A Reflection of My Life after living in Uganda as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer

Saturday, October 30, 2010

English Based Instruction in East Africa

For the last week I have been working with the Rwandese Ministry of Education and the British High Commission. Two years ago Rwanda joined the East Africa Community and so determined their official language of instruction would be English. For several generations Rwandese have been receiving instructions in their native tongue and also in French. Now, all of a sudden, they are required to speak, teach and learn English. This brings them to Uganda in search of qualified English teachers who can teach their teachers not only English, but also how to teach their subjects in English.

I acted as a native English speaker who is a qualified English Teacher to interview potential teachers to go to Rwanda. I worked with Paul from the Rwandese Ministry of Education. Paul spent many years in Uganda because of the genocide and even received his University degree and Masters from Makerere University in Kampala. He now works high up in the Ministry of Education in Rwanda. He is happy to be back in Rwanda though this cross over from French instruction to English is a big challenge for his country and in his professional career.

We interviewed over 1000 applicants over a 3 day period. They would come to us two at a time and we’d ask them questions about their methodology in the classroom and why they want to teach in Rwanda. They sat before us in their oversized Armani suits from the second hand market and their laminated school records (diplomas, certificates, transcripts, etc.). Many were seasoned teachers and I can only imagine what they must have thought being interviewed by a young American girl.

I was impressed with their desire to go to Rwanda. Many talked about wanting to help their fellow Africans and close neighbors. Some mentioned family members who came from Rwanda. If chosen they will be there until Christmas Eve. Also if chosen, they will receive around $50 a day! Yes, a day! When you consider the fact that an average teacher in Uganda makes around $100 a month this daily figure is astronomical! They will do whatever it takes to get this job.

Some of the people we interviewed were very impressive. Ugandans know the buzz words in Education and they know how to talk their way into most anything. I only hope we passed the ones who will really use inventive methods in their classes and appreciate their time in Rwanda.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Camp GLOW is Coming!

My girls have been selected for Camp GLOW and they are so excited! I am busy cross checking stationary store prices, asking Ugandan businesses for donations and making clear spreadsheets of counselors, staff and camper information. Now, we also want you to know more about the issues that are involved as to why a Camp GLOW is necessary.

The Problem (written by Lauren Simkulak):
Currently young girls in Uganda face very difficult odds each and every day. They are at a high risk of teen pregnancy, early marriage, lack of school fees, discrimination towards proper education and jobs, pressure of entering into sexual relationships, among a variety of other potential problems. Although times are slowly changing, the idea that girls do not need to be educated and should instead remain at home and assist with housework, cleaning, cooking and digging (farming), i.e the traditional female roles in society, still exists within Uganda’s culture. Females still hold less executive level positions than men in Uganda, and many Ugandans still believe that typical female jobs are nurses, teachers while men are doctors, businessmen, Members of Parliament, etc. This, of course, is not true for every Ugandan. But it is still a struggle for Ugandan girls to become empowered in their society, and at times even in their own homes and relationships. Young women especially have a difficult time breaking from these traditional female roles and lack the confidence, leadership skills and initiative to make good, healthy decisions for their future. History has proven that an empowered female is an integral part of development of a community and country. They are more likely to demand condom use, be able to provide for her children and achieve a higher level of education.

What is Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World)?:
Camp GLOW began in Peace Corps Romania in 1995. The goal of this camp was to encourage and inspire young women to become active citizens by building their self-esteem and confidence, increasing their self-awareness and developing their life skills in goal setting, assertiveness and career and life planning. Since 1995, many Peace Corps countries have implemented Camp GLOW or very similar camps via Peace Corps Volunteers. Uganda, until now, has had no such camp. This year will be Uganda’s inaugural Camp GLOW! It will take place from December 5-11th, 2010. And I, along with my two friends Lauren and Celeste, are the Directors of the camp.

