Eden Quayle in Uganda
 

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Eden Quayle

Eden Quayle

 

Eden has made several trips to the ACE-supported schools in Uganda. He spent nine months, between October 2007 and August 2008, working in the schools, teaching classes and carrying out improvement projects. This page contains the reports he sent back to us during his stay.

You can also read an article he wrote on his return home. It is called Cornish Flags Flying in Africa.

In August 2011 Eden revisited the schools in Uganda. To read his blogs from that visit click here

 

In 2012 he revisited Uganda, together with his fiancée, Stephanie Tag.
They started work at Mukibugu School, teaching lessons and carrying out some repairs.
 
The blackboards in some classrooms were in a very poor state so he has been retexturing and repainting them.
 
He has also been trying to improve the highly eroded grass in the courtyard ....
 
.... by laying turf.
 
 
Stephanie organised 'The Trees of Life Art Project' to brighten up the exterior of the P1 classroom.
 
60 pupils from P5 to P7 used different colours on their hands to print the leaves.
 
The classroom looked a lot brighter .....
 
..... and the pupils had a lot of fun.
They organised school sessions during the school holidays and 60 P5 to P7 students attended.
 
 
The pupils had lessons on computers, art and craft, hygiene, modern languages .....
  ..... and even watched some of the BBC series Africa with David Attenborough.



 

This is his first report, sent on 6th November 2007.

Uganda, the 'Pearl of Africa', where the eastern savannah meets the West African jungle. Travelling from Kenya I saw how this is true as the landscape changed before my very own eyes. Kisoro District, where most of ACE's schools are based, lies in the southwest corner of Uganda near the Congolese border.

The first thing that struck me was the wonderful visually appealing scenery. The Virunga volcano peaks in the background standing like guardsmen each over 3400m high and steep-sided terraced hills with farmhouses on in the foreground punctuated by lakes.

I have visited eight schools during my first week here. All of them supported by ACE and I was astonished by what I saw. The first school I visited, Nyarusunzu, which is very near the Congolese border, had only two concrete classrooms for 340 students. 3 classrooms were simple mud and sticks structures covered by a tin roof. It reminded me of 17th century animal sheds.

This picture shows Eden with pupils in one of the old classrooms at Nyarusunzu.

  Eden in class

Arrival of bricks  

We promised to build a 3 classroom block for the school in place of the mud and stick classrooms to the headmaster (who actually got onto his knees in thanks) and within one hour of leaving the school the first lorry load of bricks arrived at the school. It felt a bit like 'Challenge Anneka' but dreams really can come true when people support a charity like ACE through giving generous donations.

The picture shows piles of bricks which have just been delivered.


Another astonishing thing I have seen is the number of school children packed into one class. A first year class that I saw had over 200 students in. The classroom was dark as I entered due to the building only having windows on one side. As I walked in all I could I see at first were eyes in the darkness. There aren't enough classrooms or teachers to create smaller classes at this particular school. When the 200 students started singing and jumping the whole classroom began to rock, it was like the building was coming to life!

Mukibugu new classroom

This picture shows a crowded but happy class in a new classroom at Mukibugu school.

This is my first report for ACE and during my first week here I have already seen many things that I didn't think existed in the world of modern day education. Children sitting on top of each other due to not enough desks, a chronic lack of modern classrooms, having a single textbook for a class of 200 and many other things that are to long to list here. ACE is regarded as a godsend to many of the schools here due to the work it does. I hope that this continues and that it is supported further in the U.K. When people say you can't change the world, it isn't true. You can change the world for these children in Uganda and ACE has done just that for so many.

Eden Quayle near the Congo border in southwestern Uganda. - 5th Nov 2007



This is his second report, sent on 22nd November 2007.

Primary education is a large part of what makes up the Ugandan education system. With 50% of the 30 million or so population under 14 years old (the average age of the country is 15) it becomes even more important for Uganda to give its children a comprehensive and full primary education. However, the facts are that it isn't able to do this.

Education is divided up as follows:

Primary education 7 years
Secondary education 4 years
Advanced secondary education 2 years
University ? years

This seems on the surface to be an efficient and structured system, but there is a huge internal problem as shown below:

An average primary school in Uganda has 297 students, divided up as follows:

Primary 1 (P1)
  100 students
P2
  60 students
P3
  40 students
P4
  30 students
P5
  25 students
P6
  22 students
P7
  20 students

Only 20% of those students who start Primary 1 actually finish their primary education.

Of those who actually start secondary education, only 17% complete the full 6 years, mostly due to the fact that secondary education is not free and very costly to most families.

Keeping the students in school is the number one problem. The main reason that students drop out of school is poverty. Parents have large families - 5 or more children - because they believe that this will make farming (the main industry in this area) easier for them as they get older. Having 16 hands working in a field is certainly better than just four.

Often the oldest is left to tend the youngest children and the middle children tend the animals. Goats and cows need to be herded around to find new grass throughout the day. Also, as the children become older, they start 'petty trade' - i.e. selling things at the market, starting transporting produce, or starting manual labour. I often see children as young as six, during school hours, working in the fields or helping their father transport bamboo canes to the fields on their heads for the beans they have just planted. When the need to provide food on the table everyday is a necessity to survive, education becomes secondary.

Now let's look at the teachers' situation. A primary school teachers' salary is 200,000 Ugandan shillings (£57) per month, which is £684 a year (the price of a motorbike here). Trying to support a family of seven (families of more than 7 children are the norm, especially for rural families) on this is a challenge to say the least. Most teachers have to walk to school and this often takes over an hour for many of them. They work from 8am to 5pm and many have to take work home with them. This is because marking the work of 100 pupils (often the size of a P1 class) takes a very long time. In summary, they are over worked and underpaid.

As I write this, a young girl of about eight years in a school uniform (a school jumper is a nice piece of warm clothing when it is a holiday and cold outside) is looking into my room and seeing what the 'white man's' room is like. Her eyes are wide, ooh she has just seen me, she is now looking uncomfortable and now she has gone. I am certainly a source of curiosity here…

The future for Ugandan primary education is not all bleak. The education department in this area has recently started a campaign to get students back into school. They are capturing between fifty to a hundred students a day and taking the names of the parents so that they can be reprimanded. Once word gets around that this is happening more students will go to school.

Attendance at the school I am teaching at shot up at the beginning due to the fact that I am teaching at the school. It dipped the next week and now has gone up once again. Working with the headmaster, and using a little money from ACE, we have managed to construct two volleyball courts, monkey bars designed by a young Cornish engineer, improved drainage (as many parts of the school flood when it rains), a new school wall (think of Hadrian's wall only smaller), and the beginnings of a netball court. Most of this took place within a day. It is amazing what you can accomplish with 400 students and 800 hands all working together.

Towards the end of the day I sat on top of the school water tank with the headmaster and took in the view. Mukibugu School did not have a playground when I first arrived but now there was a volleyball game in full swing, a football game was taking place (albeit on a slope), and the monkey bars had a large queue up to it (the first in Kisoro!). A group of local men and women had gathered to watch on the bank opposite the school.   The view from the water tank

'A good day for Mukibugu School' I said to the headmaster. 'Yes, a very good day.' he replied.

The school bell for the end of school had sounded 10 minutes ago but no one had left. We rode home and left the other teachers to finish the volleyball game they were having with the students.

A few bright moments for primary education in Uganda but the real solution is to eradicate poverty. The only problem… education is the key to getting out of poverty.

 

Eden also wrote this letter to Angela and the ACE trustees on 22nd November 2007.

Dear Angela -

Good Afternoon. It is a national holiday here due to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) taking place in Uganda this week.

A few things that have happened this week:

Mukibugu School

New Classrooms

The two new classrooms are now in full use and being enjoyed by P1 students. Apart from filling the classrooms with students we have worked hard to decorate the classrooms with wall charts, posters and anything else educational that we could find. They are looking very nice indeed!

Library

I have started creating a new library here. When we began there were boxes of books everywhere, with textbooks in two or three different cupboards, virtually unsorted. No one had any idea how many textbooks the school had.

There are now two large cupboards in the staff room containing all the books and they have been sorted out into years P1-P7.

Next week we will record exactly what books we have.

42 books were in a terrible state of disrepair. I have now started repairing them, but it is taking a long time.

Hopefully, when this is finished, we will know exactly how many books the school has and how many textbooks from each subject it desperately needs. There is very little textbook use here, due the simple fact there aren't enough for all the students. Each book costs about 13,000 shillings.

Playground

On Tuesday Augustine (the headmaster) and I rounded up the whole school and started to make a playground here.

Yes, I know that the school is on a slope! There are three pieces of flat ground that have been converted into courts. One had a pile of sand and a flag in it. Another had not been marked in anyway and the final area near the teacher's accommodation flooded every time it rained.

Volleyball
  • There is now one volleyball court in operation. Poles were constructed and a net was found at the school.
  • Number two volleyball court has been marked out after we took the flag pole and sand away from the area at the top of the school. It still needs poles and a net. Poles are easy to construct, and Augustine is going to find a second-hand net.
  • The 3rd area has a nice deep drainage ditch now and will be marked out soon. We are thinking about making a netball court here.

Monkey bars: I asked the local carpenter to make this to my design. It has been a huge hit with the students, especially with the boys! It is located next to the large water tank.

Monkey bars

School wall: We took all the spare stones from the classroom construction and built a wall 2-3 feet high next to the road. Now the students can't run into the road when the ball goes out and have to use the school gate to enter/exit the school.

I have used some of the money you gave me to do the above.

My Thoughts

You should have seen the school at the end of Tuesday. It was beautiful to see. The whole school was a hive of activity and shouts were going up all over the school. Augustine and I sat on top of the school water tank to take in the view. I remember thinking 'this school didn't have a playground when I first arrived'. There was a volleyball game, a football game, boys climbing on the monkey bars, and rope walking going on. A crowd had gathered around the volleyball as the teachers and upper students were involved in a heated game.

With a few ideas, a little money and a motivated head teacher, it is amazing what can be achieved in a short space of time.

Next we are going to invite Francis (the district education officer) to come and have a look at the small out of the way school near Mgahinga Park. He may be a little surprised ..… Perhaps he will provide a little money for a few textbooks for the school or even better still he may have a few ideas for other schools in Kisoro!

Nyarusunzu School

Construction is zooming ahead!

Three weeks ago work started (Oct 30th) and now Paul is fitting the beams for the roof. According to him work could be finished before the end of term (Dec 6th), but certainly it will be finished for when David visits in mid-December.

You will need to talk to David about sending in the final 10 million shillings that Paul needs to finish the work.

When construction is completed there will be 9 classrooms at the school but there are only 6 teachers. The temporary ones will be left for the time being according to the head.

Proposal from Head: He would like to use one of the classrooms to be used as teacher's accommodation. He says all the teachers would sleep in the one room. The biggest problem at that school is the lack of teachers and the lack of teachers' accommodation. I inspected where the teachers sleep and found them using one bed to sleep two people. They are being charged 10,000 shillings each a month to sleep in a tiny room. I was a little shocked when I saw their accommodation. I need your thoughts on this…

Desks: there are 325 students but only 61 desks. That equates to 5.32 students per desk, which is not a good ratio.

