A tasking education for the nation’s child.

We clearly have a problem, and it needs no introduction…

Heading out to work on a field-day, driven on the KabaleKisoro high way far off in the South West, I sat by the window of the double cabin every morning so I could do the usual; think my life through and wonder how I got myself to a particular point in my life that I happened to be reminiscing on that morning. There was however a constant sight I didn’t miss; the little girls and boys in blue shaggy and faded uniforms walking barefoot in a single file on the side of the high way as they knew to be the safest way to get to school, lest they get run down by a crazy driver at those sharp turns on the hills.

The thing that caught my attention was that every day the children carried brooms and others, the older ones, hoes to school. As my daily assignment was to visit as many schools as possible, I took the opportunity to inquire from one teacher in one of the schools about it, and he said that the children were required to carry brooms for general cleaning and the hoes so that they could dig and till the school land as part of the afternoon program; it is from that land that they would grow some of the food they feed the children.

I felt my heart sink a little lower. In that moment, I started to think about the children back in Bweyogerere, a Kampala suburb where I live, who get to be picked up by buses to school and never have to carry along with them a broom or a hoe because one child pays school fees enough to educate 10 others of the ones I saw every morning along the high way. But of course, one is poverty stricken and can only depend on the questionable government initiatives, while the other has got it all together.

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Primary 1-7 pupils in Arua gather for an assembly in a dialogue on hygiene and good morals. Photo/Karen Ihimbazwe

Poverty is definitely a longer story for another day, but I believe that Uganda can do much better in educating its poor children. That at least a rather comfortable education can be afforded to these children so that we are rid of the shortfalls of illiteracy in the future of the nation. With billions of dollars given to the education sector every Financial year; my focus is really on primary education where school begins, that actually spends about 54% of the Education budget, at least according to FY 2015/16 which allocated approximately 1,095bn, you agree that it’s probably not much, but that for starters, the children can be afforded a meal at school and not have to dig in their free time when they should be taking the chance to play and just be children, because these same ones come from homes where they have to follow their parents to the garden to do just the same; sometimes before they head out to school.

On top of having to go through imposed child labour at school, they are most likely to miss a couple of lessons because their teachers won’t show, or they just simply lost enthusiasm about going to class. In a recent visit to a Kamwokya KCCA school, one of the counsellors and founder of a sponsorship program sadly expressed to me that “…the kids no longer want to come to school, because they see no reason why; they have little or no inspiration. They fall out and end up not doing their PLE…” Children (pupils), I found out, are quickly affected by their surroundings, and so they will either be eager to learn or hate their school experience altogether. This definitely affects their general performance.

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Pupils enjoy a light moment in an ice breaker. Photo/Karen Ihimbazwe

We clearly have a problem, and it needs no introduction; although in a report by the New Vision, the minister of Education and Sports highlighted in her speech at the 23rd annual education and sports sector review workshop saying…
I can honestly dare say that the largest giant of a challenge we have today is indiscipline and selfishness that make people misappropriate the resources meant for Government work which we will now have to fight and try to plug those holes so that all the resources we get in our budget serve the purposes of this sector…”

And with that, we can only do so much as citizens to implore that these fights indeed be fought so that the nation’s children are afforded a normal education that could change their stories and give them a chance to celebrate knowledge in the wake of their dreams.

Luka the Italian.

#Fact1: The biggest part of the year… Scratch that. I have spent the last 7 months living in guest houses.

#Fact1: The biggest part of the year… I have spent the last 7 months living in guest houses.

That right there was a thought I harboured in my mind but had no idea how to put it into words (a blog post). So I just went right ahead and tweeted it; after all, they call it micro-blogging, no? I am not sure I’m good at crafting stories out of simple experiences otherwise this blog should have had a whole years’ series on guesthouse-type-of-living. Clearly. I suck at this and I’m often disappointed in myself because I don’t wanna forget a thing! Believe me there’s so much I see out here and some of it almost made me cry amidst some children but I can’t find words to describe the depth on here! So this might be my longest blog post yet. Stay with me to the end.

