Monday evening 11th April
Knowing a place well, going away for six months, and then returning produces, in my mind, in a time/space slippage. Now I am back here, I feel I have never been away – and yet some things and people have changed. This disorientates me. So when two new houses seem to have sprung up overnight, an earth road has been surfaced with tarmac, or a teacher I knew and respected has been replaced for underperformance, I get a series of small shocks. All of these have happened today.
All these things seem to be progress. There is no doubt that Uganda is making progress on many levels in spite of a desperate shortage of resources. Many NGOs like ours are involved, usually in isolation of each other. Today we met various local government and political officials to “check in” with them as we are working on their patch. They all seemed pleased to see us and delighted that we had not called to ask for anything – I suspect all their other callers do.
They described the things they are legally required to do, but cannot. The government requires the local education authority to have a primary school in each parish but does not give them the funds to do this. Eight parishes near here have no primary school. A parish can be a hundred square miles.
But then we visited “our” primary school at Akubui. Last year we built a classroom and this year we will add two more to it. It is difficult to describe Akubui’s uniqueness but here goes: It started some years ago as a church – a rough building of blocks and rusty corrugated iron roof. A nursery school started meeting in it on weekdays. The children grew older and the community built a block of four classrooms (with floors of cow dung replaced last year with concrete by us) next to it; new children occupied the church building, and the older ones graduated through each of the four rooms, year by year and ultimately into our new one built last year.
On a flat plain with distant mountain views, surrounded by small scale fields ploughed by oxen, the school lives quietly (except at break time) between ancient mango and jacaranda trees. Judging by the lack of wheel tracks on the earth access road, our minibus was the first vehicle to visit for many months. Children, teachers and parents all walk long distances to get there.
The first white people to visit for six months caused rather a disruption to the school day. Small children rushed at us – I took my camera out of my bag and a group assembled themselves for a photo delighted to see their picture on the back of the camera a moment later (picture on left)
Headteacher Samuel gave me a long chest crushing hug. I met the builder Patrick and, from the shade of a leafy tree with a view of our greenfield site we planned two new classrooms.
All we need now is some more volunteers to help build them. Numbers applying so far are low.
So, our first full day is over. A whirlwind tour of schools and offices. And more tomorrow !