By Susanna Peden
Ten weeks can sound a bit daunting when you’re sitting in a snazzy office in London during training; it can sound even m ore daunting when all your friends react to it with shock; and it can seem very, very daunting when you’re sitting on the plane to Entebbe. All this changed after a few weeks in Mbarara.
For most of the project, time has absolutely flown by. Nearly once a day, someone remarks, “Has anyone realised it’s week (insert)?” This means that Project Workers often find themselves left with lots to do in the final few weeks. So, following a very strategically placed holiday week, the last half of the project can often be quite hectic and stressful. For my group this turning point hit in Week Eight, leaving us a little bit sleep-deprived, a little bit caffeine-dependent, and a lot tired of Ugandan time “keeping”.
One of our major projects, a marketing Open Day, fell on the Saturday of that fateful week. Our school, St Johns Rutsya, has been experiencing falling enrolment numbers, resulting in less school fees for the school, and hence less income for school development. The marketing Open Day aimed to turn this situation around. Project Worker Kate and our Head Teacher William worked hard to produce calendars to give out on the day, invited many nearby primary school Head teachers and other important guests to attend, and coordinated a programme of speeches for the day.
Initially, as we stood around waiting for people to turn up, it seemed like a bit of a disaster. It was really scary to look around at the students rehearsing their speeches for the millionth time, the teachers all dressed in their sharpest suits, and the shiny school calendars that had been printed out to give to guests, unsure if anyone was even going to come. However, in true Ugandan fashion, during the next two hours people started to arrive until eventually, after all the students also poured in, the hall was full.
The day essentially became an Open Day/pep rally hybrid. As the students free styled their carefully prepared speeches, getting whoops of applause from the spectators all the while. Finally, the day culminated with the PTA treasurer (the sassiest 80 year old woman I’ve ever met) shouting, ‘Who gets beans with lunch? St. John’s!’ to raucous cheers. I spent the entire day beaming, even tearing up a bit at Project Worker Kate’s brilliant speech. In their speeches, many of the student and staff speeches said thank you to us, and to EPAfrica. Through hearing them speak, I, for the first time, realised that we were having an impact in the school, even if we couldn’t see it ourselves.
The guests also gave some really amazing feedback on the Open Day – the best was a Head Teacher of a local primary school, who said that he would definitely send his child to St. John’s! Nearly everyone else said that their favourite part of the day was the speeches by the students, and their school pride was tangible. It has definitely been one of my favourite memories from the project so far: exactly what we needed to boost our spirits and to help us to see our projects from fresh eyes and realise that all the work has been worthwhile.
To borrow a conclusion from one of the Student Council members as she finished her speech to the room full of head teachers, local counsellors, PTA members and community leaders: “Stay cool, but don’t freeze.”