Sunday, February 19, 2012

Mpora, Mpora...

Things are getting started again here at Busheyni PTC! As February starts a new year in the Uganda school system, we are beginning a new school year now with our old 1st year students moving up to year 2, and brand new 1st year students coming in from O level. Technically, the new term started 2 weeks ago but, as they say here, things are moving mpora mpora - slowly slowly!

Week one of the term we were completely studentless, since the exams that determine a students’ possibility to continue at the school (which they took last November) had not yet been marked. So, we spent the week in workshops with some of the other tutors, reflecting on the last year and making vague and ambitious plans for the year ahead.

Then, last Monday all of our returning 2nd year students were supposed to arrive. They began trickling in on Monday, but now (almost a full week later) less than half of them have returned. We tried to have some lessons last week, but attendance and motivation was really lacking from both students and tutors, as it didn’t really feel like things were starting “for real” yet. So, tomorrow begins week 3 of the term, and we are hoping that things will really get started at this point.

In the coming week, we will have a workshop with students to prepare them for their upcoming semifinal school practice - their first 4 week shot at student teaching (final school practice occurs in term 3). Various tutors will cover topics like using instructional materials, lesson planning and scheming, and demonstrating well planned lessons. I will be shaking things up with a paper mache demo - teaching our students the wonders of newspaper, flour and water for making all sorts of great stuff! Count on me to bring the messy fun of paper mache to Uganda!

After this week, our brand new first year students should arrive. Currently our administrators are out “selecting” these future students. From what it sounds like, they go to schools and check out various students’ scores and resumes, then “select” ones who fit our application standards. I have never heard mention of a students’ interest in attending BPTC as a part of this process, and to me it sort of resembles how I picture trading in professional sports. You don’t really get to choose what team you play for, right? Well, these students don’t appear to have a whole lot of say in the education/school that they are heading for. The administrators even “sell” or pass off students that they don’t think are good enough to schools who are less selective or have fewer interested applicants. Like the NFL or what?! It will be interesting to see who this process brings to us!

Once the first years arrive, they will be in “regular” classes for most of the term. They will follow the time table and take classes in all the subjects. Our second years will leave in mid March for their semifinal school practice and won’t return until the end of the term in late April. While they are out practice teaching the tutors will all take turns going out to supervise them and offer feedback. This process is very similar to what we did during 3rd term last year, although I suspect it is somehow less serious since this is only “semifinal.”

So, that’s what we are expecting for the general flow of the term to come. I’m probably jinxing myself to assume that I have a sense of what to expect, but maybe a year of riding things out will finally be coming to an end. Or, maybe I’ll write again tomorrow to say that plans have changed and nothing is what we expected! :-) Oh, the ride that is Peace Corps!

But, we are looking forward to the term. On top of the regular teaching/tutor responsibilities, Ryan and I are looking forward to some extra projects that we will be taking on this year. These include:
  • Clubs: Ryan and I hope to start clubs in the coming year. I’ll be working with a girls empowerment club to talk about issues facing young women in Uganda, and Ryan will start a similar club with the boys of the campus.
  • Books: We’ve been asked to help develop the “reading culture” of the campus, as so many students struggle with writing in and expressing themselves in English. So, we’re going to work on getting our students reading to primary school kiddos, attempt to start a book club to discuss different books, and work on getting the kids reading and talking in English.
  • Computer/Math Time: Since we’re here in the evenings, we’ll be making ourselves more available to students during that evening free time. Ryan plans to open the lab for free computer time 4 evenings a week, and have brief “extracurricular” lessons available to interested students. I’ll be available for math tutoring 4 evenings a week, and will eventually work to create a peer tutoring program between 1st and 2nd year students.
  • IGA project ideas: We’re working on thinking of ideas for income generating activities (IGAs) to expose our students to through workshops on the weekends. We hear so often about how the salary for teachers is so minimal that it’s difficult to sustain as a career. So, we thought if we can expose our students to some IGA options before they leave here, maybe they will be more likely to be able to continue teaching with a little extra income on the side.
  • VSLA: We’ll be continuing with our community microfinance group that we wrote about a while back. Things are going so well with them that we are excited to continue with their progress! At this point, they have been saving for about 10 weeks, saved over 2 million schillings (which is super incredible considering most of the 13 members in the group make less than 300,000 schillings per month), and have loaned every cent out to members of the group. So, all that saved up money is now generating interest, as well as enabling some of our members to undertake projects or purchases that they might not be able to otherwise afford. It is incredible seeing their excitement in realizing their ability to save, and using the group’s collective savings to help meet personal goals. A success so far to be sure! We're also going to offer our staff the chance to be trained in the VSLA model, so we'll see if there is interest for them to get saving and loaning as well!
  • Gardening and Chickens: This is just for fun! :-) We’re currently getting 2 eggs a day from Pinto and Voldemort, and enjoying watching the chicks growing up. Everyone is free range and comes home every night! In the garden, rainy season is starting once again! We’re working on growing strawberries, pole beans, cauliflower, carrots, basil, parsley, sage, cilantro, onions, bell peppers, and lots of flowers. We are astonishing our Ugandan neighbors and friends by the fact that white people can get their hands dirty and have some agricultural know-how. (We were recently told that we were working like Africans! A funny complement of sorts!)
So, we’ve got big hopes for the coming year and the coming term. We will be sure to keep you updated as things progress, mpora mpora, more likely than not.

Thanks for reading - we love and miss you all!


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