Bia le Beatha - Sallins National School

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Bia le Beatha

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Bia le Beatha
It’s hard to believe that it’s just over seven months since a bunch of exhausted, nervous and excited primary teachers arrived at the doors of Kasengejje Primary School, Waikiso District. Exhausted from the school year just finished, nervous and excited for the new faces we were to encounter and hopping with anticipation at the experience we were about to undertake.

What we found on the other side of those doors changed our hearts, minds and outlook forever.
Kasengejje Primary School is home to 550 fabulous children and 12 extremely dedicated Teachers and Headmaster. The school atmosphere is warm, inviting, cheery and full of humour. We were given a royal welcome and everyday made to feel like rockstars arriving at school. Certainly one of the  greatest memories was getting off the bus to a local, school football match where we were greeted with a sea of children excitedly running towards us with beaming smiles – singing ‘Ole, ole, ole’, ‘Rattlin’ Bog’ and ