Susan and Charlie Roscoe visited St. Bakhita Nursery and Primary School from November 6 to 11, joined for several of those days by friends Bill Allen and Shirley Martin. We received a tremendously warm welcome from Michael Anywar, teachers, PTA representatives, and students, including a celebration in our honor that featured songs and traditional dancing. The children were well rehearsed, and their performances were expert, enthusiastic, heartwarming, and quite an emotional experience for us.
During our second day there, Susan and Shirley, with help from two artistic teachers, set up an art studio under a big tree in the school yard. The students proved to be wonderful artists, very observant and creative, and we attached all their paintings to the tree to make a gallery. We were short on art supplies since the big suitcase that contained most of them was lost by the airline. It was finally found on the day we returned to Entebbe, and we sent it by car to St. Bakhita’s to be used during the next term.
Bill brought three soccer balls with him to give to the school, and that first day we all walked to a nearby field after school. Once several cows were moved from the field, the games began. The boys play very good football (soccer, in the US). The girls play very fast-moving netball.
Much of our time at St. Bakhita’s was spent in the classrooms, where we had opportunities to observe teachers and students and to participate a little. The classrooms are necessarily very structured, since there are so many students in each one, the largest having an enrollment of 75 children. A big change from Charlie’s 2010 visit is that the teachers now have teaching guides and some student textbooks purchased with funds provided by Schools For Refugees.
Lessons begin at 8:20 AM, when the teacher enters the classroom and says “Good morning, Students,” and the students stand and reply “Good morning, Teacher.” The lesson commences, with the teacher explaining the information and giving examples. Frequently the teacher will stop and ask, “Are we together?” and usually the collective answer is “Yes,” but students are encouraged to speak up if they need help, and then the teacher explains further. The teacher writes each step of the lesson on the blackboard, and the students copy it into their notebooks. Then examples in the form of questions are written down, and the students provide their answers in their notebooks, which are then corrected before moving on. The students are all polite, focused, and well behaved. The teachers are definitely in charge, but never resort to harsh discipline, or even raise their voices. They are respected. There is also a very active PTA.
Instruction is in English, with occasional translation from Acholi. Substantially all students are of Sudanese descent. Several have been sent back from South Sudan by their parents because of the higher quality of education available at St. Bahkita’s.
There are breaks in both mid-morning and mid-afternoon, during which the children play in the schoolyard and adjacent grassy area, and the teachers gather at their table in the yard and work on their lesson plans. At 1:00 the children are each given a cup of porridge -– ground maize boiled in water, with sugar added when available. We are exploring possibilities for providing more nutrition, perhaps by adding vegetables or fruit to the porridge. The maize is donated by parents, and it was parent labor that constructed the cooking hut and two new classrooms connecting two older buildings. SFR funds were used to purchase building materials, and enough cups that each child has one. After lunch the younger children go home, while the older ones return to the classroom until the school day ends. Very little homework is given, since the children have work to do when they get home, which includes tending to siblings, working in gardens, and caring for livestock. The children study hard, play hard, and work hard, and by day’s end they have earned a rest.
For current enrollment figures for St Bakhita Nursery And Primary School please visit the section entitled “Students”
Classrooms are in brick school buildings with tin roofs and half with dirt floors. The teachers’ “office” is a table in a circle of chairs under a big tree. Lunch is prepared under a tin-roofed shelter built with SFR funds