Back at Busiu

So today was another exciting day, as we set off to meet the St Julian’s link school, Busiu Primary. We were up very early, as it would take longer to get there and we wanted to make the most of our day with the school. We had visited the site 3 years ago, when Mr Walyaula was Headteacher there. The new Headteacher is Mrs Napokoli; she had been messaging us on whatsapp late last night to clarify final arrangements and sounded very excited to meet us. We have had some contact with her over the last few weeks and it would be lovely to finally see her in person, at the school.

We headed down for breakfast at 6.30, hoping to be on the road by 7. One again, we enjoyed a delicious omelette made by this lady…

Joseph called to let us know he was running a little late, which gave us some additional time to pack our things and sort out the resources we had purchased for the school. In the communications we had with Mr Napokoli, she said that the school was in great need of some sports equipment, educational materials, musical instruments and maths sets. We had managed to pick all of these things up in town, on Saturday and were excited to hand them over today. As we headed down to meet Joseph, who had now arrived; he was stood there, with the door of the car wide open, ready to show us the instruments that we were providing for the school. Having seen these earlier in the week, when they were nearly finished, it was great to have them here ready to deliver to the school. The only slight down side of taking all of these amazing resources was that the car had to be packed incredibly tightly, with Joseph ending up sat on top of a suitcase, squashed next to Mr Prewett, who was sandwiched in between a xylophone and drum! Mr Mansfield, meanwhile, looked comparatively comfortable in the front seat, with Abdul.

On our way to the school, we collected two mango trees, from a farm on the roadside. Abdul pulled in and whistled to a man to call him over. Joseph explained what we wanted and passed him the money. He ran off for a moment or two before returning with two small mango trees ready to plant.

These were to be used for some commemorative planting, giving the school something which would be a lasting reminder of the link between the schools and also to provide the children with mangoes, when they bear fruit in three or four years time. We continued to the school and soon began to recognise familiar scenery as we approached Busiu Primary.

Memories came flooding back of the wonderful time we had, had there in 2015 and as soon as the car pulled into the school’s compound, we both jumped out to a warm greeting from Mrs Napokoli, who had a beaming smile and a warm embrace waiting for us!

As soon as we arrived, the children raised the Uganda flag on their school’s flagpole. No sooner had it got to the top of the pole, Mrs Napokoli realised that she had a Wales flag, from our previous visit, in her office. She rushed in and reappeared holding it out wide, before handing it to the boys to raise.

Once the flag was up, the children were gathered together for assembly, underneath a mango tree, as was the case with Mr Walyaula’s school, yesterday.

There are over 1200 pupils at the school, but only around half were in attendance today (Mr Napokoli explained how attendancegets better as the week goes on but thatuntil next week, they would not be back up to where they should be!). Mrs Napokoli greeted the children and talked to them about our visit. We both introduced ourselves and talked about how excited we were to be back, having had such an amazing time back in 2015.

Mrs Napokoli asked who remembered us, from our last visit, to which a smattering of hands were raised (children tend to change schools lots in Uganda, so it was not as many as perhaps you would have expected!).

From our last visit, there was one girl in particular we both remembered. In 2015, we taught the children rugby and were overawed by the fierce approach one girl took; showing the most competitive approach to sport we had ever seen – her name was Winnie! We had been asking Mrs Napokoli before our visit if she was still there, so she knew we were keen to meet her again. Embarrassing Winnie slightly, Mrs Napokoli asked her to come out in front of the whole school and greet her. She was very excited to see us and we said to her that we would like to speak to her later on to catch up with her!

Following assembly, Mrs Napokoli took us into the office before offering us a tour of the school. She brought along with her the school’s coordinator, who was responsible for helping link Busiu Primary and St Julian’s, and they showed us around. We remembered much from last time, although many of the classrooms seemed in a much poorer condition than this time three years ago. Time had not been kind to them; a number of blackboards being completely cracked and many faded and the walls of the rooms were also clearly suffering from where there was no additional monies to paint them over the years. What we mainly noted however, was that the children’s greetings had not dampened in their enthusiasm over time. Each and every class gave a hugely warm welcome, with a range of songs and routines which touched both Mr Mansfield and Mr Prewett greatly. It was also lovely to have a chance to speak to some of the older children, who had raised their hands to say they remembered us.

