The First Goodbyes

19/11/15

I said goodbye to my year 1 students and one of my neighbors today. I finally felt better today, so I washed my clothes after the torrential downpour of the morning subsided and then made my way to the PTC. I gave my supervisor a very nice fountain pen from Boston University and discussed the last few discussion points of my service:

  • Term timetable for the ICT tutors
  • Driving me to Kampala from Luteete
  • What to expect to do with my successor
  • Schedule for my last three weeks in-country

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I then spent one of my last days teaching in the computer lab. A few year 2 students came in and I taught them the basics of holding the mouse, practicing drag-and-drop with solitaire, and the functions of major keyboard keys. We also had a heated discussion where I tried to convince them that being black doesn’t make you any less intelligent, developed, or able to succeed compared to “whites”. What really riled me was when they said that they would much rather prefer a “white” person like me as a Peace Corps Volunteer than a black African Peace Corps Volunteer. They just couldn’t comprehend that black people could be successful or called true Americans because of their skin color. So honestly, it wasn’t that different than many of the discussions that I have had with them.

It feels weird, because I was teaching as if it was any other day during the term, but I knew that everything would soon be different. In less than a month I would be hanging out with friends in Amsterdam and I would breathe in the frigid December air. I left the ICT lab in the late afternoon and said goodbye to the year 1 students whom I could see. Naturally, they all wanted my contact information and photo.

When I got back to my house, I shared some samosas with my villagers and then said goodbye to Master Okia. Master Okia is one of the fathers who lives in a house near mine in Luteete, and he would be leaving next week for a month-long trip. Since I would be leaving in the first week of December, I made sure to knock on his door and personally say farewell. He requested that when I return back to the United States, that I not forget the people of Luteete.

Right now I am wondering how it could be possible for me to forget my experiences here. I honestly believe that I have enough life experiences here to fill a few average lifetimes. I tend to stop and gaze at things here for a few moments and reflect on my time. I look at the growing apple trees, the organized library that has progressed from having a part-time student librarian to a full-time librarian, and a functional ICT lab with eager students. I know that I will leave here with no regrets.

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The Sustainable Dream

14/6/15 – 18-6/15

The Bishop of the Luweero District came for a visit on Sunday. I don’t think that I’ve seen this place so crowded before; over Bishop's Visit to Luteetea few hundred people arrived to attend a very long mass at the nearby church. It amused me to see many of the children wearing their Sunday best when I normally see them wearing tattered and dirty clothes. I usually don’t go to church here, but I decided to dress up and attend this very special community mass.

On Monday I started school supervision of my Year 2 students. During term 2, the Year 2 students of the PTC travel to various primary schools scattered throughout the sub-county and spend a few weeks teaching primary school pupils. The students get hands-on practice and the PTC tutors travel to these schools in order to supervise them. I was assigned four schools to supervise: Luteete Demo, Mity-ebiri, Nalweweta, and Mullajje Primary Schools. Throughout the week I biked to these schools and supervised my students teaching lessons.

Local language, Luganda, is the primary language taught to primary school pupils from P1 up until the transition year to English in P4. Then the classes transition into English, and therein lies the biggest problem for student teachers and pupils alike. Some of my year 2 students come from regions in Uganda where they don’t speak Luganda, so they lack the ability to further explain a concept in Luganda when their English isn’t good enough.

Student Teaching at Primary School

Student Teaching at Primary School

The biggest problem that I witnessed was the frequent lack of hands-on materials to demonstrate a concept (such as adding fractions with different denominators) and having the pupils regurgitate information without checking to see if they understand and can apply the taught material.

As an example, in one instance the student teacher taught the primary school pupils four difficulties facing the builders of the Uganda railway system. After having the class read the list of difficulties many times, the evaluation exercise was for the pupils to write down in their notebooks the four difficulties that the builders faced. Very rarely is the exercise designed to make the pupils think beyond simple memorization and regurgitation of material.

Unfortunately, this is endemic in the education system. When I explained this problem to my fellow tutors, some of them asked me what the difference was between understanding something and memorizing it. Coupled with the Ugandan concept that it is unprofessional to admit not knowing something with this lack of understanding, I can start to see how much the education system has to develop.

Real Example:

Me: When we jump up what happens to us?

Student: We fall back down.

Me: Why do we fall back down?

Student: We fall back down due to the force of gravity.

Me: Correct! And where does this force of gravity point towards?

Student: The center of the earth.

Me: Yes, and if we look at this globe of the earth *holds up a ball representing earth* where is the United States if Uganda is on the top?

Student: It is on the bottom of the globe.

Me: So are the people in America upside down?

Student: Yes.

Me: Okay, but if they jump will they fly away or fall back towards the center of the earth?

Student: They will fly away because gravity always points down.

Me: *slaps forehead with hand*

In some cases it’s laughable what beliefs my students have due to what they were taught in life. I still get shocked reactions when I explain that the sun is bigger than the earth, that poor people exist in the United States, and that pinching one’s nipples will cause the breasts to stop growing larger. In other ways, it hurts knowing how hard it will be to impart the concepts of creative thinking, brainstorming, the scientific method, critical thinking, and logic towards many of the problems that my students face on a daily basis.

My dream at this point is that what I have laid down on this part of earth can continue to grow long after I leave. Funnily enough, I no longer worry about whether or not my students and neighbors will remember me, but instead whether they can benefit from what I started here. I don’t want to leave and for things to return back to “normal” here in the village before I arrived. I hope that villagers, students, and pupils find a way to empower themselves through the ICT lab. I want them to think for themselves, challenge engrained ideas, and make well-informed choices for themselves and their families.

Even though right now they are not teaching perfectly, it’s a start to sustainability. It’s teachers teaching teachers and students learning from students.