reinacting stories through role play and drama.IMG_0063

IMG_0073 Watching with delight as fully grown adults move around the training room snorting like pigs or growling and leaping like wolves.
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IMG_0167Experimenting with voices, squealing with laughter and making pigs from plastic bottles. Experiencing together the sheer joy that we all feel when reading, acting or watching a story for the first time.

Or, delivering a training session to lead teachers, on their own presentation skills. Shrieks of joy and hugs as teachers see each other for the first time in 2 weeks. Sharing ideas and reflecting on our own professional development. Practicing presentations, discussing difficulties.  IMG_0042Eating chapatis and drinking sodas.

OR, attending a ceremony to celebrate and congratulate the hard-working schools of the achievement project. Feeling proud as the minister for education of the whole of Uganda tells the crowd that the Redearth project is making a real impact and that he is impressed. Feeling happy for teachers collecting a silver certificate for their excellent teaching practice. Feeling confused as Ronnie tells a story of the egg, the carrot and the coffee bean and asks ‘Are you an Egg? Are you a carrot? Or are you a coffee bean?’ The story later unfolds to make much sense – the boiling water in to which each item is thrown is the difficult circumstances that teachers work under, and the individuals , the egg, the carrot and the coffee bean, go in to the boiling water. The egg goes in soft and comes out hard (angry, frustrated), the carrot goes in to the water hard and comes out soft (weakened, disheartedned, and the coffee bean comes out of the water unchanged but having improved the water, made it richer and tastier and good-smelling for all. Listening with sincerity as teachers conduct a prayer in which god is requested to ‘Give us all the strength to become coffee beans’.

5:00-600pm

Returning home, everyone is returning home. The roads are busy with budda buddas, children in dusty school clothes and tractors carrying stacks of fresh produce. The air is fresh and cool, the markets are busy and bustling as todays fresh fish catch is brought in from Lake Albert and is laid out on wooden benches. Wandering through the stalls, being greeted by familiar, friendly faces with the mingling smells of roasting cassava, smoked fish and fresh mangoes in the air around. Buying ingredients for a vegetarian soup and wandering home to share the days experiences with the rest of the redearth team.

Evening:

Always dinner (at home cooked by our very selves or at Court View hotel if we can’t be bothered) usually stars, maybe guitar playing, maybe  football watching, maybe drinking, and probably falling asleep at a ridiculously early time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Approaches

Achievement Aawrd Assessors
Most teachers would agree that as holiday time draws nearer, excitement in the staffroom builds and the countdown until the end of term becomes a daily routine: “Only 28 sleeps to go!” and “Nearly there! are common utterances heard.

And so for us, as our first term working for RedEarth draws to a close it has dawned on us just how much we are loving our time and work here in Uganda. For, believe it or not, we actually feel a significant twinge of sadness that schools will be closed for 8 weeks and that we won’t get to continue seeing the wonderful teachers and all the gorgeous children that we get to work with. Though we will of course not be complaining about some nice long lie-ins.. and a proposed overland trip to Tanzania is helping to dull the pain.

The last month has been a very busy one with a constant stream of RedEarth visitors and volunteers, the nursery training, the reading training and Reading Project assessments, the Achievement Award assessments and finally filming and making videos of some of the great teaching and learning we have observed as a result of RedEarth training.

We were both excited to finally meet the famous Di (co-founder of Redearth), Sheena, Lyn and Alice who came over to visit nurseries and deliver some fantastic new training to the teachers involved. As well as learning lots from them all, we enjoyed the new company and the chance to share plenty of wine and beer drinking hours on the veranda. In the New Year, Nikki will be helping with this project where nurseries need lots of support in improving the learning environment and thinking about new teaching and learning strategies.

We were also very happy to meet the lovely Caroline, visiting from South Africa, to deliver reading training to P3 and P4 teachers in the reading project. The 2 days of training were enriching for all due to the quality of the training delivered by Caroline and the dedication of the teachers involved. We both got to take part in the training and offer our own idea on the teaching of vowel digraphs, lesson structure, reading stories with children and asking questions. The whole thing was a real giggle and we got to work alongside some really positive and excited teachers who have been picking up new ideas and teaching techniques with amazing speed and enthusiasm.