Fuel costs: I used 13,000 shillings for fuel to get to Nyarusunzu and 3,000 shillings for a new spark plug for the motorbike to get it started. Is it possible for ACE to cover this?

Dec 6th - Mukibugu PTA meeting. If you would like to ask any questions to the parents of the students at Mukibugu this will be a very good opportunity. A good information-gathering occasion.

That is about it for now…

Eden in Kisoro Town


This is his third report, sent on 8th December 2007.

The term has just ended here in Uganda; I have been at Mukibugu Primary School for 5 weeks. I was going to write a report about what I have had achieved over those 5 weeks but instead I am going to write it from the perspective of the children and what they have gained by me being here over the last 5 weeks.

Experiences make up the journey that we call life and the children have had many new experiences lately.

This is the first time they have had a 'white' teacher at their school and been able to interact with one over a period of time. One of the first lessons I taught was about where I come from. I had maps, pictures of home and postcards to illustrate this and thought that this would enable the students to relate to me and my world better. I had a big surprise when I put up the map of the world on the board. It was the first time they have ever seen the world and planet that we called Earth. Afterwards I found out that most of the children had not been to the next town, let alone another country. There was me telling them about Cornwall and lands far away. I could have told them I was from another planet and they would have believed me. Can anyone remember being told there was a whole world out there as a child full of wonderful places and people?

Mukibugu Primary School didn't have a playground when I first arrived. So, this was the first time the kids would experience what it is like to have facilities designed for them. First a volleyball court went up, then another one, after that monkey bars, a sand pit, then a netball court, four Tarzan swings, a traditional playground swing, and finally just as the term was finishing a balancing beam, all these items that make up our childhood for the cost of dinner in Britain.

Swings

The effect was amazing, the students used to sit around the grassy areas and lounge around, as there was nowhere to play. Games were made using balls made of rubbish, or sticks/stones from around the school. The boys did have a football but the only ones that seemed to play were the older boys. Now when break-time comes there is a roar and kids pour out of the classroom trying to get to the swing first or trying to grab the volleyball out of the teacher's hand it is a great sight to see.

The children have never seen monkey bars, a netball court, or swings before. You should have seen the commotion the first time they used the monkey bars. I thought a riot was about to start, kids pushing here and there trying to get on the bars first.

The school is now a hive of activity thanks to ACE and a few ideas from a young Cornish man.

Electricity is not supplied to the school or the surrounding area. This means that most children have not experienced what electricity can provide. Now imagine a book that lights up, then all of a sudden a picture of a Gorilla (my desktop background) pops up, next the screen goes dark, and the words

The Jungle Book

appear on the screen.

Before the film started I stated there are only two rules, 'be quiet during the film and sit down'. At the first moving pictures of Baguira the Leopard, those two rules swung like a chimpanzee out of the window. It reminded me of a film called Cinema Paradiso. In it a small Italian village just had the first screening of a film in the village church. The look on those villagers' faces as the black and white images flashed before them was the same as the ones in front of me in this small classroom in rural Uganda. Pure and simple amazement, all the kids were wide-eyed and open-mouthed.

They liked Baloo a lot, found it strange that the leopard did not eat the boy Mowgli and cheered as Sheer Khan was chased away by Mowgli and the vultures.

I now understood what the pioneers of film were trying to do when they made 'Cinema'. It was magical experience for all in that darkened classroom on Thursday.

 
Jungle Book

Finally, Friday 7th December was the first time the kids experienced a 'Sports Day'.

Sports Day

Sack Race
 

I brought along two local British people and we taught the students the sack race, egg (potato) and spoon, the three-legged race and how to run a relay.

The kids didn't know quite what this was all about but once they realized that this was a competition between two halves of a school they got enthusiastic about it.

With the relay to go and only one point separating the two teams the atmosphere was incredible. The students kept running onto the racetrack as they were so excited, a rope was put in place to hold them back.

 

The two teams were neck and neck with the last person to go, the kids were cheering so loud that many villagers had come to watch. Blue or yellow who was going to win, I certainly didn't know, and as I held my breath the yellow boy from P6 class crossed the finishing line first.

 
Sprint race

The yellow team erupted into a spontaneous display of celebration, an African jumping dance started and the kids all started singing.

What have the kids experienced over this last five weeks?

I hope a few more smiles, a few more fits of laughter, some new experiences and some new memories. Isn't that what being a kid is all about…?

Please help support ACE and the work I am doing in Uganda this Christmas in providing better schools for these kids by giving a donation.




This is his fourth report, sent on 19th January 2008.

PTA meeting

Eden attending a colourful PTA meeting

It is January here in Uganda and the weather feels like summer in England. Daytime temperatures range around 20-23C and the norm for a day is long sunny spells with passing cloud. Totally different to the continuous deluge of rain that was October and November.

Since the first week of December schools have been on holiday but I have been lucky enough to be allowed to teach at Mukibugu Primary School during the month of January. The first question was what to teach… I came to the quick conclusion that it should be all the things that the pupils wouldn't normally be taught during term time. Also, it should be things that I could only teach as I was here for this time period only. I had a blank page in the front of me and the first thing that I wrote down was Art and Craft.

Art and Craft

My memory took me back to my days at Trythall Primary School. I could distinctly remember that every week I was making, painting and crafting things with my hands. I really enjoyed those lessons and I wanted the children here to enjoy those types of lessons as well. Unfortunately, due to financial constrictions, they can't teach Art or Craft. Using an Art and Craft book sent by ACE, which I found in a cupboard, I made a programme that included an Art and Craft lesson everyday.

Collage  

The result has been children drawing their school, trees, and the surrounding countryside.

Here they are making collage with plant materials.


In craft, I have never seen kids so proud of making an origami bird or a 'twister' decoration.

The 'twisters' are now hanging from the ceiling of their once barren classroom.

As the wind blows gently through the classroom, the twisters turn and spin above the students' heads.

 
Twisters

On another day we went on a field trip up the hill next to Mukibugu and did an Art lesson there.

Many of the kids had never been up to the top before!

The view was quite spectacular and having 75 kids climb up the hill caused quite a stir for the villagers below.

 
Hilltop art lesson

Japanese

I decided to teach the students some Japanese, as it is a language that I speak. I have been taken aback by how quickly the students are mastering the language. They know little about the country, and are 6,000 miles away, but they can now introduce themselves in Japanese and can say the Japanese for most classroom items. They even bow at the end of the class! The Ugandan teacher who helps me teach is struggling to keep up much to the amusement of the class.

English

The students' basic English is generally very good and they understand English well although they have trouble listening my British English. If a Ugandan speaks English they understand it immediately - there is certain way Africans speak English that isn't the same as we do in the UK.

What I have noticed is that students' spoken English lacks confidence and because they translate from their native language many of the things they say are very direct/bordering on rude. It seems that 'please' and 'thank you' are words that they failed to learn during their English lessons.

Slowly, they are changing the way that they talk and thus their spoken English is improving as well.

Special Lesson

This lesson was created to teach the students all the things that they need to know outside of school.

Lessons like the Dangers of Early Marriage - many girls get married very young at 15-17.

Personal Hygiene - many of the children don't know the dangers of having an unclean body - dangers like ring-worm, fungal infections, septic wounds - all things I have seen on children here.

I taught a lesson on First Aid recently and I hope that they will use what they have learned one day. The 'Kiss of Life' drew several rounds of laughter from the class! They have never had any teaching about First Aid before.

Reading and Writing

The wonderful books that ACE sent to the school were not being used regularly so I decided to create a lesson where they had a book put in their hand and were made to read. The students requesting more time with the books by the second class surprised me.

Reading started inside the classroom.

However, when you have 70 kids crammed into a room, and they are all talking about the book they have just been given .....

 
Reading inside

..... there is no choice but to send them outside and spread them out.

 
Reading outside
After 2 weeks they were ready to take the books home to read and on Friday (18th) 75 students took 75 books home for the weekend. I am sure that the whole family will be reading/looking at that book this weekend.

I have asked the students to write a diary everyday. The first week they did this the diaries were poorly written, some were unreadable. What did I expect, they had never written a diary before!

This week I have read some fascinating stories about life at home. It has certainly given me a glimpse of their domestic lives. Entries telling of fetching water from the well, helping mum with cooking potatoes, getting involved in roadside accidents, and stories of thieves roaming villages at night looking to steal have made spellbinding reading.

Their English has improved significantly and I would say that there are certainly a few budding authors amongst the children!

Games

As Mukibugu Primary School now has two volleyball courts, a netball court, sports kit and balls (all supplied by ACE) a structured sports training has started during Games period. The boys enjoy their Karate lesson a lot, and the girls love volleyball.

Apart from the actual lessons the change in the students' attitude and behaviour has been significant. The students were constantly coming late to lessons last week, not doing their diaries and generally not being serious about the lessons. I guess this is normal behaviour for many of them if there isn't a stick being waved at them while being taught.

The two teachers helping me with the lessons said to me last week, 'What shall we do? Shall we beat them?' This is how indiscipline is normally solved in Uganda.

After many warnings last week I told them if they didn't get serious about these lessons I would cancel everything, they could go back to digging and the teachers and I would take a holiday. Well, that made them change and result has been punctual students, good diary entries and increasing student numbers.

There were 25 students on the first day and now there are seventy-five (90% of P5-P7 class students) and the numbers are still growing, former students have even come back! Remarkable considering attendance is voluntary and this is holiday time.

When the new school term starts in February the other teachers will probably ask 'Are these the same students?' especially if the whole school is waiting for them on the first day of term. Usually only half the school turns up on the first day!

Being allowed to teach seventy-five students freely with no restrictions has been one of the most rewarding things I have done in my life. It is wonderful to give birth to something and to watch it grow and flower…

Tea Break

These happy children are taking a break from Eden's lessons

During January Eden has also supervised the construction of a new playground at Nyakabaya school.

Click here to see it.



This is his fifth report, sent on 2nd February 2008.

So the January holidays have finished and the extra lessons have ended. As the noise of children excitedly leaving school and going home fades away I smile and think 'wow, what a four weeks.'

I had to postpone the start of the January holiday lessons from 3rd January to the 7th due to the crisis in Kenya effecting transport in Uganda. I was on an island in the middle of Lake Victoria for the New Year festivities and, when I planned to leave on New Year's Day, there was no fuel on the island for transport. In fact, there was no fuel on any of the islands in the area. On 2nd January, as most people on the island had to leave to go back to work, or catch flights home, the captain of the island boat took a chance and decided to pilot the boat back to the mainland. I managed to reach Kisoro on the morning of the 3rd but too late for the beginning of lessons and the decision had already been made in my absence to postpone lessons until the 7th.

On 7th I arrived at school at 8am but only 4 students had turned up and eventually 20 or so students came to school. On day two, 35 students came to classes. By week two, we had over 70 students. Our highest attendance was 75 students. This was an extremely good figure considering it was the holidays. It was higher than in term time, and a number of ex-pupils had come back to school.

