When Act4Africa got in touch a couple of years ago to ask if I’d like to support them in setting up a brand new Kindergarten in Uganda I jumped at the chance.
One of the founder members of the organisation (Kathy Smedley) had been a teacher in a local Primary School here in Cheshire and the charity are based 10 minutes from home so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to be involved in something different, interesting and challenging.
Of course I had no idea quite how challenging it would be!
The Act4Africa Story
The charity was set up almost 20 years ago aiming to do something positive by harnessing the talents and capabilities of the local African communities.
The initial focus was tackling the HIV/AIDS crisis – in 2006 Act4Africa started providing mobile HIV testing and counselling services.
The work is increasingly focused on the issue of gender inequality. The charity believe that by educating girls and women about their rights, their health, the value of their continued education, we can change not only their lives, but those of their wider peer group, family, and community.
The Grow a Girl programme supports Ugandan teenage girls who need sponsorship to be able complete their secondary education, whilst the HEAL project is helping the women of Mayuge District to establish savings groups and work together to create small businesses
In August 2014 Kathy sadly passed away but the team continued with her dream of opening a multi-functional health and education centre. Built on a 3-acre plot, close to Mayuge Town, South Eastern Uganda, Kathy’s Centre provides the community, including vulnerable women and children of the district, with vital health and support services, pre-school education, a youth club and agricultural, enterprise and financial literacy training.
You might remember I went out to Uganda in 2018 to help with the opening of Kathy’s Centre Kindergarten and Basil, the Head of the school, has also been to the UK to attend some training and visit some UK settings.
The team in Uganda and the charity were really keen to establish a nursery with provision that reflected current practice in the UK. They recognised the value of play based learning and creating an environment that reflected the children’s interests.
As a result Ollie from Cool Canvas also joined us on the trip and in 2 short weeks created a brilliant outdoor area – using local resources and the help of a team of local craftsmen.
Together with Sarah from the charity we set about developing the space and training some of the teaching and support staff.
Opening any brand new provision is always tricky – but it was especially so in rural Uganda.
One of the initial difficulties we had was that, as many of the resources were donated from the UK, they were either inappropriate for the age group of the children or just not culturally appropriate. We struggled with the dilemma of using books full of white princesses with the real alternative of no resources at all. There’s no point in expecting children to role play ‘house’ if they don’t recognise any of the resources.
In the end we found a balance – and to some extent did the best we could with what we had available, while pledging to try and address this as an ongoing concern as the centre became established.
One of the ways we tackled this was by harnessing the talents in our community back home and putting out a request for knitted/crocheted black dolls! We were literally inundated and this week lots of them will be making their way to the school to be loved and cherished!
We also asked 5 clever crafty people to create story sacks – using traditional tales that had been rewritten and illustrated to reflect African culture. The results were amazing and they too will be going to the school on my next visit.
Going forward, having set up the Kindergarten, the charity are far more aware of what resources they need and can be specific with requests. They are really grateful for everyone who supports the centre both in terms of time as well as money.
Another key issue was managing the expectations of both the team and the parents. While everyone seemed on board with a play based environment there was still an underlying desire to build time into the day for a much more formal approach. The actual learning! This can be a problem for settings in the UK – and it’s no different in Uganda!
The solution in this case is much more complicated and may take many years to resolve.
This leads nicely in to the whole concept of ‘white saviourism’. It’s another whole blog post but is something I keep in the forefront of my mind.
It’s a very complex area but as we continue to work and support the charity these are some of the questions I ask myself:
- Is this an area of expertise that someone local could provide?
- Is the project sustainable?
- What messages do I send when I talk about this project on social media? Or in this very blog post?
In terms of expertise I’m comfortable with sharing my experience and expertise as a consultant with the team in Uganda. ABC Does as a company pays for my travel and accommodation.
As far as being sustainable – it’s certainly proving that way. The charity has established many long term, highly effective programmes but always with the aim to train and empower the local community at it’s core.
Equally the kindergarten is completely run by local people – albeit with regular skype calls on dodgy signals!
The messages we give are something I have far more control over and it’s something we’ve spent lots of time considering. To some extent we’re simply more conscious of the narrative of any social media posts. This photo of what was a magical story session was just that. But without context is could be misread.
Sarah from the charity is travelling to Uganda this weekend. When we share photos of the children with their knitted dolls I have to balance the joy of seeing something so lovingly made to bring happiness to a child (no matter their colour or where they live) with the notion that in doing so I may be perpetuating the problem.
I’ll make mistakes along the way – it’s a minefield and a steep learning curve!
Where are we up to?
The numbers in the Kindergarten have increased significantly. Due to some sponsorship the team have been able to buy a mini bus that allows them to pick up and drop off the children. Not only does this mean that children don’t have to walk long distances to get to the Kindergarten, it also helps to keep them safe.
This year the teaching team have been working on how they deliver and assess the Ugandan Framework for Early Childhood Development. Here is a copy if you would like to have a look at it ( LEARNING FRAMEWORK ). This also links into how they report to parents about what the children have learned.
We’re grateful for the opportunity to be involved in such a positive project. There are children in rural Uganda who have access to Early Years education who otherwise wouldn’t – and hopefully having a great time and developing a love for learning that will stay with them forever.
We’re also really grateful to everyone who made dolls and book bags. Sarah’s packing has been seriously compromised by the sheer amount of them!
If you’d like to find out more about the charity or have any other questions please get in touch.