Sunday, September 18, 2016

We split into four groups today. Dave M. and Larry went to the Kishaki Sub-Parish Catholic Church; Dave V., Nena, and Sheryl went to the Hukaaka Anglican Church; Lisa went to Uganda Martyrs Catholic Church; and Sue, Karen, Nancy, Roger, and I, accompanied by Josiah and Maurice, went to visit Jackson Kaguri's Nayaka School. I will report on the school visit; the church reports will be in another blog post.

Jackson Kaguri is a Ugandan who now lives in Michigan -- he worked for some time at Michigan State University but now devotes all of his time to the school he built in his home village. He told his story in the book, "The Price of Stones" -- if you haven't read it, you might want to check it out. Sue, Karen, and Nancy met with him in Michigan and we are in the early stages of exploring the idea of building our own ACT school, so we were all eager to visit Nyaka.

The school is located approximately 50 km north of Kabale. Going pretty much straight up into the mountains on a 2-track red dirt road, this translates to an extremely bumpy 3-hour bus ride. Fortunately, it's a spectacularly beautiful drive. For part of the time we were traveling through the Mafuga Central Forest Reserve -- largely eucalyptus and pine forest. Several areas had been clear cut -- this land is then available for public use as farmland for a year or two or three until the government replants trees. There was also permanent farmland. We saw all sorts of crops growing: millet, wheat, rice, cassava, eggplants (the Ugandan variety), groundnuts. Not to mention the banana plantations and tea plantations covering very steep mountainsides. Maurice was delighted with the tea plantations when we passed a sign identifying the district as Kayonza -- it's the tea she regularly buys, but she hadn't realized where it is grown.

The school is beautiful, with brick and cement walls and a Versatile roof (tin that is formed and painted to look like red tiles). It absolutely surpassed anything we've seen in Uganda so far -- clear evidence of what money can do, and an indirect testimony to how much has been accomplished with how little in other schools we've seen. Jackson Kaguri started his school with one class (grade level). The next year he added a class. Then another and another.

We first saw the secondary school. It was large, full of light, and very clean. Currently, it houses 104 students in the Secondary 1 and 2 classes and there are plans for adding S3 next year and S4 the following year. The classrooms are basic -- desks (mostly individual), and a large blackboard. There is also a computer lab with 50 computers, and a biology lab with benches that have sinks and Bunsen burners. All of this is protected by a pretty modern looking security system, plus multiple locks on all doors. A separate building is reserved for vocational education. There are two large dormitories. The boys' dorm is, as they said, habitable, though the outside walls don't yet have the second layer of more decorative brick. The girls' dorm isn't finished inside or out -- and the students are due on Sunday. An entire team of construction workers is rushing to get everything ready.

After the secondary school, we got to see the library. It operates on a subscription basis: for 50,000 shillings/year (approximately $18/year or $1.50/month) you can check out books. Anyone can use the reading rooms for free, and there are often up to 100 people there reading and socializing. One reading room had tables and chairs; another had armchairs and coffee service. A large community meeting room and a small community computer room (utilizing older computers) complete the campus.

The primary school was much smaller than the secondary school because it isn't a boarding school. The children come to school for breakfast and also have lunch, but they go home after classes. This school was bright and cheerful, painted white and purple, with large windows that let lots of light into the classrooms.

Last, we went to see the grandmothers (mukaakas). All of the children at Nyaka schools are orphans; a few are HIV positive and some others are considered vulnerable. They live with guardians, most often family members -- hence the generic term, grandmothers. Very early in the operation of the school, teachers noticed that many children were coming to school dirty, poorly clothed, and hungry. Children fell asleep in class by 10:00 in the morning and were having a hard time learning. So they decided to investigate. They followed the children home and found dismal conditions. This led to the establishment of the first grandmothers group. The women meet together once a month for a variety of lessons -- hygiene, nutrition, etc. They are helped with their housing -- the Nyaka funding provides complete houses where there were none, or supplements existing houses with kitchens or pit latrines where they are needed. The women also work together on projects based on micro- financing. There are now 92 grandmother groups in the district, serving 7000 women. (Only the original one, with 72 members, includes women whose children attend Nyaka schools). The women greeted us with an enthusiastic Rukiga song and dance, after which we talked, through an interpreter, about their programs and about what we do in Muko with ACT.

The return to Kabale was as beautiful as the ascent up the mountains had been in the morning. We were worried all the way back that it would start to rain -- the combination of the dirt road and the steep slope would have made for dangerous conditions. The rain, however, held off until at least 10 minutes after we arrived back at the hotel!

Below: Scenery on the road; secondary school; computer lab; library (photos by Ellie).