Our pupils in the final year are preparing for their national exams. This is the first milestone in their formal education. The educational system here in Uganda is highly competitive and the results of the exams will to a large extend determine in what secondary school you will be admitted and if you will get a government sponsorship. Over the last years our school has done quite well and although high marks are not the only thing in life, I do understand their anxiety. Good results are also a big boost for our teachers, for them it is a clear proof of the quality of the school. Wherever they apply for a position, one of the first questions will be “how many first grades did you school have last year?”
We also put a lot of effort in the development of social, physical and creative skills and we are very happy with the support with get from abroad for this. This year Rixt, our teacher from Dronten, who works with us every year for a whole month, introduced how to make bracelets from paper beats. Children are very enthusiastic even more so because the bracelets are sold to school kids in the Netherlands. In the first term our children made bands for almost 250 $. Half of the money is for them and the other half is used for a special activity at school.
Rixt also brought sports outfit she got from a school in the Netherlands. Amazing what is thrown away! Our kids were so proud to play their first ‘official’ match. Of course we can do without and we would definitely not spend the money on transport but if a visitor brings them along for free, why not.
A second visitor was Peter from Switzerland; he brought us all kind of toys that stimulate the development of children. The kids simply loved it. Development of the whole child, it gradually takes shape in our school. Have a look at the pictures I uploaded.
Last but not least, Rixt has also been very busy getting the pre-primary class started. We have a try-out this term, but with the start of next school year, we will hopefully have 35 children of roughly five years old who will get a special year that will help them to get ready for the first class. Many of the children we get in primary one lack back skills and knowledge. Their fine motoric skills are poorly developed what makes learning how to write extra difficult. Others do not have the basic concepts like in front, behind, few, many, tall, short etc. Rixt has developed a special one year program to learn them all this and much more. I’ll keep you posted and in the coming months I will change our project on the global giving site. We have realized our kitchen and we now want to give you a new opportunity to help disadvantaged children in Kayunga to get quality education. I hope you will keep supporting us.
I am pleased to get back to you with the latest news about our Bondeko School. In my last update I mentioned that the kitchen is fully operational and we are now able to provide daily morning porridge and lunch from a clean place. You may have heard about rising food prices, well I can tell you that this is very true and we experience this directly. At the start of term 1 in January I bought one bag of 50 kg of maize flour for 50.000 Ugandan Shilling (23 US$), the same bag was 71.000 UGX three months later when I bought food for the second term (32 US$). The price of beans too went up with a whopping 47%!
Our system is such that the contribution of the parents or guardians of our children cover the variable costs of food and scholastic material. We are discussing an increase of their contribution but you can imagine that it would be unfair, if not impossible to recover the entire increase in costs. We hope that prices will come down a bit once the new harvest is in, but there are many things that we do not understand. Before prices would never fluctuate this much throughout the year. It is only thanks to support from abroad, your support, that we can meet the costs without jeopardizing the quality of what we offer our kids.
On a more positive note, I am happy to tell you that we found the funding and have started the construction of our pre-primary class. One of the challenges we face is that the kids we get in school often lack some of the basic notions. Their home situation is rarely conducive; many parents have to struggle to get food on the table and striking poverty reduces family expenditures to the bare minimum. Most of the parents and guardians are themselves poorly educated. So in primary one we see kids that have not developed their fine motoric skills, i.e. they cannot cut out something with a pair of scissors. Concepts like behind/ in front, up/ under, tall/ short are unknown and many children have poor letter and number recognition. We have been struggling for long to make their start at school easier. And as we have experienced on several occasions in the past, if you believe in what you are doing then a supporting hand will be reached out to you. So we are really happy that we found the funds to build, equip and run a pre-primary class.
We hope to get started in September of this year so that kids that will enter primary one next year will at least have had some first support. Next year two students in primary education from the Netherlands will come to help us for three months to get our pre-primary up to standard. One of the things we hope to start using in our lower primary is a TV screen and DVD player so that we can expose kids to English much better. I remember how children in the Netherlands would be glued to the screen to watch their daily show of Sesame Street and how it helped them develop. We think that 30 min of a good kids program on a daily basis will expose our children to the English language in a way they do not get yet. So if by any chance you are able to help us out with small kids DVDs that can be used in our context, please get in touch. Last time I promised to post a video on YouTube to show you our kitchen. I am sorry it is not yet there, but the promise still stands. I hope you bear with me!
Three months have passed, yet again! Time to give you, our dear friends and supporter, an update on where we are at the Bondeko School. In Uganda we are now in the first term of the year and it’s well underway. In total we have 216 children in school, in most classes the number has crept up to 35 instead of the 30 we were aiming at. Absolute maximum, mainly due to the fact that our admission board found it hard to refuse kids. And it is difficult to refuse; the very good results we got last year with the national exams made the star of our school rise high. Nowhere else do kids get such good education at such a subsidized price and we are surely proud that we can offer less privileged kids this great opportunity.
