We Get Schooled

by Alena Pauley

Hi again!
Okay, so to set some background, this year the Nutrition project has expanded its involvement in the Naigobya community to include two nearby primary schools, Naigobya Primary School and St. Paul’s Learning Center. We visited them in our very first week. Our very first day, actually. I remember Moses coming over to Sakura and I, clasping our palms in his now comforting–but at the time a little disconcerting–manner, smiling and saying, “I think it would be good to visit these schools, is it fine?” We said “it is very fine,” but with some hesitation. We wanted to help in any way we could, but it was not clear to us exactly what we were going to be doing at these schools. Moses’s energetically would exclaim that we needed to encourage the schools to implement a model garden and health club. I did not even know what a “health club” was. But we went anyways. We talked to the teachers, telling them to implement a model garden and health club, we listened to their concerns and hesitations, and I left with a bit of uncertainty that any actual change would manifest. I had this uncertainty because, from an culturally American perspective, it would be surprising for any school to implement such change just because four strangers, unannounced and with nothing to recommend them, told them to. I soon learned though that things are very different on the other side of the world.
Fast forward to the end of week seven when the Naigobya team conducted follow-up visits to both schools. St. Paul’s was first. We arrived in the UDHA van and asked the headmaster if they had a model garden to show us or health club to tell us about. And, without further ado, the headmaster quietly led us to a field behind their classrooms where we saw nursery beds brimming with blooming greens, rows of still-green tomatoes, and baby avocado, papaya and mango trees. The students are the primary caretakers of the gardens. Through the garden they learn skills necessary to implement model gardens in their households. The headmaster told us that once the school harvests the plants, they plan to give the crops to the students to supplement their school lunches, which alternates between maize meal, or maize meal and beans, both thrilling options for sure.
Then he told us about their health club. Here, the senior man teacher gathers students he observes with poor personal hygiene practices for a large weekly meeting where he instructs them on proper sanitation procedures. He also makes sure to talk to them one-on-one so that they are able to voice any concerns they may be uncomfortable saying in public. The teachers say that they have already noticed an improvement in students personal hygiene in just a month and a half! However, change has not happened without challenges. Students’ poverty continues to be an issue. It is hard to expect a student to bathe more if they do not have money to buy soap, just like they cannot brush their teeth without a toothbrush or toothbrush, or comb without a hairbrush. These are issues that I have been wrestling with since our meeting and still am at a loss of how exactly to fix them.
Next we visited Naigobya Primary School. I have a special soft spot for Naigobya Primary School. This is largely because I think those kids are crazy-cute little goobers. I have attempted to give them hugs on multiple occasions and every time they run away from me screaming. Not just screaming, but screaming with some arm flailing thrown in as well. At this school, we have had similar results regarding the model gardens and health club. Both have already been implemented, except here the format of the health club is slightly different. The senior man teacher chooses model students who assist him at school-wide health parades to identify students with poor hygiene. He then pulls those students aside to instruct them on proper methods. The results and challenges this school faced are similar to those cited at St. Paul’s, showing that there are not problems unique to one school but are endemic to the entire community.
What I have learned from this experience is that change is possible and that people are willing to change. Not just that, but they want to change. They were so thankful that we came, so gracious and welcoming, and so eager to continue a partnership in the future. The entire experience was one of the most gratifying and rewarding that I have been lucky enough to be a part of in my time here and I am thankful to the schools for the education they have given me.
Lastly, please appreciate my punny title, because I thought that was very clever of myself. Thank you.

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We Get Schooled

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