Our Lively Minds Experience

Hello!

Our names are Lyndsey and Abi and we are both about to start our final year of studying Speech Pathology and Therapy at Manchester Metropolitan University. We have now been in Uganda volunteering with Lively Minds for two weeks and are just starting our third and final week – ‘a short but sweet stay’ in the words of Madam Sarah. The journey to Jinja from Manchester was very long but we were so overwhelmed by the lovely warm welcome we received on our arrival by some of the Lively Minds staff that the journey was soon forgotten! Unfortunately there was a football match on in Kampala the day we arrived so the journey back from the airport took longer than expected. As soon as we arrived we were greeted by a group of Lively Minds staff who showed us our rooms and took us to a local restaurant to buy some dinner. The house we’re staying in has a spacious dining/living room area where the Lively Minds staff eat lunch together during the weeks, and the office is in a building attached.

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Our Ugandan dresses!

We both thought volunteering with Lively Minds would be an excellent opportunity to see how child development and play is understood within a different culture. As Speech and Language Therapists, play and communication make up a large part of the work we’ll do and we were keen to share our knowledge with the Lively Minds team as well as learn new things ourselves! In the mornings, the Lively Minds staff complete administrative work in the office and this has given us the opportunity to deliver some training to further improve the team’s knowledge about the importance of play and communication within a child’s development.

During our time here we have found out lots about Ugandan culture and the work that Lively Minds do within rural communities around Jinja. We have helped to give activity sessions on key topics that are vital for training mothers within these villages, as well as getting to see what happens within the play schemes that the mother run first hand. Session topics we have delivered include child sacrifice, communication, disability awareness and oral hygiene.We’ve also been able to visit play schemes to help monitor how they are getting on and if they need any further advice or training.

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One of the Play Schemes

On arrival at the villages in the afternoons we are usually greeted by lots of smiling children who are excited to see a muzungu (white person)! The women often greet us by shaking our hands and bowing, as this is their traditional welcome. They also give us praise and thanks in their traditional manner through clapping, as having a visitor is seen as a blessing in their culture. We were even given our own African names when visiting the village of Kanama; Sanyu (Lyndsey) meaning happiness and Birunji (Abi) meaning beautiful.

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Kanama – where we got given our African Names

 

We have tried to fit in with the locals by gaining our very own dresses which were handmade in Jinja. We’ve also attended a Ugandan wedding, which was a unique experience, as well as the cultural centre in Kampala, clubbing in Jinja and other activities around Jinja at the weekends.

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Ugandan wedding

It’s been so great to see the difference the Lively Minds play schemes make to their lives of children and women in the villages. They are so grateful to receive activity sessions and always seem engaged and eager to learn. We’ve made lifelong friends with the Lively Minds team and want to thank the team for the memories that we’ll never forget.

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We made cake for the Lively Minds team!

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Get your bidding at the ready…

After the success of last year, we’re once again taking part in the Small Charity Week eBay auction. You’ll be able to bid on our eight exclusive items when the auction goes lives on eBay on 16 June.

The auction is a fantastic way for small charities like ours to raise crucial funds. 100% of the winning bid from each item will support our projects in Ghana and Uganda! Last year our star listing of brunch with actress Rachel Shelley sold for an incredible £1400. As one of the top two highest selling items across the whole auction it also secured us an additional donation of £1000 from PayPal Giving Fund.

Thanks to the huge generosity of a number of individuals and organisations we’ve been lucky enough to secure the following items for the auction:

  1. Signed Doctor Who script by Peter Capaldi
  2. Twilight actress Ashley Greene’s original Teen Choice Award
  3. Personalised private exhibition tour at Sotheby’s Auction House followed by afternoon tea
  4. Limited edition signed Batman: Arkham Knight posters by the Rocksteady team
  5. Signed Chelsea shirt by winger Willian
  6. Signed Arsenal shirt by captain Per Mertesacker
  7. War and Peace DVD signed by actor James Norton
  8. Signed CD  by Star of CBeebies, Andy Day

Keep an eye on our Twitter and Facebook pages, as well as our website where we’ll be posting further details of the auction. Alternatively email us at laura@livelyminds.org and we can send you a reminder and details of the auction once it has gone live. Happy bidding!

Laugh Out Loud for Lively Minds

On 6 June, in exactly 2 weeks time we will be hosting our third Laugh Out Loud for Lively Minds comedy night, at the hugely popular The Comedy Store in London. The event will enable us to provide early childhood education for more children in rural Uganda.

We have a stellar line-up of the UK’s top comedians, who between them have made appearances on Have I Got News for You, Live at the Apollo, Russell Howard’s Good News, and Mock the Week.  Our superb lineup includes:
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Nina Conti

Felicity Ward
Ellie Taylor
Ed Gamble
Rhys James
Rachel Parris
Tom Allen (MC)

 

 

 

November’s event was a huge success with stand up from Katherine Ryan, Sara Pascoe, Shaun Keaveny and Tom Allen, and the event raised over £6,000. This allowed us to set up a new Play Scheme in Ghana where 160 children are now taught through play each week by 30 trained Volunteer Mothers.

