On Saturday I had the very first opportunity to visit a Ugandan primary school in the countryside. The whole ICS group went for a so-called Community Action Day, a one-day social activity that is supposed to be different from what we do in SMEs on a daily basis. We decided to register for an educational programme with a local NGO called Tree Adoption Uganda.
School we’ve visited.
The charity supports pupils from rural areas by visiting schools to teach correct English pronunciation by reading books. Above all, Tree Adoption Uganda supports the pupils financially by encouraging them to plant mango, jack fruit or avocado trees at their homes. The pupils’ families are paid by Tree Adoption Uganda for 6-month-old plants that are later sold to big industrial corporations that, by taking part in this programme, manage to cut their carbon production. The initiative seems to work well but it still needs more promotion and support since the charity was only founded last year. Please, visit the charity’s page on facebook to find out more.
With a 6-month-old avocado tree. One seedling can generate about 18,000UGX (£3) for a family.
A small plantation of Tree Adoption Uganda.
How does the finance work in practice? Tree Adoption Uganda ensures that the money earned from plants must only cover children’s needs such as school fees or books and NOT other material needs of the family regardless of how urgent they are. Even though Ugandan government officially funds universal education of the primary school (6 years), most of children still have to pay for their fees in private schools because public schools practically don’t exist. Public teachers don’t turn up for classes because… they are not paid. As a result, if children’s fees are not paid in private schools, most of them have to go back home to do their arduous work on the field.
This household we’ve visited belongs to the grandma of one of the girls from the school. We planted some trees to support the girl.
Ugandan agriculture demands a lot of intensive labour and a use of very simple tools, so even very young children have to work to help their household to provide basic dietary needs. Some of these children are left on their own, accompanied only by a grandmother or grandfather. Some of them become orphans because their parents leave desperately for the city to find a better life. They rarely come back or they return just for a very short time.
A morning class of reading.
We arrived at a primary school around 9am and soon after met the headmaster of the school and the pupils. I must admit I had mixed feelings about the school. The school consists of several classrooms; most of them don’t have windows, electricity, sinks, are overcrowded and, in general, don’t give any opportunity for an individual approach to pupils. This is a typical image of a rural school, I heard later from my Ugandan friends.
Our studying group.
The work of Tree Adoption Uganda looks great. I think it’s a good idea to support these pupils with English as the quality of teaching leaves us with a big wish list. The general command of English is poor. Children cannot articulate basic words and, in general, lack confidence in speaking. I think one of the reasons is an authoritative style of teaching. Children in Uganda are not encouraged to take their own initiative or have a different opinion to generate a variety of ideas in the class. On the contrary, pupils are taught to be obedient, disciplined (e.g. the whole class learned a synchronized clapping to perfection), silent, and always listen to what the teacher says. I’m afraid, this kind of education cannot make active, independently-thinking citizens out of these children. After a 2-hour class of reading, we found communication with the pupils really hard. When we asked them whether they understood the text, everyone was silent. Once we asked them to state clearly yes or no, they acknowledged they hadn’t understood the text at all. Some of the children spoke so quietly that we had to encourage them to repeat the excerpt after the volunteers. The classes finished with a nice game time on the playground:)
Nonetheless, apart from all these obstacles I would say that these children are really keen on learning and I saw a lot of desire to acquire knowledge. They are hard-working and, I guess, they much more appreciate their school than the majority of children in developed countries who simply take for granted their ‘must’ of going to school. A particularly emotional moment for me was when one of the children asked us what he could do to become like us and come to the UK. You can imagine how hard it is to answer this question without giving them false hope or a too unrealistic promise…
We had a great day in this place, regardless of challenges, and I am sure there will be a gradual, positive change. The third sector is already doing great work. However, without a full support from the government, it would be incredibly hard to improve the lives of people from the countryside and children’s education. After all, there are the children, more than the half of the whole Uganda’s population, who are the future of this country.