Written by Sarah Zelinski:
Here on the goat project, we work with more than just animals and have been taking some time to visit a couple primary schools in the district we have been working in. June 16th (sorry, this entry is a little late) is the Day of the African Child, which started in South Africa in 1991 after an uprising of black students demanded better rights to quality education. I (Sarah) didn’t get a chance to take part in the festivities last year, so we talked to Boaz (FAOC’s director) and he set things up for us to visit Rustya Primary School for the day. In typical Ugandan fashion we arrived at 10am, the start time for the day, and the kids were still setting up the tarps and tents. Chaos would break if they saw a bunch of muzungus leave the vehicle, so we drove past the school to give them time to organize themselves without distractions. While waiting, we remembered there was a young puppy a short drive away that we considered rescuing a week prior. Silas, a long time friend of Dr. Claire and Dr. Laura, told us earlier in the summer that he was looking for a puppy so we were keeping our eyes open for one we could save from village life and give to him. The school was going to take at least another 45 min or so (in actuality it ended up being a solid two hours) so we left in search of the dog. To our luck the woman who owned the dog was home and for only 20,000USH (about $8) he would be ours and we planned on picking him up at the end of the day.
Rustya Primary School has a little over 300 students, but is unique in that about a third of them are special needs children; mostly deaf children and those with unspecified mental handicaps. The school also boards several special needs children who cannot travel daily from home to school and back. The beginning of the day started with a tour of the school for the guests and parents where we saw the sleeping quarters, the mostly bare classrooms and the grounds. According to the agenda, following the tour there would be several speeches, lunch and lastly free time to play with the kids before everyone went home. However, since the speeches only started around noon, lunch and the afternoon would likely be postponed… and postponed it was. There was speech, after speech, after speech, all in the local language, with no breaks. Fortunately, I was sitting beside Joseph who was paraphrasing it all for me. (Also of note, there was someone performing sign language throughout the speeches for the deaf children which I thought was incredible.) Everything was directed at the parents and the speeches tried to emphasize the importance of keeping children in school and educating them would give them a chance at a better life. They also talked about how the children need proper nutrition to learn, asking the parents to send their kids to school with lunches, as the school doesn’t always have enough food for the kids. Lastly, they asked parents to discuss financial issues with the school instead of pulling children out of school if they cannot afford it.
After the speeches, it was time for awards for students that worked really hard, had outstanding grades and good attendance. Along with local chairpeople, directors of various educational programs and the school, us VWB interns stood in a row, shaking hands and congratulating the students receiving awards. The award? Three small notebooks that cost about 17 cents each at the local grocery store. When these kids often don’t even have a pencil or paper to take notes, these notebooks can make a huge difference. Dozens of children received the awards, some receiving multiple books. We was really pleased to see many special needs children being awarded as well.
When these awards were done it was time for us to present some donations we (and Laura) brought from home or bought here – activity books, stickers, markers, pencils and erasers, crayons, paper, VWB bandanas and a soccer ball. The bandanas were given to the school net ball team, as they were given new uniforms that day while the rest were given to the school to distribute. I was asked to present the donations – the crowd went wild when they saw the soccer ball – and give a little speech, so I thanked the school for having us and did my best to use my motivational skills to explain the importance of staying in school to be successful later in life. Maybe hearing it from a muzungu will have a longer lasting impact? Let’s hope. Let’s also hope that everything I said was translated properly as a local news crew was filming most of the day! So if anyone tuned into Local News West that day let us know how we looked! Ha!
After all the festivities we bought the village dog I mentioned earlier and made our way back home. “Puppy” or “Benji”, depending which one of us you ask, was covered in ticks, fleas, had a round belly full of worms and at the same time was nothing but skin and bones. He was terrified of people but was also so weak that he didn’t really move or try to get away once he was picked up. The first thing we did when we brought him in the house was give him a serious, serious bath; he smelled foul. By the end of the night he started to warm up to us and we were able to get him to eat if we hand fed him. As the week progressed, so did he! Deworming him was the single most important thing in improving his character; he was a new puppy once all the worms were out! We also were able to locate a rabies vaccine and a distemper/parvo combination one for him. All week we home cooked for him and his appetite came back with a force! Despite still being a little fearful, he eventually trusted us enough to play a little and followed us all around the house. It was so nice to come home from “work” and be greeted with a wagging tail again!
The work in the field continued to be the same as previous weeks, although this week we were held up from getting as much done as we would like due to intense rain storms and a community wedding.
Anyways, before this gets too long we’ll stop here for now!
Group Photo at the end of the awards:
In one of the classrooms- the kids get so excited to see pictures of themselves!
Our puppy all cleaned up!
Students performing the traditional dances for the guests
The netball team in their new jerseys and bandannas- don’t the look great?!
We got a chance to play with the children at the end of the day