Uganda – for most people a meaningless country “somewhere in Africa” and also for many of us the “Pearl of Africa” was a still relatively unknown spot on the map a few months ago. Before we heard of Idela Uganda e.V. and have decided to support their project at three schools near Masaka in the southeast of the country. So this year was the first time in the short history of Pangaea Project e.V. that we didn’t organize a summer project independently but cooperated with another organization. And we must say – working together with IDELA Uganda e.V. that initiated this project in Uganda a few years ago was a great success! It was a good experience and an every day learning process to see how other organizations work.
Our first impression of Uganda? Much more comfortable temperatures than expected! We had expected tropical 30°C, but due to the relatively high altitude Uganda welcomed us with rather moderate 20°C when we landed in Entebbe.
The country and especially the people knew to surprise us again and again. For example, during the welcome celebration at Kalungu Mixed School. We arrived without expecting anything special but when we had met the teachers and left the staff room, the entire school was lined up in front of us and the students began to sing. We didn’t expect this at all but it shows the overwhelming hospitality of Ugandans!
Or the first working day at the school. Once we had looked at the school buildings, chose classroom at which the concrete floor needed to be repaired, had selected walls which should get a new coat of paint and talked with the teachers about the problems at the school, a phenomenal lunch awaited us consisting of matoke, posho, fish, vegetables, peanut sauce and pineapple.
Although the people here have little money and eat the same food every day, they see it as an honor to prepare something special for their foreign guests. However, it was often a little too much in the following days, both in quantity as well as that we didn’t want to get treated differently than any other adult in Uganda. It is important to meet the people at eye level, to show them that we do not pose higher and are in no way different from them. Of course we differ physically, but that is no reason to serve us better food than the local people eat themselves.
One of the experiences that stayed especially in my mind is the surprise of the children, when they saw that we kneel on the floor and cement the classrooms, carry heavy buckets of paint over half the school grounds and push wheelbarrows full of sand. “We did not know that white people can work like this!” they said to us. That was perhaps one of the greatest achievements of this year’s project – to show people that even though we might have a different skin colour we are no better people and it does not give us the right to behave superior to them. By working together we showed them that we can also work physically and not only from the office bossing around people. Sometimes we were almost forced into this role of the superior white person. For instance when children gave us water for hand washing, or the teacher called three students, so that they carry the paint bucket, even though we could easily do it by ourselves. If we then carried the bucket without the help of the kids, the astonishment was great, but after a while the people have accepted that we want to be treated just like everyone else.
Together with students, teachers and parents, we improved flooring, painted school buildings and classrooms and repaired the solar lighting in the dormitory of the boys. The kids worked partially completely independently and came only now and then to ask how to mix a particular color. Or if we have more chalk for outlining. The result of the painted walls has exceeded our expectations and the headmistress Mrs. Grace spoke jokingly of the “Kalungu Modern School”. However, it will be important in the coming years, also to improve the quality of teaching, because a beautiful outside school changes nothing on the fact that in Uganda only 16% of boys and 14% of girls go to secondary schools.
A first step is the soap project, which will also allow children from poorer families to at least attend and complete primary school. Through the production of soap in the school soap house, parts of the stundents’ lunch get funded, what in the long term means a reduction of school fees. The saved money could then be used for example for new teaching materials or the training of teachers.
Another important pillar of the project are the sponsorships for talented and needy children that come from less fortunate families. This financial support helps students to attend a secondary school and hopefully even be able to go to university later. In the future Idela Uganda e.V. will try to take more sponsorships and make it possible to support many students individually.
Uganda – for us not a meaningless country anymore, not an empty spot on the map. During our time in this wonderful country we have learned to appreciate the people and take much of their warmth and hospitality back to Europe. Especially the personal encounters were a huge asset and have shown us that you can also do without material abundance, perhaps even happier. However, we are not in the position to judge about this because none of us can understand what it means to carry 15 liters of water from the fountain back home, to work every day from morning to night on the field, or to eat Matoke and beans day after day without change. We were given an insight into this life that is so different than ours. But nobody who has not grown up in Uganda can really understand and comprehend this kind of life.