Uganda Day 11

After leaving Nabagoye Village yesterday, we drove West across the country to reach our safari destination: Murchison Falls. As the landscape changed, so did our moods as we eagerly anticipated our 3-day safari together. The trees became denser and the grass lusher and 7 hours later we reached the park passing elephants along the way. 

View of the Nile from our huts.

View of the Nile from our huts.

The lodge is set overlooking the Nile River. We are staying in huts scattered along the property. 

We had dinner outside listening to the sound of animals. We ate and drank and retired early to our huts as our day was to begin at 6:30 sharp. 

It was still black outside when we woke up and had breakfast at 6:00. We watched the sunrise and the beautiful African horizon was pink and red. It was a breathtaking start to the day. 

We set off on our first game drive at the biggest park in Uganda: Murchison Falls which is 5000 square kilometers. 

We spent the morning on an exciting game drive. We saw herds and herds of elephants, giraffes, Buffalo, antelope, warthogs and prata monkeys; we even spotted 2 lions. 

They packed us lunch and we went to a local spot by the Nile River. There were hundreds of children dancing and listening to music.

Dan couldn't resist and immediately joined in followed by the rest of us. We danced around the circle with the children and their supervisors. They loved including us and warmly welcomed us. While enjoying lunch, a hungry baboon approached our group. Within seconds there were park patrols scaring them away ensuring our safety. There were many baboons and warthogs all around us while we ate- not a sight you see everyday!! Our guide took us to a beautiful lodge to relax for an hour and we excitedly jumped in the swimming pool feeling so happy. We have had very little downtime since arriving and the hour in the pool hit the spot. Then, off on a boat safari to the gorge of the Nile. We saw hundreds of hippos, and many giant crocodiles. There were many animals along the shore resting and eating. The waterfall itself was breathtaking. The scenery here is majestic. 

We returned to our lodge 12 hours after leaving this morning. We had a special day in the park as the 11 of us shared quite an incredible experience together. 

Love, 
TWSB Team

Written By: Michelle, Sukriti, and Ruchi

Uganda Day 10

It's hard to believe our time in Mbale is over. We stayed just the right amount of time and our work is complete for now. Although we still need to monitor and evaluate our projects, we have a good team at both villages to provide us with the support and data we need. 

I need to reflect upon what we saw because it's hard to imagine unless you've been to a rural village in a developing country. 

As a group, I think we collectively spoke about water the most. In the absence of running water, the women spend a good part of their days walking to water sources, filling bottles and jerry cans with water and carrying the very heavy containers home. Some days we had a trickle of running cold water and some days, they filled jerry cans for us. We worked outside all day sweating, wearing sunscreen and bug spray. We had to be deliberate in our "showering". Do I have enough water to wash my hair? There was no way to get all of the dirt off of our bodies with such a small amount of cold water. 

After water, it's hard not to contemplate the scarcity of food: rice, beans, peas and potatoes being staples. But, the remarkable aspect of the food is how and where they prepare it. Both villages had one small coal burning pot. That was the only heat source. They had no counters or chairs and the women either sat on the ground to cook or bent over the pot. Every time they served us lunch and dinner, I marveled at how they could do it - how could they produce enough food for 12 people in that tiny space. 

Notwithstanding the basic necessities such as food and water, these villages have no paper or pens. The schools are lacking books and educational resources. They have the unwanted items that we've all thrown in bins in an attempt to clean out the abundance of supplies we all have. We are planning to take bags of resources to the villages on our return in a couple of months. A duffel bag of pens, pencils, paper, geometry sets, educational workbooks and dictionaries. 

Books. They have no picture books or chapter books to read. 
 

Balls. Putti Village had never had a real ball to play with.  While balls are not a real life need, they make people happy. I realize it is of the utmost importance to help with food, water and shelter,  but I also feel committed to also bring some joy and happiness on my return.  

They are so resilient and resourceful in many ways. But in others, they rely on our help to spark change. I will always remember these men, women and children. Especially the beautiful, bright eyed, smiling children that we worked so hard to provide a way to access a better education. The hope is that through education, we can do our part to help - even one child - get out of their poverty cycle and have a brighter future.

Love, 
TWSB Team

Written By: Michelle Gilman 

Uganda Day 9

Good bye...

