by Karen Dicks, a retired SMUS teacher
Students in Grade 4 recently made contact with Grade 4 students at Kibaare School (pronounced Chibaray) in southwestern Uganda. I spent more than a month working with friends who volunteer their time for six months of the year in Uganda with an organization based in Comox. Knowing that I would be spending time in primary schools, I spoke with several classes at the Junior School before I left.
After seeing a few photographs of the Ugandan children and their school, the Grade 4 SMUS students had questions: What did it feel like to sit on a dirt floor at school? Why did the girls, as well as boys, have shaved heads? What did the children eat for lunch? What did they read (since the photos showed no books)? The children wrote their questions in letters. After I suggested that the Ugandan children would also have questions about life in Canada, the children described their school and family life, including colourful illustrations. All of the materials were bound into a comprehensive book. The children in Kindergarten and Grade 1 also drew pictures of themselves, their family members, and their interests.
There are more than 460 children at Kibaare School. It is not in a village. It is a half-kilometre walk from the closest dirt road, 30 minutes from a main road. Needless to say, there is no electricity. There are eight teachers – yes, the SMUS Grade 4s were impressed with the idea of being in a class of 64! When the Ugandan children were given the SMUS stories, they poured over them in near silence, sharing with total respect. I had brought science books from the Middle School, as well as school brochures and copies of School Ties. Their eyes widened in wonder – much of what they saw was difficult to comprehend.
Hacky-sacks and frisbees were new to the children, and provided many hours of fun! Real soccer/footballs were a significant improvement over the handmade ones, pictures of which the SMUS children found fascinating. Our children found it difficult to comprehend that, even though school fees for a year for a Grade 1 child are $18, and for a Grade 4 child are $30, many parents cannot afford to pay.
The Kibaare children wrote letters in reply, as English is taught in all Ugandan schools. Most of the questions that the SMUS children had posed were answered. Predictably, as our children looked through the binder of letters and multiple photographs from Kibaare School, more questions were generated. In keeping with the school’s mission of fostering an awareness of international issues and situations, the Grade 4 students have had a glimpse into the lives of peers half a world away.