As we moved around the school, this also provided a great opportunity to get to know Mrs Napokoli and her colleague a little better, as we discussed our comparative education systems and approaches, on the way round. It was interesting to see how some classes had changed approach over the last few years, with a number of classes now sitting their children in tables which were grouped, as opposed to the traditional way of having rows of desks.

In each class room, it was great to pick up little ideas from the teachers… they had been telling us that children often drop litter in school. One teacher had come up with the great idea of telling children to make their own footballs using the rubbish they collected.

Mr Prewett thought he was having a particularly interesting discussion with one of the teachers before the teacher just answered his phone mid conversation – he was clearly not enjoying Mr Prewett’s light hearted patter as much as Mr Prewett had imagined. To make this awkward situation even worse, Mr Prewett could tell straight away from Mr Mansfield’s face that he had clocked this, and would be writing about it in the blog later!

As we arrived back to Mrs Napokoli’s office, we presented her with a photo of the school and also a Parker pen as a gift. She was delighted!

Outside, the children and teachers had set up the instruments we’d brought with us ready to play.

Along with the teachers, a few children began to have a go at playing them. Everyone grabbed an instrument each and began to try and find a collective rhythm. Luckily, on this occasion, Mr Prewett wasn’t thrust to the front of the ‘group’ and asked to perform a solo, but was instead content with being left with a drum, at the back! It was great to see how eager the children were to use their new instruments and was pleasing to hear the music teacher being so delighted with what we had brought with us.

Once the improvised performance had ended, Mr Mansfield and Mr Prewett were both keen to get into classes and meet some more children. Mrs Napokoli suggested going into P5 and sharing a little bit about Wales and our link. We shared with them lots of information about Wales, Newport and our schools, also discussing the distances between our countries and the children’s project of walking to Uganda – they could not believe that our children were walking so many steps in a bid to raise money for them!

After our lesson with P5, we went into the P6 and P7 classes to deliver letters which our children had written to the Ugandan children. The children loved reading about our pupils in the UK and looking at photographs of them. They found some of our British names funny to pronounce and particularly loved reading about sports that our children enjoy.

After reading the letters, the children were given some lined paper to write back to our children. We asked them for suggestions about what they could talk about in their letters and discussed the correct format to write a letter. As the children started to write, they were so eager to keep their work neat, taking great care over their handwriting and presentation.

Once the children had started writing their replies to the letters, Mr Prewett and Mr Mansfield gave them some time to finish and were summoned by Mrs Napokoli and the ‘School Grounds Coordinator’. They were keen for us to plant the Mango trees which we had bought on the way to school. We walked over to the school’s garden along a muddy pathway until the grounds coordinator handed a pupil a hoe and told him to dig a hole. The pupil started to swing the hoe and within seconds, had a hole around two-foot deep. He let Mr Prewett finish off the last bit of digging using the hoe. Mr Prewett was then handed the first Mango tree and told to place it in the ground and then sweep soil back over to fill in the hole. He decided to call his Mango Tree ‘Miss Rutledge’, after his head teacher. The grounds coordinator then led us further into the garden area where other crops were growing, until she had found a place which she was happy with for the next mango tree to be planted. Once again, one of the children started swinging the hoe to begin digging a hole and then handed over to Mr Mansfield. Mrs Napokoli and the other teachers teased Mr Mansfield about his hoe technique. When the hole was deep enough, Mr Mansfield was handed his mango tree to place in the ground. Having seen how muddy Mr Prewett had become when he used his hands to brush the soil back over the roots of the tree, Mr Mansfield thought he would try to encourage the children to finish off the planting process, but the teachers were keen to see Mr Mansfield get down and get his hands in the mud. Mr Mansfield was then asked to give his tree a name and thought he’d better follow Mr Prewett and go with head teacher names, so the second tree planted was called ‘Mr Rees’. They plan to create a sign to label both trees and also take regular photographs to show us their growing progress.

