A local school teacher, just back from an exchange programme visit to a school in Uganda, said she has returned home inspired and enlightened by the children she met there.
St Patrick’s and St Brigid’s Primary School teacher Moira Gouran recently spent some time at Rise & Shine Primary and Nursery School on the edge of a slum, in the city of Kampala.
During her time there, Mrs Gouran said she was struck by “the overwhelming levels of deprivation experienced in the school,” yet, “pupils and staff in Rise & Shine remain focussed, hard-working and enthusiastic to learn – many of the pupils wishing to progress to university”.
Lack of basic sanitation forced the children and their families, to wash in and drink drain water running alongside the school, she said, as this was their only source of ‘fresh’ water.
But with cattle and dogs roaming in the area, the children were also exposed to the many risks associated with consuming water dirtied by animal waste, every day.
Many of the youngsters, Mrs Gouran said: “Arrive at school having eaten nothing, and return at lunch time having had only a drink of water for their midday meal.”
And pupils at the school were not just from Uganda, but also include refugees fleeing conflicts in countries such as Rwanda, Southern Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In spite of all this, attendance at the school was good as many viewed it as their “safe haven” from the squalor of their everyday lives.
And even the long school-days - starting at 6am and ending around 12 hours later at 6-7pm - did not put the youngsters off, with many then facing long, arduous and unsafe walks home.
Mrs Gouran said she found the attitudes of the pupils coming from such circumstances “enlightening” - despite the hardships they endured.
The exchange programme also saw Rise & Shine principal, Harriett Ssensamba, travel to Ireland with a group of Ugandan teachers as part of The Ugandan North of Ireland Schools Partnership.
The group enjoyed a visit to St Patrick’s & St Brigid’s PS in May of this year, during which, they said they were overcome by the welcome from pupils and staff there.
Every class in the school was given the chance to engage with Mrs Ssensamba and enjoyed learning about the cultural, school and daily life comparisons between the two schools.
And according to a spokesperson, after her visit, Mrs Ssensamba said she was extremely grateful for the expertise-sharing experience, and thanked St Patrick’s and St Brigid’s for the resources they sent to aid the education of children in her own school.