My Emails

Hello from Bujagali, Uganda  

Sent 25/06/17
Hi family and friends,

Sunday morning in Bujagali is quiet. Even the monkeys are having a sleep in. My first two weeks have been filled with welcome-back lunches and dinners. At the end of my first week we had 51 women signed up to start English lessons. After the second week about 41 have come regularly to classes. They are all new students and they come to a Soft Power partner school at Bufuula which is about a 15 minute boda boda ride from Bujagali.

I must admit that I had that “What the bloody hell am I doing here?” moment one afternoon as I sat in the teachers’ staff room sheltering from a stormy downpour for two hours. Steve (boda boda driver) and I hadn’t quite arrived at the school when the heavens opened so that we were cold and wet when we did arrive.
Needless to say, no women came to sign up that day but the next day we were inundated with prospective students. It is so humbling to see the excitement of some women who are finally getting their chance to go to school. The ages of my new students range from 20 to 65. Their knowledge is quite varied from not being able to write their name to being able to speak a few words of English. It has been a bit difficult to divide them into three groups each with similar capabilities.
These are a few of the women arriving for their first lesson.

This afternoon I’m going with my friend, Mag, to Teddy’s for lunch and to see the whole family. Her brother Alex and his girlfriend are coming from Kampala. Her sister Sylvia is bringing her new baby. Her brother Eldrine is getting leave from boarding school to come for the day. Sadly, Teddy’s Aunt Rachel won’t be there. She has TB and won’t be able to be in company for another 4 months! Teddy will be at work but will come as soon as she finishes. I see her every day as I pass by her workplace on my way to Soft Power every day.
Hope all is well in your corners of the world,
Jenny x
Hello from Bujagali, Uganda #2

Sent 8/07/17

Dear family and friends,
There is such a feeling of freedom riding as a passenger on a motorcycle (boda boda) – look no hands, Mum - along red dirt tracks passing through villages where beaming smiles greet you and children’s cries of “Bye mzungu” make you smile back. The freedom to ride with no helmet even though at my age I should know better! I think it’s that feeling of freedom here that is part of the magic of Uganda. That and the warmth of the friendly people. Who cares if the clothes you wear don’t match and who has ever heard of “a label” here! Of course, there is plenty of discomfort and frustrations for us mzungus (white folk) but it is a good way to learn patience and to accept and deal with things as they come along.

At the end of my 3rd week 60 women had signed up for lessons despite the teacher saying “no more students” 😖. Most have attended their 2 classes a week and most have paid the 1,000 shillings or 40 cents to join. This of course means a lot of work for the teacher!

Each morning as I walk to the Soft Power Education Centre to spend the morning preparing lessons, I take this shortcut through the village. Does it look like I’m in deepest darkest Africa?

But wait, on the walk back as I get closer to the road, this is the “scenery”. And all that electricity from the dam doesn’t go to the village. Most of it is on its way to Kenya.

All going well here. Hope it is in your corners of the world. Be happy and well.

Jenny xx
Hello from Bujagali, Uganda #3

Sent  24/07/17

Hi Family and Friends,
Six weeks ago I arrived in Bujagali for the eleventh time! It is so easy to settle into life here but I guess I’ve had lots of practice. Admittedly, it takes a couple of days to get used to the dusty roads, the messiness and the amazing sights of life in a third world country. But soon it is all so familiar and feels like home.

One sight that can be disconcerting is the multitude of houses that sell petrol along the roadside. Old plastic water bottles filled with petrol sit on little stools in the sun outside the house ready to help out a boda boda driver who is short on petrol and far from town and a petrol station. Most often it is a young child who pours the fuel into the petrol tank using a funnel fashioned from the end of another plastic water bottle. In our world, the child would not be near the roadside let alone be messing around with petrol.
That wonderful feeling of freedom comes with apparently no rules and regulations (well, they are there but they are just not enforced!)

The beautiful women who are my students at Bufuula make my days so special and rewarding. The battle to get my lessons prepared and teaching resources organised each morning (What has happened to all the paper? Where the *** are my scissors? No power, oh well, there’s that lesson plan out the window!) is all worth it once I see the women’s smiling faces and hear their greetings.

