Thursday, April 07, 2011

The Right Kind of Aid?

Having been involved in a partnership between the college in London at which I work and a high school in Kabale, Uganda, for nearly three years now, I am beginning to think about whether there is such a thing as a ‘right kind of aid’.

Our partnership, created in many respects by the now-trustees of Solomon’s Children, a UK-based and registered charity, focussed originally on the diversification of teaching and learning techniques in the Ugandan high school. It would see the teachers from our college teaching in the Ugandan classrooms to showcase different lesson types that avoided the hitherto ubiquitous ‘chalk and talk’ lessons – lessons where the teacher stands at the blackboard and the students write it all down which isn’t great for the quieter students.

In the UK, all teachers are entitled to over thirty hours of CPD, or continuing professional development, on an annual basis, paid for by the college or school. Our Ugandan counterparts, I discovered, did not have this privilege.

So was our taking the lead in training at the school, in place of the government, a positive thing – was this the ‘right kind of aid’?

On the face of it, of course it is. There is something that the teachers need – CPD – being provided, free of charge, by people who are willing to travel thousands of miles, at their own expense, to assist. The UK and Ugandan teachers enjoyed the sense that they were mutually valued and were part of a global community of teachers, rather than an isolated group of teachers from small districts of small countries. The students enjoyed the introduction of group work, field trips, outdoor classes and, in my case, the creative writing lessons – this in addition the students from the UK college participating in the lessons too.

Of course, there are counter arguments. The teaching and learning styles that teachers in the UK, the beneficiaries of a continuous stream of training, bring to the table in Uganda are obviously very Anglo-centric – that is they reflect the English way of educating and reflect, therefore a ‘foreign’ approach. Some people could, and indeed some of my colleagues do so, consider this to be a form of cultural imperialism or, more simply, colonialism all over again.

As the years have progressed, the projects that we are partnered with has expanded to include a street education centre called Restore Lost Hope, the Kabale Arts Centre hosted at the Edirisa and on-going work in refurbishing the Wisdom Day Nursery.

The work at the high school has also evolved to be more about the sharing of good practise, rather than the dictating of it from UK-based teachers, with the onus being put on the Ugandan teachers to arrange their own staff training day. Last year, the result was a great success with the Ugandan teachers taking genuine pride in being able to show their UK counterparts what they were capable of – in nearly all respects their efforts put many UK training days I have attended in the shade.

The partnership is evolving, with the Ugandan teachers taking more of a lead and the UK-teachers merely acting as a point of reference, if needed prior to any training event. So, does this represent how, given time, small scale projects such as this can become the ‘right sort of aid,’ or does our mere involvement with this high school, however indirect, represent cultural imperialism in all its ugliness?
Children at Restore Lost Hope show off their work.

This post was first published on 28th January 2011 on Africa on the Blog.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Les Journaux Africains: Epilogue

Casting my mind back to 2010, I can remember many features of the visit very clearly. 

So it was that my 2010 visit to Uganda consolidated, in my heart, my love for the people of Kabale in southwestern Uganda. From the moment that we were met in Kigali by the staff of Kigezi High School, through to the moment we were waved off from the school compound, it was clear that we really were no longer strangers. Conversations commenced in medias res as if we had only been talking just two minutes earlier.

The author walks the red dust road. Uganda, 2010.
Despite being in a country that is so alien to the United Kingdom, it was heartening to have people calling after you in the street. Ugandan faces from the year before like Peter, Penninah, Sebi, Ruth, Grace, Sister Evangelista and Charlotte all contributed to making a short visit to a remote corner of Uganda seem more like a homecoming.

The partnership itself has moved on. As I sat in the shade at Lake Bunyonyi with Raj, it was apparent that the notion to move the whole partnership forward was a serious one. In years to come the whole project hopes to have charitable status and to disseminate away from the traditional locus of operations at Kigezi High School to cover many other projects. Where I fit into this process I am unsure.

Upon my departure, meeting a lovely young Rwandese woman, Doroté, gave me a hint that not only would the project be focused in Kabale, but could easily start to move past the Ugandan border in the future.

On a personal level, as I head into the 2011 visit, I can reflect on my part in the trip as having been a success - I was given the responsibility for preparing my students from the UK prior to their departure and to ensure that they got the most out of the visit when in Uganda.

At the same time, I am also left reflecting on the fact that there is always so much more to do: an Islamic school is expecting another visit, families of Ugandan friends are expecting visits and I am left feeling that I would need at least a year here to achieve what I would really want to achieve.

And so after two weeks, time had ran away. Henry Austin Dobson once said, "Time goes, you say? Ah no! Alas, Time stays, we go." To him I say, "yes we do go, but we'll be back again next April."

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Les Journaux Africains: Little Ritz, Kabale, Uganda - 19.50 13/04/2010 - Part Two

Photo © 2010,
After getting over the initial shock at how vibrant the Kabale Arts Centre looked, I finally noticed that, like the final scene of a film, almost everyone I knew and cared for in Uganda was there - for Grace had gone home a few days before. People like Charlotte, Ruth, Peter, Penninah and Edward (her husband who was one of the artists featured in the opening night).

It felt like a social event that I was meant to be attending, not just in support of a project started by bazungu, but because this is Uganda, my second home, a place were I have genuine friends now whom I enjoy being with. The event was filled with warm smiles, laughter, chatter, hugs, handshakes, tears of happiness and a genuine feel that this project, as with the much broader partnership between our college and the town of Kabale, holds a lot of potential for the future.

