Seeing Rhinos

By Maria Zangari


White rhinos, Ziwa Rhino reserve (photo: Noreen O’Connor)

Masindi, Uganda– Today was a travel day. We left St. Augustine’s Institute in Kampala early and began the trip to Masindi. No one was looking forward to the four hour bus ride; thankfully the plan was to break it up by a stop at the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary.

White rhinos were declared extinct in Uganda by 1983, but today our group was lucky enough to see eight of the 14 rhinos living in the Ziwa sanctuary. I never thought I’d stand 50 yards away from a group of four. Three adults and their young played with the leaves of a tree barely taller than their shoulders while we watched from a short distance. The older rhino pushed the young into the leaves, seemingly enjoying the rustling sound that resulted. The young rhino didn’t protest. This was all in good fun.


Kawesa, rhino guide (photo: Noreen O’Connor)

Nature is a powerful thing. It is rejuvenating to be outside, to watch the sunset on the savanna to the rumble of thunder. Even after learning of our group’s visit to Ziwa, I hadn’t expected I would stand a short distance away from these wild animals. I didn’t expect to see most of the rhinos living on the 70,000-acre sanctuary. But we did.

I think being surrounded by nature can often heal anxieties, discomforts and displeasures better than medicine or doctors. Today was therapy for me and I heard a few of my colleagues agree. Some of us left the sanctuary with scratched and irritated legs. Most of us left a little tired. But we finally got the opportunity to stretch our legs, see African wildlife and appreciate a tiny sliver of the “Pearl of Africa’s” landscape. I am grateful for and humbled by the awesome beauty of Uganda.

The Voice of the People

By Brian Dugas


Mabira Forest trail guide (photo: Paula Longo)

Kampala, Uganda– Today we travelled from Jinja back to the city of Kampala where we will be spending a couple of days before heading to the more rural Masindi area. Along the way we stopped at a couple of beautiful environmental areas called the Source of the Nile and the Rainforest Lodge in the Mabira Forest Reserve.

The Source of the Nile is the approximate location where Lake Victoria feeds the Nile River. It was at this location the British explorer Speke answered the lingering question bothering the western world: Where does the Nile begin? While there has been some environmental loss due to the construction of a dam, the Nile remains a raging river, as many of us found out on a recent rafting trip through some significant rapids. Unfortunately our rafting guide informed us that there is more dam construction planned over the next few years which will put these rapids underwater.


The Mabira Forest (photo: Paula Longo)

Our next stop was at a lodge deep in the Nabira Forest Reserve. The 360 square kilometers of rain forest that make up this forest reserve are truly a national treasure. A wide variety of animals, insects, reptiles, and over 300 types of birds are found here. Our hiking guide told us stories of how the original inhabitants, the pygmies, were decimated by western diseases like the plague. The few remaining “short people” no longer want to be known by this name and will not be your friend if you refer to them that way. Along with their departure went most of the medicinal plant knowledge that they had built over years of trial and error.

During our short hike, our guide told us another story that provides a valuable lesson that might also be useful to reform the education system here. It seems that some years ago the President wanted to knock down the Mabira Forest in order to plant sugar cane.


The Rainforest Lodge (photo: Paula Longo)

Fortunately the local residents wanted to protect their rain forest enough to work together to stop the government intrusion. This shows that people can work together to make a significant difference in Uganda. Throughout our time in Uganda we have been told in school after school that government bureaucracy is a significant factor in their difficulties. Yet, when asked why they have not worked together to force the government to change they are unable to provide an explanation.

What I learned today is that even in a country where there is limited political expression, the voice of the people can be heard and can be loud enough to bring about government change. My hope is that they will apply what they have learned in the Mabira Forest Reserve to make the changes needed in their education system, and to save the Nile for future rafters.

Soft Power Education: Dreaming Big

By Katie Cryan


a mural painted by Soft Power volunteers, Kalungami, Jinja (photo: Paula Longo)

Jinja, Uganda– Today was a very inspiring day to say the least. Not only were we able to experience the workings of a Ugandan Secondary Education (USE) school, but also understand and introduce ourselves to Soft Power Education. Soft Power Education is an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) located within the United Kingdom and Uganda. From our time spent at Soft Power, we were able to recognize the benefits and the help this organization has provide to many Ugandan students and schools.

Through our tour within the Soft Power Education headquarters in Jinja, we were able to understand the organization’s goals to help create a clean, equipped, fun, and safe learning environment in schools so that students are able to have a positive learning experience, and are able to have a passion and will to succeed. It was clear to us that Soft Power is changing many lives. In other words, children who experience poverty are now able to dream big, find encouragement, and believe that there is hope.

Although it can be difficult to see children and schools experience the effects of poverty, Soft Power Education seems to overcome the odds and provide a better educational system to a variety of schools. Furthermore, my group had the opportunity to understand how the smallest changes in a school can affect a child’s learning experience in a positive way. As a result, this organization has the ability to bring forth a brighter future, and empower tomorrow’s leaders.

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