There was a feeling of frenetic energy in the guesthouse this morning as we scheduled our last day at both Nabagoya and Putti Villages. 

We began at Semei Kakungulu High School to administer the bus questionnaire to the high school students. Their responses were upsetting, to say the least, with fear of kidnapping and sexual assault en route to school an all too common response. We can't emphasize enough how much these communities need a school bus and we are planning our return here shortly to make the bus a reality. The agricultural team made sure that their three-pronged approaches of water catchment, CSA gardens, and an incredible chicken coop were effectively implemented with incredible community support. 

CSA Garden: 

TWSB Team (from left to right) Sukriti, Lainie, Ally, Ruchi, Enosh (Head of Putti Village), Aaron, Samantha, Michelle, Shirley, Lynne, Leo, and Eli standing to the right of the garden we just planted. 

TWSB Team (from left to right) Sukriti, Lainie, Ally, Ruchi, Enosh (Head of Putti Village), Aaron, Samantha, Michelle, Shirley, Lynne, Leo, and Eli standing to the right of the garden we just planted. 

Water Catchment: 

Young JJ Keki (Enosh's Son) standing in front of the new water catchment system which is the first of its kind in Putti Village. Here, rain is captured in the gutter systems and channeled down into the 1000L storage tank. From there, it is stored to water the garden and to provide drinking water when the bore hold has dried up. 

Young JJ Keki (Enosh's Son) standing in front of the new water catchment system which is the first of its kind in Putti Village. Here, rain is captured in the gutter systems and channeled down into the 1000L storage tank. From there, it is stored to water the garden and to provide drinking water when the bore hold has dried up. 

Aerial view of chicken coop before building.  Scroll down to see the finished project! 

Aerial view of chicken coop before building. 
Scroll down to see the finished project! 

Then, on to Hadassah Primary School for Day 2 of the reading program. When Aaron and Michelle went into the classroom the students were so excited to split into their respective groups. As luck would have it, all of the students who were absent yesterday, were back today. There was no wifi again, but Aaron read out loud. It's almost funny that we dealt with every possible problem the first day, and the teachers are now able to troubleshoot without us. After we finished reading with our groups, the students were sad to say goodbye to us - they were the sweetest and most appreciative children.

Okay, so it wasn't all them - we were incredibly sad to say goodbye to the students we built beautiful relationships with...

We then met with the Headmaster, grade 3 teachers, computer specialist, head of English (I use these terms loosely). We had to teach them how to assess the students in 30 days. Michelle went through the protocol and we videoed the process in order to leave them with an instructional tool. The meeting went exceedingly well and we really believe they understand all that is required on their part. 

Then, the goodbyes...

We put hundreds of hours into this reading program not knowing how it would really work in a developing country. Could we really create a program with the potential to help students all over improve their reading fluency?

It's hard to articulate the messages and the thanks you's we received from the team at Hadassah. They are beyond thankful to have this reading program at their disposal. They can't wait for the study to be over and get the whole school using the programs. 

There were the most genuine and heartfelt hugs between all of us. And some tears. We walked out of Hadassah Primary optimistic that all of our work would pay off. It's easier to leave with a return trip planned and with a mix of joy and sadness, we left the school. 

On to Putti Village. We went to say goodbye and see all of our agricultural projects finished. The chicken coop, garden, and water catchment are incredible and are tangible improvements for this very poor community. We left them food, water, and a passive income. We can't emphasize enough how grateful they were for our support. The teachers told us on Tuesday that they have never had a real ball. So, we brought them 2 soccer balls and the excitement was crazy. 

TWSB Team standing in front of the completed chicken coop!  This micro finance project provides students with nutrition (eggs), the school with passive income (extra eggs are sold), and sustains the CSA garden using chicken manure as fertilizer. 

TWSB Team standing in front of the completed chicken coop! 
This micro finance project provides students with nutrition (eggs), the school with passive income (extra eggs are sold), and sustains the CSA garden using chicken manure as fertilizer. 

Then, the hugs and thank you's. And more tears. 

We have spent 10 days in the poorest of conditions with no complaints: no running water, using a single Jerry can for a "shower", off and on power, beans, and rice or peas for lunch and dinner. We have been exhausted, hot and hungry. And we would all come back in a heartbeat and do it all over again. 

We are a quiet group tonight taking in all that we saw and all that we accomplished. 12 people from all over the world who came together to help students access education through improved transportation, nutrition and curriculum. 

12 people who made a real difference in the lives of 2 small villages. 2 small villages that made the biggest difference in all of our lives.

Love, 
TWSB Team

Written By: Michelle, Sukriti and Aaron

Uganda Day 8

We set out at 8:30 to begin the first day implementing the reading program. We were excited to finally see how months of research, planning and testing would pay off!! We knew the program wouldn't run without a glitch, but we couldn't have possibly anticipated all of the hurdles we faced. What's that saying... Man plans, God laughs... By 9:30 it certainly felt that way. The computers they promised to charge for us were not charged and the wifi we needed wasn't working. Those components were vital to our project.

The calm before the storm.

The calm before the storm.

By 10:30, we had done damage control, and found 6 computers that worked. No audio, no problem- Aaron would be the reader. So we set off to the classroom to divide our grade 3 class in 2 groups. We learned that 9 students were absent because they hadn't paid their tuition and were "chased away". No worries, we decided to go back the following day to work with those students. We stood outside the Grade 3 room for 30 minutes waiting for the teacher to return from break. Tick tock. Tick tock. At nearly 11:30, 3 hours after arriving, we had solved all of our problems and were ready to begin the reading program.

The students arrived and excitedly ran to the classroom.  We briefly discussed how we would introduce the new reading program and then got started!

Aaron split the 42 person class into two: the treatment group (those using our reading application) and the randomized controlled trial (students who read the same books in class using the same font for the same amount of time without the use of simultaneously listening to the text).

Of the 42 students, Aaron randomly selected 21 for the treatment group. He walked around the classroom and gently tapped students on the head.  After receiving a tap, they stood up and moved towards the front where he stood. Next, Aaron and his cohort left for the library where they would be introduced to the reading application that TWSB has developed thanks to thehelp and support of Riafy.

After Aaron's group left, Michelle explained the reading program to the control group. She showed them the stories they brought and passed out folders containing sight word lists and sentences. This group will read text only (without audio) for 10 minutes every day. The students were thrilled to receive the reading materials. They had never seen a timer on an iPhone and were overall excited about what was being presented to them. Even the teacher asked if she could participate so her reading would improve! During their reading time, the room was silent. They understood that the reading program was going to help all of them read better. After the 10-minute timer went off, the students were sad to return their books. Michelle assured them they would be reading from them every day for 30 days and they would get them back the next day. Neither Michelle or the students wanted the moment to end. It was a hugely successful day and the program had begun. Michelle thanked all of the students for participating and for listening so well. They were so thankful; they all stood up and hugged Michelle with smiles and thank you's.

Michelle's cohort hard at work. 

Michelle's cohort hard at work. 

Meanwhile, in the library, The setting was surreal.  Many of the computers that should have been charged for the study had been neglected and the Ugandan wifi took on a life of its own. 

What many would have considered major problems worthy of disrupting our study proved to be remarkable opportunities. With only 6 of the 21 laptops charged,  we decided to allocate 1 laptop for every 3 children. This was a temporary measure to showcase the app and ensure that the students understood the user interface.  The cooperation was incredible to see. 

The second issue we encountered should have broken the camels back.  The last 3 months have been spent populating our app with audio recordings from around the world.  We've had people in India,  China,  Canada,  South Africa,  Australia,  Germany,  and Switzerland record books using our app. We always explained that these recordings would be utilized by students in our study.  You can imagine our frustration when the wifi refused to work!

This provided us with yet another wonderful opportunity as well as something to consider moving forward. Since the audio files on each page would not load,  Aaron read each page out loud. He began " and to think I saw it on mulberry street by Dr. Seuss."

And had the student click next and interact with the app just as they normally would without the audio playback.

The experience and problems encountered also affirmed our need to build out this app with offline capabilities so that all recordings can be downloaded and shared with rural communities that experience the everyday realities of spotty wifi.  Moreover,  some user experience and user interface issues need to be addressed.  Specifically,  larger and more obvious buttons which people with less exposure to technology do not always find obvious. 

Following our trial run, the group said their goodbyes,  packed up and met the other TWSB team members outside. 

