23 October 2008

Tambula, Tambula, Tambula (Movin', movin', movin')

It's been a little while since I've updated, so first let me say what's going on with work. I've listed things in order of effort and excitement, so if they start to get boring, well, you passed all the "good" stuff so just scroll down to the picture:

  1. Computer Training & Lab

    The computer lab is well on its way. For a while we were hung up on the fact that the parents were not well informed, and frustratingly, the PTA meeting kept being delayed1. However, when we finally did meet, I gave a presentation answering the five questions, "Why? What? Who? How? When?", explaining different aspects of our computer lab project to a double roomful (~150) parents. The presentation went well and directly afterwards we voted in an 11-member Management Committee to deliberate and decide on the details of the lab.

    Meeting for the first time a couple rainy days ago, the management committee has already proved itself to be autonomous and dedicated. I prepared a little presentation and then was a bit bummed when it started raining pretty decently at 3:50pm before our 4pm meeting. As I set up the room I began writing this update in my head beginning like this:

    Unfortunately, the management committee didn't meet because it was raining. In Uganda pretty much everything stops when it rains and you can expect people to meet up with you hours late (which is also normal for good weather) if they manage to show up at all.

    This group of 11 people defied my Ugandan reality by showing up on-time, or at most, a half an hour late and then taking the discussions and decisions directly into their own hands. I was practically bubbling with praise at the end, and still it deserves saying that I was impressed by Uganda and Ugandans that day. As I post this, the committee will be having a meeting with all the pupils to inform them about the computer lab, and send home children who's parents haven't yet added their 1500 UGX contribution2.

    As for a current funds update, please refer to this lovely graph:
    I have a very similar analog version of this graph up in the school's office to track donations. For the last two weeks it's required updating every other day because of the speed that the Kayonza contribution side, which is heartening. Also, we've stalled on the American base donations, so if you know someone that might be interested in giving a few bucks (less likely in the current economic climate, but still) please pass on this link: Uganda Jones - helping to build a computer lab in rural Africa. I've recently updated the text with some alluring sentence structure, although I may have broken parts of the page with my wordiness. Anyway, we hope to complete all our funds by the end of November, place the order at the beginning of December, which should allow the computers to get here by February and leave us with three more months to set up and smooth things out while I'm still around. Much to do, but it's seeming more and more doable.

    In other computer news, training of teachers is continuing with Yeko and Wasswa producing some valuable work. They've been creating score-sheets for the P7 (read 6th grade) pupils based on mock exams so we can analyze what their performance is likely to be on the PLE (Primary Leaving Exam)3. Before it used to take four days to compile, score, convert, and find the position numbers of the pupils, now it can be done (with a snazzy printed final document) in a couple hours. Although I'm wary to use this loaded term, here goes... DEVELOPMENT! FTW!

  2. Reading Club

    After using a US Embassy program to get 20 copies of Freak the Mighty (about a 5th grade level chapter book), I have been holding regular classes to read it with the S3s and S4s (~Freshmen & ~Sophomores) at Nalinya Secondary. This mini-project alternates between crazy frustrating when the students are goofing off, or not responding, or just plain not trying very hard to understand the story; to really fun and rewarding as we act out different parts of the story or different vocab that they don't know yet. As it's written from the perspective of a 6th grader, vocab has been a lot of, "Oh, moron is just another abuse that means stupid person, similar to butthead, goon,doofus,etc."

    Also, we were very lucky to be visited by the Ambassador's wife, Susan Browning. She not only discussed the book with the students, she and her crew also brought all this fancy equipment (which looked really out of place in the dusty, brick/tin village classroom) and showed a number of little video snippets about the changes in US elections as the internet and youth start having more influence. It was actually really cool for me to see because I've been so removed from the election-ballyhoo over here and hadn't heard of the whole "Macaca" thing or numerous other big pieces of news. But, it's kind of nice to have a little distance from the overzealousness of the US media. But, (I know, two sentences beginning with "But"?!) trying to decide who to vote for was especially difficult without internet.

