Thursday, November 18, 2010

Day 8

The distribution of books begins. 24 communities will now receive various amounts of books to use for projects ranging from primary school libraries to mobile book mobiles. Please look for stories from these various organizations, as they are a truly amazing account of the efforts that
locally managed organizations are making in Africa. I will re-post them as the relevant pictures become available.


Meet Kashe. She is a teacher at Bulera Primary School (and mother of the cutest child in the world), which received a donation of 1400 primary leisure and textbooks thanks to the efforts of their Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Margaret Mimnaugh. Kashe made the trip into the nearest town to their village (Mityana) early Tuesday morning to pickup 30 boxes (!!!). Thank you Kashe and Margaret!

The real story of Bulera Primary School (from PCV Margo):

When I arrived at Bulera Primary school in April 2008 it was very apparent to me that the families, children and teachers living in the village of Bulera, Uganda had a deep passion for learning. After spending a year in the village, working with teachers and students to develop literacy programs, we were all very eager to do more. Book clubs, group readings, spelling bees, book reports, and creating our own stories, were just a few of the ways we worked as a family to expand literacy and knowledge in the village. I had spoken to the teachers about developing a library but it seemed almost impossible with the daily obstacles we faced in the village to survive. Together, with the teachers of Bulera Primary School, we worked together to write and submit a grant through the United States Peace Corps to build and sustain a functional library; what would be the first library ever created in the village of Bulera and all surrounding villages in Mityana District.

After months of preperation and discussion, the grant was submitted and approved! The students and staff worked tirelessly to make our dream of a library become a reality. Children carried bricks to school on their heads, teachers worked long hours after class to clear the land, parents walked from miles around to see the progress of our dream! In October 2009 the library was complete and I began working with the teachers to develop the skills necessary to sustain the library on their own. Students were also involved in the entire process to ensure that they knew this library belonged to them. Several students painted murals and handprints on the walls to make it their own. When then training and building was complete we began letting students into the library; and knowledge into their minds. Now that Bulera Primary School had the capacity to hold books we still needed the books themselves. With the help of Books for Africa, friends and family in the U.S. and devoted fellow Peace Corps Volunteers like Eric Myers, we have successfully delivered over 1400 children's books to the library at Bulera Primary School. The teachers and students have been waiting patiently and eagerly for this incredible opportunity to improve their lives! Everything will change now! LOVE LIFE!



The books of Ngora Girls School arriving. PCV Amy Wilkinson organized the lorry truck pictured above to drive across the country and pick up over 180 boxes of books for several volunteers, including 60 boxes of books for Ngora. All the girls pitched in the effort to unload the truck, continuing the trend of women empowerment begun by Wilkinson and PCV Becky Poole, who were witnessed at St. Adolf loading boxes onto the lorry for hours amidst exclamations of "Eeee Ehhh, these American women are tough!".

The real story of Ngora Girls SS:

For the last two years I have been stationed at Ngora Girls S.S. It’s an all girls boarding school with a population of 500. If someone were to come out and visit our village they would arrive eight hours later from Kampala, covered in a layer of red dust. Despite the heat and lack of precipitation, the Ateso people are some of the most motivated, hardworking, and tall people I have ever met. Over the years I have come to call Ngora Village my home, call my students my sisters, my supervisor my mother, and my neighbors my family. Although I came to teach at Ngora, I have become the student.

When a volunteer first gets to site they are loaded with ideas, naiveté, and strong A

merican cultural glasses from which they view their new home...despite their conscientious attempts not to do so. PCV minds are filled with ideas on how to improve their new home, their community, and how to bring their village up to speed as best as they can. These ideas are not always feasible or realistic. As time progresses, you learn many things. You learn how to assess where your community is, what they truly need, and what will remain when you are gone. Two years is a long time to be away from home, but it is quite ephemeral in regards to any sort of change, or even a needs assessment. I am now on the tail end of this experience and it seems as though I am finally looking through the same glasses as my school.

