Friday, February 23, 2007

3, 2, 1...Uganda!

So, guess who's going to Africa in one week? Thaaaat's right, youuu guessed it. It's me!!! On March 1 I will be embarking on my long awaited Peace Corps journey. I am travelling with the Peace Corps to Uganda (right in between Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo) to work as a primary school teacher trainer. I will spend 10 weeks in Uganda being trained for my assignment, and then spend 2 years working in a rural Ugandan community, finishing in May 2009. Exactly what sort of work I actually end up doing is really any one's guess, as each community's needs vary and most projects are free-form and self-motivated. However, the Peace Corps literature says that generally speaking teacher trainers help teachers improve their technical skills, plan lessons, develop resources, and introduce participatory activities in classrooms. I will also probably have a chance to work with administrators to build leadership skills and help communities become connected with educational projects. But like I said, it is really hard to know exactly what the work will be like. It's like a surprise, and who doesn't love surprises?!?!?

Here is a brief historical note on Uganda, to help contextualize the Peace Corps' work there and give everyone an idea of the country's status. Uganda gained independence from Great Britain in 1962. A few years later Milton Obote, the country's first leader, suspended the constitution and ruled by martial law. People began to be unhappy with him. In 1971 he was overthrown in a military coup which brought Idi Amin to power. Idi Amin, who would rule as President of Uganda until 1979 was at first welcomed by both citizens of the country and the international community. However, by the time Amin was exiled in 1979 he would be recognized as responsible for the deaths of over 300,000 Ugandans. Suffice to say, he was not a good guy. You can see/read "The Last King of Scotland" if you'd like to get a taste of the kind of man Idi Amin was. Anyways, to make a long story short, Uganda is still one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world (in 2000 Uganda ranked 158th out 174 countries in the United Nations Development Programme). However, the current government, led by Yoweri Museveni sine the mid 1980s, has been successful in a number of development projects and social programs. Despite Uganda's impoverishment, it is widely viewed today as an inspirational success story, economically and culturally. Interesting contrast, huh? A decade or two ago the AIDS virus was at 30% of the population. Yet after a number of projects and reforms it is today down to under 10%. That's a big drop. So Uganda is doing something right.

But let's return to the topic of education. As stability returned to Uganda in the 80's and 90's the number of children attending school quickly multiplied, straining resources and increasing the numbers of untrained teachers. On top of that, in 1997 a policy of Universal Primary Education began, allowing children to attend school for free. Overnight the number of pupils doubled. The Peace Corps hopes to support the improvement of the basic quality of education in Uganda. So, in a nutshell, that is why I am have been invited to go to Uganda.

Alright, enough academic explanation. How about some fun facts! Here is the info people seemed to want to know most when I told them of my impending expedition, or stuff I think is cool.
-There will not be other volunteers working with me in my community. I will be the only American living there.
-I will probably not have running water.
-I will probably not have electricity (although last night I had a dream I did!!!).
-There are lions in Uganda. And hippos and various monkeys and lots of other cool animals!
-Uganda has a lot of lakes, which together are the source of the Nile. The actual SOURCE!! I kind of forgot the Nile had one before I read that.....
-To get around between the schools I will be working at I will ride a bicycle. I think it will be the kind you back pedal to put the breaks on.
-I get 2 days of vacation per month I work, so anyone who wants to come explore the region drop me a line, cause I plan on doing some traveling!!!
-I will probably have email access every 2-3 months, so definitely write me, but expect a belated reply!

And finally, yes, I can get mail. So, I am making a move to bring back letter writing. Let's all pretend the Internet doesn't exist, it's fun! I would be ecstatic to receive some letters, and I promise to write back. Seriously, letter writing is often a great from of recreation for Peace Corps Volunteers (think no TV, movies, cars, etc.). And just think how excited you will be when you get an actual, real live letter from me! Evidently letters take at least 3 weeks to reach Uganda from the United States. So start writing now! Here is important letter writing information:
-Write "Airmail" and "Par Avion" on your letters so that they are sure to go by airmail (surface mail takes like 6 months)
-If you want to send me anything (I encourage pictures, candy, random trinkets, etc.) keep it small and just put it in a padded envelope so that it is treated as a letter.
-Don't worry if you do not hear from me right away, it may take my letter a long while to arrive.
-This will be my mailing address during my training, which will be until about mid-may. I'll let you know my new address then:
Brett Snyder, PCT
P.O. Box 29348
Kampala, Uganda

Well, enough for now. I will miss you all and think of you often while away. I am so excited for this trip and have been waiting to have such an adventure for soooo long!!! I will email when I can, and of course write letters (it's fun!!). Stay well everyone, and I hope to hear from you all.