A day in a School in Africa
Saint Andrew's Nursery and Primary School -Kampala-Uganda
It is early in the morning, some of the teachers are arriving at Saint Andrew's Nursery and Primary School. The headmaster arrived just at dawn. There is the sound of roosters, some children laughing from nearby houses, there is another call to prayer from a nearby mosque. Teachers are unlocking the classrooms, the wooden shutters are opened...Another day is beginning for the teachers and children at Saint Andrews.
If you walk or drive by, you have to take a second look to see it as a school unless the children are out during break. Saint Andrew's is a collection of buildings that were put together over time, in places it looks like a glorified chicken coop. The buildings are not fully enclosed in places, the wooden siding has holes in it, there are some flower pots and plants outside of the office, and the picket fence in front of the school was painted during the Christmas recess.
Though the school is named Saint Andrew's it is made up of children from both Christian and Muslim backgrounds reflecting the surrounding neighborhood of Kansanga where you see men and women in Muslim garb and on Sunday you see Christians moving toward their Sunday's finest.
Aisha is the first student to arrive this morning, she could not wait for daylight to arrive when she could get ready for school. Home was a sad place, she lived in small one room house, abutted by other such dwellings. Mother leaves for work early in the morning and comes home late in the evening. Aisha has to fix her own food more often than not, but often there is nothing to prepare and this morning Aisha was on her way to Saint Andrew. At school she felt safe and secure, she loved her teacher who was kind to her and allowed her to enter early and often stay late.
Victor entered the school compound after Aisha and the Headmaster saw him. That morning the he had looked at the account of each student and how much they owed to the school. Victor N was several months behind in school fees, even though by Western Standards 25 USD was not a lot of money for a term, but here in Kansanga it was a lot of money. Victor attended here because near where he lived he had already been dismissed since his family could not afford the fees. The walk to Saint Andrew was a long one and this morning he was met by the Headmaster, Victor trembled, knowing what was coming, they were behind on school fees and he would sent home, once again chased away. His empty stomach trembled. He did well in school and was the first one in his class. He softly greeted the headmaster who was kind of him, but send him away back for being behind. Victor cried as he walked back up to the main road for the long walk home, his stomach growling.
Children are now coming from everywhere, it is 7 am in the morning. There is lively chatter especially in the lower children struggle in from their nearby homes, wearing uniforms, some have a container of food for the morning break. For most the stomach is empty and if they have eaten it is the food from the night before.
Schools has begun, the morning prayers have been said and the younger classes have started to recite some letters and numbers, others are turning in their homework. Rain is coming down by now, you can hear the patter on the iron sheets as they are called here, the wind is whipping the rain through the walls, the children move into the center of the classroom in order to avoid getting soaked as the rain comes in through the sides and open spaces near the roof. There is no electricity so no lights to illuminate the classrooms as heavy raincloud hang overhead.
In the classrooms, these children have a blackboard where the teacher can write in, may schools may not have one, but there are no text books, it is oral instruction and homework is given in on the blackboard for the younger children who copied it into their exercise books. There are some old, gilded posters on the walls, posters that have seen a better day, there are simply no learning tools, much less something like audiovisual tools for them.
The older children have a few textbooks which they place on the tables in front of them, but there is no money for a teacher for the sixth and seventh grade. Classes made up of mostly boys, the girls have dropped out in many cases for lack of money, it being deemed more of a necessity to educate boys than girls.
It is morning recess, those who have food and drink bring it out of the backpack, others may have 25 cents in Shillings and buy a Somoza for 15 cents and a fruit flavored drink for 5 cents. Others simply sit there hoping that those who brought something would share it. Aisha is sitting there with nothing, hoping, He teacher walks over and gives her a portion of her snack. Aisha is thankful and someday she wants to be a teachers helping children just like herself now.
It is also toilet time, children wait in long lines, each one a bit of toilet paper in their hand. Afterwards there is a small tank of water where they can wash their hands, but no soap. (40 percent of childhood diseases can be eliminated through proper hygiene, but if there is no money, there is no soap, and water costs 10 cents for a 20 liter jerry can)
There is no playground, so they improvise some games. There used to be a swing, but someone removed during Christmas break. It simply vanished.
