On October 16th, Julie-Clare flew to Uganda to meet up with Mhairi in order to further our work with Kamuli School Lunches and our sister charity, the Ugandan Childbirth Injury Fund.
After a night in Entebbe we drove up to Kamuli with a team of nurses and pharmacists from Napier University who were exploring future health projects and two school students undertaking work experience in the Mission Hospital.
We spent many of our days at St Theresa’s school speaking to staff, parents and the schoolgirls, with whom we played cricket and taught how to play with a parachute (see video here) and other games such as Uno. They are excellent cricket players already but are in need of more kit, such as clothing, bats and balls. See our cricket report, photos and video here for more information.
We were also able see the lunches being prepared in great cauldrons over fire, and the girls queuing up to collect their food, with such anticipatory pleasure (see video here). The headmistress told us that before any schoolbooks are put into their schoolbags, their bowl goes in first, showing the priority with which the girls view their lunch. Contrary to when Mhairi visited a few years ago, the girls today are well grown and looked healthy and full of energy.
We were told that since 2013 the roll has increased from 620 to 936. As a result there is now not enough space to accommodate the children in suitable classrooms and the recently built dormitory is instead being used for classes rather than sleeping. They have now capped the school roll at 936 as despite the rising popularity of the school, they cannot physically accommodate any more students. They said that absenteeism is at the lowest rate ever and as students stayed at school all of the academic day and did not leave the school grounds to forage for food, they were less anxious about the safety of the girls. They were also pleased to report better exam grades and a mother on the school board described how her daughter had seen year on year improvements in her grades since lunches were started. We were so impressed, when we sat in on a science class, to see the huge hunger and enthusiasm of the girls to learn. Our own children were also allowed to taste the food saved at lunch (posho and beans) which they all really loved.
We had a meeting with the School Board and PTA on the 22nd of October. The pupils put on an amazing celebration of traditional song and dance, you can watch it here.
At the School Board meeting it was clear how proud the school is of their achievements but we were also very comforted to learn of their resourceful attitude and low tolerance of wastefulness. Mme Resty the headmistress is visionary in ensuring that every penny and every square inch of land is used for the benefit of the children and brings a sense of urgency to all projects, not wanting to miss an opportunity to do good for the girls . We left feeling very secure about the governance of the project, the integrity of our Kamuli friends and felt like we were moving forward as true partners in the wellbeing of the girls. and our School Board report with photos here.
With the members of the School Board including the Headmistress, teachers and parents we made a journey 7km out of Kamuli to see the progress on the farm project. It was really inspirational to see the progress that the school is already making in becoming self-sufficient in growing their own crops for making lunches. Despite major transportation difficulties and that they only purchased the land in March 2017, they have already cleared substantial areas of sugar cane and the land has already yielded 700kg of maize and 300kg of beans! They have sought the advice of agricultural experts in planning the infrastructure of the farm and are expected to start further development including drainage and irrigation shortly. What is exciting is that this land will not just provide food for lunches but also breakfast and dinner for the many girls who are boarders at the school. it is fully expected that girls will gain vocational skills in working the land also and that this opportunity may be extended to other students from other schools. See our farm report with photos here.
Over the days we visited the school, we distributed pencils, sharpeners and pens collected by the pupils of South Morningside Primary School. It was so touching to see the girls faces as they realised they could each have their own pencil. Such a small gesture but so important. The science class did a fabulously uplifting song of thanks (video), as did the younger primary class (video). We were able to show them the pictures of some of the primary pupils from Scotland and the posters they had made about Uganda and they were amazed to know other children so far away were thinking of them. The girls are aspirational in their attitudes with many of them set on becoming teachers and surgeons even at a young age. There is an overwhelming ethos of ‘knowledge is power’ and it was great to see such young girls so determined in their vision of their future.
Lastly we asked to see the school library as we had brought many story books with us. We met Mike who is the very friendly library manager. The library space is two small rooms lined with many shelves which were overflowing with textbooks and in urgent need of upgrading and there is not enough storage space. There was no book management system and no access to a computer. Mike told us that the girls absolutely love reading, especially the boarders, but there are so few books there and many have read them all. It was with pleasure therefore that we were able to hand over around 100 books including Michael Murpurgo, Roald Dahl, Cressida Cowell etc and various reference books. We discussed at the school board committee meeting whether we could use a generous donation from a family who were passionate about books, to upgrade the library facilities to make it more functional not only as a storeroom for classroom texts but as a working library for the schoolchildren so they could practice reading English and get enjoyment from stories. It was suggested that better shelving and a data management system on a laptop to help with the library organisation would be useful. It was considered a good suggestion and we will work with the school in coming weeks to discuss their needs and how we can support them in this project.
We left to come home, sad that we were leaving new friends behind but excited about the success of our projects so far, confident in the care with which our donations are being used, and fuelled with the strength of the partnership we are developing with the staff and parents of St Theresa’s.