I wanted to write you a letter

‘I Wanted To Write You a Letter’ was the title of the first poem I taught here, and it seemed an appropriate title to describe the wonderful day I have had at Kirima Primary School today.

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P7 concentrating on their letters

Valence allowed me to take the English lesson with P7, which is the oldest group in the school. It covers what we would consider the first two years of Secondary School here; some of the pupils were 14 years old, going up to 15. Children here are kept back a year if they don’t pass their end of year exams.

We talked about some of the differences between their lives, and those of children in England. These children board at the school, going home only in the holidays. Their day starts at 5am – yes, you did read that right ! And lessons start at 7.15 . They were astonished when I told them that most English children would still be in bed at that time!

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A teacher puts the final touches to the maize porridge in the staffroom

They have a repetitive diet, some of which is described in the letters. I had some of the maize porridge  which is served to teachers at morning break. It looks rather like wallpaper paste, with a similar consistency. Ground maize and water are clearly the main ingredients, but I think there must be something else to create that gloopy nature. I have to say, I quite liked it, but for Steve it was too reminiscent of semolina puddings at school.

The aim of the lesson was for them to write something of their lives in a letter, which I shall take back to England and use in local primary schools. It is a sobering thought that in most letters, they talk about the jobs they have to do when they go home for the holidays – collecting water, hoeing, fetching firewood, looking after cattle or goats.

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I am hoping to set up if only a brief correspondence with an English child, so that there is some exchange of culture, experiences and ideas. There will be a photo of each child to accompany their letter.

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What care they took! Their concentration was amazing – so quiet and focused! Even when I took a short video of them working, most of them had no idea I was doing it.

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They asked if they could decorate their letters. Of course! A few stubby coloured pencils were found and shared. Valence said that they wanted to colour them, because the letters were special for them, and they wouldn’t want to send them without a personal touch to each one.

Meanwhile, Steve was working with Denis, the headteacher, offering him some more training in using the computer to facilitate record-keeping, and thereby freeing up some precious time.

After lunch, I returned because I wanted to see a debate. Denis introduced debating about four years ago, and P6 and P7 lock horns in a war of words, as do P4 and P5. Every Friday afternoon there is a debate, followed by an inspection of the dorms. Today’s debate: is village life better than town life?

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What an excellent idea this seems to me! It develops confidence and language skills. (Remember, for these pupils, English is their second language). It promotes tolerance and a respect for procedural rules. These pupils are given the motion to debate earlier in the week, and they not only decide amongst themselves who is going to chair, be time- keeper, secretary , proposers and opposers, but they also run the whole debate themselves. Teachers can join in by asking questions/ raising points from the floor, like everyone else. There was a steady stream of eager people who wanted to take the main speakers to task about some aspect of their points.

One unfortunate speaker was admonished on a point of order – ‘Should a speaker be permitted to present his case with his shirt hanging loose?’ He duly tucked it in before being allowed to continue.

I was really impressed. Much of what was said, I couldn’t hear – they tend to speak very softly – and the Ugandan accent is not always easy to fathom. However, it was clearly a successful activity in so many ways.

We now have five days left before we leave Uganda. I’m sure there will be more to share with you over those few days!

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4 thoughts on “I wanted to write you a letter

  1. I found the pupils’ letters really moving. The weekly debate is an excellent idea ; with our current emphasis on league tables, inspections etc,I doubt whether many schools here have time for something so valuable.

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  2. I have so much enjoyed reading your blog, Gill, and can hardly believe that your visit is almost over. You have packed so much into your time in Kanungu and I am sure that you and Steve will return to the UK with a fresh perspective on the ease and comfort of our lives here – the wonders of our postal system, uninterrupted water and power, and tarmac roads, for starters, but most of all, the stark contrast between children’s lives in Uganda and the UK. I am sure that your teaching skills have been much appreciated by both staff and pupils and been of real benefit to them. The letters and photos are such a good idea and hopefully will lead to some links with schools here. Have a safe journey home!

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    • Thanks Julia! Our adventure is not quite over- we have had an amazing day today, which I will add to the blogs later, and then we’re off to Queen Elizabeth National Park before making our way to Entebbe.

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