Educators, Ethics,…and Anne Thompson?

By Margarita Rose


Pumpkin (photo: Paula Longo)

Jinja, Uganda— As a gesture of gratitude and a final opportunity to interact with the teachers of the schools we visited in Jinja, our group hosted a gathering today, attended by 26 teachers. With classic Ugandan patience, early-arriving teachers waited for our delayed start, due in part to mixed signals about the time. Meanwhile, some of the head teachers could be seen outside Bugembe Youth Centre with cell phones to ears, encouraging others to make their way to the hall, where a spread of matooke, rice, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, “Irish” potatoes, meat, fruit, and eyes-intact tilapia waited to be shared.


Maria Zangari discusses education with teachers from Jinja (photo: Paul Longo)

It struck me that our interactions today were even deeper than what we had experienced during our school visits. We learned more about one another’s backgrounds, and gained a better understanding of teachers’ lives outside of school. We sensed how proud they are of their students’ accomplishments, even beyond secondary school. Perhaps it was because we had previously met, or perhaps we had a biased sample of teachers who are truly dedicated to their profession joining us on a Sunday afternoon. For whatever reason, I sensed a genuine desire to maintain mutually-beneficial partnerships between these Ugandan educators and their American counterparts. I also sensed a genuine appreciation for our visit, eloquently expressed by the head teacher of Kalungami Primary School, Mr. Ronald Babagobya.


Noreen O’Connor talking with teachers from Jinja (photo: Paula Longo)

Before our session ended, each member of our group stood to express words of gratitude and offer a comment on what we learned from the teachers and their students. Some of us even teared-up with emotion as we shared what we admired about our hosts. In my own short speech, I told the teachers how important it was that they continue to fulfill their roles as moral educators. Though the Ugandan educational system places top priority on the results of national exams, encouraging students and teachers alike to cram in lots of factual knowledge, for Uganda’s future national development, the most important “skill” schools should develop in students is the ability and desire to make ethical decisions.

While this is my view, it is certainly not uniquely mine, as we heard from Prof. Tabitha Naisiko at Queen of Apostles Philosophical Centre, Jinja (PCJ), on Friday. Naisiko sees Uganda trapped in a competitive educational system that creates “winners”, who move onto the next educational level, and “losers” who struggle to find employment without adequate skill development. In contrast, traditional education, with its emphasis on learning rules of right behavior—ethics—embraces an “all are winners” environment that provides social support for children, adolescents, and adults.


Andita Parker Lloyd, Anne Thompson, and Margarita Rose (photo: Brother Stephen LaMendola)

Prior to the teacher gathering, a few of us attended the English language Mass at Holy Cross Bugembe parish. It was a lively and joyous celebration, enhanced by the voices and drum beats of students from Holy Cross Primary School. In addition to our surprise at seeing Fr. Bob Dowd from the University of Notre Dame enter the sacristy, we experienced a second unexpected “treat” when we met NBC correspondent, and King’s College honorary degree recipient, Anne Thompson, after Mass. Along with other Notre Dame-affiliated people, she was visiting Holy Cross-sponsored locations in Uganda and Kenya. Like us, it was clear Ms. Thompson was deeply-touched, and perhaps forever changed, by what she learned in Uganda.

School is in Session

By Katie Frain


Katie Frain reads to a group of young pre-primary students at St. Jude’s in Jinja (photo: Paula Longo)

Jinja, Uganda– The first half of this week consisted of visiting several different primary schools. I don’t think I have ever had such warm welcomes in my life! I was continually amazed by all the hard work the students and teachers put in to prepare for our arrival. These performances were so elaborate and well-rehearsed that they made me feel guilty, in a way, because it isn’t like I am royalty or something, I’m just an average college student. You could tell how excited they were to have us as guest and I truly hope our visit lived up to the performance they gave us.

Being at the primary schools was so exhilarating for me. Being able to experience the passion both the students and teachers have was incredible. It was interesting to me to see the teaching styles and the students dedication to learning. I loved experiencing some of the different energizes that the teachers had the students do. I can only imagine having to manage such large classes, but seeing how the teachers got the students up and moving and then right back to learning was amazing to me. At Shippensburg, I learned how important and useful energizers can be to help children get the blood flowing a little during the lessons. Being able to see that implemented here was phenomenal. I have definitely learned some energizers to use in my future classroom.


Katie Brunwasser visits with a group of students at Holy Cross Lakeview Secondary School in Jinja (photo: Paula Longo)

The second half of the week, we visited secondary schools. Even though my passion is to teach the younger grades, I looked forward to hearing the aspirations of these students, I found out the these students wanted to me doctors,lawyers, government workers, teachers, even architects. It warmed my heart that these students had such high dreams for themselves and were working so hard to make them into realities. I loved being able to listen to their hopes and dreams and answer some of their questions.

