The Rafiki kids attend Little Rina Nursery and Primary School located within a pretty short walking distance of the orphanage. While we were in Uganda, each member of our team had a chance to volunteer at the kids’ school at least once. I went several times in my first few weeks in Kampala and it was interesting to say the least.
School is SO much different in Uganda. As a teacher from the States, it was a tough adjustment to visit this school – both trying to teach and watching the teachers do their thing.
Teachers, especially at the nursery school and primary school level, don’t need a lot of education. Class sizes are HUGE (this school had 36 in their “kindergarten” and that was incredibly small by Ugandan standards). Resources are minimal: no books, no hands-on manipulatives, no computers, no electricity, etc.
You add all those factors together and the education system is not much to write home about. It was definitely a “learn about this new culture, don’t try to change it, and respect the teachers for doing what they can with what they know” type of a moment for me. And a “be thankful for the minimal resources that you do have” moment too. My school might not have a lot by American standards, but by Ugandan standards I teach in a magical palace filled with fairies and elves.
Despite that, I’m so grateful that our Rafiki kids even get to go to school – the ministry (and any family that wants to send their kids to school) has to pay school fees each term for each child. So if families can’t afford school fees, their kids don’t get an education. That breaks my heart. I want every child to be able to learn.
Going to the school itself was always fun – all the kids would attack you, shouting, “Mzungu!” until their teachers told them that was rude and they could call me Teacher Laura. Which they did. And even when I hadn’t been teaching there in a while, I would go pick up my kids after school and all the other students remembered me each week and ran up shouting, “Teacher Laura!” and asked me to sing the 5 Little Monkeys song with them.
The being left alone with a class of 36 four and five year olds of whom I had no control over – not quite as fun. But I figured if I managed to keep them from climbing on the tables (too much) and running out of the room (too much) and quiet enough that they couldn’t be heard from a mile away, it was a success. (This might be slightly different from my classroom management philosophy of my own class in the States…) But they loved learning new songs – and obviously these kids needed to know quality music such as the Months of the Year Macarena, so reaching deep into my teacher bank of kids songs and fingerplays was a good go-to tactic when the real teacher was no where to be found and I refused to get out a stick to help control the chaos.
Just sing louder than the madness surrounding you… (good advice for really any situation in life)
The kids at Little Rina were awesome and I loved getting to know them. And while I didn’t enjoy drinking the porridge for breakfast/snack each morning, I did enjoy sitting with the teachers while they took their break and chatted (and I choked down the thick white gloppy beverage that everyone else guzzled like it was Christmas in a cup). The teachers are all SO nice. They would also ask when we were coming back and encouraged me to move to Africa and teach with them. At one point during one of these breaks, a teacher asked me why all the Americans wanted to take so many pictures of school. I finally fessed up that I was actually a teacher in America, and so I took lots of photos because when I went home, I wanted to be able to share with my kindergartners what school is like in Uganda.
This brings us to the point of this post. In one of the nerdier things that I have done lately, I put together a little “educational video” about the schools in Uganda – specifically Little Rina – that I showed to my kindergartners today as part of our communities unit. Afterwards we passed around my banana leaf ball from Africa and each shared something that we noticed in the movie and discussed how it was the same or different from our classroom community in Minnesota. It was actually a pretty cool discussion. And while I won’t make you sit in a circle and pass around a ball, I am an equal opportunity film-maker, and I wanted to give you the opportunity to watch this ridiculousness so you can learn as much as the kindergartners.
Highlights of the movie showing include the children waving back at the child on the playground who waves at my camera and excitedly talking to their friends about how the kids in Africa are watching us.