In November 2013 we launched our first Follow Your Dollar campaign where we asked you our customer, to tell us how you would help Cotton On Foundation and our goal to break the cycle of poverty in Southern Uganda.
Kate, a primary school teacher from Torquay in Australia got to follow her dollar all the way to Uganda! Kate has come home with a beautifully written diary where she recounts some of the beautiful experiences from her trip. This is the first entry in a three part series.
Today we arrived in Mannya and what an arrival. I was tired, overwhelmed by the trip and the images seen during the car ride. I was just emotional. We pulled up to the staff head quarters and I see a sea of young children, all wearing green uniforms, all with short hair and big, beautiful, brown eyes that I could look into forever. They were singing, clapping and completely surrounded me, touching my white skin. I was overwhelmed by their kindness, their happy smiles and their affection...I just cried. A moment I’ll never forget.
I was welcomed by teachers, Cotton On Foundation staff and the village’s Parish Priest, Father Nestus. We then sat and had lunch and shared stories about my flight over and the delay in Qatar!
I then went with Jimmy (the Mannya Village Education Coordinator) to the kindergarten. I am in LOVE with those children. They are so adorable, kind, respectful and funny. This Sunday the top kindergarten class are graduating so I was invited to watch their performances. Wow! They were amazing. There was a trainer who choreographed all their moves. They were in sync with one another and I couldn’t believe those children, so young, had learnt all that only in one week. That would take us at least three weeks to do back home in Australia!
There were kind words exchanged between the head teacher, Jimmy and myself. I never realised the impact I had, all the way from Australia and that was evident during their kind words. They are so grateful that I was there visiting and was able to follow my dollar to Mannya.
After the kindergarten visit, I slept!
I began my day with having breakfast with Father Nestus, Father Joseph and a young boy training to become a priest. The conversation was great, Father Nestus and I spoke a lot about education and the similarities and differences. We also spoke about religion and a lot about the African Tribes and their beliefs. Nestus explained that the Tribes have little understanding of health care and education and how this is proving to be a huge challenge for the African people. Father and I also spoke about how excited the Mannya village is for Christmas Day and how Australian’s celebrate Christmas, which is very similar.
Jimmy and I then went to visit the primary school; St. Bernard’s and met with the head teacher, Florence. We sat and spoke for around 2-3 hours, discussing how their school runs, their successes and their challenges. From talking with Florence I could see she was firm, dedicated, committed, passionate and caring. St. Nicholas is now one of the top schools in the district and now a model school for others to come see and learn from.
Florence showed me all her reporting, documents, student assessment and student reports. Her office was very basic but quite refreshing to see. She has posters around her office clearly stating:
· Teacher responsibilities
· Students responsibilities
· Head teacher and deputy responsibilities
· School objectives
· Mission and vision statements
· Parent expectations
· 30% students, 30% parent and 40% teacher creates results
And the list goes on. The posters were bright, simple and straight to the point. Not full of page after page documents.
When I walked around the primary class rooms they were basic but the students were focussed. I didn’t ask about how they engage their students because in reality majority of students are always engaged. They have to be engaged to help break the poverty cycle. These students being allowed to access a classroom is engagement. It allows me to reflect on what we expect from the children at my school but also what they expect from us.
The students at St. Nicholas are doing very well. One classroom I walked into, the teacher was teaching difficult algebra. The students relate and learn best when the connection can be made to real life problems, so the children of Mannya relate a lot of their learning to family business and gain the skills early, to help their family.
Jimmy, Florence and I ended our session drinking tea (with half a cup of sugar, I swear!) and eating a local food called chapatti (YUMMM!). We laughed and had an informal chat of teaching life. I could see many similarities and many differences but the biggest thing we had in common is our love for our job. I was delightfully reminded of how important a teacher’s job is. It changes lives, therefore changing the world. I feel after today I have a new found passion and purpose of why I am teaching and the power we instil into others. Amazing.
We left St. Nicholas and made our way back to the kinder – my favourite place in the whole, wide world! There is something very special about the people there. Again, I met with the head teacher and she shared her achievements and goals. They too, are making a move into a new building (I’m moving into a new building next year). They are very excited but realise it will be a busy year ahead (I feel the same!). She took me out the back of the kinder where they keep cows, pigs and goats. These animals provide food and milk for the children’s porridge. All students in Mannya are served breakfast, lunch and tea.
Check out part 2 of Kate's Diary here.
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