Even though I loved going to these schools, learned so much and am having a great time here, it can be pretty difficult at times. It is heartbreaking to see some of these children going through some hard times. I just want to be able to help so many of them. How is it that some children are going hungry, but then offer us food or that I have four pairs of shoes on this trip and there are kids going to to school without any? I love being able to see the joy on their faces when I show them a picture of themselves, but what do I do when they ask if they can keep my camera? These are just some questions that make me realize just how fortunate I have been my whole life and just how many things that I have taken for granted.

Shake Up What You Know

By Megan Borsuk
longo_borsuk-lakeviewJinja, Uganda– Today is our 13th day in country. It appears as a group we have recovered from jet lag and finally have our days straight. I think some of us are sleeping through the night – even with the roosters crowing, all night church sermons, the morning call to prayer, and dogs fighting. We have become accustomed to 4:00 pm teatime. I think many of us would like to continue to have afternoon teatime in the USA.

This morning we visited Holy Cross Senior Secondary School. I was able to speak with students from S-5 and S-6. The students were between 18-20 years. The conversation focused on family and gender rights. The students were shocked to hear that in America the man’s family did not have to pay a bride-price for the women in marriage. One young man responded, “What is the point of producing a girl if the parents do not get anything for her?”

longo_lakeview-artstudents2My reaction was filled with many emotions; at first I was appalled and offended. I took a breath and looked around the room. All of the students were looking to me for answer. While the question to me was outrageous, the question made sense to both the young women and young men.

I may not have agreed with some of the statements and ideas about gender and parenting but I was able to take the opportunity to ask more questions and gain a clearer insight into the Ugandan student perspective. The students also gave me the opportunity to explain my position. This interaction challenged both of us to rethink what we know to be truth. I encourage everyone to push himself or herself to have exchanges like this.

Shake up what you know, or rather what you think you know!

Pride and Hope: Jinja Progressive Secondary School

By Brother Stephen LaMendola

Jinja, Uganda– Today our group visited the Jinja Progressive Secondary School, founded  in 2003 by Hajj Kitezala Swaibu, a Moslem.  We arrived after an early morning rain that cleared the air and wetted down the dust.  Although a private school that admits students of all faiths, the school has a definite Moslem influence as evidenced by the many girls who wore scarves that covered their heads.  The school also had a mosque, that while still under construction, served as a place for prayer for the Moslem students.


photo: Paula Longo

The Executive Director, as well as the entire staff, were very proud of their students who score consistently high on the government exams – an important factor that adds to the prestige of the school.  After  a tour of the school facilities by the principal, the morning session afforded many of us an opportunity  to talk to many of the faculty and students.

For me, it was a great opportunity to talk with a “practice” teacher who had returned to her alma mater to do her student teaching.  After completing her 8 weeks of “practice” teaching in her second year of university, she will return to her university studies  and complete her last 8 weeks of “practice” teaching in her final year.  A research project will complete her requirements for a teaching diploma.

During my visit, I was impressed by the teachers’ pride in their school, along with the seriousness the students demonstrated toward their studies, which compared to American standards, are very rigorous. At this school, along with the other schools we visited, we were warmly greeted and found that both teachers and students were very interested in what we do in our schools in the United States. As in the other schools that we visited,  they were amazed and surprised that we share many similar challenges, and that all is not perfect in our country.

With the exchange of e-mails, it was both our hopes and expectations that our visit would continue in the coming months  so that we can continue to better understand and appreciate each other and the work in education that is the thread that binds us together.

Emotional Rollercoaster

By Katie Cryan


Boys at Kalumgami Primary play with a ball they made from plastic bags.

Jinja, Uganda– In The United States, people often hear the phrase “we are very blessed.” Although many people agree with this expression, there are times where it can become forgotten or clouded by minor setbacks experienced throughout the day. As a result, we cannot fully understand the term “blessed” until we immerse ourselves into the turmoil and distresses of another country’s happenings. Consequently, our group’s experience at Kalungami Primary School was filled with laughter, tears, and the acknowledgement of the many blessings provided within the U.S. education system.

During our time at Kalungami Primary School, we were able to interact with a different group of students. Such differences consisted of tougher personalities, rougher appearances, and a more impoverished home life. That being said, these differences are facilitated by a more rural and agricultural based society. Due to the community’s reliance on sugar cane many young boys are expected to work in the fields, therefore sacrificing their opportunity to get an education. In addition, this dilemma has caused families to make low salaries, due to the fact that they do not own the sugar cane crops or the land. As a result, these children are attending school without food in their stomachs and other essentials.

