By Katie Frain
Masindi, Uganda– Today we met Maz Robertson, the regional manager of Soft Power Education’s “People and Parks” Project. She brought us to two primary schools that receive support from Soft Power Education, St. John Bosco and St. Joseph Busingiro.
Both of these schools were located in the Buliisa district, a rural area near Murchison Falls National Park. Driving to these schools allowed us to see some of the true beauty that is Uganda. I could not get over how picturesque it was, but then seeing the conditions of the schools and students reminded me that there are children and families suffering in this beautiful world.
We first went to St. John Bosco, a community-run primary school serving about 125 students in P1 through P6. As soon as we pulled up, we could see that this was a very rural school. It had one building that Soft Power built for the school in 2012, a solid new building with three classrooms; students were also studying in simple community church building on the school grounds, a structure that was made of wood and clay. The school also had a small playground with new play equipment consisting of six swings and a slide. In addition, the school had a new pit latrine and water cistern. All around the school grounds, crops grew.
When we looked into the classrooms, I was expecting to see rows of long desks and a big chalkboard in the front of the room like I had seen in many of the other Ugandan schools we have visited. To my surprise, however, one of the classrooms was split in half, with a plastic sheeting curtain and a small chalkboard at the front.
In the clay building there were no chalkboards and it was pretty dark; I can only imagine how difficult it would be to teach and to learn in such an environment. It saddened me to see that none of the students wore shoes and to hear these students asking for sweets and water, when at their age I just got handed these things.
At the end of our visit we got a warm goodbye performance from the students, including songs, dancing, and poetry. When the students were singing I noticed one boy who was sitting on a watering can, using the bottom of it as a drum. I thought that was pretty clever and at then realized that these students must be so resourceful with everything they find. I hope that their resourcefulness will stay with them; who knows maybe we met some future inventors.
The second school we went to was St. Joseph Busingiro Primary, a public school serving over 1000 students. To me, this school looked more similar to other schools we have been to. However, when we had the chance to go into some classes, some of the first things I noticed were that there were students sitting on the floor with their notebooks in their laps because there were no more seats for them.
I felt guilty that they had a set an empty desk off to the side for us to sit in while the students had to work on the floor. Despite the fact that these kids didn’t have much, they were still students. They listened and actively participated for their teacher, just like any other child in the world.
I loved our visit to The Soft Power schools and I would love to come back to volunteer. I think that Soft Power is doing such powerful work and helping so many students. Without this organization these children may not have had the opportunity to have school buildings.