Monday, June 27, 2011

Queen Elizabeth + Pictures!

This weekend we took a little "safari" to Queen Elizabeth National Park. It's a big and really wonderful game park in the Western/Southwestern part of the country. The drive from Bushenyi up to Kasese is really beautiful too - the scenery changes from the hills of our district to the flatlands of the park, to the foothills of the Rwenzoris! Amazing country!

We had really hoped to see the tree climbing lions, and although they evaded us we did see a number of other really interesting animals: Kobs, Buffalos, Hyena, Birds, Hippos, Crocodiles, etc. We took a game drive and 6 am and then a boat ride on the Kazinga Channel in the afternoon. We had a great time with friends and exploring another part of this beautiful country!

Here's a link to my facebook album with some pictures from our adventure: click here

Monday, June 20, 2011

PTC Article Link

Hi Everyone,

No new news about students returning to the PTCs yet. But, this article was in a local newspaper and gives some extra information. Check it out if you are interested! :-)

While we wait for our students to return, Ryan is keeping busy with training the college tutors on computers and I've been visiting local primary schools to see what kinds of projects I might be able to initiate there. So, we're keeping busy but really hoping for quick resolution to the PTC problem! Thanks for all the kind thoughts and well wishes! :-)


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Paint by Numbers

This weekend we attended a service project event to celebrate Peace Corps's 50th anniversary. We painted 6 or 7 student-created health-themed murals at a PTC and nearby health center. It was a lot of fun to be a part of! Check out the pics from the event here!

By far, one of the best parts of the experience was the chance to connect with our fellow PCVs! It's amazing how close everyone gets during PST and how awesome it is to see them all again, even if it's only been a couple of months! It was great to hear stories of everyone's sites. Some of our favorite stories:
  • One PCV was recently having what she affectionately referred to as a "poop attack." (We've all been there!) Anyhow, she desperately needed to find a latrine. When she did, however, she realized that she had no toilet paper! So, being creative, she remembered the paperback book in her backpack (Incidentally, The Bourne Identity). She proceeded to remove every page that was not the actual story - dedication page, publishing info, etc. Problem solved! (Who reads those pages anyways?)
  • Another PCV shared with us her favorite past time while bored at site - she kills mosquitos and places them in a pile. Within minutes, hoards of ants appear to carry away the mosquito carcasses! Discovery channel right in your living room, baby!
  • Lots of our friend's houses are not yet completed. So, some are living in guest houses (hotels), some with other PCVs, and one in a convent! Who knew living with nuns could be a part of the Peace Corps experience?
  • On the subject of houses - one PCV moved into her house to find she wasn't alone. She had an infestation of bats!!!! She ultimately moved out, but in the mean time ate dinner under her mosquito net while bats swooped around her room! (Did we mention that we are SO THANKFUL for our wonderful house?!)
  • One of our PCV friends with little work at her actual site has found some ways to get involved at the local primary schools. So, on top of continuing a literacy club that was started by a previous volunteer, she attends Ugandan Sign Language class with the p2 students (1st graders!) At the end of each lesson, the PCV (and all of the children) have to demonstrate what they have learned. Whenever she makes a mistake, the students love to laugh at her!
All in all, it seems like people are doing quite well. Everyone has experienced challenges, yet seems to be making the best of them and finding great ways to get involved in their communities as well.

Also, on the way home we added yet another fun experience to our repertoire of crazy Ugandan travel. We (along with 3 other PCV friends from the West/Southwest) were ushered on board a bus at Masaka and, once it had already taken off, we realized that there were absolutely no open seats! We assumed this meant that some passengers would be vacating the bus somehow soon. It wasn't until over an hour in that we finally got seats! Bear in mind, standing up while riding a bus in Uganda is something like standing up on a crowded, old wooden roller coaster! An adventure for sure!!!

PTC Update

Thanks everyone for sending your thoughts and prayers regarding the situation with the closing of Uganda's PTCs. Since I last wrote some things have changed - though with ultimately ending in the same result. Here's the timeline of the last few day's events:

10 June - Friday Morning
We were told to attend an 8 am assembly to send the students off. Once everyone is assembled, the principal shares with us that he received a text message in the morning saying to hold the students until tomorrow afternoon. (Hooray!) We don't know if they will stay for good, but we are excited to have some more time with them. Classes resume as normal on Friday and we teach all of the classes left in the day!

11 June - Saturday
We attend a service project in Kyotera, Rakai district. We get word from Peace Corps staff that the college closings are nothing but "rumors" and that they will continue to operate as normal. They tell us that nobody has authority to close the PTCs except the ministry of education itself.

12 June - Sunday
We arrive back from our trip to find all of the students still on campus. Things are looking good!

13 June - Monday
As Mondays are both of our big teaching days, we teach all of our classes throughout the day. The students are visibly overjoyed to still be attending school, though many of the tutors have already gone home.

14 June - Tuesday Morning
We wake up to a phone call from another PCV at a PTC in Northern Uganda. She tells us that her students are attending an assembly and will leave immediately following. Throughout the day, we exchange text messages with the other PTCs around the country hearing similar news. It doesn't look good.

