Our first week in Uganda flew by! We spent the first couple of days becoming familiar with Nkokonjeru, and getting to know our gracious host, Ignitius, as well as our project manager Anthony. They have both been terrifically helpful and we are being incredibly well taken care of. After familiarizing ourselves with the concept of sanitation and discussing the details of our project, we set out to the field and visited the eight sites where we will be constructing latrines. We began latrine construction on Friday, and have since poured the ring-shaped concrete foundations of all eight latrines. The concrete takes a few days to dry, so after we finish constructing the concrete coverings for the latrines, we will begin surveying the people of Nkokonjeru to gain a greater understanding of the current sanitation situation here. I know a lot of us are particularly excited about the research aspect of our project because it will allow us to have direct contact with the people of the village. Our survey results could also be useful in determining the direction that sanitation-related RASD projects will take in the future.
The first group (Sneha, Tanya, Daniella, Clara, Ravi, and myself) arrived in Kampala late Monday night, and we were brought to Dr. Gloria’s house. Tuesday morning we woke up to a beautiful view of Lake Victoria (which we couldn’t see late at night). During the day, we took boda-bodas (motorcycle taxis) around Kampala and saw the entire city. Part of the trip included going to Casio Lodge, the highest point in town, so we could see all of the city and the lake, as well as seeing Kampala International University (KIU). Tuesday night the second group came (Olivia, Cindy, Ian, and Becca) and we all spent the night at Dr. Gloria’s. Dr. Gloria is an incredible woman, and we were all excited to stay with her and hear her stories. She was born in Georgia and moved to Illinois during the Civil Rights Movement, and later attended the University of Illinois Urbana-Champagne. She traveled in Africa before returning to the US to receive two doctorates from UC Berkeley and teach at San Jose University. She retired to Uganda in 2001, and is currently hosting 5 children for whom she pays school fees.
The next morning, after breakfast, we stopped to exchange money and grab lunch before the one and a half hour car ride to RASD in Nkokonjeru. Nkokonjeru is a sub-county inside of the greater Mukono district which is made up of 12 small villages. Nkokonjeru means white chicken in Lugandan (one of the 37 languages in Uganda), and it is a very religious (Catholic) area. The RASD compound is very nice and very safe. The ten of us are split into 7 rooms with two indoor bathrooms, and breakfast and dinner are cooked for us by RASD employees. For lunch, we go to a restaurant in town. Both lunch a dinner tend to consist of some combination of rice, potatoes, noodles, chapatti, stew made of meat or fish, beans, matooke (mashed plantains), and squash or cassava.
We, the Rice chapter of Nourish, are counting down the minutes until we get to embark on our exciting summer project. This year we are volunteering with the Rural Agency for Sustainable Development in Uganda. After a year of fundraising, screening people for our project team, and pre-planning for the trip (passports, Visas, yellow fever vaccines, tickets, malaria pills, the list goes on for miles), it’s surreal to be so close to finally touching down in Uganda! Granted, we haven’t even taken off yet, but we’re definitely all already daydreaming about gorgeous landscapes, red dirt roads, the wildlife (see the drawing of the grey crowned crane), and the incredible people we’re sure to meet.
We didn’t know a lot about Uganda when we started and most of us are still a little nervous about what to expect. However, one of our team members, Becca, has been to Uganda before and has been an invaluable source of information. The same is true about our volunteer contact at RASD, Ignitius, and our guest house host for our first two days, Dr. Gloria. They are the nicest people and they have been incredibly helpful in preparing us for Uganda. Another (not-so-invaluable) source of information was an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations which tackled Ugandan food from fried bugs to lungfish. Probably not the best way to settle our worries about our upcoming trip, but still an interesting insight into the country.
With half our group leaving on Sunday and the rest on Monday, there’s not much more to write about yet. We still have a long way to go, with a grueling 29 hour flight ahead of us, but we’re almost there! For now, we’ll get back to overpreparing, overpacking, and overexcitedly waiting for our trip. We’ll post more when we actually land: then we can compare our pre- and post-impressions of Uganda and write about all of our adventures. Stay tuned for more!
After nearly nine months of preparation, fundraising, planning, and implementation, our project with Partners In Education Roatán has come to an end. Through the money we raised and the six weeks we spent in Honduras we were able to design a total of thirteen learning boxes covering lessons in English, math, and science. These thirteen boxes are replete with manipulatives, visuals, and activities to ensure that they will make learning fun, easy, and effective for students. We are proud of the final result and we look forward to hearing the impact that the boxes will have on local schools once they are duplicated.