Following the planting of the mango trees, we were taken into the teacher training room for a ‘break-tea’. On our way over, the children were climbing the trees to get mangoes down. They were awesome climbers!

When we arrived at the resource and training room for break-tea, they poured out some soap and water to allow us to wash our muddy hands, and then we were given a choice of Tea or Coffee. The way that Ugandans make tea and coffee is very different to how we make them in the U.K. They appear to leave the leaves/coffee grains floating in it and have it incredibly milky. We were also given water, two eggs and two bananas each, by the school’s ‘welfare coordinator’.

Over the break, we were telling Mrs Napokoli how much the children had enjoyed watching the videos from our last visit to Uganda, in the lesson we had taught earlier. She was keen for all the children to see and decided to arrange for us to show some of the videos in the church building on site, as it was much bigger than any of their classrooms.

We walked across the site towards the church building and many children ran towards us. As we walked, we saw more children climbing the trees and throwing sticks up into the trees to try to hit the mangoes down, so they could eat. We had been telling our children back in Wales how the pupils often did this to get food, so we took some photos to show them when we return home.

By the time we arrived at the church building, the teachers had assembled most of the pupils.

We went through our presentation, talking about Wales and also telling them about our schools and pupils. As we started, thunder and lightning started and the rain started to pour. When it pours in Uganda at this time of year, it really hammers down. The roof of the church was a corrugated tin roof, so as the rain hammered down, it was so loud in the church. We had to shout at the top of our voices throughout the presentation just so we could be heard. They were so happy to listen to us talking and were all completely absorbed watching videos from our last visit and also videos from our schools. At different points, they would all laugh when they saw pupils they recognised in the videos. Even the teachers absolutely loved watching the videos, particularly of Mr Walyaula’s visit to St. Julian’s Primary School in 2015.

When we had finished talking, we gave the children a quiz to find out how well they had been listening to our information about Wales. They were delighted to be rewarded with a pen for each correct answer (a box of these had been donated by Connor in year 6).

Mrs Napokoli also gave them the chance to ask us questions. They were very interested to find out more about the dragon on our flag and our national emblems.  

Mrs Napokoli thanked us and our schools for all our work and for all of the money we had been able to raise to buy them new equipment and sports kits. There was lots of clapping and Ugandan screeching from all the teachers and pupils to show their appreciation.

Mr Mansfield and Mr Prewett then went to begin packing up their equipment when the children, led by the music teacher, erupted in singing. They sang a song about not wanting us to leave and hoping that we will return soon. Mr Mansfield and Mr Prewett enjoyed dancing and clapping to their singing, which sounded absolutely brilliant and was so full of joy! Following the whole school songs, we were given two chairs to the side of the hall and told to sit down. A group of pupils then started making their way from the back doors of the hall right the way to the front, whilst singing ‘Our dear visitors, we are happy’. Once at the front of the church, they assembled into position and sang a number of songs to us, accompanied by the music teacher on one of the drums which we had donated to the school. There is just something amazing about African singing. We were so touched by the kind words of the songs they were singing. The teacher then announced that the group of children singing were actually the Busiu Primary School Choir. Following the songs for them, they then recited us a poem with actions. The poem was about searching for the perfect apple in all directions, and then finding Mr Mansfield and Mr Prewett inside the most perfect apple.

After the school choir, a group of P7 girls performed some songs and dances that they had rehearsed on their own without any of the teachers. As they performed Mr Mansfield was filling up with tears to see how happy the children were despite their ripped uniforms and lack of so much of what we have. They were just so happy and so grateful for our visit to them. It was then the turn of the P1 class. They were incredibly cute and recited a poem to us.

Following the performances, we wanted to give some of the clothes and pencil cases that our children had donated to the children at Busiu.

It was then time for lunch and we were taken back to the teacher training room to eat. The welfare officer returned with many plates and bowls of food. Rice. Potatoes. Fried beef, beef stew, avocado, watermelon and pineapple.