The kitchen is performing well and we can already see a serious reduction in the quantity of firewood we use. No scientific research yet, but it is close to 50% less. This is a great improvement for our budget as well as for the environment. The smile on the face of Justine, our cook, has never been so broad. Instead of being hidden in a shack behind the building, she is now shining in her new kitchen visible to everyone. A wonderful woman who manages to get porridge and hot lunch for all the kids every day again. Food distribution remained somehow time consuming. Kids bring their own plate and cup so every plate has to be served when the child presents him/herself. These leads to long queues in the sun, not ideal. We tried to collect all the plates in advance so that they would find them ready, but this didn’t work, kids couldn’t recognize their plates anymore, the small ones started crying. So back to where we were. Solution is in sight though. From a teacher friend from the Netherlands who came here to help us for some time, we got the money to buy plates and cups for everyone. For 140 $ we now have school cups and plates in three colors for lower, middle and upper primary. Children have themselves organized a system of washing up and counting. It’s all going to start next week. It was interesting to see how kids came up with ideas themselves; they all know that if you don’t count daily, things will disappear in no time and they are so proud of their school, they don’t want that to happen.
This year we had already a couple of visitors from other schools who came to see how we organized the kitchen, the ecosan toilets and the classrooms. For sure they were all impressed and the kids just love it to explain everything to them. We are now working on a ‘meet and greet’ committee of kids who can take visitors around and explain the in and outs of the school. All this helps to create new levels of ownership.
The video is in the making, never realized that making a short DVD would take so much time. Mainly because there are still so many things I need to learn in editing. But I hope to get it on air as soon as possible, let’s say before Easter! I’ll keep you posted. A delaying factor is that the administrator left our school and I am spending (too) much time sorting things out and getting things on the rails again. On the other hand a great opportunity to get into the nitty gritty of the admin and to realign a number of things. I will do the admin myself this term, get everything in place and then hope to find someone to take this on with the start of term two.
Well, that’s it for this time. We appreciate your support and for all those to whom I didn’t respond personally when they made a donation, my apologies, but I hope this will make up. I hope you understand that I do this next to the many other things I am involved in and that I wished that a week would have 8 days; perhaps I try the Maya calendar then I get a 13th month!
As the year winds up I have good news to proclaim; the kitchen for which so many of you have made a contribution has been completed! We were able to give it a big push when we got an important contribution of a visitor who came to see us at the school. Combined with the money we raised through the global giving site we managed to get it all ready before the end of the year. A few weeks before we finished the school year (December 10th), we were able to try it out and everyone and especially the cook, is very happy with it. No smoke, no open fire, easy to clean and secure so that pots and pans can stay inside, these are some of the great advantaged the cook mentioned. Of course the kids are happy and proud too and they love queuing to get their plate. Have a look at the pictures to see for yourself! Next year when the school has started again I hope to post a video clip of the kitchen in action on youtube. I will keep you posted.
In the coming year I will modify the project a little bit as we will continue to need money for the meals and to support some of the kids from extremely poor families. Over the last year we have made considerable progress in many areas. Very few kids left school, the overall performance has improved greatly, parents and guardians get more involved and staff is highly committed.
Other great news is that we got funding for a pre-primary class we hope to start somewhere next year. Many of our children in the first year are not really at the entry level of primary one. Fine motoric skills, understanding of basics like many/few, big/ short, heavy/light are lacking and very are able to recognize numbers. Our primary one teacher has a hard job teaching kids who have so different levels of understanding. With our pre-primary we will be able to prepare children well for primary school.
Financially we also managed to raise all the money (30.000 $) to run the school. The financial report will be available shortly and I will gladly share it with you. In February a Dutch school teacher who came twice before, will come again to help us for a few weeks. At the request of our teachers her focus will be on teaching mathematics this time as well as some new creative ways of engaging children. We look forward to having her around.
Let me end by wishing you health, inspiration and friendship for the year 2011 (and beyond of course) and once again thank you so much for your ongoing support. Do not hesitate to let us know if there is anything you would like to know more about. I will be more than pleased to give you the information you want.
Great news.... next week we will brake the ground for the building of the new kitchen.
Every day the school provides 190 kids with porridge before the school starts and a hot lunch. Cooking in our present 'kitchen' is not easy as it is not more than a shed. The open fire is not only a health hazard for the lady who cooks but also consumes large quantities of firewood. Uganda loses 2% of its forest every year and firewood is one of the great contributors. In the new kitchen we will install two energy saving stoves and this should halve our firewood consumption.
The container we obtained earlier this year (see our July newsletter) is a great help and provides us with a secure place to store education materials and the stock of beans and maize flour. It allows us to buy all we need for a whole term at once so that we can purchase at a better price.
On google earth you can find our school, just click on the attached file to see a picture. Even the container we placed in July is already visible!
This month we started the third and last term of this school year and we are happy with the progress we are making. It is the third full year we are in charge of the school and the results are promising. We notice a clear decline in the number of days children are absent due to ill health, academic results have improved and we are sure that our feeding program plays an important role.
Teachers as well as pupils start to like the more creative activities; formerly the focus would be exclusively on the so-called academics. We do not deny that it is indeed important for children to pass the national exams successfully, we have made a great effort to work towards the development of the whole child: head, hart and hands.
Last thing to mention is our financial report over 2009; it got the approval of our external auditor. It gives an interesting reading for everyone who want to know a bit more about the costs of providing good education in Uganda.
We hope to send you more news about the construction before the end of November as the contractor promised that the construction should be ready by then.
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