  3. VSLA4

    Both of my VSLAs are going well. The one with Kayonza teachers has been operating well by itself for the last two months and they've decided they'd like to share out (divide up all the assets saved in a metal box and begin again), which will be nice because I thought they may have to do this alone after I left. My other VSLA, among mostly poorer women farmers in another town, is doing well and will begin giving out loans in a couple weeks.
  4. Teaching Teachers Music

    Last Saturday, I began teaching our PTE student teachers in Music, a subject many of them have said they struggle with. As we don't have any books or even old tests on music, my first lesson came completely from memory (Mom, piano lessons finally paid off). I taught them the notes, and how to write them (and memorize the lines) of the bass and treble clef. I really do need a resource, though, so I don't keep drawing my bass clef signs backwards and beginning the lesson by saying there's 8 notes, when there's only 7. Stupid octave, throwing me off.

    In related news, a new tutor (teacher trainer and my counterpart) has been placed at my school, Arthur. So far, he's been great. He's a bit younger, he's dedicated, and wonderfully, he communicates with me. Although I'm busy with a lot of other projects, he's a major improvement on my old (now retired?) counterpart and I look forward to working more with him in the future.


And, just to make sure that you don't worry I'm working too much, here's a photo from an annual PCV get together called Goat Stock. It's our Halloween-ish type get together and I'm only going to give you one Clue as to what we're dressed up as.

    Letters/Packages Sent/Received

  • To Jay: a pen pal letter from Mukhama Godfrey.
  • To Michelle: an overdue reply, but I think a decent one. ps, I forgot to make a photocopy of it, so I'll likely forget everything that I said by the time I get your reply...still.
  • From Allie: two amazing and huge packages filled with goodies: candy, beef jerky, more candy, a soccer ball, a shirt, and some lovely postcards about the beautiful Finger Lakes region and, of course, Canandaigua. YOU ARE A-MAZING!

    Really sleepy now5, Loves to all,



    1 - I'm not sure how transfers work in the U.S. for principals, but here they're a bit annoying. There's this thing called a "hand-over" which is where the old and new headmaster get together and sign some documents, especially things like the assets of the school and stuff. I don't know exactly what the problem was, but it took 3 weeks for this to happen. I think it had to do with the schedule of my old headmaster (thankfully, the new headmaster, John Bwire, seems to be very much more on-top-of-things). So, that's three weeks where I was getting more and more nervous that we didn't have any money from the Kayonza side. Three weeks where nothing was moving except the deadlines drawing near.

    2 - The exchange rate is about 1600UGX per dollar, so the contribution we're asking for each child is about that. Sounds like too little? Consider that most parents here would easily fall under the poverty definition of living on less than a dollar a day. So, to compare to US standards, a person making $30,000 per year lives on about ($30,000/365)=>$82 a day. So, in rough equivalency terms that's like paying $82 per child, which can be pretty steep considering that many parents have at least three kids at school.

    3 - Here's an "expensive" spreadsheet IF function I helped them write to give scores for certain grade ranges (they don't use A,B,C,D,F or the 4.0 scale): =if(C2<35,9,if(C2<40,8,if(C2<50,7,if(C2<55,6,if(C2<60,5,if(C2<65,4,if(C2<75,3,if(C2<85,2,1,))))))))

    Pretty intense nesting, huh?

    4 - Village Savings and Loan Association. This is a really nice and simple program providing financial services (banking) to people that want to save small amounts and live in remote locations. "Really nice" doesn't do it justice. Really.

    5 - It's after 1 am and I have to get up in about 3 hours to catch the early taxi to Kampala.

    6 - This is a reward to anyone who's read this far and still bothered to be checking the footnotes. Your reward is a juicy piece of truncated gossip: I have a date tomorrow ;).