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Reading Training

Following this, assessing for the reading project was really interesting for us as it was a chance to see how well the children in the project had progressed since the beginning of the year. Back in March when the project began, 6 pilot schools were selected as to be part of the project. At this time most of the children in P1-P4 could not read/recognize any of the individual sounds and decoding skills of new Runyuro words was very limited. As well as this, most of the teachers were also unsure of the pronunciation of different sounds and were used to teaching reading through memorizing whole words.
As a result of the reading project, teachers have been attending training (like the one mentioned previously) to focus on the teaching of phonics through learning letter sounds ( with lots of emphasis on using flashcards, rhymes, phonic games) decoding, blending, structuring reading lessons effectively and finally creating a learning environment conducive to reading. When we collected data by listening to children from P1-P4 read sounds and decode new words we could see just how well the project was working.

As you can see from the following videos on youtube (that it should be noted, we slaved loooong and hard over to make), the classrooms are looking beautiful, the teachers are confident in their methods and the children are READING!!!!

Video from Ikoba Girls Primary school:

Video from Karujubu primary school:

We have also felt a huge amount of pride in RedEarth these last few weeks when assessing the Achievement Award. This project has 26 schools in the award, each striving to move forward in terms of Learning Environment, Teaching and Learning, Behaviour Management, Equality for Girls and School Ethos (please see earlier posts for more info on this project!).

For the assessment we were split in to teams of 4 which were made up of 1 or 2 ‘Muzhungu” RedEarth volunteers (i.e. Lynne, Ronnie, Ali, Nikki, Mark or Caroline ),1 Ugandan Lead Teacher and 1 Ugandan CCT or Inspector. The mix helped us to ensure accountability and continuity between teams to ensure each school was judged fairly. Each team then set off to 1 school per day to watch lessons, interview head teachers, teachers and pupils and generally get a feel for the school. Each teacher was then awarded a level for their lesson from foundation, to bronze, to silver and then gold and finally the school was given an overall grade as well.

We were thoroughly impressed with what we saw! Without exception, every school had moved forward in terms of at least 1 area of the criteria with many schools making huge achievements. The Lead teachers in the programme proved what fantastic assets they are with nearly all of them achieving lessons that were above the level of their school and with 6 lead teachers receiving silver certificates. Among the first teachers in the Red Earth project to ever achieve this level.

Above all, it was brilliant to see schools where the children are happy and want to come to school, where the learning environment is safe and attractive for children to learn in and where the teachers are beginning to use fun and interactive teaching methods to make their lessons exciting for the children.

We must add a this point that all of this was brightened and made easier by the wonderful Mark Smith, Caroline Holland and Sylvia Dos Santos Ferreria who have visited Masindi and provided us with company, great conversation and invaluable support to Redearth in the assessments. We miss you guys!

We did of course see some lessons which were somewhat different in terms of content, to the ones we would teach at home.

The following are some examples:

• A science lesson entitled ‘Pig Management’, where children went on to discuss the importance of piglet castration and the best way to do it: with a sharp knife of with a ‘loop’. You can imagine the wincing on Nikki’s face!
• A science lesson on ‘The Female Reproductive Organs’ where girls were called to the front of the class with the word ‘vagina’ stuck on their heads and were consequently asked to spell it: ‘I can spell the word Vagina: V-A-G-I-N-A the word is vagina.” “The word is?” “ Va-Gina!”. You can imagine the not-quite-so-suppressed chortling from Spinks!
• A Social studies lessons on how to feed and look after a pregnant woman:
“You give her meat and wash her” as a young girl with a jumper stuffed under a shirt to emulate pregnancy proceeded to walk proudly around the room rubbing her belly.