A few years ago I met an American woman, Lyn, staying in Bujagali at Eden Rock. She was here to conclude the process of adopting a young boy whom she had met a couple of years before while working for another charity. Kisule’s mother had died in childbirth and her family didn’t know who his father was so Kisule started life living with his maternal grandparents. His elderly grandfather died when he was one year old and soon after his grandmother became too sick to look after him. He spent the next two years of his life living with various extended family members in abject poverty and this is when Lyn heard his story and started plans to adopt. It was several months of more and more paperwork, interviews and court appearances before Lyn could become his guardian and leave Uganda with him. It was a special day when Kisule then 6 and Lyn left Bujagali heading for a new life in Denver, Colorado. He is now a very American 10-year-old but Lyn has returned to Uganda every year for Kisule to stay connected to his roots and meet up again with old friends.

The point of this story is that one of my students, Joyce, one day in class she told us that the reason she was learning English is so that she can speak perfectly to her nephew who now lives in America. The class activity was for each student to tell everyone why she is learning English and I thought Joyce had told us a great story. The following week she brought in a photo book to show me. When I saw the photos I immediately recognised Kisule and Lyn and Joyce was so excited to find out that I knew them. Lyn had made the book of Kisule’s life in America to give to his aunt Joyce and extended family on one of their visits.

Sadly, Kisule’s early life is not so unfamiliar for many children born into poverty in Uganda. But his is only a happy ending because Lyn has ensured that Kisule remembers his own culture and knows his roots.

I’ll finish with a couple of photos of two beautiful girls. The lovely Teddy enjoying some mzungu food on her day off. And the gorgeous Aisha, the daughter of Shaz who is the Country Manager for Soft Power. Last Sunday afternoon Aisha and I made the necklace she is wearing. She has since made me a gift of a bead bracelet.

Love Jenny x
Hello from Bujagali, Uganda #4

Sent 5/08/17

Dear family and friends,
Two months and so far I’m jigger and mango fly free 😊 and I make very sure I cover up at night and sleep with my mosquito net to be malaria free. I’m almost half way through this year’s lessons! Time is racing.

On the way between Bujagali and Bufuula we pass two bore holes (water pumps) and late in the afternoon they are a “popular” spot as the villagers (mostly women and children) line up to fill their jerrycans with water for their homes. Imagine not being able to turn on a tap in your home whenever you need water. I’m lucky to have running water in my little hut (banda) and electricity (most of the time). Even seeing it every day it’s hard to imagine how hard day to day life can be here in the rural villages.

Arriving for lessons early on Monday afternoon just after some rain I stand in the doorway of the classroom to watch the world go by. The school is near the road leading into the village. First I’m greeted by the school children as they return to classes after lunch. I smile and wave back. Some are shy and some are cheeky. A woman walks along the other side of the road. A baby is tied by a sling of fabric on her back and two small children follow her. Both are girls wearing oversized t-shirts as dresses. The taller of the two carries some recently dug up root vegetables in a basket on her head. The mother carries a couple of sugarcane stalks. She stops, even though it is still lightly raining, hacks off a piece of sugarcane with an oversized knife, strips off the outer layer and gives it to the younger girl who begins happily chewing on it. Soon another woman follows the same path also returning from her garden. She balances a sack of vegetables on her head with the hoe she has been using in the garden balanced precariously on top of the sack. From the other direction a boda boda drives slowly along the road. The passengers are a mother and three young children. The youngest child is at the front of the driver over the handlebars, and the other two are sandwiched between mum and the driver. Five people on a small motorbike. The driver waves to me as they pass. A goat in the field across from the school stretches at the limit of its tether and reaches some grass despite standing in the middle of what looks like delicious goat-edible grass. The grass is always greener I guess. The women begin arriving with smiles and greetings and I turn my attention to the first class of the afternoon.

A couple of pics to finish. The monkeys are playing in the trees above my banda and a mother is preening her baby on the pathway outside my banda.

This is Bufuula Primary School where we have the lessons and the extraordinary tree outside our classroom.

Keep well and be happy,
Jenny xx
Hello from Bujagali, Uganda #5

Sent 26/08/17

Dear family and friends,
We are past the halfway mark for our lessons and I’m very happy with all my wonderful students.
My ‘favourites’ among my students this year are hard to pick. There’s Ruth a small woman in her 50s in the beginner group who has only missed one lesson. She is shy and quiet but always smiling and speaks the English words in a loud voice. And Monica also a beginner and in her 50s, tall with lots of personality and hasn’t missed any lessons arriving a couple of times soaking wet after walking through rain to come to her lesson on time. Monica has a tough time with English pronunciation, tries very hard and thankfully is beginning to master it.

In the middle group there is 30-something Irene and 40- something Janet. Both have attended school to mid primary level. They can both read English but don’t understand the meaning of what they’re reading. The challenge here is to stop the rote learning as they did at school and to think about the English words so they can have a conversation. Janet is the quiet achiever and Irene is the loud one who can’t always resist answering for others.

