After arriving on the long flight from Heathrow, and finally entering Uganda through a very long passport control, the project workers began to make their way to Mbarara, our base and location of the central house in Uganda. The next morning, week zero training began. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday consisted of a variety of group activities to prepare PWs for going into their schools the week after. This first week provided further information, building on the pre-departure training sessions, giving us the information most applicable to our schools and working there, as opposed to the more general briefings given back in Cambridge, Oxford and London.
The training was not all lectures and discussions – our sessions were focused around small group work and pooling ideas. Group discussions on poverty – its nature and how to deal with seeing it in your community at the school – were particularly fruitful. Awareness about the theory of international development was also part of our training. We considered the differences between problem-based development, the asset-based approach and considered when each might be applicable in our schools. A further important aspect of training was getting to grips with the Ugandan education system, particularly the exam structure, subjects and grading system, all of which share many, but not all elements in common with the UK.
This was followed up by an afternoon in the markets in Mbarara, completing a scavenger hunt for items such as oranges (their skins are green!), a fruit none of the other PWs could name (Amanda recognised the jack fruit we brought home), and a photo with someone wearing a English football shirt. Our first experience of buying fruit in Uganda was a slight revelation – with passion fruit going for five pence each and two avocados for twenty-five pence, the market was most certainly better value than central Cambridge Sainsbury’s…
Arguably the most fun sections of training involved more practical activities, such as the marshmallow challenge, an activity devised to challenge people’s teamwork and construction skills when provided only with strands of spaghetti, masking tape and string. Towers of spaghetti were constructed and the marshmallow placed on the top – in theory. Of course in practice, all three teams made tall towers in attempts to win the contest, and all three fell. When this challenge was given to different groups across the US, recent kindergarten graduates did the best, as they tested the marshmallow’s weight on their construction during the building process, something CEOs did not do. This highlighted an important lesson for us as PWs – testing things out and adapting plans during the project, rather than exclusively at the end will make a project most successful.
However, our training wasn’t all ‘in the classroom’ – we split into two groups and visited two schools nearby that had received investment in 2013 and 2014 – which offered a way to see how EPAfrica investments work in practice. Our visit to Nombe Secondary School shed light on how health facilities can be improved – the nurse’s office had been supplied with beds and a dividing wall to give sick students space, and how failed first year developments could be rescued – the metal water tank installed by EPAfrica in 2013 made water unsuitable for drinking, but the 2014 PWs turned the tank into one supplying the chemistry lab. An insightful discussion with Nombe’s headteacher gave us valuable information on the struggles facing rural schools in Uganda, and made us all eager to get out to our own schools.
At the end of the week, we were ready to set off to our schools – excited by the challenge ahead and feeling well-equipped from the training we had received.
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Ellen is a second year history student at Cambridge and a Project Worker at Isingiro Secondary School in 2016.