The school already has a full time librarian and dedicated building for a library. Unfortunately, the school librarian is not well supported. The books are few, old, and in terrible shape, so he spends the majority of his time reading the local newspapers or hovering over me while I conduct computer lessons. Whenever the library is open you can always find girls in there, and I know that I should be happy that they are there, but instead I found myself depressed at the idea of the quality of resources they have available. They are thirsty for knowledge.
When I heard about this project from Eric, I knew it was the answer to the problem at my school. I was able to raise enough money to purchase 2,500 books and a laptop for my school. A reading atmosphere is not a term people use to describe Uganda, but within our community at Ngora Girls it is the head mistress' goal to make it a central part of our mission. The girls are confined to a small compound throughout the school year. The distractions are very limited: no TV, video games, magazines, substantial computers, or internet. Once the library is complete it is our hope that it will be their gateway into new worlds. Their time will no longer be idle, and they will be consumed by books just as we have been lucky to do our whole lives.

Books expand minds, widen the world, and motivate people to strive for something better in life. Thank you for allowing the girls of Ngora School strive for something more. Thank you Eric, and thank you all my supporters! This library is going to rock all the girls and teachers at Ngora Girls long after I leave!


The next day PCV Haley White picked up 11 boxes for her organization Bushenyi district. Another testament to American women, she spent the day lifting the 30lb boxes from one taxi to another on the 7 hour trip home.


To come....

Friday will bring pickups by an NGO in Mubende that is distributing books to 3 schools, as well as a pickup from Centre for Community Deveopment Programs, a great NGO out of Kampala which supports at-risk youth in computer training and University placement.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Books, books, books, books, books

Sorting begins...


I get by with a little help from my friends.



From one pile to many...



Some of the more interesting discoveries....

(Webster's unabridged international dictionary! 2000+ pages)


Everybody's reading!!.....



Pickups begin....



Empty shelves at a Primary School's brand new library which is receiving 1400 books! Thank you Margaret!!


To come....
-A cattle truck left monday with a delivery of 200 boxes to the eastern communities of Uganda, which should yield pictures soon. More pickups this week for area primary schools and a computer school in Kampala which targets high need students. As well as a special delivery to Kelly's friends and school in Mbarara. I'll keep the pictures coming!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cue the Vuvuzelas

Ladies and Gentlemen, Adolf is up to his saintly chest in books. I cant thank you enough...so i'll let the pictures from this amazing day speak for themselves. Thank you thank you thank you, a hundred times over.

Arrival!


The turn I had not planned for them to make


The mango tree we (thankfully) didn't have to cut


Collectively Confused


My first breath in 3 weeks


Unloading begins


Plastic. Woooo!



Mawe! (omg)


The pile begins


The plastic inevitably becomes a football


(Superb unloading techniques on display)


Last two palates


30,000 books!

What's next?....

Over the next few days we will continue to sort through the giant pile of books in preparation for PCV's from around Uganda to begin picking them up....


I'll keep the pictures coming. Thank you again for everything you all have done for this project. One of our teachers shook my hand today and simply said, "St. Adolf has really become a special place for students."

-Eric

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Another PCV Story

An addition to the previous post. This one is from PCV Haley White, who joined this project last month.

Community Volunteer Initiative for Development (COVOID)

COVOID is a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) in Rubirizi (formerly Bushenyi) District of south-western Uganda. Uganda is the “pearl of Africa”, then this specific region, called Bunyaruguru, is a paradise within a paradise. Bunyaruguru is often overlooked by government projects and civil society organizations because everyone knows the area is rich in fertile soils, diverse foods, natural water sources, plentiful rainfall, and Queen Elizabeth National Park. What other people overlook, however, is that the economic culture of intensive agriculture and fishing contributes to a high rate of large families, forced school-leaving and child labor. Faced with the option of earning immediate, though meager, income by working in the fields and lakes, many short-sighted students lose interest in school and remove themselves in search of an easy shilling
(or 0.00043 pennies).

As one of very few NGOs serving the region, COVOID opened the Bunyaruguru Community Library in September 2007 with a starter collection from the National Library of Uganda. Presently the books are few and include many repetitious copies of high school math and
science textbooks. While valuable and in use, these books don’t really scream the messages of “books for all ages!”, “explore new worlds with your kids!” or “reading can be FUN!” Unless you have a very special perspective on the world, there was nothing very FUN about 10th grade trigonometry. While we do boast a few rather mind-blowing Sesame Street toddler puzzles that challenge kids, adults, and Peace Corps Volunteers alike, the so-called “children’s section” of our library is lacking substance.