Seeing young children attend school with empty stomachs can be very heartbreaking. However, it is even more painful to have the same students offer you an abundance of fruits and vegetables. When we received this very generous gift, a majority of us felt overwhelmed, sad, and forever indebted to this school and their students. Although this may seem like a simple gift, it is inevitable that this amount of food is more than what these students will ever see in a lifetime. With that in mind, my fellow group members will go to bed with a lump in their throats, and ache in their hearts, and a feeling of being very blessed.


Our Fulbright group with teachers at the Kalungami UPE Primary School

Shake, Shake the Mango Tree!

By Katie Brunwasser

Photo: Paula Longo

Jinja, Uganda – Arriving at St. Andrew’s Day and Boarding Primary School was a beautiful experience. As we pulled up the dirt road, the children in blue were clapping to the beat of three boys playing drums. A few girls and boys lined up in front of us performing a traditional dance and then lead us to the front of the school. I enjoyed the performance very much – the beat made me want to dance with them and show them my “mad sweet skills.”

A girl around 12 or 13 years old ran up to me and said, “you are most welcome! I am so honored that you are here! I am so happy that you are here, thank you so much for coming!” Never in my life has a child of that age been so excited to see me unless I had candy and they rang my doorbell screaming, “trick-or-treat!”

Photo:Paula Longo

We went off to observe classes, but once we got out, we were swarmed with children in every direction. Katie Frain had brought a parachute for the children to play with, which was a big hit! Children chanted and laughed and screamed at the wonderful red cloth.

I had my own little possie in Primary 6 (which is about equivalent to 6th grade in the U.S. system) following me around. They loved my hair and how it moved in every direction. I let one girl braid my hair which naturally sheds, and I made the joke, “don’t pull out my hair!” But, no one laughed. I didn’t realize until later that she might have pulled the loose hairs on my head and thought she ripped out my hair. I can only imagine her holding all this hair in her hand as I told her not to rip it out. She must’ve been terrified.

longo-st-andrew-br-stephenWhen we left, the girls begged me to always remember them and to never forget this day. It made me really sad to say goodbye to them. They looked forward to this moment, and when it ended it was upsetting. Every student who attended the school was outside our bus wishing us good-bye. It was difficult piling into the bus since children were latched onto us all. Some even chased after the bus when we drove away.

The children were so welcoming and lovely; it was really nice to experience such happy kids who were so excited about learning.

Photo: Paula Longo

“Education is an Investment”: St. Jude Holy Cross Primary Buwekula

By Andita Parker Lloyd

Jinja, Uganda–The agenda today included a visit to St. Jude Holy Cross Primary School Buwekula. As we pulled up to the school we were greeted again by singing and dancing. The students were in a burgundy color uniform and some other colors. The experienced dancers were wearing grass skirts and St. Jude tee-shirts from an American set of benefactors. There was an air of excitement for the visitors from the United States. I feel that the schools are excited when they see Americans for they hope we will be able to help their school in some way. It has been a struggle to see so much NEED and we are not even halfway through our travels. It has been a blessing to see so much HOPE within those beautiful faces.


“Education is an Investment”: St. Jude Primary School, Jinja

The next thing I saw besides a sea of smiling faces were some bright blue wooden signs. The signs stuck out because of their color and their placement in between the tree branches and hammered into the tree trunks. I had to go investigate. I am a sap for what people hang up as something important or to share. They are inspirational in nature. The signs say things like “Respect People”, “Feel Great to be a part of Holy Cross”, and “Every Child is Special.” The one that struck a serious cord in my heart was “Education is an Investment.” My mother could have said something similar because she was always preaching about education being the key. As an educator and lifelong learner I try to pass this on to my students every day. I believe that poverty cannot be disabled without a strong determination and education.

Listed on an old piece of paper on the wall was the values of St. Jude which include: Professionalism; Integrity;

Diligence; Team Work; Competence and Excellence. This gave me a great first impression of what positive things are happening at this school. The school has 251 students, 8 classrooms, and 13 teachers and administrators. St. Jude has some goals to expand their teachers’ quarters, add a dining hall, computer lab, purchase a TV for educational/recreational activities, and create an alumni association. I believe they will be able to make that happen. The School motto “We Can and Must Excel” is shown in everything they shared with us.

The last of the wisdom from the walls of St. Jude Holy Cross Primary Buwekula:

Education Makes
People Easy To
Difficult to
Easy to Govern
Impossible to


A grammar lesson in the Primary 3 classroom with English teacher Oduor George

From a Father’s Perspective

By Maria Zangari

longo_parent-groupJinja, Uganda– Today we spoke to members of the Holy Cross parish who have students in private schools near Jinja. It started out as a panel discussion in a large group, but approximately halfway through we broke into small groups. I spent most of the remaining time speaking to one mother and father about their child’s education.