Our Global Reading Program (GRP) Team in Uganda (right to left): Betty (English Teacher), Michelle, Aaron Moses (Headmaster), Aaron Friedland, Saul (English Teacher), Maxwell (Head of English), Juliet (English Teacher). 

Our Global Reading Program (GRP) Team in Uganda (right to left): Betty (English Teacher), Michelle, Aaron Moses (Headmaster), Aaron Friedland, Saul (English Teacher), Maxwell (Head of English), Juliet (English Teacher). 

We hopped in two vans and drove towards Sipi falls - the stunning waterfalls on Mt. Elgon. Our group, with a new addition, Dan, travelled for an hour until we arrived at a rustic lodge where we ordered the most western food on the menu: burgers. While we waited for the food, a guide took us on a hike to see the first and by far most glorious of the three waterfalls. We hiked past pink and purple flowers and banana trees.

After taking in the scenery and showering under the falls, we continued on our journey. While hiking to the final peak, some of the group members cliff jumped into the surprisingly refreshing river. The trail continued to a village high above the hills. We walked past coffee, banana and cocoa farms. It's funny how 'normal' walking amongst cows, goats and roosters has become.

Standing above Sipi Falls overlooking the lush country side. 

Standing above Sipi Falls overlooking the lush country side. 

When we arrived back at Sipi Falls lodge, steaming tea and coffee awaited us. We sat under the terrace marvelling at the view as storm clouds rolled in and lighting illuminated the sky. We laughed and talked and bonded as the rain came down and we took in all the beauty of the rain storm in Africa.  

Love, 
TWSB Team

Written By: Aaron, Michelle and Eli

Uganda Day 7

This morning we set out bright and early to make the long walk to school with the students from Putti Village at the Yonatan Netanyahu School. The early morning sunrise was beautiful shimmering pink and orange as it rose above the mountains illuminating the trees on the horizon. All was quiet as we left Nabagoye Village except the sound of the crickets and roosters. 

As we set off down the road, we began to see more and more students of all ages walking to school. Their walks were all different lengths ranging from 1 to 10 kilometers. The more we drove on, the more the roads filled up with students. Some kids walked alone, some in groups, most without parents, some with shoes, many without, a few with backpack. Seeing young children with no shoes or supervision is hard to digest. However, the scene isn't complete without realizing the hope and determination all of these students possess trying to get an education. 

The need to gift these communities a school bus is apparent. It is also abundantly clear to us that it must be done properly and efficiently in order to maximize the benefit to our partnered communities. While on the ground here in Uganda, and creating new contacts, we have been able to do more due diligence than was possible from Vancouver. We learned that the bus we planned to purchase was purchased and shipped to Uganda from Japan. It was driven hard and we were going to buy it used. Since being here, we learned we can buy directly from Japan and ship the bus here for the same price as gifting them a well used bus. We have also formed a partnership with a local tour company, African Adventures who would like to help us monitor and evaluate the project. As such, we have decided to purchase the bus from Japan and return here in a couple of months to gift the bus. While we are all anxious for this community to have the bus, we must ensure that cost efficiency and maximum benefit to the community are of paramount importance.  

With thoughts of the bus on our minds, as our van approached a fork in the road, we all got out to walk the final kilometre with the students. There are no real words to describe what we saw and how it felt to participate. With our TWSB shirts on, we felt proud to be a part of their journey and to realize the mission of The Walking School Bus: to help students access education. 

While the agriculture/nutrition team set up, Michelle and Aaron went into Mbale to purchase supplies local style. We rode on motorcycles (on the worst of roads) and returned standing in the back of a pick up truck holding on for dear life with our supplies. After a tire falling off the truck and our piping falling out of the truck, we made it back to the village. 

TWSB team was in full swing when we returned completing the work of yesterday's garden, chicken coop and art projects. It was satisfying to see the projects come to life. We'll be back on Thursday to see the chickens delivered!! Michelle had the opportunity to workshop with the teachers and share educational reading resources. They were so grateful and appreciative of all our time and energy!

After 6 hours, the chicken coop is really coming to life! It's incredible, previously we had been working on the theoretical economic growth models and now we're brining it to fruition! 

After 6 hours, the chicken coop is really coming to life! It's incredible, previously we had been working on the theoretical economic growth models and now we're brining it to fruition! 