As I cast my eyes around the room, in my mind's eye, I can see colleagues, students and people who genuinely care for one another and the whole experience is mildly overwhelming. The different colours, ideas, or statuses of any people present are just not an issue. We are all equal here.

A short while later Greg makes a speech thanking everyone for their help in getting the place ready in such a short period of time - something the UK is used to in the form of such wonderful programmes as DIY SOS. As he makes his speech the only thing that matches the beaming smile on his face, is the equally large number of proud smiles on the faces of the local artists featured in the opening exhibition.

The speeches and clapping over, and following a Mirinda - there's no wine at this gallery opening - we head to the Little Ritz, a restaurant across the road from the Edirisa. 

En route, Charlotte and Ruth both stop to bid me a tear-filled goodbye. They both hold on in a manner which seems to imply they feel that I will not be returning ever again. They both did this last year, but this year it seems twice as impassioned. It is as if to say that the instant I get back on the plane to London via Addis Ababa I will forget about them and never want to hear from them again.

I know that is not the case.

And if you're reading this, then you too know that is not the case.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Les Journaux Africains: Little Ritz, Kabale, Uganda - 19.50 13/04/2010 - Part One

We cast off from Byoona Amagara around midday today. We successfully dismantled all of the tents and despite the agonising slow progress of a handful of students, we left the island pretty much on time. The weather was in our favour and the boats didn't seem to be sitting quite so low in the water as they had done on the way over.

Our programme for the day consisted of getting back to Kabale from Lake Bunyonyi, relaxing at Green Hills for a short while, heading to Kigezi High School to say a few fond farewells, before heading to the grand opening of the refurbished Edirisa café - now called the Kabale Arts Centre.

We arrived back in Kabale to find that the electricity had been misbehaving all day. In the panic to get the Art Centre looking good, Greg had spent the best part of the day out searching for a diesel generator to hire. 

Whilst he was busy panicking, the rest of the travelling party were at Kigezi socialising with the staff and students that we had met over the course of the week and attending an art show of students' art curated by Mayur. 

The Kabale Arts Centre glows. Photo © 2010, Jeff Vanderpool
With the light fading I started to round up our group so that we could head into town. Some opted for boda-bodas - I preferred the option of a walk. The protracted goodbyes - for they are always protracted - meant that daylight had completely gone by the time we had reached the Kigezi playing fields at the bottom of the hill.

The town sat in a veil of eerie darkness as the power-related issues continued to play havoc with the lives of the residents and shopkeepers. All that was forgotten upon our arrival at the Edirisa which glowed a radiant yellow under the newly-installed lighting. 

The transformation was complete and looking mind-blowingly different from how it had looked a mere handful of days before.

Friday, April 01, 2011

A Thought for Mothering Sunday

Midwife Grace teaches Zainabu to care for Yasini.
I am in a position of privilege. I was born at a healthy weight, by caesarian section, in a clean, safe and warm theatre of the old Warneford Hospital, Royal Leamington Spa, in 1984. My mother, although 42, was safe throughout the procedure. As was I.

With Mothering Sunday approaching, amid all of its cheap CDs of songs our mums all already own, cards from service stations and flowers that last until Monday morning, and with my own thoughts turning to my trip to East Africa in less than a week, we should think not only of our own families, but also of those in a less fortunate position to ourselves - especially mothers in the third world.

After attending the Save the Children Born to Write Blogging Conference I received an email talking about a report that the charity had commissioned. The report, entitled Missing Midwives, brings into sharp focus the extreme danger that up to 48 million women face annually by giving birth without any form of maternity expert present.

In some of the poorest countries, the report states, sometimes for cultural reasons and most often as a result of a lack of any services, that women often just give birth at home with only a dirty blade to cut the umbilical cord and herbs from a traditional healer to try and combat infection. The risks of such practices are not only high for the newborn, but are equally as high for the mother.

One of the starkest contrasts is that between the care provision of the UK and that of Ethiopia. In the UK only 1% of women give birth without any form of trained help. In Ethiopia 94% of births are without trained assistance. 

In the UK there are 749,000 births a year and 26,825 working midwives. In Rwanda, where I will be in seven days, there are only 46 fully trained midwives and yet 400,000 births take place annually.

Premature Yasini benefits from 'skin-to-skin' care. All photos © Save the Children.
Save the Children are doing their bit to help - in Afghanistan, for example, the number of midwives has tripled over the past three years - but more needs to be done. Save the Children are now campaigning in an attempt to draw attention to what they estimate is a 350,000 shortfall in midwifery care around the world.

8.1 million children die before they reach the age of five and of those, one in ten dies during birth and won't even see the end of their first day on earth - a further million die during the delivery itself. 

Pledging support and spreading the word of what Save the Children do can help mothers like Zainabu to look after Yasini (pictured) during those delicate first days, months and years. More importantly, it can help midwives like Grace, in the Kangaroo Care Ward at Mtwara District Hospital, Tanzania, to train more mothers in how to care for their newborns.

Don't forget your own family this Mothering Sunday, but definitely don't turn a blind eye to the hardships of others. Now is the time to pledge your support for Save the Children's Mothers for Other Mothers campaign in an attempt to address these discrepancies. 

For more information about Save the Children UK visit or follow them on Twitter (@SaveChildrenUK).
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