(This blog was written by Dr. Joe Bishop, a One School at a Time board member and professor of education at Eastern Michigan University, USA)
I visited Uganda for the second time in February/March of 2016, about four years after my first visit. The date of my arrival (the day after the presidential elections were held) was potentially problematic. With sporadic demonstrations against the election results cropping up and the possibility of violence and riots, we waited a few days before heading out to the rural Mubende district (Kassanda sub-county) to work with the six One School at a Time partner schools. It was inspiring to spend time again with Ugandan Program Director, Hussein Tadesse, who makes so many great connections with communities and works so tirelessly with them.
While I was at the partner schools, I conducted workshops on teaching mathematics and active student learning with the teachers. They thoroughly enjoyed the interactive sessions that for them, as they told me, were a nice change from the standard lecture format seminars to which they are accustomed.
I also spent time talking with students and at a few points conducting short, impromptu English lessons with them.
It was fantastic to see all of the improvements that have occurred over the past four years at the various partner schools. One creative improvement was a modification to two of the partner schools on site water collection systems. The first water systems that One School built were rooftop rainwater collection systems guttered to underground 40,000 L storage tanks. The water was accessed by using a human powered treadle pump. The pump frequently broke and pump maintenance was problematical for the schools. At one of the schools, people resorted to cutting a hole in the metal top of the cistern to access the water, pushing a dirty jerry jug into the cistern using a long wooden pole. Clearly this was a dangerous situation- a student could fall into the cistern and the cistern was vulnerable to contamination. One School remedied the situation by building a ramp down to the base of these two underground cisterns and installing a stop cock there. Students now safely collect the water, pushed by gravity into their jerry jugs.
Four years ago when I was there, One School at a Time had rented a field office which needed door and window repairs. I decided to buy and donate some paint to clean it up more and a number of neighborhood children befriended and assisted me with the painting. (note: The new paint on the field office had an unintended consequence! The landlord got wind of this- she decided to raise the rent AND insisted that some of her family members move in!)
But, perhaps the nicest upgrade to the field office was the installation of a “real” toilet in one of the two pit latrines behind the field house. Now, instead of a hole in the cement, there is a perfectly functioning “sit pan” as the locals call it installed for comfort.
Another wonderful addition has been the acquisition of a car that has made it so much easier to get from school to school and back to the field office. On one trip to a school, however, the timing belt on the car broke and the program manager had to call a mechanic to come by bus from Kampala to fix the car. Since the mechanic arrived in the late afternoon and was unable to finish the repair before it got dark, he stayed at the school headmaster’s office. That meant that I had my first opportunity to share a ride with the program manager on the back of a boda boda (a small 125cc motorcycle). With 3 of us on the boda boda, in the inky dark, along narrow jungle paths, it was an exhilirating experience getting back to the field office for the evening which included a brief stop for more petrol poured into the gas tank from an empty coke bottle!
Finally, it was uplifting to witness the ongoing work of building more classrooms and teachers quarters. All in all, it was a great experience and I look forward to the next time I am able to travel to the area to see more of the wonderful work One School at a Time is coordinating with the local communities.