A test of ingenuity

22nd June 2001 at 01:00
In part two of our series, Rose Taylor and Carolyn O'Grady join the volunteers on a training course t a training weekend organised by Link Community Development, Tina March (on the right) and Gill Bradnam were given an insight into what they will find in Uganda on their five-week summer assignment. Eighteen teachers listened to descriptions of life in the rural north-western Masindi district, and talks on development education and health issues from experts and teachers who had been before.

"What struck me especially was the absolute poverty," said Tina. "No toys, no games. Shoes are made of rubber tyres and children wear clothes until they fall off them, but they seem a happy people."

The UK teachers will board with local families. Their main tasks will be to mentor Ugandan teachers, organise in-service training and help with school management.

Many African teachers haven't had much training and yet have extremely large classes - 70 plus is not unusual - with children of varying abilities and ages: "A challenge for the most highly trained, experienced teacher anywhere," said Tina admiringly. Classrooms are crowded - three children sometimes occupy one desk - and resorces are very limited. "Occasionally, the resources are there but teachers don't know how to use them, due to lack of training," said Tina. Volunteers are encouraged to take items with them, including pencils, scissors and glue.

Concerns about health were raised. "Conditions will be challenging and sanitation difficult," said Gill. Refrigerators are non-existent; some schools have no toilets and there will be no running water or electricity. Care will have to be taken to cook food well and to drink only bottled or boiled water. Advice was also given on Aids, precautions to take if someone is bleeding, for example.

In terms of education and day-to-day living, the volunteers will be required to be extremely flexible and imaginative. "Altogether it will be a test of our ingenuity," said Gill. "They told us to be prepared to have real lows and real highs; and to expect it to have a profound effect on our lives."

"Those who had been before said that, on returning home, they often asked themselves why people got so fussed about small things. We will be in a situation where people are struggling to stay alive. It is all bound to make us review our priorities."

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