Camp GLOW Uganda:
Specifically, the goal of our Camp GLOW is to empower young Ugandan girls (ages 13-15), provide them with new information and education and give them the opportunity to see for themselves all the possibilities they have in the future when they make good decisions. This will be accomplished through leadership training, health education, sports activities, arts and crafts, HIV/AIDS prevention and education, career outlooks and goal setting. Over 150 girls from across Uganda will be participating in the week-long camp. 30 Counselors (15 PCVs and 15 Ugandan women) will assist in guiding the girls through various sessions all week. Each day, they will participate in sessions on the prior-mentioned topics, in addition to meeting and interacting with an empowered Ugandan adult female. We have already recruited a CEO, a Member of Parliament, a musician, a medical doctor and a professor at Uganda’s national university. This will, without a doubt, be one of the most memorable parts of the camp for the girls.

What makes it sustainable?
These girls will return to their communities, form a life skills club with at least 20 new girls, with the help of their female Ugandan teacher/community worker, who also attended the camp as a Counselor, and the help of PCVs in their area. Also, the 15 Ugandan female counselors can return to their communities and teach the skills they learned at the camp to other students, teachers and colleagues.

We have applied for a US government grant and are also working with Ugandan businesses to provide the necessary money to run this camp. If you are interested further in Camp GLOW please check out our website here and if you are interested in supporting Camp GLOW look here.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Kyakuwa Rose Mary

Kyakuwa Rose Mary is the final girl from my community selected to attend Camp GLOW. Rose Mary always ducks her head and gives me a shy smile out of the corner of her mouth when I see her. She also stays at the home for disabled girls. Rose Mary is lame with club foot and I would guess her to have a form of cerebral palsy.Her English is pretty awful and she is in Primary 6. This is what Rose Mary has to say:

Regarding being a good citizen: “I follow the rules of my country. I love my country so much.”

Regarding advice to a ten-year-old sister: “Take time to education. By respect of elders. Love herself as a woman.”

Regarding why she wants to attend Camp GLOW: “But me want to learn good behaviors and good manners. I want to learn work in Camp GLOW for girls.”

*Kyakuwa Rose Mary wrote her responses exactly as they appear.

Nassiwa Zam

The next girl from my community who gets to attend Camp GLOW is Nassiwa Zam. Nassiwa is “lame” which is Uganda has several meanings. In Nassiwa’s case it means her hip is turned out and she waddles from side to side when she walks. Nassiwa’s English is the worst. She is currently in S1 (Senior level 1). Nassiwa lives at a home for disabled girls and attends St. Noah's Senor Secondary day school. This is what she wrote:

Regarding being a village headwoman: “I would that all the women in my community how gaining from work. Example farming. Teaching them the family planning methods. eg. control birth rate in the country.”

Regarding advice to a ten-year-old sister:
“I seand her to learn form schools or matron. I tell her respects of elders. She should love herself as a woman.”

Regarding why she wants to go to Camp GLOW:
“I want to learn now to head the country. I want confidence to be me. I want to be respect”

*Nassiwa Zam’s writing appears as it was scribbled on her application.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Kwagala Solome

Not to give preferential treatment in any way, I must admit I am glad Kwagala Solome gets to go to camp. Solome and her family have a special place in my heart. Solome’s mom is a teacher at the school I live at and her younger sister is a student here. They are always so positive, friendly and kind. Solome is the girl I made a birthday cake for a few months back. Solome is a day scholar in S2 (Senior level 2). During the holiday’s she works for a community farm to raise money to help pay for her schooling. Secondary school is very expensive in Uganda. This is what Solome wrote on her Camp GLOW application:

Regarding how she would help her community if she was a headwoman:
“I would advise them to build small scale businesses like selling in shops so as people without employment may get some little money and job opportunities so as to improve on their standards of living. This is also important because it may help them to look after their children.

I would call for meetings and advise them on how to obtain income through different jobs through work. I would also have to explain to them that work is the best thing one may do in order to achieve his or her goals. Like people who have big houses work for them. And this would change their attitude towards work. I would also have to explain to them that even ‘dirty’ jobs generate income. Some people believe that white collar jobs are best but even the blue collar jobs, ie. ‘dirty jobs’, are income generators.”

Regarding advice to a 10-year-old sister
: “I would also advise her to learn how to care for others and their property because if she had a business she cannot just leave her customers and through business, she can become a successful woman.”

