Building an SEN school in Uganda, part 2

Ian Richardson

Ian is Product Director at Schudio who specialise in developing unified online technology to help schools and colleges communicate and engage their community effectively, and who are currently working with over 200 schools in the UK. He spends a lot of time working with school leaders to establish products and strategy which dramatically improve the way schools communicate with the outside world.

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Some of the most special moments during my recent visit to Rukungiri, Uganda this June were at the project at Kitazigurukwa Primary School where we spent much of our time. The SEN school and dormitories for the disabled children are already in place and so we have been working on a kitchen and storage building specifically for the children and then another for the teachers house.

Very good teachers are a little hard to find locally, so building a house and other basic facilities for potential teachers will hopefully attract a fantastic staff from further afield. These individuals will further support the children in their learning and development. This means that this building work is just as vital as building the facilities in and around the school buildings.

The team on the building site includes a local firm of builders who have been working on builds with the Chilli Children Project and Mission Direct for a number of years. They are a fantastic team who are very patient, highly skilled and great to be around.

The facilities in school for the students are very basic; they have chalkboards, desks, chairs and very little else. It is incredible to see what is achieved with all the students when you consider the limited resources that they have access to. No touchscreens, no iPads, no projectors, no laptops, very few books and scarce access to pens and pencils besides what aid is provided by volunteers who visit the school.

Catering facilities are a wooden hut outside the ground and another wooden hut serves as a dining room. PE is on a sloped, long-grassed field at the back of the school. The dormitories are basic but very comfortable and effort is made to make the children feel at home.

We laughed and laughed as mortar slipped off our trowels time and time again and sweated lots as we lugged big jerry-cans of water from the local bore-hole to the building site. After a few days, some incredibly patient supervision and some comments about how daft I looked laying bricks with my left hand (!) we got into a bit of a groove and we were laying lines of bricks like lightening.

I can’t tell you how delighted I was when the owner of the building company, Zedekiah, said that my brick-laying was perfect and he thought I must have done it before. I very much enjoyed that congratulatory handshake. The building work was very satisfying and being a large part of the work we did in Uganda it is a tangible reminder of all that we saw and did while we were there. To contribute to leaving something physical that will have a direct impact on the lives of these children is incredibly special and quite difficult to convey.

I must say though, that the most wonderful thing of being at that school for a few hours every day for over a week was spending time with some incredible children. From the moment that we arrived at the school we were greeted by these beautiful, precious children, many of whom have started their education within the last year having been found by the team from the Chilli Children Project and brought to the school where they now board.

Outside of the school day they are given the freedom to play and enjoy being in one another’s company and when we arrived every day the children were so happy to see us. One little girl, Violah, was incredibly shy. She has Down’s Syndrome and was reluctant to engage us much at first. I was very keen to get to know her a little bit because of Arran but she was having none of it! She tucked herself away but when we started colouring (or shading, as they call it), singing or more often when there were lollies and sweets to give out, she appeared and started to smile and chat a little more and more each day.

The children have a variety of disabilities; spina bifida, cerebral palsy, Down’s Syndrome among others and are ably looked after by a team of nurses and teachers, overseen by the headteacher, Henry. The project is run by the Chilli Children Project and has seen many of the children making huge strides and more children are regularly introduced to the school.

Two particular children very much stood out to me personally, Moses and Sederakah (or Shadrach). Moses was such a delight; so very pleased to see us and incredibly happy to be given any little treats or things that might help him. He is around eight years old and has only learned to walk within the last year, he struggles to keep up with the other children but loves being around them and being at the school has changed his life enormously. So many times we arrived at the school and Moses would throw himself at me and want to do everything with me and it was so special to spend time with him.

Sederakah is quiet, very sweet and so smiley. When we said to any children we met “how are you?”, they all responded “I am fine.” Sederakah wanted a really close conversation and the said “I am fine” so softly and sweetly that he melted the hearts of all of us.

The time at the school was great fun, highly productive and often very moving. The facilities are great and improving and the work that is done for all these children is having a much needed impact on all their lives.

The future? There are thoughts of adding an additional dormitory which will mean yet more children can stay at the school and adding more facilities around the buildings, including a full path that will give wheelchair access to every building at the school. Soon I will be writing about a very special girl and her family, something I can’t wait to tell you about.

Have you visited Uganda on education business? Share your comments below!

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