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We also observed some rather tummy tickling notices and signs on our trips around the school including:

Stuck to a tree: “Avoid Bad Touches”

Stuck in the playground: “Lonely places are Dangerous”

Stuck out near the toilets: “Vaginaty is Healthy”

and upon the wall of one headteachers office under the title ‘Children with Learning difficulties we saw:

‘Satanic Forces: 5”

Interpret this as you will!

Our final area of work this year has been to film and make videos of some of the great practice we have seen in the schools we visit. It has been a process of wonder and frustration as we see amazing teachers deliver fantastic lessons and then fail to capture it professionally enough and spend hours arguing with the computer on how to make it in to a presentable video. So far we have spent around 14 hours making two, which we are quite proud of, you can see them for yourself by following the links. There will be more to come soon!

For the last week, now schools are closed, we will be sorting books and organizing the resource room before setting off on some holiday travels for Christmas and hopefully doing some more volunteer work in another part of Uganda before coming back to Masindi when schools reopen in January.

We can’t wait to get stuck back in and begin a new school year together with Redearth, Lead teachers, new and old schools and lots of excitable little kiddiewinks!

Until then, we blog, U-ganda!

Titillating Discussions

This week we thought we would regale you with some of the interesting conversations and encounters that we have experienced since our move to Uganda.

Our daily dialogues on the way to work with Johnson, our driver, are a great place to begin. Johnson, (who is married to Stella who also works at Lynne and Ronnie’s house) is an ever-friendly and smiling source of interesting facts and stories of Ugandan life and perceptions. Johnson left school very young to help look after his family but tells us he believes he would have been a lawyer if he had been able to stay on at school. He certainly has a strong mind and seems somewhat of a philosopher, we learn a lot from him about politics, culture and daily Ugandan life and really look forward to our drives with him. We also feel that he and Stella look out for us here and have become quite fond of us as well.
Johnson and Stella at home
At times though there is somewhat of a clash of opinions: our very ‘westernised’ view point and his, fairly traditional, Ugandan view point. A good example is that of a woman’s place in society, something that Johnson feels very strongly about.

It has been said to us before that as white, western women, we will be given the status of honorary men in Uganda. Therefore, we are allowed to get away with doing things that Ugandan women may not. For example: wearing trousers. Sitting astride a motorbike. Not cleaning. Not having to have babies before the age of 25… having more than 3 beers. Whilst things are changing and women are allowed to work and earn money they are also still very much expected to also take on all the duties of looking after the children, the home and the garden.. the cooking, the cleaning, the digging, the sewing… the list goes on. Women have very many responsibilities and definitive roles. For Johnson the idea of women in politics is quite ridiculous:

‘’Women would be no good in power because instead of taking an important phone call or an important meeting like they were supposed to, they would be too busy in the salon getting their hairs or nails done”

Johnson was also quite perturbed by the idea of Ali drinking beer and vodka at the weekend.

Ali: It’s rude not to drink in Scotland.
Johnson: You (pointing at Ali) can not have more than 2 beers, it is too much.
Ali: Yeah, sometimes I have 5 or 6.
Johnson. No. It is too much .You can only take only 2 or maybe 3.
Ali: Sometimes if I have more than 5 I get a bit drunk.
Johnson: (Whoops with laughter, slaps thigh and shakes head) This is very bad.

It is not just the men who have preconceived ideas of a woman’s role and how they should behave. Many of the women we have met have also been quite upset at the idea that neither of us are married with children.

Our lead teachers on the Red Earth programme are a group of wonderful, charismatic and strong women (and 2 lovely male teachers as well). At our first Lead Teacher meeting, after introductions and pleasantries, our marital status was of course enquired upon:

The Lead Teachers

Beth: Do you have children?
Nikki: No
Beth: (Slight disbelief) A husband?
Nikki: No
Beth: (Sounding worried) A boyfriend?
Nikki: Nope.
Beth: (Now wide eyed horror) But you are 30! You must produce children younger!
Nikki: In the UK, lots of people don’t have children until later on. (starting to feel a little self-conscious from the accusing stares) .Most of my friends don’t have children yet either. Most are not even married!
Beth: (reassuring pat to the shoulder) I will find you a Ugandan husband, don’t worry.