*Solome’s writing is typed as she wrote it on paper.

Atuhe Daphine

Atuhe Daphine was my next girl to be selected to attend Camp GLOW. When I told Daphine she had been chosen she broke out in laughter that turned to crying she was so happy and excited. She now comes to my door almost daily thanking me for getting her into camp and promising me she will learn everything and become a great Ugandan woman leader. Daphine is a boarding student at St. Theresa Gayaza Girls Primary School in P6. Her English is one of the best of my girls who are going to camp. This is what Daphine had to say:

Regarding what she would do if she was a village headwoman: “I would introduce adult learning for those who never went to school. I would get a counselor to sensitise my people about diseases like HIV/AIDS and STI’s plus other problems. I would train people especially women to become self-reliant. Most of the women in my area become mothers when they are still young at the age of 13 – 20 when they have not completed school and not educated enough to know what they should do for their family that makes them entirely dependant on their spouses and yet they also (the spouses) have low income jobs. So as a headwoman in my village I would encourage my fellow women (especially the young ones) to engage in self economic projects mostly home industry like farming (growing crops for sale), poultry beginning from local breeds because they are easy to feed and resistant to diseases, home baking of cookies and biscuits for sale to the nearest market.”

Regarding why she wants to attend Camp GLOW: “I want to attend Camp GLOW because I want to learn activities like health education, life skills, career goals, sports, and creative arts. These activities will help me gain skills to lead to a happy, healthy and successful life.”

*Daphines’s sentences, spelling and grammar are typed exactly as she wrote them on her paper.

Ahebwa Teddy

Over the last several months I, along with a few friends, have been busy creating and organizing a girl’s empowerment camp to take place in December. At this moment, we have over 150 girls from all over Uganda enrolled, 15 Ugandan woman counselors and 15 PCV counselors. Every PCV was given the opportunity to nominate girls from their communities to attend Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World). The girls had to write 4 essays, a BIG challenge for many students as they have very poor English reading and writing skills. The questions were:

1. Name three changes you would make in your community if you became a village headwoman in your area and why.
2. How do you try to be a good Ugandan citizen and why is it important?
3. If you had a 10-year-old sister, what advice would you offer on how to become a successful woman in Uganda?
4. Why do you want to attend Camp GLOW?

Several of my girls were chosen to attend Camp GLOW. Ahebwa Teddy, a P6 day scholar from Gayaza, was thrilled to be picked. Here is an excerpt of what Ahebwa Teddy wrote:

Regarding advice to a 10-year-old sister: “I would advise her to be clean and to focus on her health not only her health, but also learn to be helpful to others. If you focus on your education you can probably achieve what you want. For example, when you wants to be a leader you can focus on your education and learn how village leaders lead their people from them you can courage an what you can do.”

Regarding being a good Ugandan citizen: “You need to teach how to be a good woman. It’s not your fault if you have parents who never cared about you. Now you need to live but if you join friends in good groups like friends who care about others by providing the needy the little you have you can be good. If you help a needy person you can gain respect from them and that can be done in different ways like if you have two dresses and you can give one to your friend who doesn’t have and this can also help you as a human being to gain respect.
To also be a good citizen you need to be discipline person that is by greeting people, helping them by washing their clothes and your family can be determined as a respective family.”

*There were no typo’s in Ahebwa’s writing. I typed it exactly as she wrote it.


Me and Hellen Blessing

For years the slogan for the U.S. Peace Corps was, “The Hardest Job You’ll Ever Love.” This statement can be interpreted a million different ways at a million different times during your service. Today, I’m going to say this refers to the fact that the American work ethic we are used to is lacking in most host-countries and the 9 – 5 work day doesn’t exist which can be difficult for those crazy Type-A personalities.

For the most part, I have adapted to a freer schedule and a laid back approach to progress. But I must admit, my favorite day of the week is the day I have a set schedule: Monday’s at the Health Center. This is the only day, I have set responsibilities at set times and, I know exactly what is expected of me.