Our time spent on the island was absolutely unforgettable. When we weren’t working on the boxes we spent our time working with the different programs within PIER. Sneha and I are working on becoming fluent in Spanish so we were able to help out in our own ways. We worked in the e-learning center which was a classroom for Spanish speaking children working on learning English. We also worked with a group of young kids in the morning reading stories, playing games, and practicing their English. KC and Haritha spent most afternoons working with a handful of kids starting up a robotics club with the robotics kit that we funded. We also took turns working in the BrainSpaces center every afternoon engaging the kids in educational games and activities.
Working with the Bay Island Girls club was another highlight of our trip. The girls officially met every Saturday morning but we saw most of the girls quite often throughout the week. By the end of our trip some of them would come and hangout with us while we were working in the mornings which made our work seem much more fun. One of the most memorable activities we did with the girls club was teaching them how to dance. Despite their insistent complaints that they cannot dance, we quickly found out that they are all fabulous dancers. The first week of dancing we taught them Merengue and Salsa dancing. Our last meeting together we threw them a party complete with cake, snacks, and drinks. The party stretched our typical hour-and-a-half meetings to a four hour fiesta complete with spontaneous karaoke, hip hop lessons, a very frenzied play, and multiple photoshoots. Saying goodbye to the girls was very difficult for all of us.
Although living in Honduras was significantly different than the living styles we’re used to in the States, being a volunteer in Roatán had some serious perks. Thanks to connections between PIER and the popular not-for-profit Clinica Esperanza we were able to see parts of the island we weren’t expecting. Our volunteer bracelets got us into one of the resorts for free every Sunday where we got to snorkel, walk along white sandy beaches, and indulge in the finest five-dollar hamburgers money can buy. To ensure that we saw as much of the island as possible Patti was kind enough to take us on an island tour complete with the histories of each town and a stop in the Iguana Farm that completely blew our minds. Our favorite excursion was a very discounted trip to Gumbalimba park where we got to zipline through the jungle, play with monkeys, and get photos with parrots. When it came to Sunday Funday, we blew through our tourist bucket list.
As a first year chapter we couldn’t me more proud of the work that we have accomplished in such a short amount of time. We have established ourselves both within the Nourish community and the Rice community as an organization with strength, determination, and incredible work-ethic powered by wonderful students who simply want to see the world become a better place for everyone. We send many many thank yous to PIER for giving us the opportunity to work with them on this project, as well as every single person who threw in some loose change to our donation jar, purchased a burrito on Saturday night, or personally gave the project team money to help us fly out of the country. Our project was everything we could have ever wanted it to be and plenty more and we see this year as the first of many milestones in the journey of the Rice chapter of Nourish International.
We are ending our last full week of our trip. We are shamelessly proud of the outcome of WEEKS of tireless work, and we feel that we have created a product that can be easily duplicated and shared in schools across the island to help students learn better and teachers teach better. I’d like to take this time to say a few words about the boxes and our project as a whole. As awesome as these cool plastic shoe boxes are, the purpose of our project was to create something that would affect the community on a larger level. What we have created are the first of what will be many similar lesson boxes. The purpose of the learning boxes is to create a very self-directed learning experience. All the lesson plans are designed so a student can come in and teach himself in a fun and very hands-on way. There are numerous activities to practice and reinforce the skills learned in each box so a student can check his answers and continue improving. The boxes were designed to be very low cost so they can be easily and cheaply duplicated. While we only made the first set of these boxes, PIER’s goal is to remake as many as 35 or more copies and distribute them in local schools. These learning kits will not only be a useful tool for students but also a way to help teachers to be more effective in the classroom. We created a total of 13 learning kits. 4 lessons in English, 4 in Mathematics, and 5 in Science. With that said, we thoroughly enjoyed the experience of creating something that will serve a positive purpose in the community.
Victoria (Sneha, Haritha, KC)
Wednesday turned out to be an incredible mid-week vacation day!
In the morning, Victoria and I got to visit a couple of schools. All of our grammar revision came in handy when the first teacher had us work with the kids on practicing their pronouns. We then played a fun story game, in which the kids got to come up with their own sentences and ideas individually, to put together a whole story. It was new for them but it got them talking and excited about us being there! The second school we visited was smaller, and for first graders and we had a great time there, reading a book to the children. We also really enjoyed all the flowers that a few kids kept running outside to pick and give to us while waiting for class to begin. The adventures of visiting schools was eye-opening and I hope we get a chance to go again before we leave.
After working at the center for a while, Patti, the person in charge of us volunteers, planned to give us a tour of the island of Roatan! This was when the real adventure began. We started our tour by first going to an Iguana Farm. It was incredible to be walking around so many iguanas! We got to feed them as well, which was scary at first because they would all start crawling on top of each other and yanking at the leaves to eat, but really cool. However, the scariest thing at the farm was definitely the turkey! A big turkey was just chilling with the iguanas, and as it started puffing up its feathers and walking towards me, I was definitely scared it would attack me.
