I came to Uganda hoping to do achieve two things; Number one-learn more about the people and difficulties here and secondly, learn FROM them. I hope to take what I learn and find at least some ways to help improve the lives of those here with the extremely generous support in all typs of ways from my friends and family. Just as importantly, I hope to bring back what I learn from this country and those who make it so incredible for those who, for numerous reasons, might not be able to experience it themselves. Today I think I achieved a little bit of both.
I started my day sitting on the floor writing my pregnancy presentation on large sheets of poster paper with the help of Sam, a KACCAD worker. Basically, it was my job to present to a roomful of women (one man!!) and their babies the importance of antenatal care and then postnatal care. Clearly my specialty what with my background in child development and personal experience with childbirth…right. So that’s why my day started with the books, Where There is No Doctor and a very visually descriptive book for women ranging from how to find a comfortable position for sleep to what you can expect to look like during every month of pregnancy, at my side as reference guides. Luckily Brooke, a volunteer nurse who has been working at the hospital was able to help as well. She explained the most common problems they see are women who are malnourished bringing in their malnourished children as well. Sometimes it’s because they can’t afford food and other times it’s because of a lack of knowledge on what foods are needed.
The objective of the morning was to scan both books while discussing with Sam the culturally appropriate explanations and then put on a good presentation to a lot of skeptical women. I have to say I think I did a pretty decent job. I tried to keep it simple but informative and I thought it went well! At the end, the lone father in the room stood up and said in English, “thank you for teaching us” to which of course I responded, “thank you for listening!” For the most part, the babies behaved very well and the women were very attentive. My only obvious error was just a cultural difference where, when speaking about the proper weight of a growing child from birth to 5 years, I mentioned that a baby born under 3.1 kg is considered underweight. This, in fact is true in the United States but in Uganda, as the nurse politely corrected me,” 2.5 kg and under is considered underweight. I was very grateful that she politely put it in question form and then allowed me to explain that I was incorrect rather than trying to correct me in front of the group.
After the presentation I came back to my home to wash clothes only to find that we have no water. Normally, there are taps outside that you can use for cooking and filling up water. Today that lucky modern privilege is no longer. I was told it could be a day or possibly a week before we get working pumps so that was frustrating. Luckily it went off right when I was finishing my clothes so I will have clean underwear for another week! Now we will have to walk down to the community water pipe and fill up our jerrycans when they are low to have enough water for washing and cooking. It really isn’t too bad but it was a little frustrating when today the gas also went out so we no longer can use the stove to heat coffee or boil eggs in the morning. Oh AND the electricity comes on later every night now. I know I am lucky to have it at all and I definitely realize how I have taken it for granted. Now when I spend every night eating by flashlight, I am trying to be appreciative while literally sitting and waiting until around 10 when I will have electricity to read or take a shower (VERY difficult with no light and water in a small shower room the size of a port-a-potty.) It can be really uncomfortable but in a way, I am proud of myself for being able to deal with all that is coming at me and just kind of figuring a way to deal with it. It really helps and puts my discomforts in perspective when I constantly see people in more dire situations than I will probably ever encounter. It makes me grateful for the fact that I still have water, clean clothes to change into and food that I am able to complain about having to eat in the dark! It also helps to have Chris and Brooke around to sarcastically complain with and laugh 2 seconds later!
An update on the orphanage: the kids are taking their exams this week and so I helped with P.5’s exam today. I will try to put this in stark contrast with my memory of an exam I took in 5th grade in a public school in the U.S; Taking a little liberty with detail, I imagine I woke up, ate a breakfast of cracklin oat bran (Yes I KNOW none of you probably relate. Kirk and Catherine were what I will delicately call sliiightly overprotective and that they even invaded the kitchen where sugar cereals seemed to be as bad as cigarettes. Don’t you guys read the labels? Lucky Charms gives children bad attitudes and makes them want to smoke cigaretters) Aaaanyways, I probably headed to school with my XL GAP t-shirt which was totally cool back then, my umbro shorts and comfortable samba sneakers. I bet I brought my backpack filled with colored pencils, markers, pencils and pens (black and blue so when I wrote notes in class, I could change it up) and I ALWAYS had my trapper keeper with the clear outside pocket so I could put pictures of all my friends and draw around them when I didn’t want to listen to the teacher. When I got to school. I would sit in my assigned desk and have a few minutes to prepare for my exam while my college educated teacher would hand out clear print-out copies that were the same for everyone. I was nerdy so I would have been a little nervous and probably look around the well-lit room to all my friends making faces like, “oooh great. I would waaay rather be playing POGS and talking about my new slammer.” After finishing, I would have continued with the school day eating a hot lunch prepared by the lunch ladies and hoping my mild had the sticker on the bottom for the free cookie.