This new donation of nearly 500 school age-appropriate books, primarily for leisure reading and English skills, will help COVOID to fulfil its goal of creating community access to the wide world of reading from a young age. Through National Book Week 2010, COVOID strengthened partnerships with local nursery, primary and secondary schools, all of which will be able to borrow books for the students to read and take home to share with their families. It is a source of pride for a parent to be able to witness her or his child learn to read, or enjoy a book even just for the pictures—to see the child achieve levels of education that may never have been available to them. These parents might just support their children through higher

levels of schooling. I can safely say that I learned more from “Snuggle Piggy and the Magic Blanket” than “Algebra II”, or maybe the memories are just more pleasant. But I hope that these kids can experience the same kind of joy that I always experience upon turning the pages of a new book. COVOID and I are very grateful for this opportunity to expand young minds in Bunyaruguru.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

As we wait for books.....

Excitement is building in several communities and schools around Uganda for the arrival of 30,000 donated books from an American organization. The books have reached the continent, and are now making a slow treacherous crawl around congested ports, across poor roads, and through stiff borders. As we wait for the arrival of the books to Kyenjojo, and then out to the various communities, I want to offer stories of the various schools and communities involved in this project. This falls well short of a proper 'thank you' to all of you that have donated to the project, but I hope it brings some smiles...and maybe a few tears. We are planning to put together follow-up stories and pictures from each community once the books arrive. This will form a clear picture of the enormous impact we have all made. In the meantime, I'll give you these as they come to me from the volunteers...

Masaka School for Children with Special Needs (MSCSN)

This school is located just outside of Masaka town and caters for children with partial and full hearing impairments. The school has a current enrolment of about 100 students. A majority of the students at the school begin their educations much later compared to their hearing peers. The average age of a child at MSCSN in Primary One (Kindergarten) is 10-12 years, compared with the average of 6 years for a child in a standard school. This late start for the children at MSCSN means that most of them will finish their final year of primary schooling (6th Grade) at 17-20 years of age.

The children of MSCSN experience daily challenges well beyond the scope of a typical student. One major challenge they face is in the language of instruction. According to Ministry of Education standards, the students are taught in (written) English. However, they are supplemented by communication in sign language with their teachers and peers, which conforms to the Uganda Sign Language (USL) standard. This mixing of languages causes some confusion in the students as they approach their end of school examinations, which are in English, leading to many failures.

“It’s not because they don't know the answers, but simply because the exams are in English. This is why it is such a blessing that there will be books on hand. They need more exposure to the English language and this will make it possible.(Commer)

These students have never had the opportunity to read books. None of the students has ever owned even a single book. The school and its Peace Corps Volunteer Amber Commer, have fought extremely hard to turn this situation around for the students. They have constructed a library on the school campus, complete with shelves, tables, reading areas, and posters. In addition, they have been able to pull together enough money to make a significant local contribution towards the Libraries for Life project. Through these efforts the school has secured an order of 2500 books for their new library.

“We are so excited to finally get our books and fill up the empty shelves and our minds.”

- Amber Commer (PCV)

Kisiki College, Namutumba

Kisiki College is a secondary school in the Busoga region of eastern Uganda. The school has both Ordinary Level (7-10th grades) and Advanced Level (11-12th grades) and consists of boarding and day students. Currently the school has over 1,200 students, and is under the Ugandan Government’s Universal Secondary Education (USE) program.

The school has a library, but the conditions – ventilation, poor lighting, lack of space – are not ideal and many of the books are too old and out-dated to be beneficial to the students. This is especially true for those in 'A' level, who are the largest users of the library. In addition to having an outdated collection, the school, like many others in Uganda, suffers from a serious lack of reading culture. By getting interesting and relative books for the students, the school, along with its Peace Corps Volunteer Becky Poore, are hoping for a shift in this reading culture. They have recently opened a new reading room to adjacent to the library to allow more space for the students, and are hoping for more renovations in the future. The school has secured an order of 750 books through this project.

