Scottish Charity Number: SCO36069

8th March 2016

Stephanie Higgins – first report from Uganda

Home | Footprinter Reports | Stephanie Higgins – first report from Uganda

First of all I would like to say a big thank you to Hazels Footprints for their support. I feel so privileged to be able to be here in Uganda and would not have been able to do it without this generosity.

I cant believe Ive now spent almost two months in Kampala, Uganda with Smile Charity Uganda- the time has flown by! This gap year has been something that Ive thought of and been excited about for a long time so it feels surreal that its finally happening after all the thinking, fundraising and preparation that has gone into getting here.

A few weeks after meeting my team our Ugandan project manager Alex at training, we set off from England on the 5th October. Myself and my fellow gappers Lois and Kate are living in the Smile house in a suburb of Kampala called Nansana.

I now feel more settled in this beautiful country after being welcomed by the Smile team here despite an initial culture shock. They helped us to settle in on our first week here before we started work on the projects by taking us to a retreat centre right by Lake Victoria looking out to stunning views of the lake. We had a great time there getting to know the local Smile volunteers we will be working with through team bonding games, kayaking on the lake and even a trek through the equatorial forest there up to Myuntu Falls.

My main educational work here is teaching at a charitable school called Ruth Mother Care in Nansana, Kampala. Ruth Mother Care was set up by the head teacher Ruth Mirembe and has a remarkable story. She set up the school for children whose families cant afford to pay full school fees, empowering the children to be able to have aspirations and opportunities they would never have been able to access because of their familys financial situation. The school started with just two children and is now up to around a hundred children from Nursery section with baby, middle and top classes, up to Primary Four.

I love her heart for providing these local children with an education that they wouldnt otherwise get and her care for them shines out when you see her with the children. I believe in Nelson Mandelas quote Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to save the world and this is a philosophy which Ruth shares.

The structures, which were rebuilt by a summer team working with Smile International last year might be fairly basic wood shelters with corrugated iron roofs and the resources are limited compared to other fee paying schools, but the love that the children receive at the school is immediately obvious.

My first day at Ruth Mother Care is memorable as we received a wonderful welcome there.  We arrived on bodaboda, the Ugandan version of a motorbike you can hire, as the school is about fifteen minutes ride from the Smile house and whilst I was still celebrating that Id survived this new and bumpy experience, I was almost knocked over by the children rushing out of the classroom to hug Kate and I (so sweet!) I actually forgot to pay the boda driver until he asked because I was so overwhelmed.

I thought that was a good welcoming but they had prepared personalised welcome songs for us, which was even more special. We sat down in front of the staffroom whilst watching them perform in different classes, dance and even model, by which time we were in fits of laughter. They really are such talented young performers and the songs allowed their personalities to shine through.

We started teaching right away and have been given the opportunity to teach in all of the four classrooms, which I have enjoyed as Ive been able to get to know lots of the children from different age groups. It has also been useful in giving me an idea of the Ugandan primary school curriculum for the different classes, which is helpful as I know what a class has been learning in previous years.  At first I found it difficult to gauge how much the children could understand but their English is very good because they are not allowed to speak the local language Luganda whilst at school so they understand most of what I say.

After our first few weeks, we each settled into teaching one class more regularly than the others and so my class has become P2. There are eight students in the class aged around seven to eight so I have got to know them well, which means I can help them with their specific areas of weakness. I teach all different subjects to them from maths to literacy, for example in literacy I have been teaching the topic of animals and transport this term and in maths I have been teaching weights and measures.  It has been great fun to think of how to teach these topics creatively as we have free reign to plan our lessons for example by singing animal songs and bringing in a tape measure to measure all of the childrens heights.

I have loved getting to know the children and the teachers! The children are such a joy to teach and have stolen my heart and the teachers are so friendly and supportive of us.  During break and lunch time, we convert one of the classrooms into a staffroom and enjoy delicious Ugandan food such as bean samosas and chapattis and beans whilst talking to the teachers.

In addition to teaching at Ruth Mother Care, I also teach at a catch up education class set up by Smile in a slum community called Nabulagala on Mondays. There is much poverty in Nabulagala and many of the families cant afford to send their children to school so our class caters for children who are not in school and children who are too young to attend yet. We decided to start by teaching them the alphabet and have been using the alphabet flashcards I made to bring with me to help by making up actions to go with each of the letters and their corresponding words, for example E for elephant and J for jump. The children love joining in with the actions and are making a lot of progress with recognising and reciting the letters, as well learning how to hold a pencil. We also run a childrens holiday club in the same place on a Friday afternoon so the children are getting to know and trust us now, so we are getting regular attendees.

Outside of my work on the Smile projects, Ive enjoyed getting involved at Kampala Baptist Church in the centre of Kampala. I am there most evenings with Lois and Kate as I go to youth fellowship on Wednesdays, have joined the Christmas choir on Thursdays and the youth choir on Fridays as I love singing. This has been really important in helping me to settle in because I have made lots of wonderful friends around my own age here as everyone is so friendly. It has also helped me not to feel homesick as I spend most of my time out of the house.

My time so far in Kampala has been amazing and it has been the best decision I could have made to come here! It has been challenging to be so far from my family and friends in England and adjust to living in a big city and a new culture. However, Uganda is quickly becoming a second home and I feel so lucky to be able to spend my time with children who never fail to make me smile and laugh. I cant wait to see what the next months bring!

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