Friday, 4 May 2012

Shaona Primary School

A view of Shaona Primary School from just outside the Administrator's Office. To the left is the path entering from the road and to the right one more long building. 

A Marketplace we stopped in on the way back to Kampala

Every small normal action takes twice as much energy to complete. Simply brushing your teeth takes so much more thought than at home. Taking a shower is a chore that takes longer for worse results. It is not that I mind, but I think I had a flash of understanding as to why life here is slower: it just takes that much more energy to survive, let alone thrive. So much energy is put out getting food and water and cleaning clothes and yourself that it is hard to find any extra energy for other things. As my uncle so aptly put it, "All the little day-to-day activities that we don't even think about in Canada are suddenly huge challenges...when you are overseas, you are suddenly reduced to a hunter-gatherer. The vast majority of your time is spent in surviving- in finding shelter, food, and water and keeping clean." 

I woke up at 6:30 this morning for our 8 O'clock trek out to Shaona Primary School. We arrived around 11, but the ride northwest out to Luwero was an adventure in itself. The school was only about 60-70 kms out of Kampala and yet it took about 2 or more hours to get there.

I am continually amazed at the nerves of steel the drivers here must possess. I wish I could capture the essence of the craziness of the streets, but I'm afraid that it is impossible. But I will attempt ... There is one particular part of the route that Carol explained was one of the most congested areas of Kampala. It is a stretch of about 300 metres about 3 lanes wide. Every square inch of the road is put to use. Cars are lined up bumper to bumper, they literally get as close as possible. Then, when there is a space of one foot or so, it is quickly taken up by a boda boda driver maneuvering his way through traffic. These drivers go up curbs- any direction necessary to move forward. It is amazing that there are not more accidents. Along with the boda boda drivers are bicycles and bicycle taxis. While not as fast as the boda bodas, they are just as capable of maneuvering through traffic. On either side of the road are small shops selling their wares. Wandering between cars and coming up to your windows are people selling any number of goods from pineapples to cell phone time...It is absolutely amazing! 

Once through this section of road, we drove along one main highway, passing through small town after small town. Each one looks like the next and therefore, they are so difficult to tell apart and the lack of any form of road signs does not help matters. I am noticing that, similar to North America, when an accident occurs or some other occurrence out of the everyday ordinary happens, people stop, gather and watch. This happened in a few of the towns and accounted for much of the congestion we faced. In between the towns the road generally stretched out with little hindrance to our speed. Every so often, we would come up behind another vehicle travelling more slowly (generally a taxi or a transport) and, as soon as there was some space to pass, we would zoom out and around. 

Arriving in Luwero, Francis promptly bought us to the school, although how he knew where to go is beyond me. We turned right off the main road onto a small, almost obscure, path lined on either side with bush. Scattered in small clearings on either side were unique mixes of different schools. School after school. Turing right again onto an even smaller dirt path, we passed what I later learned were the dormitories of those students who's parents lived too far out of town for their children to be able to live with them. A young child waved to use from the shade of one of the buildings. Shaona consists of wooden slat buildings. The roofs are corrugated tin and the sides do not always reach the roof, most likely to allow for airflow through the building. 

The schools are on vacation at the moment so there were only a handful of children at the school. (The African school system runs on a three semester system with about two weeks vacation in between each). I met Emmanuel, the administrator, and Esther, the headmistress. Emmanuel showed me around their 3.5 acres of land as he explained the dreams they have for Shaona. Shaona has about 500 students and Emmanuel explained that they try to keep the class size at about 25 students. With the buildings they have I'm not sure how they manage that. I was showed the primary classrooms, the kitchen, where the boundaries were for the property, etc. 

The office where we met for the meeting was an 8 x 8 square building that somehow held two desks, seven chairs and piles of paper, boxes and plastic bags. I was fortunate enough to sit in on it and everyone was so kind to speak in English most of the time so that I could follow along. I had to laugh because before the meeting began, Francis asked what language would be the best to speak in and then proceeded to list four possibilities ... I can only dream of being able to conduct a meeting in four languages! The Lugandan language is the most common language here in Uganda and sometimes without realizing they can switch back and forth between languages. Francis, Emmanuel, Carol, Esther and I met for about an hour and a half. I was very impressed with how the meeting went. Goals for the school were discussed and sustainability of the school in its own right (apart from Set Free) was emphasized. 

Shaona was started in February of 2010 with 40 students. By the end of that term (about three months later), there were 180 students. Now, in 2012 there are 500 and it just keeps growing. They are working on making bricks so that they can build more permanent structures as well as buying up land as the opportunity presents itself. Shaona also has a baseball team and two of its students were asked to be on the national baseball team. Quite a feat if I do say so myself. Their pride in their school was evident and it was wonderful to hear their dreams for Shaona.

Esther, the headmistress, has a young daughter. I would guess her to be around 4. She is absolutely adorable. She has cute little braids sticking out all over her head and wears a purple dress held together by safety pins. She grabbed my hand and didn't want to let go. 

After our meeting we went to look at the school's tailoring building. It has donated sewing machines (when you envision sewing machines think 70 years ago- the ones still embedded in the tables) placed in a small room with clothing hung up on strings around the room. I immediately attracted my first crowd of admirers. About a dozen kids perched themselves just outside the door on some benches and while continuously staring at me, took turns saying, "Mzungu, how are you Mzungu?" Mzungu is what any white person is called. It is not derogatory but simply their way of addressing you. They love the attention that just a smile brings. 

When it was time to leave and I turned toward the vehicle, they crowded around and held out their little black hands for me to grab as I passed by saying "Goodbye, Mzungu. Goodbye." Such an experience. I'm told to expect much more of this in Tata.

Speaking of Tata, I leave tomorrow morning for the 4 hour drive to Rakai District to the southwest where Dwaniro and Tata are located. The tentative plan is to spend about three weeks in Tata observing and teaching. Then the plan is to drive over to Omwabini, in Kimilili, Kenya. None of this is set in stone and could easily change. But, I would really appreciate your prayers for a smooth adjustment to Dwaniro and Tata as both places are even more rustic than Kampala. Sam, the administrator of the school has been emailing me quite often and is so excited for me to come. This is a sample of what his emails look like, "this is good to hear that christeena is in our country please your most well come. as calo said we are to make sure that you enjoy your stay in uganda and even in tata we are playing to god to use you in the mighty way as olways you are welcome."

The Ugandan people are very friendly and welcoming and I am continually amazed at this. I am so blessed! 

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