Gratitude in Gulu: Learning and Exploring

Hello IEDP blog readers! I’m apparently a fan of alliterative titles. It is hard to believe that I have been here in Gulu for five weeks already and that I head back to Philadelphia in just five more weeks. At this halfway point, I want to give you a couple of updates on what I’ve been up to outside of work and also how my projects in the office are going (the cover photo is of some program classrooms constructed by the community at one of our host schools). Let’s start with the life and exploring updates.

Exploring: A Couple of Highlights

I went to Kampala for a quick weekend trip a couple of weeks ago, and I was able to catch up with and do some sightseeing with my fellow IEDPer, Risa (check out her blog posts). We had breakfast at a super cute café where there was also a farmer’s market on Saturday mornings. Then we Uber-ed over to the Uganda National Mosque, which is one of the largest mosques Africa and was commissioned as a gift from Gaddafi. We took a great tour of the mosque and climbed the minaret for beautiful views and some more history about Kampala and its seven hills. Kampala seemed like a huge city after three weeks in Gulu, and the traffic or ‘jam’ as everyone calls it, which I was warned about, was incredible, but there was so much to look at when we drove around I didn’t mind too much.

Fellow IEDPer, Risa, and I at the top of the minaret of the Uganda National Mosque in Kampala enjoying the views of the city.

            Last week my husband Ben visited Gulu and because we worked straight through the weekend the week before (I explain what we were working on below), our office unexpectedly had a couple of days off, so Ben and I explored Gulu and roamed around the main market, several coffee shops, did some shopping for presents for our family and friends, and relaxed. He was also able to come to my office later in the week and meet everyone and on his last night in town my colleagues took us out to dinner which was so lovely. I am so lucky to be supporting and learning from such a fantastic and friendly team this summer.

            One of the highlights of Ben’s visit was a weekend at Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda’s largest national park and a quick two hour drive from Gulu. We stayed at a lodge in the park, saw elephants, lions (including cubs!), giraffes, hippos, crocodiles (terrifyingly large), different kinds of monkeys, and so many other animals in addition to taking a boat cruise on the Nile to see the actual Murchison Falls. It was such a great get away weekend and the nature and wildlife was truly spectacular. Here are a few of my favorite photos of a lion that walked right in front of our car, a giraffe turning around to say hi, a safari selfie, and Murchison Falls.

Work and Project Updates

            It may sound like I’ve just been sightseeing, but our office has also been really busy in June with several important projects that I’ve gotten to be a part of. First, we had the visit from Ministry of Education and Sports officials that I mentioned we were preparing for in the last post, and it went really well! The Hon. Minister and her team were really pleased with what they saw of the program and they expressed interest in government cooperation and starting a conversation about government adoption/adaptation of the program, which is really exciting from a sustainability perspective. It was fascinating to be present at all of the preparation meetings, understand more about the political and local ownership dimensions of education programs and budgets, and hear the topics and questions that the Ministry officials were most focused on.

My colleagues and I and the Hon. Minister for Basic Education

            As my fellow interns are no doubt finding, project priorities and feasibility shift once you’ve started. One of my main priorities for the next five weeks is an action research project working with teachers at three schools to support the building of educational communities of practice among our accelerated program teachers and the host government school educators, in order to facilitate teacher knowledge sharing and experimentation with different teaching and learning strategies (things like small group management, activity-based learning, and project-based learning). I’m excited to work with the teachers to compile some guidance documents based on their experimentation with pedagogical strategies that can be shared with a broader audience of schools, teachers, and officials. Often it seems that primary school classes can be quite large (like 80-120 students), so I’m looking forward to learning from the teachers and working with them to adapt student-centered strategies for large classes.

            I think I’ll work on some other projects focusing on aligning phonics curriculum and instruction with the content-based, thematic English curriculum, supporting with the development of some M&E tools and data analysis, and collaborating with Matt, another IEDPer (check out his blog) who is interning for the same organization in Ethiopia. I really like getting to be involved in many different projects, spend time at schools, and learn from my supervisor and colleagues. Our Senior Director of Education Programs was here for two weeks during the Ministry visit, and a colleague from the Ethiopia office was also here for 10 days to learn and share about their programs, so being here during their visits was also a great learning experience.

            Overall, I am so grateful to be here in Gulu and I am learning every day, especially with me being so new to this context. I am full of questions about capacity building, working with community-based organizations, local ownership of programs, pedagogy for large classes, data collection, and so many topics. I’m sure I will end up with more questions than answers, but I’m certainly learning every day, and I’m very thankful for that. I’m looking forward to being busy the next five weeks, focusing on my projects at work, and continuing to learn and adapt to life here.

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