Nikki and Beth
Ali has also been subject to specific interest in one of the schools she works in due to her incessant wearing of ‘these things’ (trousers). When asked why she does not wear a dress the conversation went as follows:

Ali: (looking in confusion at her favourite linen trousers) My trousers?
Kasifa: Yes, (points accusingly) these things.
Ali: Because.. they are..comfortable?
Kasifa: Don’t you own a dress?
Ali: Well, yes.. I have one that I wear for special occasions.
Kasifa (and a few more teachers who had now joined the conversation): We want you to wear it to school. Wear it on Friday.

On Friday when Ali showed up in her disappointing attire of linen trousers again…

Kasifa: (sighs) We will buy you a dress.

Ali and Kasifa

Stella, Johnson’s Wife, also seems to find us rather amusing. She too, is often to be found shaking her head at the colourful trousers hung upon the washing line and whooping with wonder when we completely fail to be able to boil a pot of beans for ourselves, or find the spatula in the kitchen. She also found much hilarity in the fact that Nikki did not know the correct way of telling whether maize was ripe for the picking and cooking.
Stella is, as Ronnie has said ‘a welcome site’ to see standing at the door and welcoming us home each day. She is a wonderfully happy person who is always busy but always singing and giggling to herself. We always know when Stella has arrived in the morning as we hear the joyful (and usually thoroughly tuneless) ‘La La Laaaa!’ coming around the corner. Stella can do all manor of jobs and duties and is clearly a good chef and cleaner for her husband will also be founding digging barefoot in the garden in with a sharp hoe, whacking the seeds out of dry beans with a hammer or weaving intricate reed pots with concentration. However, when recently asked if she could help Ronnie to construct a chicken house she was utterly perturbed by this notion:

‘ No I cannot. It is not a woman’s job, I will not be able to’.

Which, in hindsight is still a view that often prevails in the western world as well.

One of the differences in culture that has particularly titillated us, is the contrast in perceptions of physical appearance and what it is about a women that is generally perceived to be attractive or sexy.

A teacher: “Ah Nikki! Hey! You are looking so fat! “ (grabs at piece of Nikki’s tummy and rubs it)

.. not necessarily the greeting you were hoping for after not seeing someone for only 2 weeks.

However, to be referred to as ‘fat’ is not considered an insult in Uganda but a compliment.. or if not a compliment then just a general, harmless observation. To be fat means that you are healthy, you are have enough to eat well and therefore must be feeling good and happy.

In one of the schools we visit, the head teacher recently said:

‘ You go to see the P2 teacher, you know, that fat one’ (pointing in the direction of a rather larger lady sitting nearby and well with earshot).

A sack-able offense in the UK? Conversely and maybe not surprisingly, Ugandans (so Johnson tells us) do not ever call each other skinny as this is a sign of disease and unhealthiness, not something that could ever be a compliment.

Johnson laughed in surprise when he discovered that we took fatness to be insulting and that we wanted to be skinny.

Johnson: So for your people, you can not say ‘ you are fat’?
Ali: No, you NEVER say someone is fat!
Johnson: But what if they are fat? How will they know?
Ali: You still don’t tell them
Johnson: How will you call them to someone who does not know?
Ali: You will call them ‘larger’ or ‘jolly’.
Johnson (laughs and slaps thigh):If they want to not be called fat, why do they not just concern themselves to stop eating so much?

Many of the Ugandan women here are healthily rounded and well, yes, fat. With big bottoms. ‘Yes!, of course! They are women!’ comes Johnsons response.

It is really rather refreshing to not see stick thin models as the benchmark for all women to aspire to.

