Morkiswa Visit

16th August 2017

Visiting Morkiswa

In August I had the pleasure of visiting our partner school in rural Uganda.  I spent 6 days in the Tororo region of Uganda both at Morkiswa and at other local schools who are involved in the Food for Thought project.

I wanted to go for two main reasons:  firstly when I last visited in 2014 I took with me money to fund the installation of a water harvesting tank. We have not seen that in action yet… and secondly I wanted to meet the school’s new Headteacher to check that he is still interested in being our partner school.

This is the water tank that we paid for… and it is still being used and in good shape. The reason that I mention this is that very often such tanks fall out of use because they are damaged by local community members who come and take the pipes and taps because they can be sold. But at Morkiswa the school pays for a watchman to look after the grounds during the weekend and holidays  so it is still working well. In front of the tank are Ochoi Jerome,  Morkiswa’s new Headteacher, Olowo Francis, the deputy and in the red t-shirt is Omalla Peter who is the school’s garden teacher and choir master.

August marks the end of  the second dry season and the start of the new rainy season. So the tank was empty. But all is not lost because Morkiswa is now fortunate enough to have a connection to the mains water supply which runs along the road by the school. They try to use this as little as possible because their supply is metered and that costs them money that they would rather be spending on other things. Welcome to the modern world!

 Most of the children who attend Morkiswa are the children of small scale farmers, sometimes they refer to themselves as peasant farmers. They rely on what they can grow to live  and unlike us they are fortunate enough to have two growing seasons each year.  That means that their health and well being is highly dependent on having reliable rains. The start of this year was particularly difficult, normally the  longest dry season runs from December to February but this year in this area of Uganda it extended into April and this meant many families went hungry and caused real hardship.

All families and communities try to store a surplus of dried grains so that they can survive variations in the weather .  When staff from Morkiswa and other schools in the area came to the UK and visited us they were astonished to see us feeding our pupils at lunch time. But this is something that they now try to do. Since the second harvest which took place in June and July Morkiswa has been able to feed its youngest pupils a late breakfast. In the photograph you can see the children in P1 eating their maize porridge, often using a leaf as a spoon to eat it with. Hopefully once  the next harvest is in they will have sufficient stocks of peas, beans and maize to feed more of the children, this is something that all of the schools in food for thought aspire to.

Omalla Peter has taken over the job of garden teacher, here he is standing in the middle of the school’s teaching garden. You can see Maize, Sweet Potato and Peas (normally Black Eyed Peas) all of which are important staples of local food. Teaching the children to be better growers means that they can help their families grow crops more effectively and can generate surpluses which can be sold at market.  This is one of the key motivations of being part of Food for Thought.

At Nanstallon we are very proud of our school choir. So are our colleagues at Morkiswa. At our last assembly ( which is held under the shade of one of the Mango trees) the choir performed a version of ‘Little White Hen’. Beautiful singing, I hope you agree. Omalla Peter is a busy man!

These are some of the children in P2 Class. They are in a maths lesson and are counting. As you can see they use a big variety of things to count with. Parents have to provide all the materials that pupils use to learn with including pencils and books.
All of their classes are very large, there are over 150 children in P2. We are trying to encourage the teachers to be more interactive with the children, but their model of teaching and learning remains somewhat victorian with lots of teacher talk and repetition. Part of what I do when I go is run training sessions for the teachers . As you can imagine they have a very hard job!
This is P3 class, or at least most of them. Attendance rates are very low and it is not unusual for 60% or fewer children to be at school. This is particulalry true when there is planting to be undertaken or harvesting. In that respect the community of Morkiswa School is very like our own school would have been in the past. Even so there are  a hundred or so children in this photograph!
What's next for our partnership?
Our colleagues at Morkiswa value our partnership for many reasons:
we've helped them raise aspirations about what a school can provide for its children
Their children have seen the standards that ours achieve and that has helped motivate them
we have helped them develop aspects of their teaching style
we have raised funds to help them with basics like fresh water and even electricity, and we have provided pe equipment and some of our older laptops for them.
Through The British Council's connecting classrooms projects wehave been able to fund visits by staff to each other's schools
Through funding Food for Thought we have helped them employ garden teachers who have taught pupils how to be better growers and they in turn have taught their parents. That has added to the health and wealth of their community. Being partners with us is highly prestgious.
That is all well and good, but the whole point of a partnership is that both sides gain. So what do we get?
Our children are excited to learn about somewhere that is similar but diffferent. Somwhere that they feel they have a real connection with
Having our partnership allows teachers to explore important issues in a real context and bring to life some of those issues in a meanigful way.
They have exchanged letters and other communications from pupils at Morkiswa.
They have a really meaningful focus for their fundraising
We as a community can take enormous pride in the fact that we have made a real difference in the lives of people who have much less than us.
We are conscious that the key to our partnership thriving is having good communications and we have agreed with Jerome and his team that we will update each other about what we are doing in school on a monthly basis. That will be hard because they do not have access to the same easy electronic communication that we have. We are putting our faith in What's App (but other apps are available!) .
If you would like to know more I am only to happy to talk to anyone about it!
Peter Dingle