My first visit to St James
I was worried about coming to St James today as I knew there were only a few children and wondered also how James would be too. There was no one to greet me and the place was so quiet. I got Innocent to come in with me. But as we got to the inner gate a little face appeared, broom in hand and a wide smile on her face ‘You are welcome Madam Gerry’. I began to feel a little more relaxed. The gate was opened and I could see other children doing their daily chores, sweeping, clearing fallen leaves, washing their dormitories, preparing breakfast. All was normal except for the very small numbers.
One of the children ran to get ‘the Master’ who came out of his room and gave me a warm though cautious welcome. My impression of James at the School Management Committee meeting was of a frail and broken man but in the environment of the school and with children around him he seemed to have recovered some of his sparkle and enthusiasm which was good to see. However, he has admitted he cannot cope any more with the many responsibilities of being head teacher, administrator, house father etc. So from the end of this school year which is next month he is retiring completely from these positions. He is still willing to be involved as an advisor and of course friend to all the children who hopefully will return in numbers in February 2017, the beginning of the new school year in Uganda. Of course this is also James’ home so he will be around for the rest of his days and will be happy with the company the school will offer him.
I’m feeling much more positive about the future of St James compared to how I felt before I came to Uganda a week ago. I hope that with the new management, which is going to contain members of the community, one or more of my friends to represent me and of course James’ family the school will return to the vibrant, caring and successful centre of ‘life’ education it once was.
Eight children, one head teacher, a big rat and its two babies!
After the children, ages ranging from five to thirteen, had completed their morning chores they sat on benches under the big mango tree in Gerry’s Square waiting with anticipation to see what I am going to ‘teach’ them. Much of the teaching in Uganda is traditional, formal, chalk and talk, rote learning, sat in lines of desks, just as I was taught many years ago. When I visit I try to offer them some light relief making simple necklaces by threading short pieces of drinking straws on to wool was to be their first activity but when I opened my trunk that contained all my teaching and craft materials I was hit by an awful stench that I recognised straight away…..rats! I called James over to take a look and a sniff and he agreed, “rat”!
James and the children carefully started pulling out the bags of art paper, collage materials, puppets, songs sheets etc. when a big rat jumped out narrowly missing my feet! OK I did scream in surprise! HORRIBLE!
The job of pulling everything out of the trunk continued, separating the chewed and urine covered items with the cleaner ones. If this had happened in the UK I would have burnt the lot but these materials are hard to come by in Uganda and anyway it is a regular occurrence these children have to cope with so they didn’t worry about it at all. Even when they uncovered two fur less, blind babies they didn’t get excited. Just pointed them out to me as they knew I would want a photo! One of the boys took them away and I doubt he would be keeping them as a pet!
So many of my materials and equipment had to be burnt. Some in plastic bags survived which included the straw pieces and wool. All the OK items were laid out in the sun to air as they all had a whiff of rat! The trunk was washed out thoroughly and left in the hot sun to dry and hopefully refresh!
By the time the children had completed this clean-up task it was coming up to eleven, their breakfast time, but they were keen to get on with the crafts so the porridge was left to cool while the got on and created, very enthusiastically. They were still wearing the necklaces round their necks the following day!
Fortunately the rat had not had a taste for my paints so after breakfast I showed the children how to use the block paints as only one, Sylvie, had ever experienced painting before. They quietly chatted away as they painted and would have done much more had I had the time but I wanted to finish with the story of ‘The elephant who had no trunk’ and another new experience, playing with the parachute that had been donated by Hollies Pre-School in Poynton. They were so, so excited but although they speak little English and I absolutely no Lasoga we had some good fun games. Demonstrating is always best way though I found getting under the parachute was a bit of a struggle with my knees, to their amusement! They squealed with delight as we played swapping sides and tossing tennis balls high into the air and trying to catch them again. Oh I do love working with Ugandan children, and feel totally relaxed with them.