On this subject, the idea of boobs and breasts are just not exciting to Ugandan men, apparently. Breasts are seen as functional parts of women, used for bringing up children and not much else. Out in the countryside it is still fairly normal (so we are told) for women to go topless in the field and there is no shame in it. In town, despite strict cultural rules and norms regarding showing your legs, it is more than acceptable to have a very low cut top and a lot of cleavage! On the other hand legs are far more exciting. Only in Kampala nightclubs will you ever see a Ugandan woman wearing a short skirt. In Masindi town, no more than calves are shown and further out in the villages women usually cover their ankles too. It’s not surprising therefore that thighs are the objects of desire. We were recently fascinated to open a ‘newspaper’ equivalent to The Sun, and find ‘bumper thighs’ on page 3, (big thighs, cellulite-endorsed thighs, small thighs..) instead of topless-ness.

One of our friends recently reported to us that on the bus to Masindi on a typically hot, sticky day, many of the women had taken their tops of and were sitting on the bus in their bras. No one batted an eyelid!

“ We are not interested in those things which hold up the breasts.. but the knickers…yes! ” (Anonymous)

We are well aware that there is much more to the Ugandan culture than just the differences we have mentioned above but as newbies, these things have been highly interesting and amusing to us. Hopefully some of these conversations and observations give you a bit more of an insight in to life here and undoubtedly there will be many more bizarre conversations will take place during our time here. We are sure we are only at the beginning of our journey in finding out about this fascinating country and getting to know the wonderful people we meet each day. We are thoroughly enjoying it so far though!

The Real Work Begins..

It’s been a fortnight since we returned from Kenya and have been settling in to life in Masindi town very nicely, enjoying the relaxed and laid back pace of life that the Ugandans seem to embrace. Wandering through the dusty town streets, picking up cardboard and plastic bottles whist the locals give us strange looks (more on this later)we are getting used to meeting and greeting acquaintances at the shops we frequent. In Uganda, a greeting is a very important part of daily life. Therefore a simple hello when buying a chapatti becomes: ‘Hello!’ “How are you?’ ‘How was the night?’ and ‘How is the day?’. So as you can imagine, simple tasks take a little longer which we are both really enjoying.

We also enjoy our weekly trip to the market. As we mentioned previously, there are, to Ali’s great disappointment, no chicken nuggets here. However, last week we did find some chicken to purchase.. feathered up, live and squawking in it’s cage.. to Nikki’s distress! We decided we would throw ourselves in and do as the Ugandan’s do. Well, not quite as the Ugandan’s do. They buy them live, take them home and slaughter them by hand. Instead, we paid, then watched a man do it for us. After getting the chicken home, still warm and pulsating, we couldn’t eat it (with visions of the feathered friend still fresh in Nikki’s mind) so we gave it to our friend Stella, who was delighted with it.
Dinner being de-feathered
Before you start to think we are simply loafing around out here and doing very little, the last two weeks we have really thrown ourselves in to work and have had very busy schedules. Each of us have been allocated 6 schools to work with and support.

We had a real treat when visiting Isagara, a school set in a beautiful rural village, for unbeknown to us they had prepared a welcoming ceremony for our arrival! After visiting the classrooms and meeting the teachers, we were led to our seats under the shade of a grand tree and we watched a huge group of children assemble around us, peering expectantly and giggling nervously. It was only when we noticed that some were in traditional skirts and costume it began to dawn on us what was going to happen! After much building anticipation, the nursery children opened the performance with an incredibly cute welcome song and dance. For children of 3,4 and 5 they sure had rhythm! They were also accompanied by the stunning voice of their class teacher who ushered them around us and kept their performance in full swing. Following the nursery we witnessed a wonderful show of vocal talent and rhythmic dancing from the school choir as well as some African drumming. Some of the children had truly soulful voices and we were both moved almost to tears by the uniqueness and beauty of it all.

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Welcome to Isagara School

Other than such unexpected treats, there are two main projects that we are working on in our allotted schools; The Achievement Award and The Early Reading Project. We wanted to give you a little bit of background information about each project so that you understand what our role this year will be.

The Achievement Award

There are 28 schools that are part of the Award project (all of which are self-nominated).

The Achievement Award sets out to raise the standard of education by supporting head teachers and teachers in improving the following areas: Teaching and Learning, Learning Environment, Behaviour Management and Pupil Motivation, Equality of Girls, Career Professional Development and School Ethos.

