As I write, James and I are packing and preparing to leave the Uganda School for the Deaf, our hosts and home for the last eight days; although admittedly, we have been out and about so much, we haven’t seen a great deal of these good people until today.
The purpose of this trip has been to lay the ground work for a full conference trip in the Summer of 2018, to find out the best ways that we can support our partners here, in both the mainstream and deaf specialist environments, to enable us to be as prepared as we can.
One of our core values at doubleme.org, is to work with the poorest and keenest, to support those in education striving hard to work their way out of poverty. It would be easy to visit this country and see only the ghettos, the endless groups of pupils with ripped uniforms and footwear, or often barefoot, the tired faces as they lug huge, yellow jerry cans from the nearest water pump to their homes, and feel helpless. We are not an organisation of wealth, even though we come from comparatively wealthy backgrounds ourselves. We could feel defeated before we even start: What do we know about teaching 120 pupils in a cramped, dimly lit space, where half the pupils might not even have a pencil to complete the tasks in the lesson? What do we know about teaching deaf pupils in the Ugandan culture? We don’t even share a sign language. What difference can we make in two short weeks? Why bother?
Well… in 2015 we brought a team of 12 individuals out to Kampala – among them a head teacher, deputy head, nursery teacher, special needs teacher, two teachers of the deaf, secondary and primary – even a secondary pupil and a banker. We delivered two, two-day conferences for main stream teachers and a bespoke afternoon seminar for the teachers of the deaf here at the school. During that year we had also set up a small number of sponsorship programmes for pupils in great need. Those are the teachers, pupils and schools we have visited this week.
So why bother?
Because two years later they’re still talking about the phonics training we did; because they’re still talking about the leadership training and financial management work we did; because they implemented strategies we offered, meaning that in two short weeks, the training we delivered had a positive impact on hundreds of pupils.
Because we make a difference.
Teachers here get a brief grounding in their training – many of them have barely finished secondary school themselves. Once they have their diploma, there’s very little available beyond working with their peers and building up their experience. As teachers in the UK we are trained, assessed, monitored and held accountable, granted, sometimes to extreme, but we have a gift. Where we can’t give these teachers and professionals huge sums of money to build new classrooms, toilets, or dormitories, we can share our knowledge, experience and skills. We can bring our creativity to a difficult situation. We can inspire weary colleagues, and in doing so, find a new perspective on our own situations.
Our Ugandan colleagues, will, in turn, teach us a thing or two. The love and welcome we have received has been amazing- we have been escorted, educated, and entertained. Our trips offer the opportunity to explore a small part of this beautiful country, sample the tastes, sights and sounds as well as some of the history.
This week we have built up links with our partner schools and made new connections with organisations who can spread the word of our coming. Our partners are so ready to learn, to improve and to provide better outcomes for their pupils despite the huge challenges they face – all we need now…is you!
In order for doubleme.org to continue to build on these firm foundations we need support here in the UK as well as volunteers for our trips. Whether it’s a return visit, or a whole new experience, or practical help you can offer here at home, you may have the skills we need.
– Fundraisers who can help us prepare for the trips, source and access funding as we are a registered charity;
– Administrators (with book keeping experience) who can help oversee aspects of the trip in the UK and be a home contact during the trip;
– Computer skills to run workshops for teachers, including spreadsheet work for bursars and training around e-safety;
– Needlework skills and creativity – there is a huge need for making washable, reusable sanitary towels to support girls staying education – we need volunteers to make and bring towels beforehand, but would like to run workshops for making them during the conference too;
– Emotional health and well-being – a number of senior leaders have identified this as a high need for both staff and pupils;
– Early years foundation stage – teachers need to work creatively to develop this early years curriculum with minimal resources, they need to learn through games, songs and real life experience;
– Resource makers – we want to empower and inspire the teachers here in working creatively to make their own resources for engaging their pupils – could you lead a practical workshop?
– Deaf specialists – we need audiologists, speech therapists, signers (we have a Ugandan Sign Language Manual!), Deaf role models, teachers of the Deaf and Teaching Assistants – during the first conference, we will include some aspects of deaf awareness for the mainstream staff, recognising symptoms of hearing loss, strategies for teaching deaf learners in a mainstream environment, basic care for those who do have hearing aids. The second week of our trip will involve a split where the mainstream group will travel to the more rural area of Mbale to deliver the second conference and the deaf team will stay in Ntinda to deliver a more specialist approach for our partners from both secondary and primary schools for the deaf. Audiology, reading and writing will be the main focus, alongside speaking and listening activities.