Who would have thought that the students would learn Japanese so fast and with such interest? The teachers were so surprised at their ability and progress. During the last lesson, when I asked a boy called Sylvan (who scored highly in his Japanese test) to take over the lesson while I showed visitors around the school, he did so with confidence and skill. I laughed as I walked in to take over again and he was copying the way that I taught, even to tapping the floor with his foot, and asking 'What is this?' in Japanese.

Art and Craft lessons were great. I think the highlight was going on a school trip to the top of a local hill and drawing the surrounding countryside. One look at the craft hanging up in the classrooms or the art adorning the walls and you can see how far the kids had progressed from their first lesson to the last.

English, Maths and Science lessons were good as well. I am glad that students are now asking for things politely in English from the teachers, instead of demanding and saying 'Give me ball!' at game time.

Special Lessons about 'AIDS Awareness', 'Computers' or 'Dangers of Early Marriage' were successful I believe as the Ugandan teachers kept saying after lessons 'I have never had so many questions asked from pupils during a lesson.'

Reading lessons - the children were forced to have a book in their hand in the first lesson and told to read, but by the end of January they didn't want to give the books back.

Games - they enjoyed the structured training and different activities they did - long distance training by running up the road towards the National Park like a shoal of fish, skipping while singing African songs for the girls, and learning how to block punches in Karate, all received shouts and cheers from the kids and were the highlights for me.

Those were the ups but there were downs as well..... like almost cancelling all the lessons because the students turned up late everyday for the first week of lessons, and did not do their assigned diary writing. During some lessons I must have said 'Be Quiet!' fifteen to twenty times without the children responding. Some girls refused to participate in games. The teachers wanted to beat them but I had to stop the them doing so. Eventually they all took part in games. There were times when I was so happy with the students and other times I felt like screaming.

Rules were made and when rules were broken pupils were punished. I even had to send late pupils home on one occasion. By week three the pupils knew the rules and they obeyed them (well most of them anyway). I lost my voice during the last week because I was shouting with a very sore throat. The kids would not play 'Pictionary' without cheating - 10 times they cheated! - and half the class was sent out of the room.

As I said there were 'ups' and there were 'downs' but when the Secretary of Education for the District and the School Inspector arrived on Friday (the last day of the lessons) and toured the school all they could say was, 'This is very good… it is what I like to see… and we must use elements from this school in other schools in the district.' They were mightily impressed, and, as I stood and watched them go I turned to the Deputy Headmaster (who had helped me during the last four weeks) and said 'There will be more visitors to this school in the near future, as others will want to know what is happening at Mukibugu Primary School.'

We both knew the reason they were impressed. It was because we had worked extremely hard for four weeks and poured our hearts and souls into the school. We had also opened a few kid's eyes to a few new things…..

Dorosi (Year 5) gave this assessment of the January lessons -

'I liked these lessons a lot as they were different, they were centered on the students and had many activities.'


The ACE trustees are delighted that Eden has agreed to extend his period at the schools for a further 4 months.

Eden at Nyarusunzu

We held a meeting of the ACE trustees on 30th January at which we discussed Eden's achievements so far and his request that, if he extended his stay he would require some financial support. The trustees have been so impressed with what he has done that four of them have agreed to personally donate enough money to cover Eden's accommodation costs and basic living expenses for this period. Any small shortfall will be made up from ACE funds.

The trustees agreed to allow Eden to spend up to £200 per school on projects at the schools he has not yet assisted. They are asking him to spend approximately 2 weeks in each school, organising resources and teaching as he has done at Mukibugu. They hope that he will be able to set each school up as it should be, and then, at the end of the 4 months, return to Mukibugu to see what has happened there.

We were delighted to receive this response on 3rd February -

I have decided to stay.

There are so many people who want me to stay, both here and in England. So many schools, children and people would gain if I stay here and continue working for the charity. The only person who would have to sacrifice a little is me, and it is a sacrifice that I take willingly and gladly.

It has been a great 3 months, far beyond anything I could have possibly imagined. I hope that the following months will be as amazing and that I can bring a little more joy to these children's lives.

Please thank the committee members for all their support. I can feel their kind words and hopes for me and what I am doing here.

Let us hope that ACE goes on from strength to strength this year.

Eden



This is Eden's 6th Report, sent on 1st March 2008.

The End of my Time at Mukibugu

This week was the last week for me at Mukibugu Primary School. I have been at the school for 4 months (doesn't time fly!). It has been an amazing experience for me and I have learnt many things during my time there. When you come to the end of something you often recall the beginning and looking back I can see that ACE supporting these schools in Uganda and sending me here has made a difference to these children.

When I first arrived at Mukibugu many things I saw at the school surprised me. Things like the way the teachers taught, teachers writing on the blackboard and then drilling the students on what had been written. The students didn't seem to have much input into the lesson and a lot of the time simply repeated what the teacher said. It didn't seem like much thinking took place for the children. I then realized that if you have 100 students in a classroom then this 'rote' learning style worked best. I was used to classes of 20-30 students, the names of whom I knew and could ask direct questions to. I quickly learnt not to judge these people by our standards.

Caning: Yes, this does go on here (just like British schools in the Victorian days - a few of you may remember it taking place when you were at school). I was a little shocked to see it the first time, a boy being caned on the backside for being late. However, it seems to be the only way to control the students in many cases, and it is what the students know. You break the rules, you get a caning… simple. After a couple of times of seeing it, I could see that some of the students actually enjoyed the teacher - pupil disciplining. Some smiled and laughed as they tried to dodge the cane and scampered away once they received their punishment.

The lack of materials to teach also astounded me. Most lessons were taught with a stick of chalk and a blackboard. There simply wasn't any money for paper, textbooks, equipment or realia.

Many surprises but it was to be expected as I had been brought up in a modern western society.

So, what has happened during my time here?

Changes

When I first arrived the newly built two-block classroom was unused. After a few carefully placed words like 'Why isn't that new classroom being used?!' and 'If Angela knew the new classrooms weren't being used she would hit the roof!'. An afternoon later, two hundred students from P1 class moved in.

No Sports Facilities

As you have read in my previous reports Mukibugu now has two volleyball courts, swings, monkey bars, and several balancing beams. On Friday 29th February the netball court was finally finished and the first game of netball took place under the guidance of my friend Hannah from Hampshire who had come to visit the school for the day.

She said afterward, 'They don't understand the concept of rules very well.'

I said, 'Yes, they seem to have trouble with them.'

Library

ACE library books are where they belong, in the hands of the children…

Classrooms

All classrooms are now decorated with art, colourful charts, origami birds and attention-grabbing pictures. The kids like the classrooms being so colourful especially with art/craft that they have made themselves.

New Lessons

Art/craft lessons, Japanese lessons, computer lessons, library book reading lessons, karate lessons, structured PE lessons, and even a lessons on politeness (they don't have a word for 'please' in Rufumbira language, it is difficult for them to ask for things politely). New lessons that the kids found interesting and eye-opening. They still can't quite understand my laptop computer but they love it when I show them pictures and video of them, I guess it is just a 'magical box' to many of them!

So, what has this all meant for the kids at Mukibugu?

For them I believe they have had their eyes opened to many new things, they have had new experiences, and most of all they have had some new memories.

I have laughed when they have done PE holding a ball between their legs in a relay race and jumped like demented fish to go faster, they have laughed as I tried to sing their songs and got the words completely wrong, I have smiled as I saw a pupil create an origami bird and look so proud, they have smiled as I showed a picture of the Cornish coast and the sea, all memories that have been created because ACE and I are here.

As I toured the school on my last day, I saw a game of Netball with 100 students watching it being played, colourful craft hanging from the ceiling swaying in the wind in many classrooms, children with library books, 550 students in school (last year there were only 400), boys and girls waiting impatiently to ride on the swing, an organised school office, and children chasing balls here and there yelling as they did so.

I realised my work was done, the goal of creating a fun, and interesting place of learning was complete. The future now lay in the hands of the pupils and the teachers.

Teachers and pupils have changed in my time here, many don't even know it has happened but I have seen the change, and it has been wonderful to watch. Pupils taking more responsibility and growing up, teachers trying new things in class, pupils talking new languages to me, teachers laughing as they do PE outside, pupils not wanting to leave school at lunch-time, but the real change at the heart of it all is this…

Teachers, pupils and parents alike are HAPPIER in their hearts.

Because they know that Mukibugu is going places…

The future is in their hands now; I have a feeling that Mukibugu is going to get better and better in the years to come.

Mukibugu Farewell

Farewell from Mukibugu

Next stop is Nyakabaya Primary School where I start on Monday 3rd March for two weeks. I will make one or two suggestions to the teachers there…



A Day in Rwanda

I set off early, as I knew that I would only have the day in Rwanda. As I stepped out into the turquoise blue canopy of the outdoors I was excited and a little apprehensive. I was going to a new country, a country that was the other side of Mount Muhabura, what sights would it hold and would I be able to get back into Uganda again with a three-month visa?

I hired a Boda boda motorcycle driver to take me to the border and with my friend Augustine's help I managed to get the Ugandan fare for the journey (a difficulty for those with white skin). The road was dusty and bumpy, but I didn't mind as today I was going to Rwanda.

On getting off the bike at the border a horde of vulture type creatures descended on me, they were the local money changing guys. 'Rwanda francs, Rwanda francs!' they repeated at me.

I took note of their exchange rate and moved on to the visa office. A grumpy looking man with stubble greeted me and asked me many questions. When he found out I was a volunteer, he shook his head and said 'Why don't you have a work visa? You must go to Kampala and get one.' My heart sank; this was exactly what I didn't want. All I wanted was another 3 months tourist visa and this guy was telling me that I had to go to Kampala and fill out forms, which meant red tape and difficulties. I knew that what he was saying was a whole load of hassle. I had to go through him to get my 3-month visa when I returned to Uganda, the situation looked bleak.

Rwanda Sign  

My heart a little lower I proceeded on into Rwanda. I looked for transport to my next destination, the town of Ruhengeri 25 km away. An empty mini-bus was parked next to the border office. In my experience a mini-bus doesn't move unless it is full of passengers in Africa. I calculated it would be 1-2 hours before it would fill up, I decided to walk to the local trading centre. I didn't know how far it would be but it couldn't be more than a thirty-minute walk. Under the shining sun I started walking.

The Rwandan road in front of me surprised me; it had a tarmac surface, and road markings, it stretched like a grey runway into the distance. So it was true what people had told me about Rwanda, it was more developed than Uganda. Kisoro had a potholed, mud and stones job for what could loosely be described as a road.

Some children and a young mother joined me on my walk. In my broken Rufumbira language I found out that she was also going to the trading centre and that she lived around here. In her colourful clothing she looked like any other peasant I had seen in Kisoro. She smiled widely and had a friendly demeanour, and I was glad of the company in the warm sun.

Just before reaching the trading centre after walking thirty minutes or so (I didn't take a start time) my companions bade me farewell and walked along a footpath adjacent to the tarmac road to their destinations.

Most people in the trading centre were sat around on the street; it is just like places in Kisoro I thought to myself. After inquiring, I found out that no public transport was moving until midday and for that reason people were sat around, they were waiting for transport to move. I looked at my watch it was just after 11am, realising there was nothing to do I sat down with everyone else.