There are 4 different levels that can be achieved by schools: Foundation, Bronze, Silver and Gold. To progress through the levels the schools have a clear and specific set of criteria to meet in each area.

For the last 2 weeks we have visited our 12 schools to meet the head teachers and the staff, carry out informal lesson observations and gain an understanding of where the school is at in terms of the achievement award. We have identified areas in which the schools are doing well and areas for further development in order to meet the criteria for the award.

We have now both started to create a programme of work for each school based on their individual needs. For example, this week we have led resource-making sessions to help improve the learning environment. Hence wandering around town, picking up rubbish from the streets in our spare time.

The lovely Ikoba girls School
Next week we are delivering training sessions to some of our respective schools on partner talk and group work. Whilst we are working separately, many of our schools have similar needs so we have the benefit of being able to plan together and pool our skills.

At this point we envisage that other examples of work we might be doing for the achievement award will include, team teaching, supporting planning, discussing, sharing and demonstrating different strategies for teaching and learning.

It’s been a great few weeks beginning this work, though at times never-racking when meeting new people and trying to express ourselves clearly (apparently we speak way to fast!). We are often reminded just how much we have to learn here and how this experience will broaden our understanding of education and develop our skills as teachers. Thankfully, all the schools we have visited have been welcoming, enthusiastic and keen for us to come in and work with the staff so we are feeling less nervous than we were a few weeks ago!


The Early Reading Project

This is pilot project which has been running under a year, working with 6 schools in P1 and P2 and funded by Comic Relief.

Literacy rates in Ugandan primary schools are relatively low with many children in the upper school not being able to read, especially when it comes to reading unfamiliar or new words.

The local language, Runyuro, is a phonetically decodable language, however in schools, phonics are not taught, instead syllables are taught by rote learning.

The Early Reading Project therefore aims to train teachers in the pronunciation of single sounds as well as blending and decoding familiar and unfamiliar words, firstly in Runyuro and later in English.

So far we have attended a training session with teachers and observed lessons so we can begin thinking about how to support teachers in the next steps of the programme.

Blending sounds to read

We can see ourselves that the project is having a significant impact in schools after witnessing some great lessons where teachers are using a variety of methods to teach reading and the children are highly motivated. Many children in the project can read new words and are showing confidence with their reading in general.

confident children

Besides these two projects we do have other responsibilities.. but more about this another time!

All in all, we are really enjoying our time here. The work is challenging and exciting and we love being able to immerse ourselves in the local culture. Every day we are blown away by the beautiful countryside, the interesting and friendly nature of the people we work with and the experience of working for a charity that allows us to pursue our passion.

We blog, U-ganda!

“The training is good, no-one has fallen asleep!”

Having only been in Uganda a week, we were lucky enough to be invited to travel across the border to Bondo, Kenya to help deliver a 3 days training workshop to a large group of local teachers and representatives of other Kenyan NGO’s.
Our van
It was a long and sometimes bumpy road in our 2 day journey to the border. Our first night was spent in Jinja, south east of Kampala where the source of the Nile is found flowing from Lake Victoria, then the following morning we travelled to Busia on the Ugandan side of the border. We liked the romantic idea of crossing the border with one foot in Uganda and one foot in Kenya, but unfortunately it was a little more formal than this. On crossing though, we did notice an immediate change in atmosphere. The Kenyan side was comparatively louder, busier and bustlier with lots of children coming over to look at us.

We were met by our host, Vincent, who works for WVP and were taken straight to Bondo which is a small town where WVP is based. Here we got a chance to meet the staff of WVP and hear about the work they do. WVP stands for World Voices Positive and is a local, community based organization that works with vulnerable children and youths. WVP offers a variety of programs including sexual health education for children vulnerable to HIV and scholarship programs for orphaned children who cannot afford school fees. However, in this particular district of Kenya there are a huge number of children who do not attend school even though they are on the role. Red Earth were invited to deliver a workshop on developing the learning environment with a view to creating a positive school and classroom where children want to come to school and enjoy learning.

