Last week I found myself sitting amongst a group of kids doing my best to communicate in Luganda, which I’ll admit wasn’t very good, when Agnes walked over to see what was going on. For a while, she stood behind many of the boys and watched and listened. When Agnes heard me try and ask the students how old they were and if they went to school, she quietly stated that she was 9 years old and in P3 at St. Joseph’s Primary School.
I later learned St. Joseph’s is nothing more than some desks under a tree.
Most of the kids ultimately ran off once they realized I’d exhausted just about all of the Luganda I knew. I stood up, dusted the red dirt off my pants and proceeded to take a few more pictures of the school’s progress. I walked around the back of the school to get a good view of the roof that was being installed at that very moment when I looked through the camera lens and saw Agnes peeking over the walls of one of the classrooms. She grinned and, in typical Ugandan fashion, raised her eyebrows in a sort of questioning look. I walked up to her and, in perfectly clear English, Agnes asked me “What is your mother’s name?” She followed-up her questions with many more and, in turn, began to tell me more about herself, too.
Agnes lives with her grandmother and her cousin, Esther, in Kyeitabya; very near to where “Engineer Gasana” lives and very close to the future BT Academy. She has a younger brother named Daniel; he’s two, but he lives in Kampala with her mother. Her father passed away. Agnes told me that her best friend is Joan (she repeated this many times to be sure I pronounced her best friend’s name correctly) and that she loves school. She makes very good grades and her favorite class is science, where she scores between 85 and 100. Like many girls her age, Agnes wants to be a nurse when she grows up. I have no doubt that, given her good grades and the resources and access to continue her schooling, she will be.
Agnes said her favorite color is green and she loves matooke (a mashed banana dish, if you will). She loves to read and, with some help from Henry Katongole, one of my colleagues in Uganda, Agnes told us about her favorite book where a family owns a mischievous goat named Gulu-Gulu. The goat ends up destroying their garden and the parents aren’t very happyâ€¦so the children take Gulu-Gulu to school every day and their teacher doesn’t end up being very happy with the goat, either.
Later that night I asked Katongole, a teacher by profession, why he wanted to work with an organization building schools. He mentioned Agnes and told me that the school she currently attends isn’t really a school at all. When it rains (which, I might add, it does just about every day during the current rainy season), classes can not continue and all of the lessons written on the chalkboard outside are washed away. Katongole asked how any student could learn and progress in such an environment?
“There is a great need for people in Uganda to build a better education system and environment,” he said, “Agnes is very bright and we need to make sure she can stay in school.”
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