At 11.40am people were getting impatient it seemed, passengers were getting into mini-buses, I decided to join them. After one false start (we were stopped by traffic police and told to wait) we were moving, it was 11.45am. Of all the mini-vans I could I have picked I selected the local football supporters bus. So as soon as we were moving the whole bus was rocking to the sound of football songs. As we slowed down for traffic, the football flag placed on the front of the bus fluttered in front of the windscreen, I should have been more vigilant. I had to smile though; there was certainly an atmosphere on the bus.

Forty minutes later we reached Ruhengeri my destination. I got off the bus and started walking around the town. I was surprised at how pretty Rwanda had looked from the bus window. Trees everywhere (more than in Kisoro and Uganda), flowers by the roadside and neat ordered fields. This first impression carried on as I walked through town. I kept thinking Rwanda is more organised than Uganda. Little rubbish on the streets and plastic bags were banned to aid conservation of the environment.

I met a boy of thirteen along the way called Ebola who spoke English. I was surprised as French is the language they use here. He seemed like a nice boy so I allowed him to accompany me. We went towards a church in the distance. On reaching it, it was a huge church that looked new or was it just very clean, I was not sure.  
Eden and Ebola

Below it was a concrete amphitheatre leading down to a grassy area with a neat footpath snaking it's way around it. Beyond that was a smart stage with potted plants decorating it. I was impressed by all of this as we walked down to the grassy area. We then walked towards a basketball game (the first I had seen in Africa) and passed through the gates leading to it. There was a proper outdoor court with a girl's school game taking place on it and a crowd looking on. The school that I had just entered had very good sports facilities. I looked at the gymnastics equipment and volleyball courts; it was unlike anything I had seen in Kisoro town. The home team was demolishing the opposition as one basket followed another much to the glee of the home supporters.

We headed back into town and went into a supermarket. As soon as walked in I exclaimed 'Baguettes!'. There in front of me were some freshly baked baguettes. A relic of the Belgium colonial days, but I was glad for it and quickly bought one as I couldn't get baguettes in Uganda. I left the supermarket excited as I had bought a baguette, Rwandan coffee from the shores of Lake Kivu and a wheel of cheese (something that is difficult to get in Uganda).

We stopped for lunch and I treated my young friend to some hot food. He told me about his family, and as I listened I found it a sad story. He was the second born in the family, but didn't have any brothers and sisters alive. He lived with his elderly grandmother of 61 years. He was at secondary school, I asked him how did he could afford to go (school is expensive here if you are a farmer) and he said a neighbour paid for his schooling. I asked about his parents, were they alive, did they live away from his grandmother because of work? He looked uncomfortable, and a bit upset and then quietly said his mother died during the Rwandan genocide, his father had gone missing during the fighting, and his brothers and sisters had also been killed in the genocide. His only remaining family was his elderly grandmother. A long silence followed and I hesitantly said 'I am sorry to hear that.'

It seemed that no one was untouched here during the Rwandan genocide; approximately 500,000 people died (no one can be sure) in the 1990's and millions were displaced. We all saw it on the BBC news, week after week during 1994-1995. A short sharp African history lesson had just been played out in front of me.

After touring the town further it was time to go back to the border. At the bus park I said goodbye to my 13-year-old friend and gave him my address. I said to him 'If anything happens to your grandmother, contact me.' I knew that his grandmother's death would mean he would be an orphan, without a home and without any support for the future. In effect his future would be bleak.

I headed to the border; I now had the mission of getting a three-month visa from a grumpy looking immigration officer with stubble.

I walked towards his office and saw him slouched in a chair under the afternoon sun. He was dozing and as he heard my footsteps woke up and pointed at a door in the distance. I had to register with the police as I entered Uganda, I had signed out at the same office when I left the country.

Now the easiest and African thing to do with a grumpy and stubbly immigration officer is offer the bribe and walk out of the office with your three-month visa. That's the last resort in my books and something I didn't want to do (and is at the root of corruption), so I talked to him about what A.C.E. was doing to help Ugandan schools.

After that fell on deaf ears, I told him how the Resident District Commissioner (a big man in Kisoro) had said that he wanted to fully support A.C.E. and my efforts. He just said that was not his concern, and this was an immigration office. I realised then that this man was not under Kisoro District jurisdiction and that meant I had no leverage. I also realised apart from being grumpy and stubbly, he was also drunk. It looked like a trip to Kampala was on the cards, and with it big problems.

He then said, 'I will give you two months to sort matters out.' After telling him that others had got three-month visas from him and it would cause problems if I only got a two-month visa, he started writing the visa out in my passport.

Several minutes of silence passed by as he wrote out the visa. I thought, I should have just given him the bribe; it is going to cost fives times more money and mess up my schedule for the coming months.

He looked up and murmured 'I have given you three months. Next time, come with a letter from the Ministry of Education.'

I walked out of his office into the afternoon sun and wanted to jump in the air and say 'YES!'

As I travelled back to Kisoro in the golden afternoon sun I thought, 'What a great day…'

A day that showed me the soul of Africa.



This is Eden's 7th Report, written on 15th March 2008.

Library, Sports and Painting at Nyakabaya

The last two weeks, phew…it has been quite two weeks. I had been given the assignment by A.C.E. of improving Nyakabaya Primary School in the short time of two weeks. A lot can happen in two weeks, then again very little can happen, all depending on what you want to do with fourteen days.

'Where are your books?' I asked.

'In the storeroom.' Donatta, the head-teacher, answered.

I ventured in and saw a 5-stand bookshelf full of books. I was impressed; it is a rare thing to see a relatively organized bookshelf full of textbooks in one place in Kisoro District.

'Where are the other books?' I inquired.

She frowned, 'What books?'

'The books sent by A.C.E. a few years ago.' I said.

'Maybe in the teachers' accommodation' she replied.

I opened the door of a small room in the teachers, accommodation and saw what looked like a rubbish heap. On closer inspection of the rubbish heap there were papers, ACE books, Ugandan textbooks, cardboard boxes, teaching materials and random items like a desk and a school sign.

 
Library room
Library arranged  

'If you organise some pupils to take everything out, and put it in front of the office storeroom, we will sort it out there.' I said.

After building a set of shelves, sifting through all the papers, books and boxes, and 72 hours later the work was complete.

'At a guess you have about a thousand books.' I stated.

'Really?' Donatta answered.

With that the library was complete.



'I want a netball court.' Donatta the headmistress requested.

'Yes, and if one is built who will teach netball?' I replied.

'I will and… Florence.'

'You can play netball?' I was a little surprised as Donatta was pushing fifty years of age and I could not quite picture her in a skimpy Netball outfit.

'At the Teachers College I used to play a lot.' she proudly said.

'Alright, if it is built I want to see a game of netball on it with you and Florence playing.'

'Yes, we will play' she replied.

Pupils preparing and levelling the ground for the new netball court.  
Ground preparation

True to her word, when the netball court was finished, she and Florence (another teacher) were prancing around the court teaching the girls to play. They didn't do too badly either, although I think the netball tired out Donatta but she hid the fact well.

'The girls enjoy the game!' she exclaimed.

All I could do was smile.


'So this is P1 class?' I asked.

'Yes.' Donatta answered.

'Mmm.' I said. I was thinking two things -my god the walls are filthy and if we had some paint, perhaps light green or blue (the same as the school uniform) we could paint the classroom and make it look like new.

 

'If I bought some paint and some brushes, could you organize some pupils to help me paint it?' I said.

'Yes… but do you know how to paint?' An unsure look on her face formed as she said this.

'I have done it before.' I responded.

Well, I had painted my room when I was eighteen, and several large doors in my time.

'Please organise ten pupils to help me tomorrow…'

'Tomorrow afternoon?' she interrupted.

'Yes, that will be fine.'

 
Preparation

'Up and down, up and down, nice and slow. This is the way to paint.' So now I was teaching African children how to paint a wall. I seem to have many roles here in Africa -teacher, school committee member, playground designer, drainage engineer, African correspondent for ACE - interior decorator is just another one to add to the list.

This team start painting and I will supervise.' I said. The five boys took up their paintbrushes and rollers excitedly and started painting.

'Slowly! Slowly!' I shouted. Paint was flying everywhere, most of it on the floor.

'Good, good, that is the way to do it.' They were now brushing slowly and smoothly.

 
painting

'Can you supervise this group Smith?' I asked the teacher helping me.

'Yes…' he said hesitantly.

'Stop! Stop! What are you doing?' I shouted. The other team of five boys had started by themselves and now there was paint all over the wall, above the line demarcated for painting. They were painting on the white washed walls that I had said not to paint, as they were relatively clean.

'Quick, clean it!' I barked at Smith. I ran out to fetch the paraffin. The damage was luckily reversed and painting resumed.

An hour and a half later we were finished. The boys had paint all over their hands and specks of paint were on their bare backs. A crowd was pushing at the classroom doorway, eager to see the new classroom.

'No-one comes in.' I ordered. I knew that if the kids came in then the first thing they would do would be to touch the new paint, ruining what we had done.

The paint took a day and a half to dry. The P1 class children were very excited about their new sky blue classroom, as was the teacher. I was amazed at the difference a coat of paint made to the classroom.

'It is like a new classroom!' Donatta exclaimed.

I was already thinking, what other schools could I do the same at?

 
The end result

There were a few other things we did at the school but that is another story. You will just have to see for yourself if you ever visit Nyakabaya Primary School in Kisoro.

I am always amazed at what a little bit of money, some support from local teachers and eager children can do at schools in Uganda.

Next project is to build a school bus out of bamboo poles… well that would be something...!  

This is Eden's 8th Report received on 29th March 2008.

The Green Open Fields of Gitenderi

I have just finished my two weeks at Gitenderi Primary School. Spending only two weeks at each school means that I have to work quickly and be focused on what the school needs.

After my first day assessing Gitenderi School I had two words in my head: 'Sports' and 'Library'.

Sports

There are green open fields surrounding Gitenderi Primary School, making the school look like an island in a sea of green. Many other schools in the district aren't so lucky with their land allocation. Two solitary goal posts made of metal stood in the main field like two lost old men. From what I could see there wasn't a marked pitch and on further investigation I found there wasn't a single functioning ball in the whole school. I also found two volleyball poles standing in an area, no marked court and again no ball. So, for 1,024 pupils, there was little in the way of sports facilities or equipment.

The pupils acted like a field of cows at break time as they wandered here and there aimlessly. Some had invented their own games; others were using toys made by them, for example vines as a substitute for skipping rope.

'This school has big open fields, two young sports teachers and lots of pupils. This school is made for sports'. I thought.

Courtesy of David Epidu, sports equipment arrived from Kampala for Gitenderi, the football pitch and volleyball court were marked out, and the first games were played two days later. Kenneth and Gideon, the sports teachers, were eager to do sports at Gitenderi but had lacked the equipment. They were very happy when the equipment arrived and enthusiastically supervised the first volleyball game of the new school year.

'What's are these?' I asked.

'Netball poles' the headmaster answered.

'Why aren't they outside being used?'

'We have no ball and no court' the headmaster hastily replied.

'We will build a court and I will get a ball. Who can teach netball?' I said.

'Juliet is the sports mistress. I think she can teach it'

'Excellent!'

At that, I walked out of the dark and dirty storeroom. A day or two later the netball court was complete.

'Athletics track!'

'A what?' Gideon the sports master stuttered.

'We could build an athletics track here, around the outside of the football field. Look, there is just enough space but we may have to make the football field a little narrower. It is very large anyway…'

It was 100m long and 80m wide, a full size football pitch.

'You know that this school could be the best school at sports in this whole area' I added.

Gideon just looked at me blankly. I couldn't blame him, the school didn't have a single ball and there was me telling him that the school could be excellent at sports.

After a great deal hard work, and a lot of trial and error, in the last hour of my last day at Gitenderi a large cheer was heard as the first athletics race started.

Half a dozen bare-chested boys ran round the outside curve of the athletics track and into history.

 
Track construction

I couldn't believe my own eyes, nor could the rest of the school, but on an incomplete (the curved track on the far-side wasn't finished) athletics track children were competing to the cheers of all. A large crowd had gathered around the start line, children were eager to run on the new track.

The mountains in the background looked on as a group of boys sprinted as fast as they could past me.

Even the mountains were surprised, I think, that Gitenderi had constructed an athletics track out of nothing, the only athletics track that I knew of in the whole district.

 
Track and mountain

Library

Gitenderi was blessed with the amount of books that it had. At a guess there were over 1,500 books.

What it was not blessed with was any sort of organisation of the books. There were books everywhere around the school. Some books were in the classrooms, some in cupboards, some in cardboard boxes, some even scattered on the floor.

 
Existing Library room

'First we will sort out all the books, then we will build a large set of shelves for the school to put them on and we will put it…' I looked around the school office. 'Here!' I pointed to the wall next to the office door.

'We shall move the cupboard and clean up behind it!' the teacher enthusiastically added.

The P7 class, two teachers, and a friend of mine called Kat came to school on Easter Monday and sorted all the books in the school. It took the whole morning; books were everywhere in this one class, but by lunchtime the books were roughly organised into subjects and years.

The set of shelves arrived on the back of a lorry on the Wednesday. A coat of varnish and an afternoon later all the books were where they were supposed to be, organised and on a bookshelf.

The librarian looked so proud as he adjusted a book here and there, for the new library for Gitenderi was finished.

 
Library with shelving

Final Words

I find that sometimes in life you are lucky enough to see the fruits of your labour in a single magical moment. I have been lucky enough to experience this magical thing many times while working here in Uganda.

As I looked around late in the afternoon on Friday, the school was alive. Children ran here and there chasing balls, there was a queue of forty children waiting to ride the new swings, the carpenter and a teacher were putting the final touches to the monkey bars, and it was well after the end of school.

A cheer went up, I looked round, but I could not believe my own eyes even though I helped make it, bare-chested boys were sprinting round the outside curve of the athletics track.

I smiled as I thought 'They started races before it was even completed!'

Gideon and Kenneth, the sports teachers, were so eager to see the new track in action that they started races before the lanes on the far side were complete.

'This school will be alright' I thought. The teachers had found the belief in creating a better school for the children they taught.

My work was complete for Gitenderi…


This is Eden's 9th Report, sent on 28th April 2008.

'Celebrate the End of Term - ACE Sports Day'

They came from the north, the south and the west to Gitenderi, each school proceeding down the narrow driveway like a battalion of colourful small soldiers. They spread out like ants across the playing field, each school one to two hundred strong; they had come together to celebrate the end of term and they had come together to celebrate football, volleyball, netball and athletics.

It took a lot of organising and hard work on the part of those involved, but, in the end, it was all worth it as teacher and pupil alike thoroughly enjoyed the day. Five schools - five schools that I had passed through in the last eight weeks, five schools that had changed in so many positive ways, they had all come because they were part of something; they were part of ACE and they were part of a bigger family in Cornwall four thousand miles away.

I did not expect so many people to attend. There must have been one thousand people at the event at a rough estimate. Normally just the sports team would come to an event like this in England but here in Africa when a sporting event takes place most of the school come to support their team. It certainly adds to the atmosphere of the day as children cheer on their schoolmates.

I will illustrate a few highlights of the day:

Netball

Three hard-working teachers and my friend Liz from England supervised netball on the newly constructed court at Gitenderi (including a certain fifty year old Donatta from Nyakabaya - see previous report!). For many of the girls participating it was the first time that they had played so I asked the teachers to run the games like a training session. The girls enjoyed playing so much that every-time they scored they would proceed to do cartwheels across the court.

Liz said to me afterward 'These are the craziest schoolgirls I have ever seen!'

All I could say was 'Yep, welcome to schools in Kisoro!'

 
Netball

Rurembwe School seemed to get the biggest cheer of the day as the netball girls screamed and danced on the grassy court after they beat another team surrounded by an audience of six hundred. Not bad for a team who had never picked up a netball before today.

Teachers

All teachers who were involved thoroughly enjoyed the day and kept asking me when the 'next sports day' was.

They sometimes had trouble controlling their students as a goal produced somersaults and cartwheels by the pupils as the supporting school invaded the football pitch in euphoria. It happens in the adult games as well from what I have seen. It certainly adds to the atmosphere of the game and is a great show to watch.

Football   I think that all the teachers saw how much the kids love playing sport and I hope that they will be that much more motivated to teach sport to the kids using the new facilities built by ACE at their schools.

A good way to summarise the feeling from the teachers that day is this quote from a teacher from Nyakabaya School -

'I have to go, my pupils are playing against Gitenderi School and I have to support them!'

Local Community

Many people from the surrounding area came to watch the games. It was funny to see the local villagers shouting at their girls as they played netball. They probably wanted to join in too but couldn't, due to a baby on their back or a hoe in their hand.  
Netball

It seemed that the local shepherds were also watching the games, as there were a noticeable number of cows and goats mingling with the crowd. I had a feeling though that the cows were there more for the grass than for the volleyball!

Overall

As the songs went up and dancing started at the end of the day's sport, all I could see were smiling kids and happy teachers before me. All who had come had thoroughly enjoyed the day and they all wanted to know when the next 'Sports Day' was. I said it would be next term and that they should train for it, and everyone said that they would.

It was a day to celebrate the end of term, the end of exams, and the end of my time at these schools. I wanted all those who came to go on from this event and regularly play sport on the new facilities at each of their schools. The kids enjoy sport and enjoy playing sport at school. I believe that, if a child enjoys going to school, and doing something like sport it is one more reason for that, the child is more likely to stay in school and not drop out. It is disheartening to see only 20% of pupils complete their seven years in primary school here in Kisoro. I hope that at ACE schools the completion rate is higher than that and with Angela Peake's love and devotion I believe that it will be.

I know that the children here suffer to the full, suffering in the stranglehold of crippling poverty. It is on days like today that the children forget all the hardships of home and just enjoy being a kid for a few hours…

That is a nice thought.

April 28th 2008 Eden Quayle in Kisoro, Uganda


This is Eden's 10th Report, sent on 31st May 2008.

Mud Huts and Pumpkins: Home Stay on the Border of the National Park

So what is life like for the children at ACE schools? What happens when the school bell goes and the children return to the villages?

I have had these questions in my head since I arrived and began teaching at schools in Uganda. I know what life is like at school for these kids and realised early on that some of the school children actually like being at school and were reluctant to go home sometimes. A school is a place where buildings are made of brick and floors are made of cement, there is readily available water, and school is a place where children enjoy sports and learn interesting things. 'Home' is generally a mud and stick structure, soil is the only floor, and fetching water is just one of the many chores that children have to do when they get home. I could easily understand why some children were reluctant to go home.

I asked the children of Mukibugu Primary School if I could do a home stay and experience their domestic lives. A boy called Popius from P6 class raised his hand and said I could go to his house and stay. No one else raised their hand to offer their house so I accepted.

The next day I was walking up the hill towards Kabenero Village after the school bell had gone with Popius and other children from Kabenero Village.

The first thing I noticed was that Popius was carrying twenty litres of water in a yellow jerry can on his shoulder. He had filled up his jerry can from the school water tank and he was taking it home. I knew that other children did the same and even had to carry water for an hour or more as water sources were far away from the family home.  
To the village

The next thing I noticed was that I was out of breath. We had been walking for twenty minutes and the school was getting smaller and smaller. The other kids looked as fresh as daisies but I was suffering. I wasn't used to walking so fast up a hill.

'How far to your village?' I asked.

'Up there, next to the Mgahinga National Park!'

I looked up and it still looked someway off. I paused and looked around. I saw fields of beans, lines of potato plants, mud houses dotted around, and stone walls made from volcanic rock. It was a lovely sight to see as we walked in the evening sunshine.

By the time I reached Popius's house we had acquired quite a crowd. I felt a bit like the Pied Piper as I entered the farmstead as fifteen other children had joined us. Popius's mother and sisters greeted me, his mother was dressed in typical peasant clothing. She wore a pink bandana, a pale sarong around her waste, and a woollen sweater. She smiled at me and I greeted her by saying, 'Mezute!'

She laughed and replied 'Ndaho!'

The strange white man was speaking her language!

The farmstead was made up of half a dozen structures mostly made from mud and sticks topped with a corrugated iron roof. One structure had brick walls and cement. I asked about it and Popius said 'It is my uncle's house - he lives in Kampala, and works in business'. He was probably the family member who provided for all the family members who lived in the compound.

A wooden fence made from crudely cut tree branches surrounded the compound. Two goats were tied in up in one corner and a granary stood in the other corner. I lifted up the granary roof and peered into the darkness but nothing was inside except a few husks of wheat.

This is what most farm houses in this area look like.

 
The Granary

'Aaah, the national park! We have made it!' I gasped.

Popius's house lay in the distance below us and the light was fading fast. Apart from Popius we had accumulated twenty other children. We all sat on the edge of the national park and took in the view.

There are views when silence and quietness are the only words you need and this was one of them. An orange halo on the horizon, Lake Mutanda in the distance, columns of smoke like streamers from the ground marking farm houses, hills like turtle backs everywhere you looked and the sound of utter silence. I just sat there speechless.

Kisoro Town was turning on its lights as the darkness crawled across valley like a quilt. It was the only place with electricity, I thought of my house and the electricity I had and felt a little embarrassed. I was living a very different life than of Popius and his family.

I had brought some beans, sweet potatoes and a large pumpkin for Popius's family. We sat in the living room waiting hungrily for the food. There was a single paraffin powered flame on the table in the middle of the room and I soon found out that this was the only light for the whole house. They could not afford to burn paraffin for every room. On the table was a book from Mukibugu's ACE-funded library titled 'The Aztecs'. Popius and his sisters were taking turns to read it. It was nice to see and I guessed that this was the only book in the house.

The food came out and the whole family gleefully ate. It was a treat to eat sweet potato and pumpkin for Popius and his family. I thought of the food that children in the U.K. ate and felt humbled that this family could delight in such basic food while kids in my country were demanding ice cream, chocolate bars and Coca-Cola.

'My sister Phiona likes the pumpkin very much!' Popius says to me.

'I'm glad she likes it' I replied.

'It is also her first time to eat it' he says as he spooned in some pumpkin himself. Phiona was six years old and this was the first time she had ever eaten pumpkin. I was a little stunned.

'What do you usually eat?' I asked.

'Beans… potatoes…usually' he replied.

'Do you ever eat meat?'

'Only at Christmas, it is too expensive' he said with a forced smile. I was offered Popius's mother's bed and felt obliged to take it. She would sleep with the children while Popius slept with the goats. I put my head down on my bag and slept on the padded matting, it was 10pm.

I awoke at around midnight and felt something biting me. I switched on my torch and looked at the freshly laid blanket Popius's mother had kindly given me. There were black dots jumping around and I guessed that they were fleas. On further investigation I saw a larger insect with a bulbous body on the sheet. I shone the torch on the adjacent wall; there were many more bulbous insects moving on the wall. I guessed that this one insect had fallen from there. I tucked all my clothing into each other, put my socks on and wrapped the blanket tightly around me.

'Let's see if the fleas can get through that!' I thought to myself.

Well they did, as I woke every hour or so to the sensation of biting.

The morning light came to my rescue and I got up.

A breakfast of last night's beans and a goodbye photo later, we were headed back to Mukibugu school.

 
Popius and family

I had certainly experienced life in the village. I had eaten their simple food, seen the beauty of their countryside, understood the heart-breaking nature of poverty, and felt the hospitality and generosity of people who had very little. I also had been bitten dozens of times but could not complain as I had been given the best bed in the house.

It was nice to enter school the same way the children did. The teachers were astounded and amused that I had spent the night in the village. They told me that the bulbous insects were bed bugs and regaled me with stories of how they used to sleep with 'the goats'.

As I was going to class a girl called Jastine looks at me, she is standing awkwardly, but wants to say something to me.

'Hello Jastine, what is it?'

'Eden, you stay… my house too.'



This is Eden's 11th Report, written on 12th June 2008.

Kabami: Three Classrooms and a Garden

'This school used to have a "Grand Design" in the old days. Look here, you see how there are there is a roundabout and a driveway. The old entrance to the school would have been where the plastic water tank is now and would have led passed the church to the main road.'

The start of my two weeks at any school is one of excitement as I try and think about what I want to accomplish in that short time. For Kabami Primary School the discovery of faint outlines in the grass was the source of excitement, leading to my theory that the school had a 'grand design' long ago.  
Kabami School

Kabami has many old classrooms that were built decades ago that are sadly not used any more due to falling into disrepair.  
old Classrooms

However, as I walked down the old driveway I could envisage how the school used to look, a central driveway leading to a roundabout that would have been the centre of the school. The classrooms were in a concentric 'C' shape around this central roundabout and a flagpole would have been flying proud and high on that roundabout right in the centre of the school.

'We will dig flowerbeds around the roundabout and put flowerbeds either side of the old driveway, this design should be rekindled.' I announced to the deputy headmaster.

'There used to be a headmaster long ago who loved Boys' Brigade. I remember marching around the flagpole with the brass-band playing when I attended the school as a boy.' The deputy was reminiscing a time from long ago, as was I, as I tried to imagine what the school used to look like.

It took a lot of work, two hundred pupils with hoes, and the help of the teachers. But when it was complete the school had an elaborate set of flowerbeds that, with a few roses, tulips and pansies could have been on 'Gardeners' World'.

Well… perhaps not - but from the hill above, with the newly completed playground and volleyball courts finished, the school looked splendid.  
New flowerbeds

'The bishop is coming on Wednesday!' I exclaimed.

'Yes, here is his programme'.

He was coming on Wednesday - it was in black and white on the sheet of paper handed to me. All that was running through my mind as I looked at it was 'Can we finish in time?'

Two classrooms were being completely renovated by ACE with the workmen nearing 80% completion. I had started renovating an old staff room and another classroom. They were not in bad condition - a coat of paint, repairs to the floors, and repairs to the roof and shutters and they would be usable.

This picture shows the classroom before renovation began.
 
Before renovation

This was the inside.
 

When the workmen heard that the bishop was coming the following Wednesday they all pulled out a can of spinach like Popeye, squeezed the can, the spinach went in the air and into their mouths.  
Renovation underway

That was what it seemed like as their sloth-like movements on Thursday vanished like a cured sickness and they rushed round the site for the next three working days.  
Working inside

By Wednesday morning, the classrooms only needed a coat of blue oil paint, they were in all intents and purposes complete.  
Painting

On my side, all the old staff room needed was a coat of white paint and the old classroom also needed painting.

I left halfway through the bishop's interesting, but totally incomprehensible, local language sermon to the parents of the school, grabbed ten boys and by the time the buffet lunch came at three o'clock we had finished painting the old staff room (right).  
Staff Room

I had paint on various places of my body and a T-shirt on. I walked into the office and changed into something more appropriate for a buffet lunch with a bishop. When I emerged five minutes later in a suit and tie, the parents sat on the grass looking amused. They had seen me walk in with paint on my bare legs and now I was walking out in a smart suit and shoes. I heard them chuckle and talk excitedly as I walked past them towards where lunch was being served.

The bishop was very impressed with what he saw that day, and commended the work done by ACE and me.

By Friday, all the classrooms were complete, as well as the staff room.

Finished classrooms   Interior

The final project was the library. The library was in a room that had all the shutters nailed shut and one stack of shelves was actually in front of a window making it the darkest library I had ever been in. I have no idea how the children were supposed to read but I could notice by the cobwebs on the walls that perhaps this wasn't the busiest library in the world.

As 5pm arrived the desks were adjusted, dust swept out, and a final photo was taken. We had finished on the ring of the closing bell…..

There is a school next to the waters of Lake Chahafi, a few kilometres from the Rwandan border in the south western corner of Uganda that now has two volleyball courts, two football fields, a splendid set of flowerbeds around a grassy roundabout, two swings in a play area, two gleaming new classrooms built by a Cornish charity, one renovated classroom painted blue and white, an old staff room like new, and a nice brightly lit library.

Swings  
Volleyball Court

It is called: Kabami Primary School.


This is Eden's 12th Report, written on 27th June 2008.

Baloo, Bagira and Bukazi Primary School

Three hundred children were squeezed into a classroom the size of a large garage, some were sat on the floor, others were sat six to a desk but they all watching the same screen in front of them.  
Audience

Jungle Book   A roar of laughter went up as the bear on the screen started dancing and shaking his large posterior. The film on the screen was a classic Disney film in which a young boy befriends a bear called Baloo and a black panther called Bagira. The film was 'The Jungle Book'.

They loved the film and as I watched their three hundred faces all I could do was smile.

The battery on my laptop died just after Mowgli had escaped the clutches of the jazz mad King Louie. All the children then filed out of the classroom into the evening sun. They started playing on the swing and messing about in the compound, they didn't seem to want to go home and just wanted to enjoy the evening weather.

As I watched, a boy climb the flagpole to untie the Cornish flag that had got caught up at the top of the six-metre pole I knew it was time to go.

The boy with the skill of a vervet monkey came down the pole with the Cornish flag, donated by ACE, following him.

 
Flagpole

Bukazi equipment   It was one of my last schools in this ACE project and, as I looked down the compound to the netball court, the football pitch, the dry-stone wall completed that afternoon and the two swings standing like giant stick insects I was happy with the work done.

Bukazi   'Not as grand as Kabami but still a job well done' I thought.

The mason was finishing the blackboard in the old P2 classroom. I had only discovered that the classroom didn't have a blackboard and no paint on the walls earlier that week.  
Before

It had been a rush job to get it finished but it was amazing what a coat of paint, repaired window shutters and a new blackboard could do to a sorry looking classroom.

It was empty when I first discovered it but next week it will have children from P2 class in.

 
After

The schools under the ACE programme are blessed as all of them have a positive glow about them these days. Work continues this very moment to make them better for Ugandan children and teachers alike. That is due to the hard work of all those back in England who give their free time and love to help those less fortunate than themselves.

The contractor Paul said to me on Saturday -

'What you have done for those schools is great work.You have increased the enrolment in all of the schools you have been to and attracted children back into school.'

I just wanted to tell you that is what everyone in ACE has done. Children who didn't want to go to school, children who had dropped out, children who had been taken out of school by their parents - they are now coming back to school.

Mukibugu Primary School attendance for the school year 2007-2008 = 456 pupils Mukibugu Primary School attendance for the school year 2008-2009 = 650 pupils

I may be here in Uganda and attracting kids into the ACE schools but I wouldn't be able to do any of this without the support of those back in Cornwall.

Keep up the good work and good luck with 'Open Gardens 2008'!!


This is Eden's 13th Report, written on 10th July 2008.

Sandwiched between a Rainforest and the Congo

It is not easy travelling on a 125cc motorbike for two hours along a murram mountain road, with a Ugandan carpenter on the backseat and 10 kilograms of nails strapped to the back, but that is what I had to do to get to Nyarusunzu School.

The school lies directly north of Kisoro, twenty miles past the beautiful Lake Mutanda, sandwiched between the 20,000-year-old Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and the Congo border.

The first thing I noticed was that it had been raining at the school. I didn't understand how this could be so as it had not rained in Kisoro for one month as we had entered the African 'dry season'.

'The rain is due to the forest!' the head teacher replied. Having a large expanse of rainforest on your doorstep certainly causes things to be a little damper than usual. True to the region, just after lunch we had rain, it was nice to see rain again as after one month of dryness. I was beginning to miss the patter of rain drops.

Of all the schools I have been to, I felt the most welcome at Nyarusunzu. The teachers made me feel very comfortable and took care to answer my every request. I was served meat everyday, which is a luxury for most Ugandans in this area. They even requested that I stay 'forever' but all I could do was smile and to reply that I would be back the following week. They seemed to be happy with that although I will make sure I leave my details with someone before I head to the school next time in case I am 'adopted' by the natives.

I slept in a classroom that ACE had built and found that having no electricity or running water was actually quite nice. The sun went down, the stars came into view, and lanterns came out. We sat round three cooking fires and watched our food cook. It felt like I was camping but for people in this locality it is as normal as switching on the gas cooker or turning on the microwave.

The next morning, two parents turned up, and then another two, then three more. As the morning sun climbed into the sky more and more people came. It was the first time I had been to a school and had parents help develop the school. It was wonderful to see and I think the children were proud of the parents for helping out.

The school is built on a slope and I thought that having any kind of sports facilities would be impossible but with an enthusiastic, five-foot tall, headmaster and fifty hoes I guess anything is possible.

By lunchtime we had finished levelling terraces into the slope to make enough room for two volleyball courts.

With the balls ACE had provided an exciting game quickly took place.

 
Groundwork

'We have plenty of trees here', the head master said.

'Good. We will need some', I replied.

There were trees everywhere and also tree stumps standing around like giant mushrooms. Now I am a great fan of adventure playgrounds, so a few improvisations and a vivid imagination later, we made one at Nyarusunzu School. Rope swings, balancing beams; tyres hanging from trees, and a monkey rail were all constructed.

I have seen monkeys climb trees but when I saw these kids clamber over and under the balancing beams and along the monkey rail I had to keep reminding myself that they were humans.

One boy even managed to reach the canopy of one tree and sat on a branch eight metres up. I was waiting for him let out a monkey howl but he just smiled and climbed back down.