We hope that June’s comedy night will enable us to set up an entirely new educational Play Scheme, this time in Uganda. Tickets are £18 – that’s just £2.50 per comedian, and you’ll be helping to provide early childhood education for over 100 deprived children living in rural Uganda.

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Children learning through play at one of our Play Schemes in Uganda

Get your tickets here: http://thecomedystore.co.uk/london/show/laugh-loud-lively-minds/


Find out more about the event here: http://www.livelyminds.org/comedy

A new opportunity for Kanamb Village, Uganda

Jamie Meyer – volunteer, Jan 11 2015

Just a few days ago I was cursing someone under my breath as I hurriedly made my way up the escalator from the underground, as god forbid they hadn’t moved to the right.

Today, I’m in Jinja, Uganda, where I’m volunteering for the next few weeks with Lively Minds. An absolute contrast to the hustle and bustle of London, where I’m now adjusting to “African time”.

For those unsure, Lively Minds are based in both Ghana and Uganda, where they set up early year play schemes for children 3-6 in remote, deprived villages by training local mothers themselves to run the programs. Ensuring they are sustainable and ongoing, with lasting benefits for the entire community.

During my first morning briefing we hear from Grace and Selma, two of the local team members, who have a lead on a potential new play centre location in the village of Kanamb. During the day while we’re out in the field visiting established centres, Joshua contacts the head of the village to arrange a community meeting.

The next day we take the hour long drive via 4WD, passing local villagers along dirt roads as they make their way to a water supply, or to the market where they may try to sell some fruit.

The sheer amount of village huts and locals we pass along the way is quite shocking. In my naivety I had expected a much smaller number of villages around Jinja, each with a small population. The team gives me an understanding of the hundreds of villages, sometimes with thousands of people living within each. Only now to I begin to understand the scale of the issue we are trying to tackle in Uganda alone.

We arrive at the village of Kanamb to see a group of locals have already gathered under the shade of the trees. Around 40 men are seated on wooden stools in a circle, with 10 or so women sitting on the ground to the side of the circle with their children. We are welcomed to the circle and offered a stool, which we take up but ask to expand the circle to include the women. We communicate that we also want to speak to the women of the village and numbers are low, so following the okay from the village head, one of the women runs off to gather more mothers from their homes. Slowly another 20 or so women wonder over to join the meeting.

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I am surprised to see the structure of the meeting, which has a dedicated chairperson and leads with a prayer and welcome from the village head. The men explain they have three big issues in the village; the first being a lack of clean water, the second being no work or money, and the third being almost no access to education. They know little about the program so far, but are hoping we can help with one of these issues. I look around the group and can see so much hope and optimism in their eyes, that it really chokes me.

The news that the men are already mentioning education is a really good sign – in some of the villages, it has little value and the team really has to push to put it on their agenda. The men and women clap and cheer in agreement to show their support for a better future.

Grace, Joshua and Selma do a superb job of introducing the program, explaining the value of education and how much we would love to work with 30 women volunteers to run the educational games for the children of the village. I introduce myself with the entire two words of Lugandan I have learned so far, leaving the remainder of my intro to Grace to translate for me. I let them know I am honoured to be welcomed into the village and how much I am looking forward to working with them. They give me a welcome clap and cheer, along with a nickname for me in the local language which translates to “princess” – I try not to take offence of being called a princess!

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To understand the village further, we ask the group some questions in the local language: “How many of you have a paid job?” zero movement from the floor, as no one amongst the 70 strong currently have a paid job. Apparently not uncommon as there is so little work available – the sugar cane fields and selling fruit at the market are amongst the most common.

“How many of you here can read?” A few hands start to go up, with around 9 men and 2 women able to read. “What are the causes of these challenges?” Grace encourages the women to speak up, saying she really wants to hear from them – in Uganda, the male dominates the community and rules the family, meaning it is very common for women to shy away from voicing her opinion. A few hands start to go up, explaining that money, distance, chores at home and the fact that their parents did not value education, are the biggest factors.

This leads to the question of “Do you want your children to have opportunities that you didn’t have as a child?” there is agreement amongst both men and women.

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Selma demonstrates one of the games that will be used in the play centre – a basic shape puzzle (if you are a kid of the 80’s, it is similar to the red plastic ones that were passed down to you from your siblings or cousins)! She calls upon some volunteers – two men and a woman to see if they can place the shape in the corresponding hole. None of them can do it. Infact, they look incredibly blank as they take their time trying to figure it out. I ask the team later if they were joking – unfortunately not. I am embarrassed that I had even taken my early years education for granted.

The visit has been a success when they invite us back the following Tuesday, where we will hopefully be greeted by some eager volunteers who will begin to learn the games. The women will then spend two hours a week over the next eight weeks learning the program before they graduate, signalling they are ready to teach the children.

We leave the village feeling good and I congratulate the team on their efforts. I am confident we will match their hope and optimism, with a great program that will provide lasting benefits for Kanamb village. So excited to work with these women over the next few weeks and see the transition they go through!

