Two of our projects, both inaugurated last year, promise to improve significantly the lives of the children as well as the whole village community. We are truly excited by the possibilities, even though they both have a long way to go to reach their potential.
The reading Project
It is so easy to bemoan the lack of a reading culture in Uganda, but much more difficult to do something about it. In villages where the over-riding need is to put food in the belly and to survive, where carers are often themselves illiterate or read at a very basic level, where a generation was lost to the ravages of HIV, the thought of sitting down in the evening and enjoying a book is not just way down the list of priorities; it is not even on the agenda.
We now have village children who are eager for learning but until now the books have not been available. When schools struggle to exist, reading books can seem to be a luxury. Even in the classroom, a lesson often consists of the teacher copying the contents of his sole copy onto the blackboard and the students reproducing it into their exercise books.
After school finishes for the day, children have to walk home and then do their tasks; fetching water, working in the garden, cooking, looking after younger siblings. It will be dark before they stop and, without electricity, almost impossible to look at the notes they have taken during the day. There is just time to sleep, wake up, do more household chores and walk to school to recommence the cycle.
Can we change all this for the better? We truly hope so. Supporters have paid for the books needed to get the reading for pleasure programme under way. They will be stored in metal boxes which can be transported between Bubebbere and Bulumbu on a weekly basis, so that children in both schools can benefit.
We have also been able to make a start on the purchase of text books for use in the classrooms. It is no more than a beginning and much more needs to be done before the boys and girls will be able to study properly.
The teachers are excited about the possibilities for the future. We just have to make it work. There has been a real bonus as far as this is concerned. You will recall that Florence Namitala, a sponsored student since her primary school days, has recently completed a course in early childhood education. She has now returned to the villages where, I am told, she is making a real difference to the reading project.
The signs for the future are good – as long as we can keep the momentum going to produce a future with a more literate population of children!!!!
The purchase of the machine, with the help of a generous donor, during our visit last year delighted us for a range of reasons: it provides an ecologically sound approach because there is no need to burn wood during the process; it saves money; and the quality of the bricks is better than those manufactured by traditional methods.
All of these advantages hold true, but there is now the potential to offer much more.
The reduction of some 50% in building costs has fed the ambitions of our Ugandan colleagues. The lack of proper storage facilities for the reading scheme books was a real concern. Costs were checked and it was decided that they could build a small resource centre at the orphanage; somewhere for the children to relax with a book.
All of that is wonderful in itself, but we hope that there will be much more to come. Our colleagues have embarked on a plan to include the village community in the project, with the orphanage centre as a model for what can be done.
Already young men are being employed to make the bricks. In an area where unemployment is a serious problem, this gives them a reason to stick around and not join the exodus into the already over-crowded city.
Many village buildings are mud-built, poor in themselves and at risk during the rainy seasons. There is now a vision to work with people to improve the overall situation. and to try to eliminate such poor living conditions.
If sufficient bricks can be sold, the intention is to use the surplus funds to buy a second machine to expand the production; to the advantage of our colleagues and the village as a whole.
So … in addition to the original advantages, it will become an income-generating programme, local young men gain employment and there will be (we hope) an improvement in the quality of homes in the village. If things go to plan, the benefits will go well beyond what we had anticipated.
There is much to do before this can be brought to fruition and only time will tell how far it will progress. But there is now hope where formerly there was very little.
Keeping the dream alive
The ultimate intention is to help the schools and their communities become independent of outside help; both successful and self-sufficient. The struggle to raise funds to allow this to happen is a perennial one.
Here is one small and innovative idea that our supporters at Westwood Primary School in Lancashire came up with. For St Valentine’s Day, people were invited to buy and dedicate a heart for 20p. This was then attached to the “heart tree” in the library.
What a great idea to raise valuable funds. Has anyone else got a bright idea? We need you. Please.