Arriving at Gracious Junior School in Entebbe, on the banks of Lake Victoria and under an unforgiving African sun, the children are ready to lay on some entertainment.
The mango tree in the middle of the school grounds is the cover under which we all seek shade and is also centre stage for the cabaret which is to follow.
Gracious Junior, many miles down dirt roads some 50 kilometres south of the Ugandan capital, Kampala, has around 200 children on its register and they can’t wait to entertain their visitors.
Gracious Primary School students in Uganda
They sing and they dance to the beat of African drums, they perform with pride little dramas especially devised for this day, and they give thanks to us for the gifts Me Learning have brought halfway around the world to give to them.
These presents are the things we take for granted in this country – pens, paper and stationery for use in the school; reading books and refurbished computer equipment. But to the staff and students of a school like Gracious Junior, they mean the world and the thanks, through their delightful theatrical presentation, are so heartfelt and bring a tear to the eye.
The fact is that schools like Gracious, a motley collection of red-brick built schoolrooms dotted around scrubland in what seems like the middle of nowhere, rely heavily on international support just to stay open. Uganda is one of the poorest countries in the world and not all children have an education.
Me Learning pens for year 7 students to use during their Primary Leavers Exam
As I say, what we take for granted is a million miles away from what represents normal in a place like Uganda where tens of thousands of children simply don’t go to school. These are the lucky ones and it warms your heart to see them in their yellow-and-red uniforms, all smiles, exuding warmth and thrilled to be in a place where they can learn.
The primary-aged children speak English and are particularly articulate when it comes to sharing their thoughts on books sent from the UK to fill their library – Goodnight Mr Toms and the Alex Rider series are firm favourites here. Yes, it’s a small world really.
What makes this school different is an initiative going on behind the scenes which is impacting the learning of thousands of children across Uganda. The school hosts the National Education Resource Centre and provides continuous professional development for more than 50 teachers from across Uganda each year. Qualified teachers enroll on two-week residential courses held during school holidays and they develop skills such as interactive learning techniques under the guidance of the headteacher, Patrick Balidawa and his senior teaching team. Teachers are travelling from all over Uganda to attend the courses and are encouraged to refresh their skills by attending the centre once a year.
A refurbished computer for headteacher Patrick Balidawa
Up until recently, course materials were prepared by hand but thanks to the refurbished computer equipment from Me Learning, these can now be produced electronically making the process more efficient.
As well as working with Me Learning, I am a trustee at Project Le Monde, a UK registered charity supporting Gracious Junior and other schools in Uganda. I am delighted that Me Learning decided to support a cause which is very close to my heart. Not only were the gifts very well received but I know that they will be incredibly well used and will make a real difference to the lives of so many children across Uganda.
To find out more about the work of Project Le Monde visit www.projectlemonde.org.uk