Tuesday 12/03/2013

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First day in the field. After a 1 hour motorbike ride (always appreciated by a former pony-express Vespa courier like me) we reached the village of Gundaa with the mission of establishing a reading scheme at the local school. Session 1 went quite smoothly: both kids and teacher seemed to be very supportive and interested in the project. Once again I was amazed by the degree of discipline and attention displayed by african pupils. No spoiled brats here for sure! I don’t know about the rest of Europe, but I can easily say that the main
concern of italian primary school teachers is to keep the kids relatively quiet (my teacher overcame the issue by implementing a regime of terror that made the khmer rouge look like a band of teddy bears in comparison). Nothing of the kind here: religious silence interrupted only by whispered answers to direct questions and big curious eyes all around you.
My main contribution to the day’s activity was a story-reading demonstration. I confess I had to struggle to keep reading rather than throw away the text and perform a vaudeville version of  “Little Red Riding Hood” featuring cancan dancing wolves, rambo-style woodsmen, half-digested grannies and so on.
But since all was about the importance of reading, I tried to kill the little natural-born italian comedian in me and did my best to stick to reading. The kids did not display any evident sign of boredom and that made me feel quite happy! In the afternoon I started my Dagbani lessons, but I think I have a psychological advantage over english native speakers here: when I speak english I don’t feel like I’m imposing my language, because after all the effort I make to speak is not different from the one locals make.
After work I’ll try to find a place where I can watch the champions league match Barcelona-AC Milan: even if I can define myself a hardcore football aficionado, tonight I’ll surely pay more attention to the local audience rather than to the game itself.

Sunday 09/03/2013

DSCN0019Reached Tamale after a confortable trip from Accra: today I’ll take it easy. First impressions are quite positive: Ghana looks like what I hope other african countries I visited will look like in 10-20 years from now. The only problem is the heat… snow was still melting down when I left Italy and now I need to carefully plan each and every movement of my body in advance to save some energy. I guess I will get used to it in a couple of days, but today i’ll mainly hang around at the Lively Minds headquarters, drinking huge quantities of cold mate and reading a book about the war between whites and reds in 1920 Siberia (they surely had no heat-related problems). I am also quite satisfied with the first night spent in Tamale: not a single mosquito bite, not a single mosquito in sight! For that, I have good allies: a mosquito net in wonderful conditions covering my bed, but most of all spiders and lizards strategically placed between the windows and the anti-mosquito grids (after a few trips in the Amazon region I learned to mistrust accomodations deprived of such friends). Tomorrow I’ll visit the office and start my training.
I am so happy I’m going to work for human minds, rather than for human bellies. In post-war Angola my job had to do with food-aid programs, a one-way ticket to a world of corruption, injustice, greed, frustration and impotence. When Alison told me ‘no need to bring pens and stuff, we don’t do handouts’ I thought that Skype should really consider adding a little “hug” button !

Settling in at Lively Minds

Sitting here in my room in the Lively Minds house in Tamale, life is calm. The bustle and stress of my normal everyday life seems to have disappeared and instead has been replaced by relative peace and the occasional sound of a goat bleating. Things seem to move at a different pace here, almost as if time has slowed down. Everything takes far longer than ‘normal’ and I’m slowly growing accustomed to waiting over an hour after I have ordered food for it to arrive. Travelling anywhere, even down the road seems to take much longer and I’ve learnt that patience is the key. This is Ghana.

 

I’ve been volunteering with the Lively Minds team in Ghana for about two weeks now and it has been an incredible experience. During the week we travel by motorbike (or motion-sickness inducing tro-tro) to two remote communities about an hour away from Tamale. Within these communities we are setting up a play centre to be run by the local women, and a reading scheme to take place in the local school. Arriving in these communities is an experience in itself. As soon as the kids see us, they rush out to greet us and we commonly find ourselves trapped in a throng of excited, smiling children wanting to say hello. Disentangling yourself from this commotion can be rather tricky, especially if they notice you have a camera. Endless posing for the camera ensues until one of the locals chases the kids away so we can start our work.

 

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Hayley, International Volunteer

Working in the reading scheme can be challenging because not all the children understand English very well and prefer to speak in their native Dagbani. Despite this, it’s amazing how much you can get across through simple actions and pointing. Spending time with the children is rewarding, but my favourite part of this trip has been interacting with the women in the play centre. These women have never been to school, are illiterate, and cannot speak English, which provides certain challenges when it comes to teaching them how to teach games. Additionally, in these remote communities, the roles and opinions of women are not held in high regard and women generally don’t speak in community meetings in the presence of men. As an Australian women who has always spoken up and been listened to, I find this incredibly frustrating.

 

Despite these obstacles, once you remove the local men from the equation it’s amazing how much you can teach through simple gestures and pointing. The excitement in the room amongst the women is contagious, and you really do get the sense that you are doing something positive for the community. Gradually the women are coming out of their shells and starting to realise that they can be influential, important members of the community. Slowly slowly my frustration is abating as these women grow more confident and I really hope that by the end of my time here I will have seen a calculable change in these women and that they truly are more empowered than they were when we arrived.