World

 UGANDA AND THE WORK OF BUILD AFRICA

 

First Published: http://www.shoutoutuk.org/2014/06/13/uganda-work-build-africa/

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Uganda spends a quarter of its national budget on health and education. According to the World Bank between 1989 and 2011 child mortality rates halved and last year 8.4 million children were enrolled in Ugandan primary schools.  A recent visit to the country explored the quality of the services and the work of one charity, Build Africa. 

The Republic of Uganda is home to 36 million people and forty languages. It is a strikingly beautiful country, yet one which has some very real poverty.  There are many charities, including Build Africa, at work in the country whose work takes them to rural places in Kenya and Uganda.  They combine education and livelihood projects to help people move away from subsistence living, giving them the opportunities to live self-directed fulfilling lives.  A week was spent travelling to different areas with the charity, looking at the work they had done and seeing the progress that various school projects had made.

Build Africa’s overall mission is to improve the lives of communities and children through supporting projects that increase access to education and increase livelihoods.  They run initiatives with schools to support access to clean water, food and the very successful village savings and loans association.  This is a micro-finance scheme where the community save together and loan money as a community to members when they have an idea for increasing their income but do not have the funds to do so. They have also trained communities and schools in better farming practises. One member of a community told how before Build Africa’s training his land would only yield 3 sacks of maize, after training on optimum seed planting distances the same land yielded 21 sacks of maize.

There were some incredible and inspiring things; classrooms so full of children eager to learn that their teaching ratio was 1:100; temporary structures which at first sight seemed to be sheds or storehouses were used as classrooms and huge smiles could be seen from all the children. Each school had perfectly behaved children.  Each school had a parent-teacher body that was proud of what they had achieved so far and eager to move their schools forward.  Each school visited left a lasting impression.

One school that held particular impact was an hour and a half along a bumpy road.  There were two small mud buildings and a huddle of adults beneath the largest tree’s shade, sitting around a table.  There were cattle and goats grazing close by and some building work happening.  What was hidden was the usual crowd of children tumbling out to see visitors.  After some time it became apparent that each tree surrounding the clearing had a group of children beneath it, learning.

Headmaster John led the group around the school, from one collection of trees to the next, showing the children. Most of the ‘classrooms’ didn’t have seats.  They sat on the ground in the shade of the trees and had their lessons.  This community had already established their own school, under some large trees on land donated by one of the parents. There was enthusiasm and strong support from the parents who really appreciated the need for greater access to education for their community. However a lack in basic resources was proving challenging.  This was where Build Africa came in. With their help the school was being built to something more than a collection of trees.  There are government based schools, but the nearest one was a 16km walk away.  Once a school is established, it can apply for funding to be taken over by the government.  So the mission seemed clear:  build a school.

The first obstacle to this mission was the roads.  There were none.  It was a marshy swampy rural place.  With the help of Build Africa the local government was persuaded to build a road.  This road has not only meant that the school is accessible for building materials and school goers but it has also helped the local community sell more of its produce.  Now larger towns can be reached and produce can be sold before it goes off.

The next stage of the project is to create accommodation for the teachers, two school buildings and to begin further teacher training. At the moment building work is taking place on the first school classroom building. Seeing the very real impact of the work that Build Africa did was incredible.  The work of Build Africa uses things taken for granted within the West and gives them to the people of Uganda .  It was a truly inspiring week and showed how important individual education and livelihood is to raise the prospects of a country.

Although there is a large amount of the national budget being spent on education.  There is still a lot of work that needs to be done.  As witnessed within a week tour there are still many schools that are in desperate need of attention.  Teaching ratios can be large and the equipment like text books and things to play with is limited.  Waley Wane, Senior Economist of Human Development at the World Bank said, “For Uganda to be able to move forward and claim the twenty-first century, transforming itself into a prosperous nation by 2040, all Ugandans must have access to the same high level of education and health care, and that basic issues standing in the way of better quality services need to be sorted out quickly”.  Sadly at the moment the rural areas of Uganda do not have the same quality as the urban areas within Uganda.  There was a stark difference between the cities and the countryside and the poverty observed within the countryside was humbling.