Location: Hoima District, Somewhere in a certain guest house.

Anyhow, that worry came to an end just a few minutes after my hopeless tweet. I had got myself 500 ml of mountain dew during dinner, but by the time I got home and got texting, it was almost 10pm and the soda was warm. The room is THAT hot. In fact, every time we get back from a long, hectic, muscle-straining day, we open our rooms and there’s this strong wave of heat that hits you in the face in a welcome. The room has a ceiling, but is not properly ventilated! My soda became really warm.

It was getting late, so I thought quick for a solution because I was thirsty…and then I decided I will take it to the guesthouse bar so that they can refrigerate it for me as I take my shower and then I’d pick it up as soon as I was finished since they were about closing shop. That, I did. As I made my way back to my room tip-toeing bare-footed, I heard the familiar “hello!” somewhere in the dark behind me. Earlier I’d got new neighbours next door, a group of young men and they’d said that “hellooo” stuff again to me but I ignored them. The ladies are familiar with that hello-sound; the bi men say it so irritatingly, so you know what their intentions are and then you don’t have to respond, you just keep walking because mother earth does not, ever revolve around their needs.

That other hello though, I wasn’t quite sure I’d heard it well. So I continued to open my door and then came the voice again, this time, “hi!” I turned around, and sure enough, there he was in the dark. Luka. It was dark as his veranda did not have any light naye I did not have to look so hard to recognise him, as you will know why. But, first, rewind to Monday evening…

Easter Monday is when my team travelled back to Hoima after the Easter break to resume from where we left off before the long holiday. We got there at about 18:20 which was good enough, so we could have a much deserved rest until commencement of work the day next. While we sat there waiting to find rooms, there was this guy hanging outside his room bare-chested but I didn’t care much, until he seemed to have noticed some “new kids on the block”. He went back to get dressed up in a t-shirt and shorts then he came over, stood around, looked around, stepped back a bit to the side when he didn’t seem noticed by anyone, then the thought hit me that maybe he thought he’d finally seen some people he could try and chat up with but we were so engrossed in our own discussion about current affairs.

At one point I looked up in his direction, to find him staring at me with a smirk. That was weird, and alarms immediately went off in my head (the stay-away-from-that-man-as-long-as-he’s-still-here alarms). But after a few minutes, he walked around the small compound, and I thought, well, maybe if I were alone, I’d chat up the poor guy…I guessed he was trying to find new friends…and then he made his way out. His name is Luka, and he is Italian. (But I didn’t know that until later.)

Fast forward to Tuesday evening (yesterday) after work, I’d gone to a shop and on my way back he was seated at a carpenter’s probably enjoying the craft or the nice shade under the craft man’s tree and I thought, oh no…there’s the white guy with the mischievous stare. I was wishing that I’d been a jogger at that point so I could just jog past him while saying “Jambo!” to the kids playing with tyres, but wapi. In fact, as I got closer, he actually stood up probably to stop me for a conversation but I was having no small talk from a stranger with the questionable expressions; I’d seen him chat up some strange ladies at his door, and I was having none of that. I focussed on a child on the other side, but then he still called my attention with “hi!” I responded, exchanged pleasantries and quickly continued on my way. He was still smiling and looking, when I left. More alarms.

Later that night, after dropping my soda in the fridge, there he was in the dark, on his veranda. Luka. And since he’s white, I saw him clearly; he was smiling. Smiling man + darkness + guesthouse = dangerous. No matter where you’re from. So I just wanted to respond to the hello, smile, and then get into my room and shut the door. But it didn’t seem fair because he came forward a little bit, as if to suggest, “phew! Maybe we can talk?” I thought it’d then be rude to go away because he asked the next question so quickly as if he knew I was running.