We arrived at Putti Village at 7:00 am and left 12 hours later exhausted but satisfied and happy to see the difference we are making in the lives of the people here.

Love,

TWSB Team

Written By: Michelle Gilman 

Uganda Day 6

Putti means joy. 
Being in Putti Village means extreme joy. We have been brought up to appreciate the big and the little things in life. But the 'little' is subjective. The 'little' has a different definition in Putti. The 'little' is everything someone might have. 

Jonathan Netanyahu Memorial School welcomed TWSB Team with unmatched warmth. Enosh, the community leader, made us feel at home, introducing us to his beautiful family. Following a short orientation, our day of heavy work in Putti began. We were excited beyond measure.

We initiated the art project with students who have never been formally trained in fine art. But the confidence and passion we came across, blew us away. We went from pencils to pens to paints and inks very quickly on the very first day. And the teachers were extremely supportive.

Less than 30 feet away, the nutrition team were diligently working on 3 large projects: Installing a rain catchment system to water our garden, implementing a remarkable garden which teaches agricultural best practise and provides access to higher levels of iron-rich crops (that help to alleviate the high levels of anemia in the region); and building our chicken coop which will hold 100 chickens. These chickens provide eggs for the students to eat for school lunch, create a passive income for the school by selling extra eggs, and provide our garden with nutrients from the chicken manure. 

The Nutrition Team arriving at Putti Village with materials for our water catchment system, chicken coop and CSA Garden. 

The Nutrition Team arriving at Putti Village with materials for our water catchment system, chicken coop and CSA Garden. 

Meanwhile, the curriculum team (Michelle, Samantha, Elli, and Lainie) convened at Hadassah Primary School to continue with its fluency testing of the Primary (grade) 2 students to set a baseline for TWSB global reading program. Children were given a short reading passage and timed for 3 minutes. How far they got in the passage will be calculated and analyzed to determine each child's fluency level. In addition, the children were asked questions regarding their reading habits and motivations for reading in English. The range of answers was astonishing as children shared their favorite English book, if they read at home, and how they felt about reading in English, among other things.

Grade 5 teacher facilitating administering the bus questionnaire. 

Grade 5 teacher facilitating administering the bus questionnaire. 

The team could not have performed its work without the support of the administration and students. The headmaster and classroom teacher were welcoming and helpful in finding us space to work at their busy school. But we are most appreciative of the young students themselves who willingly came and sat one on one to read aloud to a group of total strangers - with clipboards!

In addition to the fluency test and Primary 2 questionnaire, the team administered a "bus questionnaire." A purpose of the bus questionnaire is to help TWSB ensure its projects are research based. It is important to measure and have substantive evidence to support the work we are doing. The bus questionnaire collects data on how far children are walking to school, under what conditions and specific examples of the challenges they face. After administering the first batch of questionnaires to students in grades 5 and 7 we have been blown away by the children's candor as they disclosed the issues they face walking to school. Disturbingly, these included foot injuries, being cold and hungry, being hit by vehicles and threatened by strangers! The curriculum team will be back at the school later this week to continue with this important work.

We are super excited about what we will be able to achieve tomorrow.

Uganda Day 5

At an insanely early departure time of 6 a.m TWSB team took a break from its reading, art, and agricultural projects and headed out on a day of White Water Rafting down the Nile River. A local tour company, African Adventures drove us the 2.5 hours to Jinja where they transported us down the historic Nile River. While deceptive in its calmness from the meeting point, a further 40-minute drive later we were to be put to the test.

After eating a delicious breakfast (it was such a treat for us), the team split into two groups: the mild and the wild! You might think this descriptor would distinguish the whitewater rapids the groups would face... And you would be mistaken just as the mild group was! To protect the names of the mild we won’t share who went where but even more so it doesn't matter as essentially everyone ended up in the water at some point. We will, however, share that some of us were more prepared than others to have that near drowning experience as you got spun around, lost all sense of direction and swallowed a gallon of the Nile. Fortunately, we had two amazing guides, Roberto and Sadat who brought us all out the other side of 4 exhilarating rapids.

It was remarkable to have rafted down the Nile River under the beautiful African Sky. The river was so wide with the most beautiful foliage surrounding. We laughed, we trusted each other and have formed meaningful friendships. 