Back into classroom where well meaning teachers do their best. Most teachers in the west would love teaching the children here. Children here simply obey and do not question an authority figure, The children are generally well mannered and practice their cultural etiquette such as girls kneeling before the teacher and wishing them a good day, boys of younger age will also do so. Classroom discipline would be considered strict and firm. Though there are limits for corporal punishment, it is widely practiced both in school and home.
At 1:30 pm all children break for lunch, the younger kids are done for the day unless their parents have arranged and paid for what is referred to as coaching where children receive some individual attention and instructions in helping them to overcome their weaknesses. The older children continue in class until well past 5 pm, a ten hour day in school.
Life is tough in Kansanga for children, there are no playgrounds, there is not one swing found in the area, if you want to play football (soccer) you have to walk a distance to the swampy area below. Children do not have any toys at home, there are no books to read for pleasure. Most children do not have much time to play since they at an early have to do chores around the house such as cleaning pots, pans and plates. This is done by hand with a Laundry bar soap that is filled with phosphates and simply hard on young hands. Children will wash clothes and that includes boys, iron them, cook food while mother might be working. There is the cleaning of the house. At lunch time one can only hope that there will be some food to eat. Some of the children like Aisha remain at school since there is no one at home for them.
The children at Saint Andrew's come from poor homes where there is barely enough money for food. Where there is over 50% unemployment. Some of the parents may be ill with AIDS, Tuberculosis, and a myriad of other diseases the beset Africa's poor. Absent fathers and even mothers are the rule of the day, it is rare that one of these children is living in normally functioning family with father and mother in the home. In the midst of all of that there is not much time for play, life is simply tough. "Give us our daily Matoke (plantain banana) becomes the daily prayer, worries about school fees for children, worries about rent for the house which for most may run between 20 and 50 USD a month, just a room in most cases, no ceiling, maybe some mats, no kitchen, you cook on a charcoal stove on the ground with aluminum pots. Children often sleep on mats on the floor of their homes.
At school, life continuous to be quite tough. It is all about learning, children are ranked and often the ranking as to their performance in the classroom is posted for all to see. At the end of the term there are tests and children are once again ranked like 15th out of 50 students. Children often go to school ill since there is no one at home. Malaria, dysentery, severe colds are common and teachers do their best.
It is late afternoon in Kansanga, children have returned home, it is time for chores such as cleaning, mopping, doing laundry, fetching water and home work. Few homes have TV and if you have it, down in the valley of Kansanga the reception is simply bad, so off to bed they go, many with empty stomachs, hoping for a better day tomorrow.
A school such as Saint Andrew costs money. There is tuition of 20 to 40 USD depending on the grace that they are in. This is paid every three months. Children are allowed into school with little money but the rest has to paid periodically. A child is required to bring 8 rolls of toilet paper to school, 12 exercise books, 12 pencils, Uniform, sportswear, shoes and sneakers. For a Ugandan family that can be simply too expensive, yet it is the only way out.
The school itself is poor, the location means people break in and steal what is there. The buildings are in need of repair, the roofs need help, the toilets need improvement and additions. The teachers work with what they have, the headmaster's heart to is build a school that is a springboard to a better life and the way of breaking the cycle of poverty in the lives of the children.
This would be a terrific project for a short term volunteers team to come and make a difference in the lives of the children of Saint Andrew. From behind Saint Andrew's school where I used to live in Kansanga-Kampala...jon
August 23-2009: A few months back, I received an email from Romania...a young business man interested in Africa and doing something for two weeks while here. On the 16th of August I met Razvan and Gabi. Gabi is in advertising, Razvan works for Heineken Beer in Rommania-hmmm- neither one had a background with children but were quite aware of the deep needs here in Uganda.
I took them to Saint Andrew's School and they met the head master - they saw the dilapidated state of the school and put their own money to work restoring the outside walls of several classrooms and even repainting them, then painting the insides of two classrooms. Hiring an artist to put the pictures back on the walls that had been there.
Though the children were on holidays, they came to see what was happening to their school with two Muzungus working there along with Ugandans making their school a better place.
Razvan and Gabi have given of themselves and their resources, made friends in Uganda, made a difference in the lives of children. Two men on their own, deciding to do something with lasting effects . Thank you on behalf of the children and Teachers of Saint Andrew's Primary School in Kansanga, Uganda. Here are some pictures of them at work at the school.
See Africa's Children in Pictures on pages 1,2, 3, 4,5,6.
African Insights Blog: Saint Andrew's Primary School in Kampala, Uganda receives a library
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