14 June - Tuesday Afternoon
We notice that the students are all assembled and waiting for the Principal. We stand in the back and hear that the students are, in fact, leaving. They will head out tomorrow at 8. (Again!) But, we are quite certain the closure is happening this time. First year students are requested to do "Child Study" at a primary school near their home, and second year students should work on the packets we prepared for them to take home. Everyone (including us) is once again so disappointed!!!

So....We are back to where we started......and will keep you posted!


Thursday, June 9, 2011

Bad News

A little update from the week...What we feared would happen, has. The Ministry of Education did not come through with the money that the colleges need, so Bushenyi PTC and the other 44 PTCs all around the country are sending the students home. We approximate this is affecting between fifteen and twenty thousand aspiring teachers! They leave tomorrow morning and will return only when the money is acquired.

This is so disappointing for so many reasons! Mostly, we are so sad for the students and the turmoil that this causes them. They are all horribly disappointed. As many of the PTC students are unable to continue in Secondary school or university due to academic or financial reasons, they really understand the importance of their PTC education and the way that their chances to continue their education here directly relate to opportunities in their future. Something like this happening is really devastating for them. Tonight during Ryan's open lab hours they spent time writing inspirational notes to their classmates, typing journal-like entries about their disappointment, and expressing their sadness in word art. We feel so sorry for them. I fear that the message being sent by the government by this action is loud and clear....and really negative. I feel so, so sad for them all.

We don't yet know what this will mean for us. Optimistically, the issue will get resolved and we will continue our work here in little time at all. Yet, next week I plan to scope out some opportunities to get involved outside of the college all the same. My teaching load is light, so even if things are resolved quickly I should still have time to be involved in other community effort when I'm not teaching at the college. Ryan and his counterpart will likely continue to work in the lab, updating equipment and doing other techy stuff! ;-) All in all, though, it's just such a bummer. We were just feeling like we were finally starting to be really useful and helpful here and now everything stops once again. Ugh...

So...send your good thoughts to the PTC students of Uganda and pray for a quick response by the Ministry of Education!


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Vlog #1 ;-)

So, I think the word "vlog" is super cheezy. But, Ryan and I recently got a flip camera and so we are going to try to video blog (aka vlog) when we can to share a little more about what we're up to here. This weekend we got started. So, here is our first "vlog," just a little tour around our house and a lesson by Ryan on doing laundry by hand! :-) Hopefully in days to come we can show some of our work at the college, our market, our students, etc. Enjoy!


Facts & Figures

In the last couple of days, we have been confronted with many sobering facts and figures. Some surprising, others not, but all of them have made me think a lot. So, here’s a bit about what we’ve been thinking about in the last couple of days. Make of it what you will…

  • Yesterday in my Special Needs education class I shared some World Health Organization facts about visual impairment. I shared that approximately 248 million people worldwide are living with visual impairment and 90% of these people are living in developing countries. Also, according to the WHO, 80% of all visual impairments can be prevented or corrected. Yet, when I asked my students how many of them had ever seen a health care worker to have their eyes examined, out of the 250 students I see on Mondays, less that five could say that they had.

  • Although I had noticed it before, in a staff of over twenty tutors (teachers) only two, myself included, are women.

  • At the beginning of the term three weeks ago we were asked to submit schemes of work (like lesson plan outlines for the term) by the following week. Today it was asked of the tutors how many had completed and turned these in. Only four tutors raised their hands (Ryan and I were two of these!)

Now for the big news: Our principal shared with us that at a meeting of all 45 PTC principals yesterday some really important budget news was shared:

  • The PTCs are composed of two parts: Preservice (for future teachers) and Outreach (for those already working in the field). This term only 33% of the preservice budget was fulfilled by the government, and 0% of the Outreach budget was fulfilled. The PTCs are supposed to be 100% funded by the government.

  • The government has currently provided funds for only 22 days of the current term, even though the term is supposed to be 69 days.

  • All of the PTCs are 100% boarding schools. So, students attend school, sleep, and eat on campus. The money given by the government to feed, house an d provide materials for is only 590 Ugandan schillings (about 25 cents) per day.

As a result of what was shared at the meetings, if the government does not respond with more funds by tomorrow (Wednesday), the PTCs nationwide will temporarily shut down until more money is acquired. This would, of course, be absolutely awful for the students, the tutors, and primary schools who really need quality teachers produced at the PTCs. And, we aren’t sure what it would mean for us either…

All of this goes to show that Peace Corps service truly is never as you expect it to be. Although we knew we would learn so much through this experience, who could have imagined all of the different aspects that being here in Uganda would have helped us to think about and consider. Life sure is complicated, isn’t it?

Saturday, June 4, 2011


So...Ugandan's love volleyball! Who knew?! Yesterday we got to enjoy a rousing game of V-ball with our PCV friend Bailey. Bailey teaches at an all girl's secondary school just a few kilometers from us and on top of being a science and computer teacher, has already taken on the job of Volleyball coach! So, she is working with 2 teams of girls at the school and getting them in the competitive spirit. It was a lot of fun to get to be a part of it yesterday!