Re-energized, we boarded our buses and headed out for a much calmer and educational boat cruise to the "Source of the Nile". The Source of the Nile is the actual start of the Nile and floating along we were brought to Lake Victoria which is bordered by Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania. We learned how construction up the Nile was causing water to back up and causing small landmarks to become submerged.

After this absolutely amazing day of fun and excitement (and a little fear at times) we headed back along the road to our guesthouse in Nabagoya village.

While the ride back was in the dark, we would be remiss not to share the unbelievable and very real life moments we saw when we traveled to Jinja earlier in the day. Since we departed so early, we were fortunate to bear witness to the many tasks the average Ugandan family in a rural area experiences. Driving along we saw communities of women gathered around wells where one woman would pump out water into the endless row of jerry cans the women had lined up to fill and carry home to their families. We saw the lighting of the coal cooking stoves that families cook their meals over and laundry being washed. As businesses opened we saw signs hung, goods laid out right outside, often on the ground, and the pride in people as they swept up their doorstep. As we write this, we feel like this is a fraction of the daily chores being tackled. Chores that are not done indoors behind closed doors and with machines or electronics. It was striking how the lives of people are played out outside. Not in a coffee shop where everyone sits alone, computer, tablet or smartphone in front of them not communicating let alone making eye contact. Here the power of community, and the saying that "it takes a village" unfolds before us every day.

So with that, the exhausted TWSB team is off to bed ready and eager to wake early tomorrow and get back to doing our part to contribute to the village.

Love, 

TWSB Team 

Written By: Lainie Shore 

Uganda Day 4

This morning we all slept in and had a leisurely morning. Most of us had laundry to do which took a considerable amount of time. The guest house has one pail and it takes approximately 3 minutes to fill with cold water. Wash, rinse, rinse, hang. One person at a time. There was something so serene and peaceful about starting the day in such a basic way. We all hung our laundry outside together, taking in the breathtaking scenery around us. We talked and laughed and chased the chickens that were not afraid to approach us. 

Late morning, we went into the market in the town of Mbale. The market was jam-packed with fruits, vegetables, meat (I wish I hadn't seen or smelled!). There were people everywhere. Upstairs, they were selling clothing and fabrics. We definitely stand out here and the local people like to touch us and take pictures with us. They are a friendly and warm community. We had some business to take care of: buying chicken wire and materials for the chicken coop we'll be gifting a village on Tuesday. In addition, our illustrator needed fabric to help illustrate our book when she goes back to work with the students on Monday. 

Late afternoon, we hiked around our village. We visited Semei Kungulu's grave - the founder of Judaism in Uganda and walked around high up in the mountain overlooking the breathtaking land. Along the way, we walked with cows, chickens, goats. And, of course, children - they are always with us. 

DSCF2425 (1).jpg

It was a busy day. We had some running water, some power, and some wifi. Most important, we got more bottled water. We talked about our "new necessities" tonight and all agreed that drinking water was at the top of our list. Crazy how quickly perspective changes. 

We ended the night recording books with our new app for our reading program. 

It was a beautiful day of new friendships and new priorities.

Love, 

TWSB Team, 

Written By: Leonard Timsit and Michelle Gilman 

Uganda Day 3

This morning we were up early in the hopes of getting to work by 8:00. Given it was Friday, and because of Shabbat, the school day ended at noon. 

The curriculum team went back to the Grade two room to continue assessing reading levels. The students were so polite and stood to greet us. They were friendly, warm and welcoming. After an hour, we felt confident assigning reading levels and ready to begin our case study: will reading and listening simultaneously improve reading fluency faster than reading alone. 

We did our pretest questionnaires and next week we will finish collecting data and implement the reading program. I am so taken by the fact that we all speak English, but have so much difficulty communicating. The use of vocabulary and context is quite literally worlds apart. 

Grade 2 students from Hadassa Primary School filling out a TWSB reading questionnaire. 

Grade 2 students from Hadassa Primary School filling out a TWSB reading questionnaire. 