 
Monkey Rail

I taught Origami (Japanese paper-folding) craft making to one class. We hung the completed origami birds from the classroom beams, making them look like a flock of birds heading across the desks below. The classroom looked great after we had finished.

Something surprised me on the following day. As I was teaching an English lesson, I walked past a desk and saw an origami bird on one pupil's desk. It was made from lined paper, which was not the paper I used the day before.

'How did you make this John?' I asked.

'Ooh, I remembered from yesterday' he confidently answered.

I found out that John was the brightest kid in the class and had answered many questions that I had asked that day already.

To remember how to make an origami bird after one attempt is extraordinary.

He is predicted to get high marks in his final exams.

I sincerely hope that he is able to go to secondary school, as he could easily be a doctor or engineer, given the opportunity.

 
Origami

I never would have thought it, but this school, sandwiched between a rainforest and the Congo border, really surprised me. Teachers live 5 hours walk away from the school but decide to work here and sleep in the classrooms. The children performed very well in their exams last year, out-performing schools with better facilities and equipment.

The headmaster is probably the most active and hard working headmaster I know. He has created a school from one blackboard in a mud and stick, banana-leaved structure, and now the kids have the best playground and sports facilities in the area. ACE built a three-classroom block last year that brought the standard of the school to a high level.

The area is often very misty due to the rainforest. It is often shrouded in cloud, but it shines like a bright star in the north of this district.

That has been largely due an energetic five-foot tall headmaster called Emmanuel and blonde haired lady from Cornwall with a charity called ACE.

 
Emmanuel, Angela & Vic

This is Eden's 14th Report, written on 16th August 2008, back in Cornwall

'Miracles Happen'

Saying 'Goodbye' to Kiroso was a strange feeling, all people could say to me in reply was, 'When are you coming back?' I guess it was not really 'goodbye' at all but rather 'farewell' and when people were saying 'When are you coming back?' they were really saying 'We'll be here waiting for you when you return'.

I know that in life it is hardest thing to say 'goodbye' to something/someone you love. When you are in front of 1,500 children from six of your schools, and all the people who have made up the memories of your time in Kisoro are standing there, well it doesn't come much harder than that to say goodbye.

All I could see was children's faces that I knew, faces that had names, faces that had smiled and welcomed me to their school when I had visited.

I thought I would feel sad but all I felt was happiness.

Happy that I had come to a remote place in south-west Uganda, happy that I had tried my best to bring about positive changes in these schools, and most of all happy that I had made each school I touched a better place.

 
Some schoolchildren

Were there tears?

Not then, but when I stood in front of Mukibugu school a few days earlier, (the school dearest to my heart) there were a few tears. The whole school assembled for me and I remember saying the words,

'I tried my hardest for you because… because… I know what your lives are like. Children in my country don't have to suffer the burdens that you do. They have good food; they have running water, and live in stone houses… (I thought of the home-stay I had done at Popius's house) Your lives are hard enough…'

I thought I was about to cry but Teddy the nice female teacher at Mukibugu beat me to it as I heard her weep quietly behind me.

I held my head high and then said,

'Thank you for the memories Mukibugu, I won't ever forget you.'

Mukibugu farewell

What about the future for these schools?

I feel like there has been a refreshing spring breeze blown through these schools. Certainly the amount of dust I found in some of the school libraries, a strong breeze was most definitely needed.

I sometimes felt I was being too candid with the schools, that I had pushed too much, but I only had a short time at each school and there were so many things to accomplish. Also, when, as a school, you have accepted standards that don't do justice to the children who come every day to your school, then you have to ask the question 'Why?'.

They probably didn't think I was going to do the things I did, but when you have the approval of the Kisoro Education Department, and Angela Peake you feel pretty confident about what you are doing. Not quite as confident as Michael Phelps, the Olympic swimmer, but pretty confident nonetheless.

Eden's farewell  

I learnt many things and the schools learnt many things. I think the main thing the schools learnt is that it is possible to develop your own school.

If you have fifty hoes, and creative teachers, you can do a great deal to improve your school. Many of the teachers already knew this but lacked the support to do anything.

I hope the spring breeze has blown away some cobwebs and brought renewed confidence to the teachers. They are the hope for these schools in the future.

When I saw how hard those children worked in improving their own schools I knew that good things were going to result. It was great to see the children rush onto the volleyball court, after they had made it with their own hands, or for children to peer into a newly painted classroom to see what the head boy and his team of painters had done. I am grateful to all of them and to the teachers. Without their help, I would not have been able to do the things I did.

The future is bright for these schools as a fresh breeze has passed through them. That breeze originated in Cornwall and I hope that Cornwall continues to send its love to Uganda in the future.

This is Farewell

The last nine months have been amazing for me. Being back in Cornwall I have met so many wonderful people associated with ACE who make the charity what it is. It is heart warming to know that you were all wishing me well in Uganda and following what I was doing. I thank you for all your support and I thank Angela for her confidence in me and what I was trying to achieve.

I wish you could have seen what I have seen, met the children, laughed when they laughed, smiled when they smiled and found that we are all one people. They have the same hopes, fears, joy and anguish that we do. I only hope that, with the stories and pictures I show you, I can give you a glimpse of what I experienced.

It is a beautiful world out there, and miracles happen every day. All you got to do is believe it!

Someone very dear to me sent this poem to me in Uganda, and I wish to share it with you. It is called Desiderata and was written about 1920 by Max Ehrmann.

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even to the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexatious to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love,
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.


August 2011 - Return to Uganda

Eden, who has spent the past few years teaching in Japan has been revisiting the ACE schools. He has sent these blogs -

Blog 1 - 'Memories and a few Surprises'

The mist cleared in the morning sun and there below me is the Kisoro valley. The view… is… simply stunning. I could make out the hulking mass of Mt Muhabura ("The Guide") behind some white clouds in the distance. I had forgotten quite how big the dormant volcano was at 4127m. It was massive and incredibly imposing as it towered over the valley. Below me was the mountain road, it looked as though God himself had used his finger to draw a chocolate coloured line all the way around the valley.

This was my first surprise, the road between Kabale and Kisoro had been in progress for the last few years and what was once a small road clinging to the mountain side was now 15 metres across. It was not finished but very impressive none the less, massive earth works dotted all around the valley.

I had forgotten the makeup of the fields here in Kisoro… Every mountain side had a patchwork of multi-coloured squares. The dry season is now fully entrenched here in Kisoro and the mountain sides are bare brown, a gale would easily take off the top soil and deposit it in a far away land. Too many people, not enough land, I thought to myself. I had forgotten so much but it was flooding back as we twisted and turned into in the valley proper.

Tiny figures moved along hillside paths, some carried water, others a sack, and some held a walking stick.

As I recalled memories of my time in Kisoro my next surprise hit me. We started along the valley floor, when all of a sudden a steady droning sound seeped into my ears. There in front of me was one of the best roads in Uganda. I could not believe it, this was a pot holed mess two years ago and now it looked like a smaller version of the A30. We were soon crossing the Kisoro airport. As I was still admiring the road, we stopped.

"Are we in Kisoro?" I asked someone. The lady replied "Yes" as she picked up her things.

I had once lived here for nine months and now I couldn't recognise the place. The new road had transformed the town centre and a new bank was being built right in front of the bus park. I searched for recognisable features… yes there was the post office, the petrol station and there… Augustine's shop!

"Wow, things have changed" I thought.

I stepped off the bus. The usual medley of boda boda taxi drivers awaited me.

"Hey, mzungu (white man) you come!" they shouted.

I calmly said in reply "Mezute (How are you?)" in the local language. That stunned a few and one stepped forward with a sly grin on his face said to me directly…

"Vitte? (How's it going?)" to which I replied "Sour (Fine!)"

That drew a wave of laughter and cheers from the taxi drivers. This mzungu knows our language they all excitedly chattered.

And with that I had arrived in Kisoro.


Blog 2 - 'From the Best Road to the Worst'

The grey runway of a road stretches before me as far as the eye can see, the wind rushes past my face and the trees fly by. It is good to be on a motorcycle on a day like this I thought to myself…

I glance in the mirror and make a left; up ahead I see the end of the tarmac and the beginning of the dirt road. Dust is swirling in the distance, and I can see the silhouette of a lorry. Now this is how I remember the roads in Kisoro, I thought.

"It isn't so bad" I swerved round a pot hole or two. Rocks the size of my fist were laid across the road like a marbles scattered on a floor. I could see in the distance that the rocks were getting larger and rocky outcrops were appearing.

Ten minutes later, I had changed my initial thought of "this isn't so bad" to "this road is bloody awful." I can only describe the roads heading up to ACE schools as a river bed. Bang, bump, swerve, straight, bang, bang, bump is the tune of a motorbike on a dirt track in these parts. The marble like stones I described earlier had multiplied by ten and only certain parts of the road were traversable.

I finally arrive at Gitenderi School, my back is sore and I have a slight headache.

The district has some of the best roads and some of the worst. I like contrasts but probably not this one.

A teacher rode on the back of my bike back to town and saw me navigate the roads.

"You are tough! How know how to drive these roads! Are the roads like these in your country?"

All I could do in reply was give a wry smile…and reply "No."


Blog 3 - 'What is in a Name?'

Before I came to Uganda, I was coaching a girl in Japan for a speech contest. The title of her speech was a dilemma for us, after talking to her and thinking long and hard, we came up with the words of Shakespeare and "What is in a Name?" Her speech was about the meaning of her name and how she has tried to live her life in the harmony with her name. Her name meant 'Love' and she has tried to love life and people in the way that reflects her name. It was a heart-warming speech.

I drive the roads in Kisoro and I hear the familiar but slightly annoying "MZUNGU! (White person)" from everywhere I go. If it is from a child it is said with the feeling of wild excitement. If it is from an adult male it is often said with a tone that leaves you a bit uncomfortable (I won't go into the details about this in this story).

So as I drive it is "Mzungu!" "Mzungu, how are you?" "Mzungu, give me money!" "Mzungu, where are you going?" "Mzungu!" "There goes a Mzungu!" "Mzungu give me a lift"

I drive further towards the mountains and it starts to change as I travel along certain roads. It goes something along the lines of this…

"Mzungu!" "Mzungu, how are you?" "Edeni?" "Mzungu!" "Edeni!" "Edeni, how are you?" "Luke?" "Luke!" "Edeni!" "Edeni, welcome back!"

I look into the eyes of the people who say my name or Luke's and they are bright and shining. A smiling face is what accompanies those eyes. The feeling I get is one of love and it is like the feeling you get when you see an old friend.

When I think about the difference between "Mzungu" and "Edeni (they add an 'i' to my name) or "Luke" it is apparent that the feeling it is said with, is totally different. I believe that is because of the work we did and the memories we created with those children and people. There is a depth in the sound that is pure and good.

I believe that in some small way that the names, "Luke" and "Angela Peake" and any others who come here and work with the children will become part of folk-lore and the origin of legends.

What is in a Name? Ask the children here in Kisoro and they will tell you what someone's name meant to them…




Blog 4 - "Man Plans while God Laughs" but sometimes in life "God Smiles as Children Try"

It's Saturday morning and I open my eyes. It is still gloomy outside and there is a sound that makes me think "Oh no…" That sound goes something like this

"Jarrrrrrrrrrrrrrr."