The journey to and from Bondo and our hotel was very beautiful , more red roads lined with trees, open bush, cows, chickens and amazing rock formations which we admired form our slightly squashed position in the back of the car.
Rocks on the road to Kisumi
Rocks on the road to Bondo
Before doing anything we needed to see the schools and classrooms for ourselves to gain an understanding of the context. The first thing that struck us was that in comparison to Ugandan schools, there were far less children in each class, with the maximum being around 20 (compared to 100 + in Masindi!). Some of the locations we visited were stunning: lush, green and with ample outside space for playing football and chilling out under leafy trees.
Abom Primary


Ali got the chance to play some football
However, inside the classrooms were very different to the classes we are used to seeing at home:

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We then got the chance to observe some teaching. The teachers we met were friendly and keen to chat. However the actual teaching of lessons, compared to what we know and expect, was again quite different to what we are used to in the UK. The children and teachers have very little access to resources and different ideas about what is important in teaching and lessons. Any of you that know us will know that when we teach we enjoy a bit of silliness in the classroom so this was a new experience for us.

Whilst it is easy for us to compare lessons to the ones we would teach at home, it was very obvious that the teachers here have had a very different experience, firstly at school themselves and secondly in training. We knew therefore that the training that was planned over the next few days would be appropriate and extremely beneficial.

It was very telling when we turned up to deliver the training the next day to find the teachers quietly sitting in rows, facing the front, eyes fixed on the makeshift board, notebooks and pens at the ready. They seemed decidedly perplexed when we asked them to get up and leave the room so that we could rearrange the room in to groups sitting around tables.

The 3 days of training would focus on: The Physical and Emotional Environment for Learning, Positive Behavior Management and finally, Making Resources from Locally Sourced Materials. The way the training was delivered was very much in the style of a model lesson: interactive, involving group discussion, teamwork, practical activities and interspersed with lots of fun and simple brain breaks and games.

One thing that struck us early on in the training was the expanse of knowledge that the teachers demonstrated with regards to teaching good lessons and educational theory. The problem was clearly the lack of skills and experience to apply the knowledge and theory to actual teaching. As the training evolved, we were impressed with the groups’ enthusiasm and willingness to take on board suggestions. Despite fun being put to the bottom of the list, in terms of what is important in school, it seemed that everyone involved was having a great time, smiling, laughing and generally engaging in a little tomfoolery! We were informed one lunch time, by Nancy from WVP, that the training MUST be good as so far no one had fallen asleep or walked out and in fact everyone was looking forward to coming back the next day!

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We probably should mention at this point, that we were not responsible for delivering the training this time. The whole thing was planned and delivered extremely effectively by Ronnie and Lynne. The one aspect that we both really enjoyed was the chance to sit and talk to teachers during group discussions, asking questions and challenging their thinking on various issues. We also shared some of our own ideas for positive behavior management, making lessons interactive and we really enjoyed getting the chance to lead a few games and brain breaks. The teachers loved all the games which generated much hilarity. It also became quite clear that most of the adults present had never really experienced group games and problem solving activities.
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The 3 days went really well and we felt that the teachers left with lots of new ideas and strategies for use in the classroom. Possibly one of the best things was the final day when teachers got the chance to make interactive resources from locally sourced materials such as plastic sacs, bottle tops and cardboard. Before beginning making, we shared some of our own resources with the groups and each got a chance to play with various educational games such as jigsaws, matching card games, dice games and dominos that everyone seemed to enjoy. The teachers were excited and motivated to begin making their own.

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At the end of the day we displayed everyone’s resources in the training room and the teachers were impressed and proud to see what could be achieved in a matter of hours to improve the learning environment.

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All in all we felt it was a very successful week and are looking forward to beginning work with Masindi teachers once they return to work after the strike! The training has given us an understanding of the level we will be starting at in our own schools in Masindi and confidence that we have something to offer.

Next week we will be visiting our allocated schools, meeting the teachers and head teachers (who we will be working with) and getting the chance to observe lessons.