A Vancouver-based outerwear company, Stormtech, graciously donated 50 phys ed uniforms for the elementary school. After we finished testing, we handed out 50 brand new uniforms (shorts and t-shirts in 2 colors) to 50 kids. The looks on their faces was heartwarming. They clapped and smiled and couldn't wait to get passed a uniform. We had them all run to the soccer field and play a game of soccer. The whole school gathered around to watch and cheer and the sight was remarkable. 

You wouldn't have thought the scene could get any better until Aaron set up the drone and videoed the game. Needless to say, the kids had no idea what they were watching. The expressions on their faces of awe and excitement were incredible. Our walking school bus team was all completely blown away and felt so privileged to witness the beautiful scene.

After lunch, we went to meet JJ Keki, founder of Delicious Peace Coffee Co-op. We drove up Mt. Elgon where the soil is rich and fertile and full of lush forest. We met up with JJ who took us on a beautiful hike to see an old synagogue where Jewish people prayed in secret during Idi Amin's rule.  The synagogue was located high up on the mountain overlooking the beautiful country. The synagogue they used was a natural formation of beautiful boulders providing shelter. We learned about the origins of Judaism in Uganda and discussed the coffee farming business. After our spectacular hike and talks, JJ took us to his home and played his guitar for us. It was truly a beautiful moment to listen to him sing and play Hebrew music with many village children and people gathered around. The local people have welcomed us wholeheartedly.

As the sun began to set, we all walked down the hill to the synagogue to celebrate Shabbat. Quite honestly, it was a highlight. Nabagoya Village was dark, and the synagogue was shining bright. All of the village gathered, and the service began with l'cha dodi, drums, guitars, and tambourines. The synagogue was full of men, women and children all wishing us Shabbat Shalom. The Rabbi thanked us for the work we are doing in the village. We were worlds away from home, yet the service, the prayers and songs were the same. 

We had no power or water today, but it didn't matter. We felt nothing but happiness and gratitude to be part of this incredible experience. 

Wishing you peace and love from Mbale,

TWSB Team

Written By: Michelle Gilman

Uganda Day 2

As the sun rose over the Ugandan mountains and the rain cleared, we woke to the scent of sautéed vegetables and omelets. While gathering around the main table, a car pulled up carrying Michelle and Samantha Gilman. Marvelously bright eyed after their four-day journey to Nbagoye Hill, they had a coffee and hit the road again to meet the children they would be testing for TWSB’s reading program.

TWSB Team members (from left to right) Eli, Michelle, and Sam start collecting baseline data. 

TWSB Team members (from left to right) Eli, Michelle, and Sam start collecting baseline data. 

 

Meanwhile, the creative minds and illustrators on our trip, Ruchi and Sukriti set out to find students from the High School and Elementary school to help illustrate our second book focused on interfaith collaboration. This book will be illustrated by the students through these art lessons and the process is incredible! The children drew stunning pictures, scenes of Africa, schools, sunsets, houses, synagogues, churches and mosques, true to the interfaith basis of the school. Ruchi and Sukriti inspired the students to express themselves through abstracts and realism and with a multitude of colours and painting and drawing tools. 

An interfaith group of students from Semei Kakungulu High School draw in TWSB's Book Project

An interfaith group of students from Semei Kakungulu High School draw in TWSB's Book Project

 

After visiting Semei Kakungulu High School, Michelle, Samantha, Lainie, Aaron and our expert photographer Leo made their way to Hadassa Primary School to collect baseline data to assess the efficacy of the Global Reading Program.

Michelle Gilman collects baseline data for our Global Reading Program while teaching other volunteers how to objectivley conduct these tests. 

Michelle Gilman collects baseline data for our Global Reading Program while teaching other volunteers how to objectivley conduct these tests. 

Michelle taught the volunteers how to test the children and they set to work assessing reading levels. The work was broken up with intermittent periods of fun; dancing, singing, playing tag and throwing frisbee. The volunteers all met for lunch back at the guest house. After lunch we returned to the school to continue our reading assessments. When the school day finished, we made our way to Mbale Town, the closest city to the Nagoya Village. We purchased a massive water tank that Aaron impressively hauled onto the roof of our truck. Additionally, art supplies were bought to continue with Ruchi and Sukriti’s project. 

Transporting a 1000 Litre water tank used for rain catchment in our agricultural program.

Transporting a 1000 Litre water tank used for rain catchment in our agricultural program.

