Crazy Dreaming: an invitation and a start

the diocese has 13 church founded schools in 3 districts–all of which are primary schools and all of which i’ve recently visited with a base-line-type survey to assess all sorts of needs. (infrastructure [buildings,latrines,water etc], classroom performance for pupils and teachers and materials assessment (desks, chalk, food, clean water etc.)

in short they are all in pretty bad shape structurally and materially. (for the most part, morale is high among the teachers, head teachers and pupils i spoke with. the teachers and head teachers are repeatedly voiced their concern that they weren’t providing for the children like they would like to.

over and over a lot of the same needs came up when i asked the head teachers the following question: “if money was not an issue what the first three things you would do?”

and i have to tell you, these teachers make next to nothing. several keep gardens just to have something to eat, and they also struggle to pay their children’s school fees.

these women and men did not request higher pay, or transfer, or things for themselves but asked for the lives of the children who are trying to learn be improved.

a lot of primary schools in the region are trying to shift into all boarding rather than day and boarding schools as this encourages higher retention numbers and (hopefully) therefore a more solid education for the kids. when kids go home to the village every day it is a lot easier to miss a few days a week. if kids come and board, they are more likely to at least get an entire term’s worth of education before missing something. (i will admit, this also has its issues, but, this is what these teachers want–and i’m inclined to listen.)

some common answers from head teachers when we were dreaming together:

*desks for the children (on average these 13 schools are short several hundred desks. most children sit on the floor.)

*better floors “if the children are going to be on the floor, at least they can be on a concrete floor.” one teacher said. the majority of the classroom floors are either broken concrete or totally dirt. there is nothing romantic about a dirt floor. especially during the dry season. the little kindergarten’s dry-season coughs are enough to rip your heart out.

*fencing of schools 100% of the schools asked for a fence at all, or improved fencing. they pant gardens and orchards that are destroyed by goats or pigs. anyone can wander through the school compound (where students are sleeping in classrooms at night–often with no door or window shutters) and anyone can wander off fairly simply. there is also a problem with “land grabbing” where someone comes and builds a hut on the school property just past the marker stones- moves/destroys the mark stones and puts up a huge fight that the land was theirs all along.

*dorms for the children with the number of boarding students increasing schools are running out of places to put them. most sleep in classrooms that turn back into classrooms during the day meaning the move their things twice daily. in one school girls are sleeping in a classroom that has been condemned by the government and can no longer be used for lessons. at least two schools have classrooms and dorms with asbestos.

*teacher and staff housing its typical for teachers and school staff to live on the school compound. teachers can be posted anywhere in the country–not necessarily where they are from. this is part of their payment and a way to make sure they stay, too.

*text books, paper, chalk, pens and pencils (do not send these in the mail…we make them here…) that’s pretty self explanatory. no money = no books, paper chalk or writing utensils for pupils or students.

there is some NGO assistance in some of these schools, but its spotty and not terribly reliable. UNICEF used to supply a “school in a box” once a year full of paper, chalk and other supplies for the teachers and pupils. then they just stopped. WFP provides food for 100% of my schools. one teacher said “we eat it because it is what we have. but many times it is spoilet food. we are thankful for food, but want good food for the children.” the beans have weevils and the posho gets sour.

GOAL has recently been building new latrines in some of the schools and providing handwashing stands. some schools still have too few stances of latrines for pupils and teachers–and some of the structures create more sanitation problems than they solve.

i work for the church (and the Church)…who has been known to do things in a different way. it is not my intent to demonize NGOs, their well meaning nor their work. but it is my intent to do things differently. to involve the community (that includes YOU!) to make a better future for these kids that is more sustainable than a one time gift. that lasts longer than concrete or a touchy borehole pump.

some crazy dreams:

as far as building teacher’s houses, latrines, dorms, store-rooms or other structures goes, i’ve recently come across an organization IN UGANDA called Buvad who has learned from eco-tech how to build structures from plastic (PET) water bottles. its eco friendly, involves the community and is basically the coolest thing since yoghurt. (check out the link above and it will take you to the page on buvad’s site with their first project in uganda/on the continent!)

they are a “you learn it you teach it” type of project. i learned from buvad a few weeks ago in gulu and am ready to pass on my knowledge (with their help.) (also, i’ll post about the workshop soon!) this is also a great way of breaking down tribal differences in uganda–as buvad is based in the south and karamoja is…well…not. at the end of the gulu workshop one of the members from the central region admitted he was nervous to come to gulu and was told that he would be unsafe. “but,” he said, “i have seen that i have friends here. i have nothing to fear.” beautiful!

my thinking here is that if a project is undertaken at a school, that the entire community is invited to participate in some way. donating their plastic bottles, time, expertise etc and their curiosity can be a conduit for environmental education and a healthier earth.

what ideas do you have?
how can our global community work together to create relationships and better schools? how can my schools and churches partner with your schools and churches to enrichen all of our lives?

dream with me!



other ideas kicked around with head teachers, well wishers and church members:

-energey efficient stoves built by local secondary students who have learned how to construct them in an mcc program/community projects where the community learns to build them,too and practice in their local schools before (hopefully) constructing them at home, too.

-biogas digesters and stoves. several communities here keep cattle…

-rain catchment systems for when it does rain. some of the northern most schools do get enough rain, but lack ways of catching and keeping the water for later use.


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