The top group are generally younger and this reflects how education in Uganda is slowly improving for women. Once girls never had the chance of going to school, then as primary education became ‘free’ more girls have been able to attend. There’s Lydia who is a pre-school teacher but still finds it difficult to participate in our interactive lessons for fear of making a mistake. She is 30 and wants to improve her vocabulary and speak more like a first language English speaker. She is hopeful of one day travelling outside Uganda. And Rita in her early 20s who brings her very young baby to lessons. She is well educated but extremely shy and has not yet been brave enough to stand up in front of the class and speak. We all try and encourage her to come out of her shell.

I so admire these women who want to learn and particularly the older ones because we all know how hard it is to go back to school in your senior years. They are all housewives and subsistence farmers except for the teacher and two other women who sell some of the produce from their vegie gardens in a little shop (shack) on the roadside. Some afternoons I can see how tired they are as they trudge up the hill from the village to school. They’ve probably been to their garden, which is sometimes far from their house, planting or weeding then collected firewood for cooking on the way home. Maybe they’ve been to the borehole (water pump) for water to wash some clothes (by hand – no washing machines in the village). There are also no work benches so that all these chores are done bent over – preparing food, cooking it, washing.

I have two students who have never been to school and writing is a real challenge for them. If we achieve the goal of being able to write and recognise the letters in their name to spell it, we will all be pleased. It will mean that they will no longer have to put a cross or a thumb print instead of a signature. Monica (another one) is in her early 60s while Zaituna is young in her early 20s. Monica is a dainty beautiful looking woman and probably has many children and even more grandchildren. Zaituna has many brothers and her father favoured the boys ahead of her to get an education. She has improved greatly. She is more relaxed and happy in class and getting better and better at speaking English sentences and can now spell and write her first name. Next we have to master her Ugandan name.

The dry is back and it’s now a challenge avoiding the dust which gets into and clings to everything. But it's not all hard work and dust or mud sometimes it's nice to chill and enjoy a drink and a sunset over the River Nile.
Keep well and be happy,
Jenny xx
Hello from Bujagali, Uganda #6
Sent 17/09/17

Dear family and friends,
Dozens of avocados, eggs, gnuts (peanuts), tomatoes, hands of bananas, paw paws and sugar cane. These are the gifts I’ve received from the women. It is so generous when they have so little. It is very humbling. I only have three more weeks with these wonderful women 😢 After three and a half months and almost 90 lessons it will be hard to say goodbye. My last week will be spent saying goodbye to so many people but the most emotional day will be farewelling these women at our ‘graduation’ afternoon.

I admit it won’t be so hard to say goodbye to the dust and mud, the constant power blackouts, the chore of hand washing my clothes every weekend, the heartache of seeing such poverty every day and wishing I could help everyone, the heart-in-mouth feeling every time I see a child in a vulnerable situation, and the many frustrations of living in a world so different to my world at home.
I will miss the huge smiles and the warmth and hospitality of the people and I will miss the freedom of the simple life without all ‘the stuff’ and I will miss hearing Mama Jen or Dahdah everywhere I go. In short I will miss the magic of Uganda.

This weekend I visited Aunt Rachel in hospital. Aunt Rachel is Teddy’s aunt and part of her very close knit family. She is being treated for pneumonia. OMG! This is when it brings home to me how lucky I am to live where I live. The hospital beds are terrible and the mattresses are worse. No bedding, apart from the disgusting mattress, is provided. No food or drinks are provided. Patients and their families have to provide their own. There is a multitude of little shops outside the gate of the hospital providing all the food or supplies needed. There is no privacy in a small room with 10 beds. No curtains around the beds or at the windows. And as for cleanliness, there isn’t any. I’ve no idea how anyone recovers. It looked like a place to make you sick. I could go on but you get the idea.
Keep well and be happy,
Jenny x
Hello from Bujagali, Uganda #7  

Sent 6/10/17

Dear family and friends,
Only 4 more sleeps in Uganda before I fly home.
The busy end of my teaching program finished yesterday with an afternoon tea party and presentation of certificates to 48 very excited women. I have RSI after marking 48 exam papers and writing names on 48 certificates.

I received more gifts - eggs, avocados, paw paws and a lovely beaded purse. The women were so appreciative and asked if I would come back next year.
It is such an amazing and humbling experience. When I'm in the middle of it there is a little voice saying 'Is this really me?'

If you are a Facebook person you
should be able to see some pics on the Soft Power Education facebook page.
Thanks for listening these last 4 months.
Jenny x