And as the day wound down, our group of volunteers grew closer. Since arriving, we have all discovered that there is no better way to form connections than by working towards a cause we all believe: empowering access to education. Although we all come from different walks of life, our wonderful group of volunteers has hit it off remarkably well. 

Now off to another busy day empowering access, nutrition, and curriculum! 

Love, 
TWSB Team 

 

Uganda Day 1

25 hours of air travel. 6-hour bus rides. 11 enthusiasts. 7 countries.

That is what it takes to get the wheels of The Walking School Bus rolling. 

The manager of the guest house, Rachel, welcomed us at 2:30 AM, after a six-hour bus ride on a windy, pot-hole filled, dirt road, with a big smile and a warm hug. We settled in quickly, and went to bed, ready to rejuvenate ourselves for the coming morning.

Our international bunch from India, France, South Africa, Rwanda, China and Canada, woke up to the sounds of mother nature: the rooster alarm clock. As the sun rose in the Pearl of Africa, we took in the beauty that had been ignored in the darkness the night before. Luscious trees, flamboyant flowers and towering mountains.

Rachel made us all a delicious, yet familiar breakfast of omelettes cooked in traditional Ugandan fashion: on coal-burning stoves. 

(Photo of Leonard making friends in Nabagoye Village, Uganda.) 

(Photo of Leonard making friends in Nabagoye Village, Uganda.) 

Our international group arrived with the understanding that we all come from different origins. With different origins, come different energies, different ideas, and different talents. Different, but complimentary.

Cultivating a thought process becomes easier when you are in the company of curiosity. Luckily for us we were surrounded by kind locals to answer all our questions.

We walked through Nabagoye village along the narrow, dirt road as we explored the lush countryside. All of the beautiful, sparkling, eyes that we passed along our journey from the guest house to the schools Hadassa Primary School were incredibly welcoming. The villagers excitement was palpable. Whether village dwellers, students, or educators, the myriad of faces we encountered,  were all enthusiastic about our work and excited to participate. 

Photo (from left to right) of Ally, Lainie, Eli, Aaron Kintu Moses (Headmaster of Hadassa Elementary School), Aaron, Ruchi, Sukriti, and Leonard. 

Photo (from left to right) of Ally, Lainie, Eli, Aaron Kintu Moses (Headmaster of Hadassa Elementary School), Aaron, Ruchi, Sukriti, and Leonard. 

This walk led us to Semei Kakungulu High School which got its name from Semei Kakugulu, the founder of Judaism in Uganda. As the TWSB team sat down in headmaster Seth’s office, we discussed the unique interfaith students who have put faith based differences aside in pursuit of higher, collaborative education.  We spoke about the next two weeks upcoming projects in line with access, nutrition and education and spent time mingling with the students. 

We continued on our Journey to Hadassa Primary school where we were greeted by a large, excited group of elementary schoolers who led us hand in hand through the schools court yard. We were escorted into the library where we met up with headmaster Aaron Kintu Moses who helped us plan the Global Reading Program’s implementation. 

Image (from left to right) of Sukriti, Eli, Ally, and Ruchi walking hand in hand with students from Hadassa Primary School. 

Image (from left to right) of Sukriti, Eli, Ally, and Ruchi walking hand in hand with students from Hadassa Primary School. 

After a wonderful Ugandan lunch with some of the largest, juiciest Avocado’s we’ve ever seen, our adventure continued to Mbale Town. As we left the calmness of the village, we found ourselves in telecom chaos.

After resolving our lack of data and first world problems, we threw some frisbee, wrote in our journals, snapped pictures of the stunning views, had meetings with local leaders and watched the sunset. 

Following an early dinner and team meeting, the group was all incredibly excited about the upcoming days. Specifically, implementing all of the hard work that has gone into preparing for this trip and bringing our projects to fruition. 

Love, 
The Walking School Bus Team

 

 

One Week To Go!

We're off to Uganda in one week!

For those of you wanting to follow our journey, we will be blogging nightly (and hopefully posting some videos) on our website:http://thewalkingschoolbus.com/ugandablog

We're still in need of supplies and materials. For a complete list of project materials and to make a donation, please visit: http://thewalkingschoolbus.com/donate/

Each and every dollar will be directly used to support our partnered Schools in Uganda.

Thanks for all of your support!