My last few months in Uganda were probably the best of my life so far. My partners and I kept so busy as we were intent on getting everything ticked off our Ugandan bucket lists!
My project partners, Alice and Alice, and I all got on extremely well and really put everything we could into our work at Childrens Sure House. In time for the start of the second term (our last term), we all helped pay for a full set of curriculum books from one of the best exam providers. There are about 10 exam boards across Uganda and each of the curricula differ slightly along with the style and standard of the exams. In term 1, we were told to teach from books made by Prime but when it came to the end of term exams, the papers were made by Makula exam board. This meant that a lot of the pupils performed very poorly, especially in subjects such as science where wed been teaching them totally different topics! This really frustrated all of the teachers and after a three hour staff meeting, we were motivated to buy the books, with the promise from the director that the exams would be purchased from the same board. We then set off on much better footing in term 2. We had almost exactly the same timetable so term 2 felt very much easier and the books we had bought made a huge difference! All the teachers were confident in what they were teaching and had a structured book to follow, it made everyone so much more relaxed and the staff room was more fun than ever. I would teach 5 7 lessons everyday with P5 and P6 so the kids were aged roughly 11 to 16, which meant that everyday was different! There were about 50 students in each class and I (eventually) learnt all of their names, it was the clan names that took the time to learn! Although I was their teacher, I really felt more like their friend. By the second term they really understood how I worked, if they did their work then joking around (to an extent) is fine, but Im not so friendly when their books are empty! I felt sorry for the kids we were teaching, everyone from the age of 6 and up got no play time at all…instead they had a 8 and a half hour day at school!
In our last few months, we got invited to our first Ugandan weddings and introductions. I was so excited by this as the functions are very traditional and I find it really interesting to see how proud of their culture and traditional events the Ugandan people are. An introduction ceremony is when a groom-to-be is introduced to the family of the bride-to-be. All women have to wear the Ugandan traditional dress called a gomez, and the men a traditional white dress called a kanzu, which is worn over suit trousers and a jacket on top. There was plenty of typical Ugandan slow dancing/walking when people were led up to introduce themselves at the start; this led on to the traditional finding of the man! This is when two of the brides relations go through the crowd to try and find the groom who will have been seated somewhere amongst the guests. This stems from when the introduction ceremony was the arranging of a marriage, the brides family would choose a suitable man out of the crowd and that was that, match made! After this spectacle, all the grooms guests had to go and help carry in the dowry (on our heads of course). Its not a traditional dowry in that it is given to the family of the bride, not to the grooms family, to thank them for raising a suitable wife. The dowry was massive and included a very odd mix of gifts; including rice, margarine, sugar, pineapples, onions, soda, suitcases, a rocking chair and a cows leg. After the dowry there was some cake, little bit of food and then, of course, a dance!
We were also asked to not only attend, but also to be maids at a wedding in Uganda! It wasnt exactly a traditional wedding as it was between a local girl and a Dutch man, who had already got formally married in The Netherlands. However, we were honoured to be asked and dutifully spent all our money on getting dresses made and buying shoes that, in Uganda, are the epitome of smart but at home, would definitely be classed as hooker heels! On the day, there was plenty of lateness, function food, soda, dancing, speeches and it was one of my best days in Uganda! All the children from Sure House were invited so we got to dance and joke with all of our students and there was such a nice community spirit and welcoming feeling, everyone had smiles on their faces all day.
Towards the end of my time in Uganda, my parents and younger sister came out to visit. I was nervous about seeing my family again for the first time in 10 months but it was so lovely to have them around and for them to see my project and meet all my friends, really meant a lot! My sister raised a lot of money for Sure House by doing the 3 peaks challenge and so it was really great that she could come out and see where it had been spent. The students were so grateful, especially for the weekly porridge with sugar that they now get. When they left, it really hit me and the Alices how little time we had left in Kiwangala! It was horrible, counting down the days you had left in what you now consider home, and with the people you have genuinely come to love! We didnt eat dinner alone once in those last two weeks… every night we had a guest or the school director, Moses, and his family would invite us for dinner. Our last week was filled up with visiting people, having fun and desperately trying to finish marking exams and complete report cards (luckily, we finished, JUST).
When it came to actually getting in Moses car to leave Kiwangala, I wasnt really sure what to do. Some of the teachers started crying and that was me gone! It was heart breaking to leave these people who had been so warm and welcoming to us and who I genuinely considered very close friends. It was horrible having to leave and not knowing when youll be back, even thinking about how different all the children will be when I go back is very weird! Now that Im home Im really missing having a routine and a worthwhile job. In some ways, I miss the staffroom the most because we could socialise and have a joke with all the other teachers, and that was a really big part of our year it has provided us with some friendships that will last a lifetime! Coming from my home in Uganda straight to my home in Scotland in less than 24 hours really made it seem like the whole year was a dream, nothing has changed at all! I feel so grateful to everyone in Sure House for how theyve helped me and been so lovely to me all year, and I will never forget any of them! First and foremost though, I need to thank everyone who gave me money towards my fundraising and expenses. My year in Sure House wouldnt have been possible without the generosity of charitable trusts and my friends and family. So thank you, because I would not have changed a single thing about how I spent my 18th year and I couldnt have done it without the support that people offered me.