Saturday, August 2, 2008

Workin' it

I've realized that a lot of the information I communicate about my experience here has to do with culture, climate, and friends. All of which are very important. I realize, however, that I haven't really said a whole lot about my work. There is a reason for this: I have found it very difficult, and at times frustrating, to work in Uganda. I really really want to work, to feel useful and helpful, and sometimes that is just impossible. Africa moves at a different pace. A more relaxed pace, to say the least. So some days, many days, I spend my time reading, cooking, talking to neighbors, etc. I also sometimes doubt the effectiveness of the work I am doing--there are no instant results and it is hard to judge long term success/failure. Those frustrations voiced, I am in fact working!! And some of the work has been really good.


For one, I try to encourage schools to teach their kids life skills, those essential things such as self-esteem, assertiveness, and problem solving. I helped two schools to create life skills clubs. About 60 kids at each school meet once a week after classes to play games, do art projects, and talk with each other in a way intended to develop their life skills. I have found that it is difficult for the teachers to do these kinds of activities with the children. Ugandan teachers feel most comfortable teaching facts, lecturing, and testing children to gauge their "knowledge." But there are no right answers when you are talking about peer pressure, and the children only benefit if they are active participants, rather than passive listeners. So, it is a major change in style for the teachers. And it is extra work for them, which means there are some motivation problems. The club is no longer functioning at one of the schools. The teacher I was working with at that school failed to lead the club or even attend, meaning I was leading it every week without him. I had to make a decision: Do I keep leading the club, because the kids like it and might benefit? Or do I stop the club, because by continuing to lead it I am sending a message to Ugandan teachers that others will do their work for them? I stopped leading the club, which I think is a good choice in the long run, though maybe not so good in the short.

Here are kids in the life skills club playing a team-building game with their teacher.



Here the children are drawing rainbows that tell about the things they like to do, their families, and their values.

Another focus of my work has been a literacy project. With help from you all at home (amazing, wonderful, touching, inspiring help from home!) I have been able to introduce children's story books to teachers at two schools. Friends and family have donated over 300 books to this project, so in the coming term I will be able to include another school as well. Right now, the books are being used by seven teachers in six classrooms. And the kids love it!!!! Most of them have never read a story book before. For now, the teachers are using a method called free reading. This method, very familiar to most of us in America, but new and challenging here, allows each child to chose a book they are interested in and read it. Simple, right? Wrong. The teachers are not used to giving children independence and freedom in their learning, and the children are not used to having it. So it takes some practice. Next term I'll help the teachers to begin using the books in other ways as well. I hope to take some pictures of the children reading soon, so keep an eye out for them.

1 comment:

Anna said...

Lifeskills! Amazing Brett. I hope the kids enthusiasm for the clubs helps convince the teachers that the classes are valuable.

That slow pace is something I envy. Do you need books? How about an US Weekly? It's like you're in a different century...all I do is read blogs, email, and download stuff.

I want to test your culinary skills when you return! You look 10 times healthier than anyone I see in New York City. Much love!