Challenges, not problems (!)

Hello old friend, hello old friends,

Here I am, now 7 weeks into my trip, and being out here I’m always met with the same strange sensation; that the days are so filled that past events feel like ages ago, whilst at the same time I can’t believe I’ve been here for this long already. So I thought I’d restart my blog to fill you lovely people on what’s been going on over here.

I write this from an overcast and wet Mbale, 230km east of Kampala, where the dry season has become a distant memory in the space of a week.

These first weeks have thus far been full of challenges of varying shapes and sizes, but strangely these difficulties have given me more resolve to do what I can to get a functional and sustainable primary school in place.

One of our core aims this year is to improve the education levels at the school. It is all well and good providing the buildings and educational materials, but it is worth nothing if the teachers are not imparting a proper education on to their pupils. To that end, we carried out a thorough review of the educational and non-educational processes, as well as performance reviews of each teacher, at the back end of last year.

This was carried out by a local government official, the Coordinator Centre Tutor. A man named Mungoma John, he did a fantastic job of observing what he saw, both good and bad, and formulating a report complete with recommendation that lays a great framework for how to go about our mission.

Moving forward, we will be using this assessment as a baseline for monitoring the academic achievement at the school, something concrete on which we can measure the impact our work and your donations are having.

A big part of this improvement will be in additional teacher training, and as such we are in contact with exemplary local schools and other educationally minded organisations out here to provide this. Our teachers have recently taken part in two workshops hosted by Arlington Academy of Hope, a high achieving private school in the nearby Bududa. We have also formed relationships with the African Educational Trust, an organisation whose work includes providing libraries, teacher trainings and community engagement programs in Northern and Eastern Uganda.

A huge hindrance to any teacher development we undertake is a lack of motivation of the teachers, brought on by chronic non-payment of salaries. Currently, 2 of our 8 teachers have not been paid since June 2017, with others being owed many months’ worth of arrears. This forces teachers to take on other odd jobs to support themselves, rendering them exhausted and demotivated when it comes to the classroom. We are trying to lobby the District, but both here and in a handful of other newly formed districts, the horrendous mismanagement of the process is having a severe impact and there is little that can be done to hurry up the process. Further to this non-payment, this transition process of the new district has left us with 3 teachers who have been transferred at the end of last term and not yet replaced, putting further strain on the already overstretched teaching staff. O, the sweet joys of local government!

We are also confronted with the issue of misallocation of the Universal Primary Education budget, a once-termly fund issued by the Government for providing scholastic materials, co-curricular activities etc. In previous years, this was seen as a golden egg for anyone on the School Management Committee, and it is something we are trying to change in a measured and diplomatic way.  As a key stakeholder in the school, this can be achieved by having a District-endorsed say in the process, from a voice in budget meetings to regular independent auditing of the outgoings. One of our volunteers, Kinga, has helped put together a watertight process which should mean that the money goes exactly where it should. Watch this space for updates!

Gladly, I’m happy to report that our other projects are going well. We continue to maintain a 100% loan repayment rate on the TUSP Micro Finance project, with a new group of 10 women, and further loans to the existing 20 women, coming up in April. We look forward to welcoming back one of ‘The Dreamteam’, Evelina, to help evaluate the business plans of the new applicants and oversee the smooth operation of the loan issuance.

With the help of Seeds, both our Men’s and Women’s village savings programmes are running well.

We have taken on both a new football and a new netball coach at the school, who attends every Wednesday to provide structured coaching to an otherwise chaotic Games afternoon. This will help us prepare for the grudge match against our rivals from the nearby Bukokho Primary School – last year saw our netball team get demolished, only for the football team to recover some school pride with an historic win on penalties.

The school cow is also pregnant and due to give birth any time in the next 1-3 months, depending on who you speak to (!).

We now have a team of 3 local TUSP employees, helping monitor the efficient running of our programmes and problem solving any issues that arise.

And most importantly, for the next few weeks at least, I am able to rely on the support of Kinga and Grace, two longer term volunteers whose expertise in their respective fields of finance and child wellbeing and emotional support, has been invaluable. More than volunteers, they are good friends, and I’ll be sad to see them go.

Right, I must be off – a wet’n’wild Matatu (local minibus taxi) journey back to the village awaits, but I will check in with updates when I have them.

Love to all back at home, or wherever you may be, and thank you for your continued support!

Sean xx