A few days ago, we visited our first school in Uganda! As an education major, this greatly excited me. It was raining in the morning and a bit buggy, but as we've learned, the weather changes very quickly in Uganda. It went from a rainy morning to a hot, sunny and humid afternoon. We traveled a while in Big Blue (our MUBS coach bus that escorts us everywhere, even on the most treacherous of roads!) and arrived at a sign that pointed us down the road towards City Secondary School. We were greeted at said sign by the school's marching band! What a surprise this was. We marched down the street/alley and into the campus to tunes like "Oh When The Saints Go Marching In" and paraded through the students who were lined up all the way to the main building. This was a new experience for many of us. We felt like celebrities who become famous for no particular reason, we felt we didn't deserve such a gracious welcome.
In the main hall we were seated in desks and got to listen to a few more songs from the band and choir including the Uganda and Buganda anthems. The Master of Ceremonies spoke to us, as well as the Head Teacher. They explained Uganda's education system which is adapted from the British, and told us about their school. City Secondary School has grades S1-S6 or Senior 1 through Senior 6 (S1, S2, S3, etc). This is kind of similar to combining middle school and high school for us. It is a boarding school of 300 students with 24 teachers and 13 support staff. The students' families are usually of lower economic status and are those that could not attend public school because of lack of money. Some students are able to work off some of their tuition so they don't have to pay as much (although their overall fee is greatly less than those of other Ugandan schools). The school has their own farm with animals and crops (bananas for making matoke, a staple food of the Ugandan diet). The cows and chickens roam the campus freely.
We had a packed schedule while at the school! It was a little different than the usual "African time" we had gotten used to, typically relaxed and usually at least 15 minutes behind. The Master of Ceremonies was very organized and made sure each activity was timed well. First we all split up into different classrooms, about 3 Drake kids and 2 MUBS kids per group. Myself, Samantha, Austin, Sarah from MUBS, and Ratiib from MUBS were all assigned to a S6 classroom. These are the students in their last year, trying to figure out what to do next whether it be go to university or a two year school or find a job. They asked us many questions about American schools and wanted to know about areas we study and areas they are interested in. They also asked questions about America in general. We were SO impressed by their questions! Throughout the different classrooms, students from CSS asked not only about education and us but about topics such as racism, the illuminati, gay rights, dating in America, the Syrian war and our involvement in it, and concern about what our government has done to make sure something like the Newtown shooting doesn't happen again. Many of these things blew us away and we hope that we answered them adequately enough!
Following this, we worked on an art project of making a T-shirt with the CSS and DU crests/logos on them with "friends forever" on the back, the students also took us around their art room and showed us the artwork they've been working on. I was SO amazed at the beautiful creations! I wish I had that much talent.
Next, we took a tour of the campus, ate a traditional lunch and sat spread out amongst the students so as to interact and get to know each other. This was a little bit difficult because, depending on the age of the student, it sometimes felt like the students thought you were an exotic wild animal. Many of them had never seen a person with non-black skin before, so for me it was pretty difficult to get them to talk to me. This was a good experience, though and the food was very good!
After lunch, the majority of the group headed down to their private football (soccer) pitch and played games with the students while the education majors in the group and the professors had a teacher discussion with the teachers of the school. It was very enlightening to hear about the efforts they put forth to try to use the student centered teaching model. For the record, the Drake and MUBS students won the game against the CSS students with a score of 3-2 and were very, very, muddy and sweaty afterwards.
We all met up at the administration building where they set up chairs for us with the students facing us. They thanked us graciously many, many times. We presented them with our gifts of some books and school supplies and they gave us a cow. Yes, they literally gave us a cow. This is a traditional and very significant gift. This is a gift that is usually given as a dowry during a wedding ceremony. Needless to say it was a BIG deal. Dr. A and Dr. McKnight had to kindly ask them to care for our cow (dubbed with the name "Drake") and keep it on their property, but were very appreciative and made sure the school knew we knew how much it meant.
The giving of the cow, the marching band, and all of the thank yous made us feel a bit uncomfortable. None of us have ever been treated so generously, it felt like too much. Dr. Senteza enlightened us all the next day that this generosity is truly a part of Ugandan culture. They are hospitable, they spend hours and days of preparation for visits like this. Gaining this knowledge made many of us feel a little better.
I don't know if any of us will ever be treated as such a celebrity at any time, but I'm pretty sure none of us will receive a cow as a gift ever again. Pretty cool, huh?
A question for my classmates:
What do you think of Ugandans hospitality? It seems to me that this is something we are missing at times in the United States. Do you think we could benefit from such welcoming in the U.S.? Does this or could this contribute to the country becoming more sustainable?