To be polite, I stepped back out and responded. He knew he’d finally landed my attention, so he sped off into various questions, sounding soft and stuff, all through so I decided I’ll keep his head straight by using a serious yet engaging tone so that he won’t get any creepy ideas in the dark of the night, and then I’d pick up a story from him at the end. As soon as I discovered who he really was, I ended up being an interviewer of sorts. That I’d get as much of his story as I could and come and tell you guys, then get liberated from my blogging silence as well.

My colleague at the end of the block came out her door to find me talking and listening. She must have thought…woah, did she finally land herself “connections” with the white man across the block? Even the manager came around at one point and then went off about her business. No wonder, later when she came over to inquire about something, I opened almost immediately as I was close to my door, and I noticed she looked inside just to see if Luka had somehow managed to get into my room. That perversion. But I can’t blame her. She sees that sort of thing every day all year. I then deliberately pushed wider my door as she spoke, so she could have a better look. Lol.

I was pleased at how well I handled the conversation with Luka and I almost felt sad when he said he was leaving the next day (today, which he did not). I thought I would gather more of his story, it was pretty impressive. We didn’t start off with introductions right away, as he was shooting questions trying to keep me from running. Haha. The many questions were about who I am and what I was doing, which I explained in the simplest detail, as he wasn’t fluent in English. It is at this point that I realised I could get a story out of him instead of freaking out, so I turned myself into an interviewer and off went the questions.

When I asked Luka what he was doing in Hoima, I expected to hear something else… but he said he was travelling. I asked if he was travelling to tour Uganda, but no, he was travelling around the world. Around the world!! Cool! So… anha…? How? Why? Of course I didn’t ask that way, I was trying to be careful not to sound too curious. Luka was travelling around the world ON A BIKE. Yes, bicycoloooo! Cycling from country to country. He said he started off with all through Europe, and now he had been cycling through Africa.

But Luka wasn’t just cycling. In Europe, yes. But in Africa, for every country that he went through, he stayed for a few days and he would single out a primary school in the villages in which he would build a swing for the kids to play. And he was on his way to Madagascar, which trip he said would take him a year to ride on a bicycle. A year to Madagascar from Uganda!

I asked why he took all this trouble, and he said he loved children, and also because growing up, he had every play stuff he needed. And going through these primary schools with a lot of free, empty space and nothing for the kids to play with other than run around the compound, he was moved to build a swing for one school in each country and he called his swing project “Sugarcane Smile”. He took out his iPhone and showed me quite a number of pictures.

Luka was building the swings all by himself all the way up, with no assistance whatsoever, whether physically or in monetary terms. In other words, he’s just a guy using up his savings to build swings in rural African schools. Impressed is an understatement, I was challenged! Not that I would build swings as well, but we can all do something for our little sisters and brothers out there. The swing he makes is simple, made with wood, a little metal somewhere, strong rope and tires for the swing seats. When he gets to the location, he finds the material, transports it himself, and gets to work. Alone. He paints numbers on the swing stands too, so that the children can keep their numbering in check.

I started to wonder that maybe he had planned this whole trip for a loooong time to also accommodate saving, but he said he didn’t have a plan whatsoever; he just started and went off on a trip. I asked what he’d be doing once he finished travelling around the world and he mentioned that he would probably write a book about his globe trot, and make a massive album out of the pictures he is taking. And that’s when I remembered that I have no idea where he comes from.

“Oh, so where do you come from?”
“Me? Italy.”
“Uhh I could tell from the accent… (as if I could. I just thought it was weird, he knew so little English) …and sorry I didn’t get your name the first time.”
“Luka!”
“Luka. It was nice meeting you, Luka.”

He is 30. He thought I was 18. He had a good laugh when I told him how old I was, like he was almost embarrassed but I told him it was okay, as no one ever tries to guess right. And we were saying our goodnights and heading our ways to sleep.

PS: If you ever read this Luka, it is all in good faith! Especially the beginning!