- Becky Poore (PCV)

YY Okot Memorial College, Kitgum, Uganda

An Open Letter:

I am Heather Pasley, a Peace Corps volunteer teaching at YY Okot Memorial College, an all-girls school in Kitgum, Uganda. Currently, we have a small selection of textbooks available from the library, but few girls actually take advantage of the collection. Besides reading a few bits of the Bible, the girls’ reading is limited to their school notes. They simply find no joy in reading.

Like the rest of the country, the Northern Ugandan culture is not a reading culture. However, these girls are faced with a competitive education system that requires a strong handle on English and reading. Right now, most girls are failing English class and struggling to speak English in the academic setting. Therefore, our interest is in novels at 5th-11th grade reading levels.

Our idea is to allow the girls in the lowest three classes (7th – 9th grade) to experience the fun of picking out a book at the beginning of each term and keeping it as their personal item for the entire term. At the end of each term, they will be asked to turn in a book report to their English teachers for extra credit along with their book. These girls have very few personal items, so we feel that getting to pick out their own book and keep it for a term will be a special thing to them and inspire them to read for joy.

Additionally, encouraging the girls at the school to read novels gives them an outlet from the troubles they face. Being in northern Uganda, these are children of war. Most of them were born into communities amidst brutal attacks from the Lord’s Resistance Army during the 1990’s. The lasting effects of what they have seen are immeasurable and escapes from that world are few - even in the peaceful climate which they now live.

This project was inspired by a similar program that my elementary school did which encouraged me to be the avid reader that I am now. I greatly appreciate all the help you all have given me in implementing this program here.

-Heather Pasley

*This school is receiving over 900 books through the project

Monday, July 12, 2010

And so we built them a library



The first days.....


The view of the backside of the library. 72 feet in total length, it is the largest single room on the campus. The veranda still had of covering over it at this point for the concrete to dry, but it was removed later and we still have no major cracks. The painting (inside and out) will be done by the school next year.

Inside the main reading room. These are the tables and benches built by the students in the ovc (orphans and vulnerable children) youth carpentry program last year. We have space to add nine more tables in the future as the school grows in size. The room will remain without a ceiling, which makes the space it feel even bigger. There are six large halogen bulbs mounted in the main room as well as two wall sockets for computers. We also fixed wood strips along the walls (seen here between the windows). The upper strips will be used to hang permanent visual aids, photos, rules, etc., while the lower strip will be used to by students for hanging large science charts (received from the Ministry) and other items which they want to copy into their notebooks.
Our librarian, Susan, began over the weekend. She is a former student of the school who graduated in 2007, a year before I came. She spent the weekend organizing the school's current collection of 137 books (they have purchased about 80 new books this year in preparation for the library) onto the shelves which were finished last week.

All smiles from the first users....


I will try my best to get more pictures up in the coming weeks, but I wanted to give you all something, at least, for now. I can't thank you enough for all the support you've given to me and my kids. They are so so grateful, you can see it on their faces as soon as they step into the library. They would never say it, but this is really a dream for most of them.....schools that have libraries are supposed to be 500,000 Shillings a term (250 bucks), not a village school that charges 20 bucks each term. They weren't supposed to have a library, they realize that. But they do thanks to all of you.

Love and miss everyone.
Eric.


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Doing the backstroke

Last weekend I took an afternoon off to head up to where I started this whole crazy Uganda thing...Luweero District....to visit my homestay family - the Serwanga's. For the two months that I was training to be a volunteer I was given a room at this family's home room and taken in as their honorable son. This is something which is done for every peace corps volunteer everywhere (as far as I know). The Serwanga's helped me to learn the language - although I have since switched to a different one - as well as gave me a comfortable place to try out my many cultural faux paus and attempt to do all the difficult things (like washing clothes) in this country.