Joseph had not eaten breakfast, so he was very happy it was time for lunch! As we tucked into the food that they had prepared for us, we chatted to Mrs Napolkoli about her school and the rest of the programme for the day. All of a sudden, a boy came whizzing to the door of the room on a bicycle. He handed Joseph a bag of warm chapattis, which he had been sent to collect for us. Mr Prewett and Mr Mansfield asked if the boy could be invited in for food with us. His name was ‘Beckham’ and he was shy at first, but incredibly polite and respectful. There was plenty of food left over, so two other members of staff and Whinnie also ate with us.

Mrs Napokoli noticed that Mr Mansfield had not eaten any avocado. Not being a great lover of avocado, Mr Mansfield said he would opt for another banana. Joseph, however, was determined to feed Mr Mansfield an avocado and kept insisting that he eat them. With a swift change of subject and a mention of the little time we had left, Mr Mansfield was off the hook and we moved on to the next activity.

We made our way up to the top of the school field where there was a group of girls dressed incredibly smartly in the new green netball kits we had bought for them.

They were going to have a game of netball to show us their new kits in action. They were so happy to be playing in netball uniform as they had not had netball kits before and said they had been embarrassed competing in recent tournaments. Unsure of the exact rules, Mr Mansfield and Mr Prewett decided to watch the girls play at first, before getting involved. Mrs Napokoli was soon keen to get us playing and pushed us forward to take part as shooters. Much to the girls’ annoyance, we kept missing shots at the netball hoops. Everyone would laugh when we missed. Eventually, Mr Prewett managed to score. Mr Mansfield insisted on continuing the game until he and his team had at least equalised. It wasn’t long before Mr Mansfield used his height advantage and scored for his team.

Just as we were getting into the game of netball, we were instructed to get straight down to the football field where a match was about to begin. The boys again, lined up in their new kit, which had been donated by the Gwent Dragons.

The referee blew his whistle and once again, it wasn’t long until Mr Prewett and Mr Mansfield were involved in the game. The boys were incredibly fast and also very fit! As Mr Mansfield and Mr Prewett were tiring, they still had plenty of energy. After some time, the referee blew the whistle to change ends but fearing they were being shown up by the young boys, they felt it was a good time to sneak off.

On our way back up to the head teacher’s office, we asked some of the children to teach us some Lugisu. Spending so much time with Joseph each day, we have managed to pick up a few words and phrases but wanted to learn more. The children enjoyed teaching us and we decided to film them to teach our children back home.

Following this, we had just enough time to pay a ‘short call’ to the ‘long drop’ before saying goodbye to all the staff and pupils. We had had such a great time at the school and it was really wonderful to have returned after two years to see various changes that had been made and also see some familiar faces from our last visit. Abdul was ready and waiting in the car to take us back to our accommodation. Mrs Napokoli and one of the other teachers needed a ride to Mbale town so we insisted that we’d take them in the back of Abdul’s car. We enjoyed chatting about education for the whole journey and learning more about the Ugandan education system.

On our way back, we noticed that we had a little time to spare before dark. Having had a whirlwind week so far, Joseph suggested we stop off at a posh hotel for a relax and a swim. This was music to Mr Prewett and Mr Mansfield’s ears – they took him up on the suggestion immediately! It was nice to have some time to reflect on the week so far and also to enjoy Joseph’s company some more – he really has been a great companion this week. He has kept on top of all of our requests and last minute changes to things, working incredibly hard to help us. He is also incredibly entertaining as he has a really lively personality and enjoys to joke and laugh. He provided us with further entertainment this evening with his own ‘unique’ swimming style, which we are not entirely sure will take off!

Having enjoyed some relaxation by the pool, the time came to say farewell to each other for another day. We headed off in our separate directions and arranged to meet for 6.30 tomorrow morning, as we have a very busy day planned. As Joseph has been so fantastic in helping us, we have agreed to go to his old primary school and then head over to see the charity he is building. Should be fun!

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