While volunteering in Africa, at a preschool, I was wandering down the village road on my second day there, when about 12 kids adopted me. They took me into their mud house and showed me all of their possessions, consisting of a water barrel, 3 filthy beds for 7 children and a chair. They all sang songs for me, even the toddlers, taking turns and singing together. They were so sweet. One song was called “We are happy to see you today” and I really had to blink back the tears. It was just what I needed at that moment. My volunteer job was at a preschool for orphans. If you ever want to feel needed, go visit a preschool in Uganda.
Every day when I arrived at the school, the kids would all come running to greet me, grabbing my hands and climbing all over me. I usually had 4 or 5 kids hanging on each arm at a time. Sometimes they would fall asleep with their heads in my lap. I taught them nursery rhymes and songs and helped the teachers with correcting letters and numbers etc. I quickly found out that teaching kids is much different from teaching adults; you must repeat yourself dozens of times. The kids were taught in their local language, Lusoga, and English. They called me Madam “Sinseeah” or “Finfiya”.
I normally walked to work, 35 minutes along the main road that passed many villages. The people were very friendly, especially the kids. The adults would often ask me who I was and what was I doing there. They were very appreciative when I told them that I was helping out at a school. I have never shaken hands so much in my life. Our school had one classroom outside; the other two rooms had a dividing wall them that was open at the top so you could always hear the other classes. It got very noisy, especially when it rained on the tin roof.
The teachers are ecstatic when a visitor brings books, pens or just anything. Only 2 or 3 of the kids had shoes, a few wore flipflops and the rest were barefoot. It was so muddy when I first arrived, as it was the rainy season, so red mud got tracked everywhere, including my clothes. There was no running water at the school, so the kids drank from a jerry can and shared 2 cups. Occasionally, they were given toys to play with for an hour or so. The toys consisted of a few balls, grass dolls, broken plastic trucks, some bits of playdough, and some stuffed animals, all covered in dirt. The kids are so thrilled to have something other than the usual empty water bottles that they normally play with.
One little girl that I noticed, an AIDS orphan, was very bright and it broke my heart that her grandmother would likely not be able to afford to even send her on to primary school. Her eyes would follow me all day long, as she smiled shyly. Everyday she wore the same ragged blue t-shirt. Education is basically free for primary grades 1 through 7; however, the kids must buy a uniform and their own exercise books and pencils. For some families, those expenses are prohibitive.
A typical primary school has over 1500 children, and many classes are jammed packed with 100 – 150 kids. Some kids board at the schools, and their rooms are often just a bare cement floor with a thatch mat on the floor to sleep on. Every morning, when I arrived at school, I made a point of shaking hands and greeting the teachers. We would ask each other how was the night, how’s the family, how is “there” and how are the crops, chickens, or goats. We would also shake hands again when I left for the day, wishing each other a good day. The headmistress would thank me profusely every day and about once a week would say to me “Cynseeah, thank-you for loving us”.