Saturday, March 22, 2008

Field Visit

I’m back in Uganda for six weeks. The Training of Trainers course will be held at the end of my visit so I have time for preparation and time to make teaching aids. We have been making almost all our own training materials, hoping this will add to sustainability.

Our training focus is on the health if under fives. As volunteers bring change to their communities, they regularly run into community development issues. From the beginning of the project, we have been adding activities to the training based on their feedback, so there may be a chance now to collect together the various exercises for a manual more related to community developement.

During the last TOT, the Trainers asked if they could be recognized by the university , may getting a continuing education diploma. The project staff and I did some lobbying at the university and it appears, although no continuing education courses exist now, it is an area they are willing to explore.

Something similar has occurred in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, where a number of Science faculty members are getting masters and PhDs on sustainable development utilizing the expertize and indigenous knowledge of the local people. Their Batwa (pygmy) resource people are seeking some kind of recognition. So this may prove to be a example of an idea at the right time and the right place.

Since my last visit, the health center staff who act as trainers have been expressing concern to the project team about the the volunteers (CORPS) who are being trained as trainers with them. They feel that the volunteers, who speak only limited English and rarely have secondary education, are not as competent as the health professionals and shouldn’t be getting the same money. All trainers receive a meager stipend of approximately $5 per day to cover their transport and lunch when they train.

At bottom the debate seems to be more about hierarchy, who is on top and who is on bottom. But it is also true we do not have a career ladder at present and probably should. Other organization are asking to attend our training . This time several different NGOs will be attending our training. So work on the curriculum hopefully will be useful for clarifying all these issues.

The key to curriculum development, of course, is involvement of as many of the people affected as possible, otherwise a new curriculum sits on the shelf. So I am starting with our trainers and amazed by how well, given a set of verbs for writing learning objectives, the trainers are catching on. Next week we will start on breaking the activities of trainers into knowledge, skills and attitudes.

I tagged along on the recent field visit made by the Dean and University Secretary because a puppet show by the winners of the 2nd competition was planned. Puppet making has really taken off. This group have brilliant, vivid puppets, all homemade. The puppet show is planned as entertainment for a local Community Based Organization of farmers who are hosting an exchange visit.

A large group of us, all the Mabira CORPs, three trainers, the puppeteers, the project manager as well as the US and dean arrive just as the CBOs were about to have lunch. They were aghast and we were embarrassed.

"Please" we plead, " we are only here for the puppet show. We don't want to eat. You don’t have to feed us."

But they insist. Not to feed us would be contrary to African tradition in this area. When I inquire how they can accommodate 30+ extra people with no notice, the gentleman pouring water from a jerry can so we can wash our hands, stands up straight and tells me proudly,

"We are farmers!"

"And you feed the world." I acknowledge appreciately.

I whip around to the cooking shed for pictures. Mingled millet rounds have been lightly powdered and are being cut into slices with a string. Matooke (cooked banana) wrapped in banana leaves is steaming on fires built over three stones right in the plantation. In the small shed, so much smoke fills the air that I can hardly make out the cooks.

Our CORPs gave a rousing song followed by a delightful puppet show in the local language, Runyankole. They struggle with using a cardboard box cut out as a TV screen for their theatre. The cardboard box has been set atop two stacked table so they have to lean flat out to ensure the puppet is at the front of the box where it can be seen. I suggest they remove the screen and just do their show on the stage but it is too late for them to make the shift. The puppets are large and brightly coloured so they have decided they should only have one in the theatre box at a time.

Despite the problems with the cardboard theatre, the show is a rousing success.

Our project manager was sitting next to one of the visiting farmers from a parish where our project has just started to train the volunteers.

"Our volunteers don’t do this" he points out. " We need Puppets TVs also!"

At the end of the puppet show, the communities are so pleased, they insist we all stay. They seem also thrilled to have the university secretary and dean visit them. Speeches are made and thanks given.

Heading home, we stop off at one of our model home winners and are shown around proudly by the owners.

The volunteers (CROPs) in this parish have been successful in their goat rearing project and each CORP now has several goats. When a goat produces young, a male if there are two is given to a needy family. All of tthe CORP built goat houses of local materials and collect grass for the goats themselves, so this has been a very cost effective and sustainable endeavour.

Photos:A Song introduced the Puppet Show; a child mesmerized; Puppet TV; cooking matooke in banana leaves; goat house;

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