Here is my day:
• 6:30 am – 8:30 am: Wake-up, use latrine, make coffee, wash my hair, get dressed, sweep out my house, make breakfast, greet neighbors and wash clothes
• 8:30 am: Go to the market and get food for the next few days, buy yogurt from the dairy and greet everyone who calls my name
• 9 am: Arrive at Health Center – Greet all staff
• 9:15: Arrange immunization room: bring in benches, find empty reporting sheets, hang baby weight, get Vitamin A and de-wormer out, find appropriate sized disposable needles and set up a trash can

• 9:30: Go to near-by hospital and collect immunizations from freezer with Norah or Susan – Greet the staff there – Return to health center
• 10 am – 2 pm: Greet mothers, weigh babies, fill out growth charts, mark immunizations and return dates, talk to mothers about nutrition, breast-feeding practices and techniques and make everyone laugh with my limited Luganda words and phrases

• 2 pm: Tally immunizations given, babies and children weighed and pregnant woman immunized against tetanus

• 2:15 pm: Go home and make lunch
• 4:15 pm: Walk to neighboring village and teach Life Skills
• 6 pm: Stop and check on Pauline (my sick friend)
• 6:30 pm: Sweep out house and bathe
• 6:50 pm: Sit on front step with Annet and Grace and talk about the day
• 8 pm: Have dinner at the convent with nun friends
• 10 pm: Go to sleep

I love my Monday’s. They have order. I also learn a lot on this day of the week because of the mix of people I encounter. I learn town gossip from the market, health-care gossip from the hospital and health center, family gossip from the mothers and country gossip from all those who stop to greet me.

I also learn interesting health facts and practices. Ever wonder what happens to a baby in Africa with a high bilirubin count? Remember that there is limited to no power in many places and incubators don’t exist outside major hospitals in the capital city. Last week a baby was born and the mother returned with a very jaundice baby girl two days later. Very calmly, the midwife told the mother to place a handkerchief over the baby’s eyes and put her on the ground outside under the sun every morning and late afternoon. Who needs an incubator when they live on the equator?

So while my job can be hard in that there is little to no order or direction most days, I keep going. Because really, it’s the Hardest Job I’ve Ever Loved. And when I need that dose of structure, I wait for a Monday.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Grace and Joseph's First Communion

Joseph, Grace and Maria

My sweet neighbors had their first communion last week. Joseph got to wear a cute suit. Grace was originally in a white traditional outfit but changed afterward into a dress given to her by her American jja jja (grandmother aka my mom). Both were very serious repeating their prayers and in line with their hands folded to receive Holy Communion. During the mass itself, I noticed quite a few bathroom trips out the side door. But in their defense, I was hot and tired and wanted to slide out the side door too!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Living an Expat Life

I'm writing this from the comfort of "America" in Uganda. It's truly amazing. I'm house and cat sitting for an American embassy worker. Makes me think more and more I could do the ex-pat life for quite some time. If only I could get a good job without having to have a masters and 5 more years of international experience. When is it ever enough?

I told myself I was going to use this weekend to start working on my resume, researching grad schools and thinking about life after Peace Corps - a very daunting thought, let me tell you. While this is slowly happening I have also made time for a few vital tasks. I have: washed my clothes in A MACHINE, made a latte from A MACHINE, used a STOVE TOP and MICROWAVE to cook, taken out vegetables from THE CRISPER in a REFRIGERATOR, bathed not in a bucket but a BATHTUB, wiped myself with real TOILET PAPER after using the TOILET and checked my e-mail from WIRELESS INTERNET that's FREE! Again, I could easily see myself living this life. And the next time a Ugandan tells me Americans use machines to do everything for us, I am not going to argue. Maybe if they had all these machines they would be developed too!

This house also comes with AFN (I think it stands for Armed Forces Network) which is American television supplied to military members living abroad. So as I drink my morning coffee I also get to watch Good Morning America. It is here I saw the month of September was another month of jobs being cut in the USA which brings me back to the task at hand, I have to be serious about thinking of my future. Here goes!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Playing Hooky

Annet, Grace and I played hooky today. I know I should not be promoting skipping out on work and school but I had a really fun time doing it today. Every year Uganda holds a trade fair where businesses from around the world come and sell their goods along with providing business seminars. It's like a really small state fair but it's a fair nonetheless. There were even camel rides, popcorn, flying swing rides and booths about most anything imaginable.

