Penfriend Scheme

Penfriend Scheme
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After my first 5 months teaching English to the women in the rural villages of Kyabirwa and Bujagali I rather rashly promised to try and find the more advanced learners pen friends in Australia. These women began calling themselves “The Amazing Women of Kyabirwa and Bujagali” after a story we wrote together in classes. I did not realise the difficulty of this task until I returned home. We have lost the art of letter writing in this age of technology! But thankfully Aussie family and friends did join the scheme. Then following my 2009 teaching, happily more Aussie friends joined so we now have 30 pen friendships between women in the two countries.

How does it work ?
Our penfriend scheme is a joint effort - that is, we all have to send our letters together. The letters arrive from Uganda in one envelope addressed to me and when I send out the letters to the Aussie penfriends, I nominate a date (usually around 6 - 8 weeks away) for the replies to come back to me. Then I bundle the letters together to post to Uganda enclosing a self addressed envelope for the replies. There are no postmen in Uganda and the streets of the villages have no names and the houses have no numbers so to receive mail in Uganda the people of the villages need to have a post office box or access to a post office box in a town. We have our own personal postman, a young Ugandan man who works at the Soft Power Education Centre named Silagi. He collects the envelope with all our letters from Jinja post office and delivers it to one of the women in the group (someone they have jointly nominated). She in turn distributes the letters to her fellow letter writers. The women then put their replies in the envelope addressed to me and give it to Silagi to post to Australia. The post box was opened in Silagi’s name by Helen Brown, another Aussie volunteer, and she and I have been paying the annual fee. I leave many Ugandan stamps with Silagi to use when posting the letters to Australia. He is very pleased and proud to be our postman. In this way we are enabling these women to experience something they may never have been able to – write to someone in another country.

Who can be a penfriend ?
Any woman of any age living in Australia can be a penfriend. The Ugandan women range in ages from 17 to around 60 years of age. There will only be about 3 to 4 letters a year. The important thing is to make sure to keep up the letter writing because it is very very disappointing for any of the ‘amazing women’ who misses out on receiving her letter when all her friends receive theirs.

What can we write about ?
Anything and everything. I have explained to the women that we are writing to one another to learn about one another’s lives and countries and to make friends with someone who lives half way around the world. The letter writing, which is a bit like conversation, will help the women practice using their English. My hope is that the pen friend scheme will continue the social interaction between the women (something the men of the village have plenty of opportunity to do) and confirm the feeling of independence and achievement and increased self esteem the women had during our English lessons. I don’t really think there are any inappropriate topics (although as homosexuality in Uganda is illegal, I guess any mention of Sydney’s Gay Mardi Gras would be inappropriate). And some things may need a little explanation e.g. “a lovely day at the beach” may not be understood so you may need to explain how Australians love to spend a day at the beach.



Penfriendships so far
Aussie Pen Friends
Grace Monkhouse
Christine Doyle
Audrey Smith
Lauren McGinn
Wendy Doyle
Sue Monkhouse
Judy Giardini
Marion Martineer
Helen Louis
Marianna Crow
Rhonda Firkin
Elisa Catanzariti
Maria Catanzariti
Dianne Woolbank
Irene Irvine



using this for a space
Amazing Women Group 1
Edith Kyewayogera
Ruth Basekanakyo
Lovisa Wenswadhe
Saidha Mutesi
Immaculate Ndumbulu
Christine Nakaziba
Rehema Bagoole
Martha Gutabingi
Nubu Namulondo
Cissy Wanana
Sarah Kozaala
Hellen Nakisige
Mariam Muyombi
Rhoda Nanyonga
Jane Naafa



using this for a space
Aussie Pen Friends
Gill Aynsley
Annie Bickmore-Hutt
Sabrina Meagher
Annette Bycroft
Sylvia Hickman
Jessica Parnwell
Terry Wright
Cheryl Latter
Heather Cameron
Virginia Gunthorpe
Pen Friend Needed!
Catherine Hamlin
Lyn Mason
Tracy McDonald
Pat Hansen

using this for a space
Amazing Women Group 2
Stephanie Nangobi
Manjeri Uledi
Mirabu Babirye
Joyce Sanyu
Juliet Nantale
Kamuyati Nakisige
Hasifa Kasujja
Florence Nakito
Eron Nampina
Nulu Nabirye
Ritah Namulumba
Anet Logose
Elizabeth Nalongo
Joyce Kyaliki
Dorothy Egesa



Why don’t you join us? Email me by clicking on the " Email Me " link, this link will take you to your email account,email me your details and I will send you your penfriend letter. Such a small effort on our part can mean so much to these women in rural Uganda.

Unfortunately our penfriend scheme is on hold from 2014. Silagi is now often working far from home so can’t be our village postman. It is difficult to find someone who is able to go to town regularly to collect the letters and who also knows the women in the village to deliver the letters.