 

Dutch foundation builds schools in Uganda

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A foundation started by a Dutchman has been doing excellent work in increasing the education opportunities for Ugandan children. SOPHIA TAHA talks to the founder of Hearts for the Future about the work that is being done.

In October I visited the Republic of Uganda, home to 36 million people and its official language is English. I flew from the brisk European weather in the Netherlands and landed to a warm, sticky all-encompassing heat in order to spend the week with Build Africa, a charity whose work takes them to rural places in Kenya and Uganda where they combine education and livelihood projects to give people a better more fulfilling life.

The landscape along the road is lush, green and full of people. Each person seems busy; each person has a smile on their face. There are over-laden cyclists and motorcyclists. There are cows and goats and chickens. There are well-built compounds and simple shacks. New four by fours drive next to old dusty cars. We took in the scenery. I noticed that the Ugandan cyclists could teach the Dutch a thing or two; for starters they have cushions on the back of their bikes for passengers. As well as bikes over-crowded with passengers we saw a cyclist carrying an entire mattress, another carrying a huge chair, many carried giant loads of produce on the way to be sold.

With an hour left to go before we reached our accommodation, we hit a massive storm; each lightning strike lightening the entire landscape. We strained to see and watch the fog and mist on the road. As we drove we saw people on bikes, motor cycles and foot all seemingly undisturbed by the lack of street lighting and the torrential rain.

Uganda is a beautiful country with some very real poverty. The week was spent travelling around with the charity Build Africa looking at the work they have done and seeing the progress of different schools in different areas. I saw some incredible and inspiring things. Classrooms so full of children eager to learn that their teaching ratio was 1: 100; temporary structures that at first the group thought were to house animals which were used as classrooms and huge smiles from all the children we met. Each school had perfectly behaved children. Each school had a parent-teacher body that was proud of what they had achieved so far and eager to move their schools forward. Each school taught me something and left a lasting impression. However the school that affected me the most was on our last day.

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An hour and half along a bumpy road led us to a clearing with large trees surrounding it. First two small mud buildings came into sight. Then we saw a huddle of adults beneath the largest tree’s shade, sitting around a table. There were cattle and goats grazing close by and we could hear and see some building work happening. What I couldn’t see at first was the usual crowd of children, which, at every school we had visited, would come tumbling out to see the visitors. Then, we realised, each of the trees surrounding the clearing had a group of children beneath it, learning.

As Headmaster John led us around the school; from one group of trees to the next, we met the children. Most of the “classrooms” didn’t have seats. They sat on the ground in the shade of the trees and had their lessons.

This last school we visited was one that the charity had only recently started working with and as well as the large amount of work needed, the main thing that surprised me is that all the children said goodbye in Dutch! Perplexed I asked the head-teacher why the children said goodbye to us in Dutch and he told us that the only other visitors they had had were from the Netherlands. In fact the children had a fierce debate amongst themselves because they were confused when the group of us spoke English to them.

This awoke my curiosity and so I tracked down the man who’s visits had meant that children in a remote place in Uganda (hours along a dusty bumpy road) now knew how to say good bye in Dutch.

I met Peter de Gelder in a small pizza restaurant just off of Dam Square. A friendly and humble guy, he is easy to talk to and keen to discuss the school.

He first was involved with the education situation in Uganda through a friend. He learned of the low percentage of children able to attend school because parents cannot afford to regularly send their children. He decided to concentrate on one community first and hopes that eventually more communities can be helped. Initially beginning with fundraising in his church, and he then set up a foundation called Hearts for the Future to increase the amounts that could be raised. Now he and his family help fundraise for the school project.

The community created their own school, under some large trees on some land donated by one of the parents. It is from this stage that Build Africa, Hearts for the Future and Peter began their work.

Getting to work

The first obstacle to this mission was the status of the roads. There were none. It was a marshy, swampy, rural place. With the help of Build Africa, the local government was persuaded to build a road. This road has not only meant that the school is accessible for building materials and school goers but it has also helped the local community sell more of its produce. Now larger towns can be reached and produce can be sold before it goes off.

