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A volunteer's life in Karamoja, Uganda

In an extract from her blog, Marie Moreau, who has just returned from volunteering with VSO Ireland as an Inspection Advisor in Uganda, talks about her experience helping to improve the country's education system.

VSO volunteers Marie Moreau and Padraic McKeon doing the Hokey Cokey with local educators Hillary Lokens, Joseph Alepe and Hellen Lokens at Moroto Core Primary Teacher Training College, Uganda.

Beautiful landscapes

Karamoja lies in Eastern Uganda, a vast expanse of green countryside dotted with beautiful flat acacia trees and, occasionally, family settlements of thatched houses built in circular formation. The journey there from Kampala passes over the beautiful Nile River at Jinja, through the noisy, bustling town of Soroti and along rutted, red marram roads. It is a landscape that changes all the time and as one gets closer to Moroto, one of the main towns, it is dominated by the imposing peak of Mount Moroto. 

Improving education in Uganda

My visits to Karamoja were as part of the Irish Aid/VSO project team responsible for 'Evaluating and Improving the Quality of Primary Education' in Karamoja Region, specifically in the Moroto and Kotido districts. My role was to support those involved in the school inspection process, including local inspectors and coordinating centre tutors. I worked alongside them on school visits and conducted workshops that addressed gaps in the inspection process identified by the inspectors and myself.

Thanks to the resident members of the team, Peter and Farayi, the venues for the workshops in Moroto and Kotido (another district area in Karamoja) were ready and food organised for each day. My workshops took place alongside those for headteachers from the project schools, delivered by Padraic and Maria, my two Irish volunteer colleagues. I arrived armed with flipcharts, markers and post-its, looking forward to the activities I had planned and hoping that they would be beneficial to the participants. As I had met people previously and everyone knew each other, the atmosphere was friendly and relaxed – a good start!

Educators John Paul Olinga, Peter Loteem, Rose Akullo and Isaac Joseph Opia at a workshop in a primary school in Kotido District.

Innovative activities

As much of the teaching in the classrooms in Uganda is teacher-led, our main focus in the inspection workshop was on child-centred learning. Those carrying out school inspection roles are in a crucial position to support change and advise teachers on methodologies that might positively impact the school-life of the children in their care. Among the varied activities during the day, we brainstormed in groups what is meant by a child-centred school and explored the meaning of the phrase, ‘wellbeing of a child’, prompted by the definition by UNICEF of a child-friendly school. 

One activity that worked very well was based on a visualisation exercise where participants thought back on poor practices they had witnessed, recorded them on post-its, and thought about the kinds of positive change they would like to see happen in the same schools. People then worked in groups to identify ways that change could be brought about, thinking about their role as inspectors and real-life obstacles they might face. We finished off the process by looking at how we could work to overcome these barriers. All post-it suggestions were displayed in the form of a bridge over a river.

What was significant for me throughout the workshops and afterwards when I completed my report was the way in which people participated wholeheartedly and enthusiastically in all activities. I was also very impressed by people's level of commitment to their profession and their desire to improve their own practice and that of teachers in their schools. As I shook hands with everyone and wished them well, I felt we had all taken a journey together in understanding and exploring each other's experiences and knowledge. 

Investigating what it means to have a child-centred school at a workshop led by Marie Moreau.

Successful outcomes

A further visit to Karamoja gave the VSO EQPE team and stakeholders a chance to acknowledge and celebrate the educational progress being made in schools involved in the project. We visited classrooms and heard from headteachers, members of the inspectorate and tutors from the primary teacher training colleges. Although most children had already gone home and we could not see teaching and learning in action, we were able to tour classrooms showing creative ways of using local materials to display learning. We were also entertained by the choir of P6 and P7 pupils in one school, who, despite the mud and rain, sang in wonderful harmony. 

Through the entire work of this school-based project of which I have been just one participant, it is hoped that the improved quality of education in Karamoja will impact positively on the lives of the local children and contribute to a future of choices for them.

Think you'd like to follow in Marie's footsteps?

Marie had a life-changing experience volunteering with VSO in Uganda - and you could too! Search through our latest vacancies and find out more.

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