It is the sound of heavy rainfall.

I hope it stops soon I think to myself. It will really disrupt today's plans if it doesn't…

Today is my last day in Kisoro and it was decided that we would hold the ACE Sports Cup at Gitenderi School at 9am. I look at my watch, it is 7:15. I open the door and peer outside. My porch is awash and big puddles fill the hostel grounds. I text all the headmasters to tell them to proceed to Gitenderi once the rain stops.

At 11am the rain still hasn't stopped although it is lighter than before. I phone William, the inspector of schools. He had gone to Gitenderi to assess the situation there and to see if anyone had turned up.

"A few teachers are here and a few pupils. I would say around thirty in number. The pitch is waterlogged and not in good condition."

I look at the mountain covered in rain clouds. "We will hold the Cup next term" I announce.

"I think it is better. I will inform the students." The phone went dead.

It can't be helped I thought. I texted all the headmasters to let them know.

At 1pm I receive a call from Ezra a teacher at Mukibugu. "We are nearly at Gitenderi. Are you there?"

I ask him if he received my message to which he replies "No."

"I will go to Gitenderi at 1:45pm. If you are already there you might as way play a friendly match" I said.

The road was very bad and huge puddles spanned the road. It was also dangerous and slippery. Riding across mud on a motorcycle is never the sanest thing to do especially on roads in Kisoro. But for ACE, we do whatever it takes.

Finally, I reached Gitenderi. The pupils now numbered two hundred. Rukongi, Gitenderi, Rurembwe and Mukibugu had turned up. However, Bukazi and Nyakabaya had not arrived and in the end, those schools never reached Gitenderi as they had told their students not to go after the initial cancellation message.

After consulting the headmaster of Gitenderi we decided to hold a series of friendly matches instead of the actual ACE Cup as Nyakabaya and Bukazi weren't here. This was announced to the waiting children. A big cheer went up as they realised that they were going to play football against their arch rivals. I said a few words of farewell (I had to leave in the late afternoon for Kampala) and said a few broken words in their Rufumbira language. That made everyone smile and laugh as I messed up my pronunciation and had to be corrected by the headmaster of Gitenderi.

Children at the football  

And with that I left the ACE schools playing football on a Saturday afternoon on a mountainside in south west Uganda.

"Man plans while God laughs" a message sent to me by the headmistress of Nyakabaya later on in the evening.

I replied "God smiles as children try" and explained that football had taken actually place in the bad weather.

To all intents and purposes the ACE Sports Cup was dead and buried on Saturday, but the Ugandan children brought it back to life again.

We all learned a lesson about life from them today…


Blog 5 - Moonlit Voyage

The bus was heading up the mountainside. The engine heaved as the hulking mass carried 60 passengers over the mountains towards Kampala, the capital of Uganda.

The grey silhouettes of the three mountains stood in the distance. Muhabura (The Guide - 4127m), Mgahinga (The Pile of Stones) and Sabinyo (The Old Man's Teeth). Those three mountains forever watch the valley of Kisoro and the people beneath. They were once volcanoes that spewed lava and rocks but now they stand silently.

  The view at night from the hillside was beautiful.

The clouds parted and revealed the moon. I could see that the moon was full and bright. I peered at the mountain side through the bus window. It was like a charcoal painting outside… I never knew that there could be so many shades of grey. It was one of those nights that the moon is so bright that it casts a shadow on the things it touches. The trees were especially beautiful as they were not grey but silver. The moonlight reflected off the trees' leaves and produced that magical colour.

My heart yearned to be outside the bus, sitting, just sitting and looking upon the charcoal landscape for time eternal.

After an hour with this picture perfect scenery the moon disappeared, sleep filled my eyes and I dozed off into an entirely different world.


Blog 6 - Children in Kisoro

To be in Kisoro is to see what it must have been like for people 150 years ago. The sun rises; people work the fields, eat food harvested from the land and then relax by candlelight in the evening.

The children are born of this land, they play in this land and most probably they will one day return to this land and be buried. I look at their legs and face after they have been toiling in the fields helping their mothers and they are covered in dirt. Brown earth upon brown skin, I sometimes can't tell which is the colour of the earth and which is the colour of their skin as the two become blended over their facial features.

  When the children smile their eyes sparkle. I compare these children to the ones in Japan and when the Japanese children smile their eyes do not sparkle like these children from Kisoro. I find myself asking why…

I think there are whole host of reasons which are too many to list here. I will state one or two possible reasons though.

I think the main reason is that the children in Kisoro are 'children' in every sense of the word. They are living their childhood one day at a time and always living in the moment. Japanese children are 'children' but they have a whole host of things piled upon their shoulders. They have their parents' expectations, the expectations of their teachers, they must be top of the class, they must practice the piano three times a week, they must complete their homework every night, and they must enter a good secondary school so that they can get into a good university. In a sense, they are living in the future, a future that has already been laid out by their parents' and society's expectations of a child. The pressures on a child growing up in the developed world are immense and not easy to deal with. Even if a child achieves good grades the parents tell them to get top grades next time. No wonder their eyes don't sparkle if there other things to always be thinking about instead of enjoying the moment.

A second reason for the sparkle is their purity. As there is no electricity there is no television to imprint things onto their minds, in its place only the environment and nature. The soul can cleanse itself in such an environment and this clear beaming soul shines through when they smile. It happens when they sing, when they dance and when they laugh also.

I take a photo, flip the camera and show the children. A shrill of voices rises up, eyes are wide, and shining smiles are reflected behind in the 2.5 inch plasma screen as children say "There's you!" or "Look at Annet!".

I have taken pictures of Japanese children and flipped the screen. I usually only get a faint smile or a raised eyebrow. It is something they have seen before so it isn't interesting. It must always be 'new' with children in the developed world, our society has taught them that is the way.

So, the children's eyes in Uganda sparkle. Smiles are true and pure. The children are free to be just 'children.'

Perhaps that is the secret to a sparkle in your eye. It isn't 'I must be this or that' and it is instead simply to 'be'. To be nothing else but you. To live in the moment and enjoy it whatever it may be.

We all have something to learn about what 'happiness' is from these children.


Blog 7 - The Modern World Encroaches…

This became starkly apparent to me inside the night bus I was taking to Kampala on Saturday night. The bus was full of people, however I didn't spot any animals on board this time. Sometimes you spot a chicken or two but not on this journey. Women in traditional clothes, men in farmers' jackets and children in the best clothes which meant their uniform. There were of course people returning to the city also… they were the ones wearing collared shirts, business trousers and the women were wearing jeans.

The television screen that I hadn't noticed before was suddenly switched on and it began burning brightly inside the dark bus. A gasp went up when it was switched on. All eyes turned to the screen.

It was music video night by the looks of things. A Ugandan music video was playing, I averted my gaze and looked outside.

When I returned to the screen a slick music video by Jennifer Lopez was on. I glanced at my fellow passengers, I found they were wide eyed and their mouths were slightly open. The women in tradition clothes looked shocked as Jennifer bounced along a beach in a bikini and then splashed sexily in the surf. For them that was tantamount to being 'naked'. I had never seen a thigh, shoulder or even a stomach in all my time in Kisoro and there was Jennifer bearing all for the camera. What must have they been thinking as they watched her?

Behind me a young girl of ten years was gazing at the screen. The look in her eyes was not one of shock but rather one of interest. The modern world and all its attractions were captivating this young girl. I could imagine that in ten years time she might be in jeans and wanting to go to the beach in a bikini and not to the local weekly market in traditional clothes like her mother.

The next video was Rhianna… Even I was open mouthed at this video. She was on stage singing at a concert in a playboy bunny outfit. Nothing unusual about that… What was unusual was the two 9ft tall mechanical robots out of Star Wars dancing with her. I could not even figure out if a person was inside them or they were being controlled by a remote control, they were that lifelike.

They started 'grinding' with Rhianna. That raised a chorus of laughter from the passengers. People were excitedly chatting about what these machines were. The biggest laughter came when one of the robots tickled Rhianna's bunny tail with a rap of its mechanical fingers as she bent over seductively.

This time the entire bus was captivated by this encapsulation of our modern world.

My mind turned to the new tarmac road that had arrived in Kisoro, with it I knew that people's lives would change forever in the coming years. The modern world is rapidly encroaching on this corner of the earth. Women will swap their traditional clothes for more western items, and the youth will want a piece of modern life for example, an iPod or a new phone in the future.

The end of the traditional way of life was already happening in Kisoro but the new tarmac road has just sped up that process.

I feel so privileged to have had the experience of seeing this traditional world before it disappears forever. There is something magical about it.


Blog 8 - Kampala - Down Town Bus Park Area 7:15am

I awoke with a start. We had apparently arrived in Kampala while I was fast asleep. I checked my watch, it said 4:04am. We had arrived slightly early. I was about to get off but then noticed everyone else remaining in their seats.

Kampala traffic   I found out that people were not getting off as it was too early for transport to start going out to the suburbs. It was also a little dangerous to walk around at this time of night I was told. So, with nothing to do I took another nap.

At around 5:40am I finally arrived at the down town Kampala bus station so that I could get to me to my next destination, which was Soroti. A swarm of bus touts greeted me hurriedly saying

'Where are you going? Where are you going?!'

As soon as the words "Soro…" left my mouth. Two men said

"Yes, over here!"

In Uganda, if a bus is not full it doesn't leave. I took my time and inspected both buses. Both were fairly empty. I didn't like the way one tout had tried to grab my arm so I took the other guy's bus.

I then waited on the bus.

After 45 minutes I realised I had chosen poorly. The other bus was filling up fast and looked ready to leave. I just watched as it pulled away.

I watched Kampala come to life in the morning light.

People sell anything and everything here. I have seen men carry ten jackets on their shoulders one on top of the other and walk around like a giant coat hanger trying to sell a jacket or two. Telephone credit, newspapers, mints, socks, belts, sunglasses all these are sold by local hawkers who move from bus to bus or car to car. It is a sight to see.

Kampala traders   The ebb and flow of trade is what gives Kampala its tune.

At around 7:15am I am looking out the front windscreen of the bus watching the world go by when a brawl suddenly erupts. I am not sure why it started but there were now ten people fighting right in front of my bus. It looked like two groups of men were battling it out. Fists were flying, then a stool was picked up and it was flung against someone who then fell to the ground. One guy was on the ground and had a couple of kicks pumped into him. Another guy had another man on the ground by his leg and was about to let a kick fly when another man lumbered in with a punch to the one holding the leg. The man fell to the ground.

I now saw that it was the bus touts, conductor and driver of my bus involved in the fight! The man who just fell to the ground had now got up but was bleeding from just under the eye. That incident ended the fight as he was one of the leaders of one side by the looks of things.

Twenty minutes later my bus was leaving. Our driver was nursing a gash across the bottom of his eye as he put the bus in first gear.

Kampala is a dog eat dog city, for many you have to be tough to survive on the street. This is the reality and this is life in Uganda. People struggle to survive here but that is just how it is.

 

 

 

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