We were all sad to leave the iguana farm, but excited to see the rest of the island, and Patti continued driving us along a very scenic route. Learning a lot about the different types of people who’ve settled here over the years, and stopping to admire the picturesque view every once in a while, we had an amazing tour of Roatan. We only got to scrape the surface of Roatan’s history and beauty, but we all loved every moment of it, and we came home exhausted but overjoyed at all of our experiences of the day!
Today KC and I accompanied Brenda to one of the local schools to get a feel for the educational barriers we were facing. The first classroom – a Kindergarten one – had about thirty kids, all decked out in traditional white-collared and navy-skirted uniforms, huddled around two tables. Slightly peeling but colorful posters of the alphabet, basic numbers and the English words for different plants and animals hung from the bright yellow walls and sunlight filtered through the windows, giving the room a bright, positive glow – a precursor for what turned out to be a fantastic morning.
After the teacher introduced us to the class, we split into two smaller groups. KC read from the abnormally large copy of “Bear’s Walk” we had brought over from the Sand Castle Library-
- while I got the opportunity to relive my childhood and work on an art project with the other half of the class. The kids were a little shy at first and preferred to quietly stick their fingers in the small tubs of red, yellow and blue paint to create their own Starry Nights and Girls With Pearl Earrings than listen to my pathetic attempts at broken Spanglish. So instead I painted a flower, which was later admired then subtly taken by a charming little girl named Jemima, who proceeded to add her own sun and blossoms to the menagerie.
The rest of the students painted houses, ships, fishes and of course, more flowers, all of which we ended up hanging on the walls alongside a hand-drawn diagram of the human body, adding an extra burst of color to the already vibrant room.
After a thorough hand-washing which still left traces of blue permanently etched into my fingernails , we proceeded to the first-grade classroom next door, were I was able to get my camera out for their very nice welcome message:
Same drill, though the level of artistic talent was heightened as the kids worked diligently on their paintings and eagerly shouted out answers to KC’s intermittent questions about what the bear saw while walking through the forest.
This time however, the kids were definitely not camera shy as I went around taking pictures. A picture that started off as a portrait of one quickly multiplied as more and more earnestly tried squeezing into the frame, displaying their brightest smiles, salutes and somewhat-suspicious-looking gang signs.
Then it was recess time! The kids ran out for a haphazard, utterly chaotic game of soccer, during which thirty little boys and girls all chased after the ball, boundaries and teams completely ignored, without keeping score or really caring about winning at all. They just wanted to have fun. I couldn’t stop smiling
Unfortunately then it was time to leave and KC and I said our goodbyes and were promptly smothered with hugs, kisses and shy Adios’s from the students. Definitely up there in the Top 5 moments where I’ve felt the most loved. The rest of the day proceeded as usual back at the center with Sneha and Victoria, but I sincerely hope that that wasn’t our last time seeing those kids.
Until next time,
Week 3 complete!!
This week Sneha and I officially completed our English Boxes down to the last detail; binded lesson plans, materials lists, progress reports, labeled boxes…EVERYTHING!! And considering that we’ve been putting 4 or more hours a day into this for the last three weeks, this is HUGE. First things first though, they need to get critiqued. As much work as we’ve put into them they have to go through several rounds of reviewing before they will be 100% ready. We took them down to get looked over by the two teachers here at PIER who will likely be using them the most. Since they already work so frequently with the students they are the most aware of the needs and skill levels of the children. We got tons of positive feedback as well as a list of improvements to make. We’re taking our work into the weekend so the boxes will be ready to take to the kids on Monday. Having the kids try out the boxes will be our ultimate test, but we’re very confident in our hard work and we’re sure that they will love them
Now that it’s getting later into the summer a lot of the fruit trees are starting to bloom. We’ve got our eyes on some mangoes in the trees around the library. There are also these extremely delicious little island fruits that have started to bloom everywhere. The kids say the island name for them is kanup. This kid was wonderful enough to bring us a bunch while we were working yesterday morning.
We’ve taken on a really fun project this week. A cultural outreach club from Cornell University made a video and sent it here to the kids at PIER. The video is mainly just a way to introduce themselves and reach out. We showed the kids the video and they are all confident they can make a better one We’ll be filming all next week and I’ll post the video when it is complete.
Like every Saturday we met with the Teen Girls club this morning. Today we had a special project in store for them! Dancing!! The girls are all interested in learning any and all types of dancing. Today we taught them Salsa and Merengue. Thank goodness for dancing classes because between me and Sneha’s minimal backgrounds in salsa we were able to put together a really awesome collection of moves to teach them and they LOVED it!! Next week we’ll be doing hip hop
That’s all for now!!
Victoria (KC, Haritha, Sneha)