First impressions of Mbarara by Project Worker Amanda


On Monday, the 27th of June, eleven project workers first set foot on Ugandan soil at Entebbe International Airport, eager to charge off to their schools, plan brilliant projects and make a difference. But they were not quite ready…first, they would have to go through training week.

Dramatic introductions aside, it was an extremely exhausting flight and the first day was spent mostly on a long bus ride from Entebbe to Mbarara, the cycle of dozing in awkward positions and being jostled awake by speed bumps to gawk momentarily at the surrounding  scenery broken only by a brief stop at the Equator for a photograph.

By the time we reached Mbarara it was late, leaving time only for dinner before the lure of sleeping horizontally for the first time in over twenty-four hours overpowered us. We paused only for one short but vital lesson – how to set up the all-important mosquito nets.

Training resumed full-swing the following morning, however. The next two days followed a routine of waking up, preparing breakfast, taking anti-malarials, a session of training, lunch, followed by another session of training, and dinner, followed by one final session before bed. It was tiring, but the training covered several vital aspects of working with the schools and living on our own in a rural area, including more hands-on aspects such as exploring the city, first with Anna and Ellie as guides, then later on our own.

Lesson number 1

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A misleadingly calm looking road

There are no traffic lights. Crossing roads is a challenge you have to overcome as an individual. On particularly busy roads, just steel yourself and cross slowly and calmly, and traffic will usually stop/divert. (It has so far, evidenced by my typing this)

Lesson number 2

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Nakumatt Mbarara

Nakumatt is expensive. But sometimes, you have no choice. Who else is going to sell marshmallows in a car-shaped box with a small toy car? Who else sells water in bottles that are exactly 1L in volume?

One highlight of these two days of training was Kate’s birthday on the 27th of July!! *confetti* Throughout the day we were periodically spontaneously singing happy birthday for her J Happy birthday Kate and thanks for being our energiser for the day!

School visit challenge

Challenge number 1 hit us on Wednesday, when we were tasked with organising a visit to one of the graduate schools in the area.

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Challenge # 1 – the coordinators took a step back and let us get on with it

My group was assigned to Nombe Secondary School, while the other group headed off to Rutooma Secondary School. The drive there took nearly an hour, but what was more grueling was bargaining with the unrelenting driver who insisted upon arrival that we had agreed to pay a price double the amount we had initially agreed upon prior to boarding the vehicle. But we soon forgot the unpleasant experience on the half-hour long trek up to the school, when we were greeted with this gorgeous view. Isn’t it lush?

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A lusher reality than I had expected

Before coming to Uganda I hadn’t anticipated anything like this. I had thought it would be more like a savanna, sparse and dry with perhaps the odd tree…

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Expectations of my former self…

Just goes to show the power of media. Don’t believe everything you see on television. Or rather, don’t believe what you see on television is everything there is.

Nombe visit

Me, Ellie and Emmanuel discussing exam result trends

That aside, it was a lovely visit. The head teacher was very welcoming and took us on a tour of the school, particularly the bits worked on by project worker teams. It was inspiring to see how the two years’ of investment had led to significant improvements within the school, and exciting to see what a typical Ugandan secondary institution might look like. All in all, we had a great time there.

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Us with Emmanuel, Nombe Head Teachers, missing Ellie who is sacrificially taking this photo. We brought a football as a gift.

Preparing to leave

Training week was quickly coming to an end!! Thursday was spent writing and submitting reports on our school visit as well as shopping for all the things we’d need over at our schools, like endless supplies of wet tissues and spices for cooking.

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We also took the time to indulge in a bottle of Krest… [a bitter lemon drink, and one of the challenges from the Mbarara scavenger hunt]

And one last awesome meal at the Ark Café…

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A grainy photo, but it captures the event!

Head Teachers’ Conference

Before the Head Teachers’ Conference on Friday! There we met with all the head teachers of schools we’d worked with in the past and would be working with this summer, and discussed changes in the education system, technology in education and teaching resources.

After lunch, it was time to leave with our head teachers and fly the nest… finally ready to go to our schools. (Or ready as we’ll ever be!) Wish us luck, and stay tuned for more updates…..

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(Go team St Benedict!)


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Amanda is an undergraduate at Oxford University, studying Politics, Philosophy and Economics. She is a Project Worker at St Benedict’s Technical Institute along side Corina and Miko.