By Margarita Rose
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.
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.
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.
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.