There were many moments of classic Ugandan-ness during the match. The first being that the opposing team arrived two and a half hours late! Another hilarious moment was when the opposing team took off their warm up pants and was wearing a "traditional" volleyball uniform. The girls laughed and hooted and hollered!Something to know about Ugandans - they view womens' thighs as one of the most seductive parts of the body. They have no hesitation about breasts and are not shy about the frequent exposure of breasts in public, yet thighs are an absolute no-no. This is why skirts are so important for women here and why the Bweranyange girls were wearing athletic shorts like this: So....the thighs of the opposing team caused quite a ruckus!
Another funny moment was when, multiple times throughout the game, the Bweranyange girls would resort to kicking the ball. Of course "Football" (soccer) is a big sport here in Uganda, and I think it must just be a habit for them to use their feet. Desperate times call for desperate measures I guess! :-)

The girls were scrimmaging against a group of freakishly tall University students. They lost every game (best 3 out of 5) but they really put up a great effort! It was a little David vs. Goliath-esque, and we were proud of them for doing their best! A fun, sunny, afternoon!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Ryan's avocado adventures

So....we have two fantastic (and freakishly tall) avocado trees in our backyard (cool!). The only problem is getting the darn things down because apparently nobody in Uganda has given the concept of pruning trees any serious thought! **Shout out to Dad for reminding me that this (not that American fruit trees are curiously more conveniently sized) is the reason why fruit trees back home are so much easier to pick!

So, here are a couple short videos of my clever hubby choosing a safe and innovative alternative to the Ugandan method of picking avocados by climbing trees with machetes. The result? Two avocados and a man still alive to eat them! :-)



Classes Begin!

Well it has been a little while since we posted because we finally have started the school term. The students arrived back last week. Most of the students arrived last Monday and Tuesday, and others have trickled in since then. It felt crazy to have all the students back again, after having the college campus be so quiet for a month. I (Ryan) started to teach last week because it was pretty obvious where I would be in the timetable, being as there is only one other computer teacher. The first week of lessons went pretty well. I tried to get an idea of how much they already knew about computers, which was much less then I had expected. So after that I decided that I would work on keyboarding skills with them. I have never taught keyboarding before so we will see how that goes, but I think it is such a great skill to have. So wafts of “find your home keys” can be heard emanating from the computer lab.

Emily worked on trying to figure out exactly what she would be teaching this week, which turned out to be much more work then we thought it would be. Two people that she needed to talk to from the math department only are in on Thursday and Friday, and the department chair over Special Needs Education was out of the country in Kenya. But she tried to do what she could; she was able to have a low-key week, which turned out to be good because she was a bit under the weather.

We had a very eventful weekend of getting stuff done. We planted sweet corn in our garden. Started painting our kitchen. Got lots of shopping done. Did a weeks worth of laundry which we have tried hard to avoid since getting to site. Our fingers still get the handwash virgin rawness from doing that much laundry. And most importantly of all our weekend accomplishments was finishing the 6th Harry Potter together! Which if you are familiar with the series you will know that I had one sad wife on my hands who did not want to believe the ending.

This week Emily has gotten to start teaching her Special Needs classes, which she loved. She volunteered to take on the job of teaching the Special Needs curriculum and acting as a support person for the special needs students on campus when we found out that the college had neither a teacher or the money to hire someone to teach the subject. Her first week in, she is loving it. She hits her stride when she is in front of students and the change in country did not change that. She just went over what it means to have Special Needs, and did some getting to know you activities. All of Emily’s Special Needs classes are with 1st Then all her math classes are with 2nd years and are on Friday. So she is looking forward to getting to fill her time with other stuff during the other weekdays. She is hoping to go to some primary schools and help out with projects there, and possibly participate in a girl’s empowerment group that we think is already operating on the campus. years and are on Monday.

My second week teaching went well but remained bogged down a bit by a power outage and the fact that we have a holiday on Friday. So we are off for a three day weekend starting after we close up the lab tonight. Each Tuesday and Thursday nights the plan is to have open lab hours. I have looked over more computer labs then most people after my experience in Americorps but the computer lab here is a totally different beast. Let me leave you with some of the fun differences I have noticed:

USA: You open a lab and it is full an hour later.

Uganda: You open a lab and it is full an instant later.

USA: If someone is looking at me they are doing something they are not supposed to.

Uganda: If someone is looking at me it is because I am white.

USA: When someone has nothing left to do they leave the lab.

Uganda: When someone has nothing left to do they write inspirational words to their class stream about how they should work and how God Blesses Them.

USA: If the computers are full people wait.

Uganda: If the computers are full they merely push on to a chair with someone.

USA: When someone looks busy they are busy.

Uganda: When someone looks busy they are writing their name in bold colorful letters.

USA: Settings are locked and firewalls exist.

Uganda: Every setting is changed within five minutes by someone who can’t figure out how to double click on an icon as soon as they sit down.

USA: You announce closing a lab and it closes half an hour later.

Uganda: You announce closing a lab and it closes thirty seconds later.

Hoping everyone at home is well,

Ryan KJ (or Mr. Johnson as I am known here, Ugandans don’t do the hyphen)