On Monday the nationwide local elections were supposed to be held, however, as Ugandan’s headed to the polls they were informed that the elections were postponed until the following day. When I asked why, Grace, a Lively Minds employee replied, “Because this is Uganda”. As all of Lively Minds play centres and workshops are in held in public buildings, which are used as polling centres, we had already cancelled all field-work for Monday and consequently had to cancel our plans for Tuesday. But we made the most of the unforeseen circumstances regardless.
Joshua, Lively Minds country manager, invited me to give a psychological opinion on a 9-year-old boy with significantly delayed verbal skills. I was greeted by the happiest little boy that I’ve met in quite some time. His parents informed me that they had taken him to many doctors in Jinja and Kampala, who repeatedly told them that their son does not have any difficulties or impairment. From me, they wanted an answer to their question of whether he would benefit from attending a special needs school. A universal model of education is provided in Uganda. Although at face value free education for all is ideal, universal education here equates to the same education for all. With one teacher and up for 50 students in each class, this means that children with any learning difficulties do not get support or a tailored curriculum to help them reach their potential. Priding itself with one of the highest English proficiency rates in Africa, lessons are mostly taught through English, which makes it even harder for children with learning disabilities to achieve. Imagine how difficult learning in that environment would be for a child who can only articulate a handful of words in his local language. Although they are rare special needs schools and classrooms do exist. They reside outside of the universal education system, ensuring that they are reserved for only those who can afford to pay.
Before Joshua joined the Lively Minds team he founded his own primary school in his home village of Buwagi. He invited me to visit his school to meet a boy with significant learning difficulties and hopefully advise his staff on how best to support him. However, on arriving this young boy had already called it a day! Since starting his school eight years ago the pupil numbers have grown to 200. Although it is officially a private school, a quarter of the students are orphans from HIV-AIDS, many of which also have HIV. Their tuition, board and medical care are covered by the school profits. The prevalence of HIV in Uganda is 7.4% and related mortality is frightfully high. Joshua explained that despite these rash facts the government do not support sufficient services for children who are orphaned to the virus, leaving the responsibility to rest with people like Joshua and his staff. He introduced me to his youngest pupil, an adorable three-year-old girl, who has found neglected after her parents passed from HIV. Although she is too young to participate in lessons, the local children join her on the school grounds to play. They were having so much fun until I rudely asked for a photo!