Here is the day for a P.5 student at the Raising Up Hope Orphanage; Most of the students wake up under their mosquito nets next to one or two other kids in the orphanage. Without breakfast they start the day by getting dressed and doing chores like sweeping or mopping the floors or maybe going out into the neighborhood to try to climb the trees with fruit in them to eat with their friends. Many of the kids in P.5 are older so they would take care of the two 3-month-old babies or other little ones.
Preparing for the exam is easy. They cannot study from the book as there is only one copy for the teacher so they would have to look at their notes. Coming to class which is an unlit room next to the main building, they might have had one pen and one pencil or perhaps shared with another student. At the “school,” there is no door to close to your classroom and there are children ages 3 months to 15 years running around outside playing. In the class, there is no electricity and the ages range from 10-20 years old. There are two tables and four benches. The tables are similar to a picnic table so the children sit across from each other and if anything is written on the board, the kids in the back either stand up or strain their necks around all the other kids to see. Before I arrived, one of the founders of the orphanage handed out the exams. Since he was the only one available at the time, he left the children in the room on their own in order watch the other children. The exam was handwritten and photocopied. Sam, one of the guys who started the orphanage had explained to me on Monday how he did not have the money to make photocopies for the exam. As they did not have sufficient funds to print the pages, Sam had written them out by hand and photocopied them because it is cheaper than printing. The handwritten words were very difficult to read and some of the pages were cut off on the bottom or the sides so while it is timed, you are constantly having to stop and ask the teacher, or in this case class monitor (me) what a word is or what word(s) are missing. At times I wasn’t sure so I had to leave the class to ask Sam the meaning or ask what word was missing on the page. Oh and don’t forget-this exam was not given in their native language! With minimum education, some of the students do not have a good level of English. If a child’s level of English is not good, he/she might not even understand the instructions even if fully capable of comprehending the concept.
One example of this today was a question asked after a short story where they had to answer the simple question; What is the relationship between the two characters? One child asked me what the word relationship was and thinking she couldn’t read it since it was written slightly illegibly, I told her. Without any look of understanding on her face, I realized she didn’t have a clue what a relationship was. Asking the class, none of them did. They simply didn’t know what the word meant in English.
Another problem resulted in the lack of paper and ability to print. I started noticing once I had the original copy that some of the students were working on pages I did not have! I realized that because all pages are two-sided, some of them had sides from another class' exam. Therefore, while they should have been filling out transition words on page one and moving on to short stories with short answers for page two, some kids were drawing parts of the body or asking me when I wanted them to demonstrate the commands on their paper like “clap” and “jump.”
I guess the main thing I took away from this experience was how much harder these kids have to work for an education than I did. Not only do they lack supplies but they are faced with numerous other challenges ranging from noise and illegible wording to lack of food and space. Even completing simple repetitive exercises for things like math take 3x longer. They don’t have their own books so they must first write down the entire problem. In P.5 it can be a tedious task with all the story problems. Even if a child is quick with math but slow when writing, they will have less opportunity to grasp a concept than the others. They don’t have a quiet place to study or review and they don’t have a strict parent making sure (like I did) my homework was done before I went and played nor one who is concerned if their grades slip or their behavior changes.
It may sound surprising since today if you look at it in one way, it was one of my roughest days yet. However to be honest, it was one of my best! I felt hopeful when I saw all the great parents at the clinic waiting patiently for their child to get immunized and that hope carried over to my time at the orphanage where I talked with Carlos, the 11 year old who, for whatever reason loves Spain and wants to learn Spanish. I had taught him the numbers 1-11 (so he could say his age) and within two days he had it down! He seemed really proud of himself and I also noticed he had decorated his special notebook for our “Spanish class” with glitter. I felt hopeful when I cut string for bracelets and saw how when even the smallest kids wanted string to make one, the older kids immediately commanded everyone to get in a line and let all the little kids all go first. And maybe hopeful is not the right word but I felt good about my bargaining skills when after telling a boda-boda driver I would walk if he was going to charge me more than I normally pay to get home, he conceded and I got the regular “mzungu rate” of 1000 USH to ride home.
Life is good :)