Until next time, we blog, U-ganda!

Our Arrival in Masindi, Uganda!

On Sunday 8th September, after a grueling 8 weeks training, we completed our half-marathon in Maidenhead in 2 hours 38 minutes, proudly waving the flag for Red Earth Education. Thank you to everyone who sponsored us and with special thanks to Hilary Spokes and Ella Spinks (our mums who housed, watered and fed us all summer!)

On Wednesday 11th September, after many weeks of anticipation, we finally touched down in the picturesque city of Entebbe on the edge of Lake Victoria to be greeted by our new hosts Lynne and Ronnie.

After a quick cup of tea we headed to Kampala to pick up some essentials before travelling north-west to Masindi. We were pleasantly surprised by the laid-back atmosphere of Kampala and the road to Masindi was straight and well-tarmacked with beautiful scenery along the way.. (although we must confess that a fair few hours of this we spent asleep in the back of the rather comfortable minibus recently purchased by Ronnie and Lynne!

Outside the RedEarth Residence

Outside the RedEarth Residence

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It has only been a few days since our arrival but we have been exploring the local area and finding our bearings. Our new home is situated at the bottom of the town in front of the hills and is extremely peaceful with only the sounds of birds and crickets at night.

The first one with the orange roof!

The first one with the orange roof!


We have lots of space and, contrary to our original expectations, a rather fine ‘boys quarters’ with all the living facilities we might need. Not a spot of mud or straw to be seen! Our house is maintained and guarded by a very friendly and smiley family of 3. Masindi itself appears to be a friendly and bustling town with plenty to see and do. When walking around town we are greated by many smiles, waving hands, and friendly greetings including excited shouts of ‘Muzungu!’ which means white person. We have enjoyed a couple of trips to the large local market selling fresh fruit, vegetables and other foods. We have decided we may need to learn to cook some new dishes as there has of yet been no sign of chicken nuggets or baked beans!
Shopping at the market

The 'red earth' road out of Masindi
On our first night we went for dinner and Nile beers at a local hotel and on Thursday we were lucky enough to visit some of the schools and meet some of the teachers we will be working with over the next year. Travelling out to the villages we got a chance to see the amazing red earth roads after which our charity has been named. All of which were buzzing with activity from trucks of Angola cows to small boys with kites. It has been extremely interesting to see the layout of the classrooms and the work that has already been put in place by RedEarth and we can’t wait to get stuck in once all the children are back at school in a few week’s time!

Ali and the Ekoba Boys
Nikki at our first school visit
Yesterday, Friday, we were invited to a resource making session at Masindi Public School where we got the chance to see how the teachers make some of the resources for their classrooms using plastic bottles, plastic maize sacks and cardboard boxes. Ali became an expert at creating hanging bottle lines and also burning, welding and stitching plastic sacs to make wall displays, whilst Nikki used her ‘artistic’ skills to create posters for the children. It was really amazing getting a chance to talk with some of the teachers from the school. Ali enjoyed an unforgettable compliment of being told she looked 22! What a joke.
Resource makingNikki's 'Interest Centre'

Since then, we have been busy making interactive wall display posters for our training sessions with teachers in Kenya next week. Despite the original challenge of stitching (threading a needle was hard enough!) we have become a ‘dab hand’ at stitching plastic pockets on to posters.

All the pockets had to be hand stitched!!!

All the pockets had to be hand stitched!!!

We have also begun thinking of ways to use plastic bottles for sculpting tables and shelves without using glue or tape! More updates on this soon and any ideas are always welcome!

Until next time……we blog, u ganda!

” Run Forest, run! “

Loving the running tracks

Loving the running tracks

Taking it slowly...

Taking it slowly…

Like a pair of bewildered rhinoceroses we have blundered our way across Frensham common, snorting, huffing and puffing our way to an 8.5km run today. We are taking it slowly but are working extra hard to show our dedication to the cause.

Next step is a 10km run next week. In between, we are getting ready for Uganda with injections, visas and shopping for sun lotion and mosquito repellent!

We blog, U-gander!