We wandered around looking at Tanzanian, Egyptian, United Arab Emerites, Chinese, South African and other countries crafts and goods. Grace made friends with numerous booth keepers and came away with sweeties (candy) and biscuits (cookies) continually. I got lots of free samples of nasty smelling perfume, hair food for black-people hair and pens. Annet told me she should go shopping with a white person and a small child more often. She's more likely to get free things. However, we were at a disadvantage at any of the Ugandan booths because they all believed I had a lot of money and was going to buy Grace and Annet anything they wanted. Ha!

One of the big appeals for most Americans (I believe this generalization is true) is the food the fair has to offer. I must admit I was a bit disappointed but not surprised that for lunch we ate matooke, sweet potatoes, g-nut sauce and peas. Standard Ugandan food.

As we were leaving the fair Grace had to go to the bathroom. She went into the building but quickly came out saying they refused her. Annet was laden with bags so I walked her in and proceeded to have a strong 2 minute conversation with the bathroom attendant vouching for Grace's hygiene and promising she wouldn't vandalize the toilets. Apparently, a woman had been in there previously and tried to flush her babies diaper down the toilet which resulted in a big poopy mess.

The lady let us through and I held the door closed while Grace went. When she finished, I glanced in and found she'd peed all over the floor of the stall, not in the seat-less toilet. I grabbed her hand and hurried her out as fast as I could. When we were a safe distance away, I asked why she didn't go in the toilet. She said she'd been confused and didn't know how to use the toilet but she was proud of herself because she'd put the toilet paper in the toilet. Annet and I shook our heads and headed home. I guess you can take the girl out of the village but you can't always take the village out of the girl.

It was a good day. We had fun ambling around together. Annet bought some things for her house and I saw lots of jewelery I wished I'd bought. Do any of us regret our playing hooky day? No way.

Monday, October 4, 2010

It's Always The Woman's Fault

I have a Life Skills class I teach. My students are P5, P6 and P7. We’ve been learning and talking about how to be a good friend. The words you should use when giving advice and the appropriate times for advice. Last week we read a story about a girl who was confronted by a shopkeeper who wants to have sex with her. I asked my students to write their advice to this girl.

Most of my students had good advice about telling someone, not going to that shop anymore, etc. However, one of my male students had this advice for the girl: “I advise you to stop wearing small shorts and skirts. You should stop using eye pencil because you will get HIV.” The story never once said anything about the way the girl was dressing. All we knew was that she was in P6 so around the age of 12. At first I just wrote on his paper that he wasn’t giving her advice for the specific problem which was the question, so I was giving him a zero. Then I kept thinking about this answer and I got more and more angry. His answer was saying it is all the girls fault that this shopkeeper is asking for sex. It’s not the shopkeeper’s problem but the girl's. Sadly, this is a typical male Ugandan response. Men are rarely responsible for their actions. They are provoked and they can’t help what happens. They are never to be blamed.

I went next door in a rage, flapping the boy’s paper up and down trying to vent out my anger to Annet. She just smiled and said, “Yes, Amanda, this is Uganda.” Then she produced a story of her own that shared the frustration of Ugandan men. After a time she told me a story she heard from a friend. I don’t know if this is true. She told me that in Sudan women are topless and they paint their chests. She also says men are barely clothed themselves. If a man makes any sexual gesture to a woman that is not accepted by the woman, the village will then beat the man. She says the men and women respect each other there. Men do not hold the same respect for women here.

We decided we should introduce this custom to Uganda and maybe some medieval torture treatments like gouging eyes out when men look at you wrongly. I’m not sure how that will go over in Uganda. I’m also not sure Annet will really go through with it considering if she tried she would probably be killed. And as for myself, I’m in the Peace Corps, peace being the operative word here, so I’m not sure it would go over too well either. Minor complication right?

And so I’m back in patriarchal Uganda; back to those great frustrations and struggles. I’m thinking our next unit will be on gender.