In the face of adversity

21st September 2001 at 01:00
A thunderstorm blew the roof off a classroom in Kigumba Church of Uganda primary school while Tina March was teaching there. It brought the number of usable classrooms at the 1,128-pupil school down to seven. And it helped her understand why a key point in the school's development plan is to buy eucalyptus seeds, clear some ground and plant them to raise money for school funds by selling the trees in three years time.

Gill Bradnam says teachers in Uganda's rural areas earn around pound;50 a month: "Most teachers grow crops to help support their families. They work in their gardens as soon as it's light, about 6am, before coming to school, then again after school, and take their produce to sell at the local market."

Working with teachers, heads and local advisers, Gill and Tina suggested changes - introducing team-teaching, priority planning, even a mini-literacy hour - while being very much aware that they were outsiders, though welcome ones. Gill explains: "The whole time we were saying: these are the things that work in England, you need to consider if they would work here. They were saying 'Tell me what I am doing wrong' and the positive thing for me was being able to reinforce the good things, to say 'These are the things you are doing right and now you need to develop them'."

Living in with teachers from their schools, Tina and Gill were the only white people ever to have stayed in their villages. "Children would come up to you in the street and touch your skin to see if the colour came off," says Tina.

They were overwhelmed by the hospitality: "They would get up at 5.30am to heat water over the charcoal burner so you could wash," says Gill. "And parents would come up to me and say: 'Thank you so much for what you are doing for our children, for what you are doing for Uganda'."

Illness was common: adults and children died during the teachers' five weeks there, and life expectancy is around 40. But what the teachers will remember, says Tina, is "the warmth, the generosity, the total acceptance of us and our quirky European ways."

Karen Gold

Read about how Tina and Gill use their African experience back home in the November issue of TES Primary

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