There are government-based schools, however, with no actual school buildings within. It was clear to  the community that there was no way that the government would be able to fund things. Once a school is established, then the school can apply for funding to be taken over by the government. So the mission seemed clear: build a school. On his first visit to the school, two children came to say what they felt the community needed. The boy asked for a football. The next day Peter brought a football back and the child said that now he really believed something was going to change here.

Hearts for the Future has run many fundraising projects with many schools within the Netherlands, including one school whose children sold cookies at their local Albert Heijn. One school boy raised 150 euro alone.

Peter says his foundation chose to work with Build Africa because you can see where the money goes; he felt that many organisations don’t spend the money on the actual goal. In this case he has made visits to the community and can see the school’s progress. His fundraising has come from all over the world – from places as far apart as Denmark and South Africa – through friends and contacts that he has.

In order to complete the entire school project, Peter says a total of 110,000 euro would be needed. This would be enough to create accommodation for the teachers, two school buildings of classrooms, toilets and further training for the teachers. At the moment, building work is taking place on the first school classroom building. Peter’s foundation’s next plan is to raise enough money for the second school building to be built.

Build Africa’s overall mission is to improve the lives of communities and children through supporting projects that increase access to education and increases livelihoods. They run initiatives with schools to support access to clean water, food and the very successful village savings and loans association. This is a micro-finance scheme in which the community saves together and lends money as a community to members when they have an idea for increasing their income but do not have the funds to do so.

Build Africa has also trained communities and schools in better farming practises. One member of a community told us how before Build Africa’s training his land would only yield three sacks of maize, after training on optimum seed planting distances the same land yielded 21 sacks of maize. Seeing the very real impact of the work that Build Africa did was incredible and moving.

Published in the Holland Times Jan 2014

Lebanon – Syria – The Story I know.

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I have, for the last week, been in Lebanon.  During this time the world has reacted to the chemical weapons use from Syria.  They say you should always write what you know and not what you want to know.  I wanted to write a story about refugees however it wasn’t something I was able to do while I was away, so instead I have the below offering.

My village is in the Beqaa valley and it is close to the Syrian border.  If you wanted you could walk from here to Syria in a day, or hike, as there is a mountain to cross but you get the picture.

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 The Ugly Truth: People in Lebanon both pity and dislike Syrians.

While perhaps writing this might diminish my popularity, I have to honestly write the impression I get.  People in Lebanon both pity and dislike the Syrians.  There are memories of old rivalries, old occupations, mixed in with the horror of pictures of dead children.  There is fear and pity and sadness, but also a feeling of unease with regards to the refugees within the country.

The Lebanese want something to be done but also know that it’s highly likely that the ‘something’ will result in Lebanon being hit in the crossfire.

An example of something I heard while I was there: an unconfirmed story from a town near us that someone was kidnapped and held for ransom for a hundred thousand dollars.  People blamed Syrians for it.  Stories like this circulating added to everyone’s feeling of unease as well as the feeling of dislike to the rising number of refugees.  With the number of refugees rising it has to be remembered that there are only 4 million Lebanese within Lebanon normally.

In my village there is a general feeling of discomfort.  A place where previously no one locked their house doors at night now people lock their doors.  They remind their neighbours to do the same.  People are worried about thieves for the first time.

In Beirut a friend described down-town as eerie, like a ghost town, though she did say that other areas in Beirut still had life in them.

Basically it’s a big mess.  My mum was planning what food to stock pile and considering going to England for a bit to avoid any major war.  She isn’t scared for herself. Just for the children.  My dad refuses to be scared and points out that we have a basement worst case.

There is however a very strong belief in the following safety nets:

1) Kamed-El-Lowz is a village basically filled with a few extended families and not of much interest to the outside world.

2) if a bomb has your name on it, it has your name on it, no point worrying about the rest.

3) Hopefully nothing will happen.

So is the story I have to tell only one of panic, fear, preparation? No, just one of ordinary life in Beqaa.  The first day I arrived it was my cousins wedding; it was in Baalbek, an hour drive from our village.  The wedding was missing some guests who had been scared off by recent bombs and decided that it was too dangerous an affair to attend.  The rest of us partied.  Good food, beautiful bride, family, friends and traditional music, fireworks and cake. Lots of cake!