The father I spoke to had many concerns about the state of education in Uganda and wanted them heard. His first comment to me was this: “If children cannot eat lunch they cannot learn. Without that, no change matters.” It wasn’t the first time our group faced this sobering realization, but it hit home coming from a father. There was nothing for me to say.

Hunger runs rampant in Uganda, but it is a reminder that thousands of children face hunger everyday in the United States as well. He was surprised to find out America isn’t as put together as media might have his country believe. It all comes down to money he told me.

longo-parent-group-3Our conversation consistently returned to funding, or rather lack of funding. At a governmental level there is a lack of monetary support for education in Uganda. At the personal level, families struggle to put food on the table let alone pay for private school tuition fees. Yet consistently we are told that public education is not an option. Parents believe their students deserve better.

I contrast the seemingly hopeless theme of money with the palpable energy I’ve experienced in Ugandan classrooms. At Holy Cross primary school I observed a teacher put everything she had into a lesson about identifying types of foods. She kept the students engaged and on task through firm discipline.

Moments later the class erupted in laughter from one of her comments. Joan developed a rapport with her students that made her genuine interest in their well being and learning evident. She was committed to their education and, even as primary students, they too recognized its importance. Amidst bleak conversations of money I find hope for education, American and Ugandan, in the passion for teaching and learning I witness everyday.


Joan Namusake leads a Primary 3 class at Holy Cross Primary school in Jinja

A Warm Welcome

By Erin McDonough


Students line up to welcome their visitors at Holy Cross Bugembe Primary School

Jinja, Uganda–After a short bus ride this morning to the Holy Cross Primary School in Jinja, we were all shocked to see what the school had arranged for us. About 800 primary students lined either side of the driveway, singing and dancing to welcome our group. They requested that we walk in twos up to the school. Leading us was a small group of boys who were doing choreography to the music. I was, as I’m sure we all were, incredibly honored and impressed with the school. There were a few moments when my emotions had moved me to tears and I had to turn away from the students and teachers to compose myself.

Once we had gotten up to the school, we divided up and went into the various classrooms. I was so incredibly thrilled that I was able to go to a Primary 1 class (first grade equivalent). I felt right at home, although it did make me miss my little firsties! The Primary 1 students also welcomed us with a song. After we sat down, the students sang a song with motions that seemed to be a daily routine. It looked so fun, I wanted to join in! We are going back to Holy Cross Primary on Wednesday, so I am definitely going to ask the teacher to write down the song for me. The students were learning about some healthy foods, and the teacher was instructing using the actual fruit. I thought it was a great idea to have a visual aid! Shortly after, the students had “break time” so we met with the teachers to discuss their school and some of their needs.

Leaving the school brought many emotions. I was so pleased that the students and teachers had welcomed us in with open arms, although I learned many of the challenges that they face everyday. The classroom I was in had approximately 80 students, yet they were so well behaved and compliant. They have very little materials, including paper, pencils, pencil sharpeners, books, etc., yet there was not one complaint. The students used what they had in order to successfully complete their work. I can’t even express how inspired I am by this school, and I am so excited that we can help bring materials to them in the near future.


First Impressions in Ugandan Classrooms

By Paula Longo

Photo: Paula LongoKampala, Uganda– Our group arose earlier than usual to embark on our journey to Jinja.  We observed in two private schools before the bumpy, but beautiful ride to Little Sisters of St. Francis Mother Kevin Conference Center in Jinja.

The first school was Saint Kizito Bugolobi, which is a primary and secondary school.  While we waited for the group to assemble, the younger students had recess and enthusiastically smiled and waved at our group.  A few of the braver ones shook my hand through the fence.

Once the administrators were ready, we were given a great overview of their program and Ugandan educational statistics.  A discussion broke out between all of us about education systems.  We discovered we have a lot of common challenges, much to the surprise of our hosts.

longo_seeta-labWe then traveled to Seeta High School, where we were able to observe in classrooms for the first time.  We split into smaller groups to observe and I was in a biology class for 17 and 18 year olds. These students will have one more year of schooling before entering a university.

I was very impressed by both the instructor and the students.  He was energetic and used many of the same techniques we do in the U.S.  The 72 students were completely engaged the entire time (75 minutes) we were there.  After the lecture, we spoke to the students and discovered many of them would like to pursue degrees in the medical field.

oconnor_seeta_englishIt was extremely difficult to leave, since I was enthralled with the conversation, but I gave out almost every business card I brought to stay in touch.  This was the reason we came: to research the Ugandan educational system, but we departed with so much more.