In February, before the Coronavirus became a global challenge, eight of us had the opportunity to visit Uganda through a British Council project, ‘Connecting Classrooms’. The aim was to develop partnerships with teachers and schools in Uganda, with the focus on sharing skills and developing our Global Learning practices to embed core skills in the curriculum. The United Nations ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ were also at the forefront and we chose ‘Zero Hunger’ as our joint project.
Our schools were all located in the Tororo district, a remote area of Uganda, bordering Kenya. The rough roads took us through miles of subsistence farmland. We passed fields of cassava, rice, tea, yam pineapples, mango and jackfruit trees, all dependent on the productivity of the land and the reliability of rain.
My school, Gwara Gwara Primary School served the village of Pomede and surrounding area. There was no mains electricity or water, certainly no Wi-Fi! However, it was very apparent that education was very highly regarded and many students would walk an hour or more to get to school. Florence, the Head teacher explained that hunger was one of their main challenges. She explained that students from some of the poorer families, often those without land to farm, would often come to school without breakfast.
As a result, the school realised that agriculture had to be at the core of the curriculum. Consequently, before lockdown, Roselyne, the school ‘Gardening teacher’ worked with every class at least once a week to work on the school farm. They grew crops that could be harvested to feed the children or sold to the community. The money made from this enabled them to buy maize to make ‘posho’, a porridge to feed the children at lunchtime. This was so insightful. One day, in a class of nearly one hundred pupils, I observed a Year 4 child, sat on the floor as there were no spare desks or stools to sit on. She was desperate to learn but weak with hunger.
In conditions where water is scarce and fertiliser expensive, the children are taught techniques to conserve water and maximise plant productivity. These included mulching, building Mandela /keyhole gardens and the construction of sack gardens.
Maintaining regular communication with our Ugandan colleagues during lockdown hasn’t been as easy, however we have heard that they have been able to continue to farm and that their crops are doing well.
This period has given me the opportunity to truly reflect on our experience. Lockdown has been incredibly difficult for many here – and we have the reassurance of a hiqhly-skilled and organised National Health System. I can only imagine how frightening the threat of a pandemic could be in such a vulnerable community.
During lockdown, I have had the time to continue to develop our school curriculum and explore ways in which our Cornish students can be connected with Uganda, plus build a deeper understanding of the global challenges that so many communities face across the world. On a personal level, I have put some of the skills I learnt into practice, one of which was building my own sack garden – rain has been quite scarce here too of late! I’m sure Rosalyne would be proud. She taught me well.
By Katherine Davies (Beacon Ace Academy)
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