Although all the volunteers in my group were put into this same living condition during those first 2 months, not everyone had as pleasant an experience as I did (be it daily [accidental] food poisonings, babysitting duties, mean dads, etc) and for that I am extremely greatful to the Serwanga's. It was a difficult thing for me to handle - being in a completely different culture and thrown into someone's house, but equally as difficult for them as well as they now had the cultural pressure of hosting a westerner in their home. I think I blogged about many of these feelings and experiences way back then, so I won't get into it too much....and instead will move on to this visit, this much more comfortable and "veteran" visit to a Ugandan family.

I have blown by their house a couple times since I left last April, on my way to visit other PCV's or to national parks....so remembering where to go was no issue. I planned to arrive around 11am and spend the day with them, have lunch, play with the kids, then head back to Kampala before nightfall.

Being Uganda....and being me....I was late, but not without reason of course! The jam out of Kampala was horendous as usual, so I didn't make it up to their house until about 12:00. As I walked up to the house I was flooded with all these memories (of being scared shitless, mostly) in this place 17 months ago. I was greeted by the father of the family Hannington - who had sat with me nightly as we ate dinner together, staring at eachother between bites while the rest of the family ate on the floor in the adjacent room, then given me language lessons as I hurriedly tried to copy down new words and spell them somehow correctly. He had just as big of a smile as I remembered and shook my hand endlessly as he tried quizzing me on all the lengthy greeting we had practiced over and over (i stumbled....but got through it). The rest of the family was gathered around the kitchen about 10 feet behind the house. Hannington led me inside and pointed to "my customary seat" and told me to sit. Here we were again - staring at eachother, with a world of customs, traditions, cultures, languages, seperating us. Luckily he is a fairly good english speaker, so aside from the quizzes (which continued throughout the day) we caught eachother up on the last 17 months of our lives. (I think its time for a picture...this is a - very typical - ugandan family pictures. That's Hannington on the left and Mama Serwanga on the right)


As we continued catching up Mama came in with the first round of our (HUGE) lunch...boiled irish potatoes. Mama speaks absolutely no english....but it doesn't take a fluent person to understand what she was saying to me as she hugged me and nearly pulled me over "somethingsomethingsomethingsomething Eriki somethingsomething something something Eriki!!!" I get the feeling she didn't expect to ever see me again...and was extremely happy that this was not the case.

Hannington and I finished up our potatoes with some fresh passion fruit juice and then (again, just like when I first came to their house 17 months ago) headed to the bar across the street. After a quick drink and a few shared greetings we headed off for a walk through the town center. Kasana Town is quite large relatively speaking, and with the new familiarity of Uganda I've developed I was able to put this into perspective. We walked for about 30 mins as Hannington waved to all of the shopkeepers, boda drivers, old men walking, etc that he knew and re-intoduced his white son. Back at the house I found the Serwanga's children out front playing in the dirt. Morgan (below) came and gave me a hug first with his huge unforgettable smile. Hannington asked if he remembered me and he smiled and said "Eriki, mukwano gange" (Eric, he's my friend.....cue the tears). Morgan is the grandson of Hannington, and he and Mama now care for him - not sure where the father (their son) is.

After playing a for a few minutes with Morgan I headed inside for lunch - LOTS of boiled goat (sorry Annie, its really quite good), rice, posho, spinach, sweet potatoes, cassava, and more passion fruit juice. Wew! It was quite a lot, but I knew to expect it based on my two months there before. Just like all those meals back then here I was seated in the living room face to face with Hannington as the rest of the family sat in the other room. This time however, much to my agreement, Mama joined us for the last part of our meal. I ate my best share, sat back to chat some more Hannington as he translated everything to Mama, then headed outside and gave the kids the coloring books I had brought for them.


All in all I spent about 4 hours with the Serwanga's. 4 hours that reminded me how far I've come since first landing here last year, and 4 hours that showed me how much impact I will continue to have for many years after I leave next year :) If a 5 year old remembers me as his friend after only two months, I can just imagine what the friendships I've developed in Kyenjojo (with 5 y/o's - 75 y/o's) will yield.





Love and miss you all,
Eric.


P.S. here's a picture of some purple chickens that the Serwanga's own. I've been told they paint them like that to prevent the birds of prey from picking them out - but really, who knows.

nope, sorry......go phish.