So life continues, in the evening one night, my mum’s brother explains to my dad’s sister the processes and how the UNSC works.  He explains that despite the desire from the UK, USA and France for action, much is being vetoed by Russia and China and that within the situation Iran and Hezbollah and Israel all have interests.

In the day time the kids play on their bikes.  They are blissfully unaware of any of the adults’ worries and mildly amused by my obsessive watching of the news.  Every now and then they mimic me, saying they need to watch the news and changing the TV from a kids channel to the news.

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A Day in my Journey in Uganda

Monday Morning: Nyakabaale school Day 2

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First published on the Build Africa Blog: http://buildafricavolunteers.wordpress.com/

Sophia Hayat Taha tells us about her morning:

The first school we visit on our trip is Nyakabaale school.  This is one of the success stories.   Build Africa intend to exit within the next few years as they have been working with the school for over a decade. They hope to use it as a model that other schools and communities can replicate.  They have 1304 pupils and 13 teachers.  That’s a teaching ratio of 1:100.

The head teacher has been at the school since 2005 and Build Africa has been working with the school since 2001.  Over the years he has seen B.A do a lot and despite the very real needs still present  (they still need more classrooms as some classes still take place under trees and they still need to grow more food as they are not yet producing enough food) there is a lot to be proud of. 

The school has its own borehole which means that instead of walking 2 km each way, water is now on site.  This not only means pupils have drinking water but it also means that when it doesn’t rain there is water for the crops.  The school grows its own food with the aim of being able to feed all the pupils at lunch time.  This in turn will stop the problem of afternoon absences.  With long distances to walk to school, when pupils walk home for lunch they often don’t return for afternoon lessons.  B.A s special focus this year is on food and water.  They supplied the tools and training to enable the food to be grown on site.

We get a tour of the facilities.  First we start with the staff accommodation.  There is room for 8 of the 13 staff to stay on site at the school, a practice which is common in Uganda.  B.A built this accommodation for the staff.  Next we see the gardens where food is being grown and learn about their special circular irrigation system.  We are then shown the borehole, the grain storage unit and then finally the classrooms.  Each room full of children chime hello in chorus.  They answer as one, and sit when they are told to sit.

We see a classroom which has almost 400 pupils in, as we progress to the older years the numbers are significantly less and we are told it’s because there is a large problem of drop-outs.  The pupils that are still there are full of hope.

When they are asked what they want to be, we have dreams of being pilots, engineers, nurses, doctors, lawyers and teachers.  If they don’t carry on with education the only other option is to get married young, something that awaits all those who are not present in school.

After a tour of the facilities we sit down with a small group of parents and discuss the challenges that they face.  We discuss the reasons for drop-outs and learn that it is not only early marriage that causes it.  Poverty is a very real problem; many pupils don’t see the point of primary school when they know that they can’t afford to go to secondary school.  Families are normally very large with anything from 20 to 50 children. (Polygamy practises are still common so one father will have 50 children by several wives).  With such large families, catering for the most basic of needs becomes a struggle and so education doesn’t take a priority. Other problems are caused by the weather.  The ride to the school was bumpy and the road was awful, when it rains, pupils can’t get to school.  Teaching ratios are huge in the school which creates a loss of interest in pupils and catering for the individual need of a child is impossible.  There are also a lot of orphans, who have little to no support even if they are bright.  This is a very real problem caused by the AIDS/HIV epidemic in Africa.

There are still some positives though.  Attitudes are changing.  Now 70 % of the children in the community come to school, it used to be 30%.  Now there is free secondary school education available and so more people stay in school.  There is still the problem of distance, the nearest secondary school is very far away and pupils have to board which means some costs are still there, but there is greater hope at least.

To finish our visit we hear a success story.  An orphan stands up and tells us that he finished primary school here in 2004 and then managed to pay his own fees to go to secondary school.  (This was before there was free secondary education available).  Now he is a graduate in motor mechanics and he stands proudly before us.

The morning was moving and shocking.  This was a success story and they still lacked so much.   Yet every child was happy, full of smiles, welcoming and well behaved.  There is a lot we can learn from teachers working in such limited conditions and a lot to move us to fund-raise and help.  With this school etched into my mind as a success I wondered what we would see through-out the rest of the week.

 

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