Chris Mayo-Smith of Weston, Massachustts spent 4 months of his Gap Year between high school and college volunteering with the Kasiisi Project. When he came home he wrote about his experience. We think that he does a great job of describing what we hope that our volunteers will take away from their time with us and we would like to share his thoughts with you. You can see Chris talking about his work with our computer program in the top video link on the right.
“Teaching is a partnership in learning,” my great Uncle and accomplished educator once told me. In my time in the Kabarole District of Western Uganda working with the Kasiisi Project these words held true. Being my first time volunteering in Education I feel that I have learned as much as I have taught, if not more. Feeling very fortunate that I had the time, support and funds necessary to carry out my four months teaching Computers with the One Laptop Per Child program, leading the Wildlife Club and taking part in coaching football for the students. I am coming home with friendships that will last a lifetime and memories to match.
Education is an Investment, and the work I have done here I hope will show results for many years to come. We have now graduated into a technologically dominated world, where the ability to creatively use a computer is essential for just about any job. One of my greatest contributions to the Kasiisi project was helping out with the XO laptops. Fortunately for me previous volunteers had already done lots of work in organizing and setting up the first 100 laptops that were donated, however fifty more laptops where purchased in my time with Kasiisi Project with which I helped to install the necessary software, and set up a working system for charging and maintenance. Just about everyday I along with the teachers at Kasiisi would assist and teach the Primary five and six children for one hour after school. We had a number of different courses and teachings ranging from geography lessons with a blank map of Africa, to a music program where the children got to create and then share their pieces, to Quizzes that were manually uploaded onto the server by me and some of the teachers. The quizzes could then be accessed by the students on their computers which gave them another median for learning. I assisted the teachers as well in teaching them the ins and outs of uploading questions adding sustainability once I had left. The time was not always structured and many days we would let the children teach themselves and be creative while assisting them in small ways. The progress they made was stunning and they became adept and confident by the time I had left. However I really came to value all the opportunities I had previously had in having access to computers as in the beginning even the most basic functions were new and hard to grasp by the Primary five students.
I learned that you need to become integrated into the workplace to find your niche. At Kasiisi I found mine in the wildlife club. This club gave myself and the students an outlet from the everyday life at Kasiisi and the opportunity to see the surrounding areas.
I organized trips to the local science center for the students and will always remember their gasps of amazement as I showed them a baby elephants tooth. One of the girls, Dorothy, got so inspired that she is currently working at the science center on the weekend giving tours to all who come to visit. Next up was a trip to the local tea plantation, where many of the students parents worked picking tea leaves. After visiting the plantation first with a few of the teachers and getting a solid grasps on the ins and outs of the process of tea leaf to tea cup we felt confident to lead the kids.
I think it was a memorable experience as now they understand what happens to the acres upon acres of tea plants they pass every day on their walks to school. Creative presentations were also carried out by the students about the wildlife of East Africa and the great rift valley. These were then presented to the class and hung on the walls for all to see. A select few of the wildlife students also got to participate in the Earth Day celebration held 40 km away where they had a wetland walk and got inundated with information on the importance of conservation of the environment. (See last but one BLOG posting for more information about this event)
Coaching and practicing football with the students was another great way for us to connect and share a common passion. I think this reduced the initial hesitation period that sometimes occurs with volunteers and was a great way for the kids to have fun. Mainly we would have interclass competitions but a few times we got the other teachers involved, which created quite a buzz around the school. On of the hardest things to quantify is the interpersonal relationships that formed over the course of the semester. Such as the hour and a half walk home with the students where we would share stories, laughs and dreams with each other. Or “Ah-Ha” moments with the teachers as we were going over certain aspects of the computers, times like these are what I will ultimately miss the most and what will draw me back to Kasiisi in the future.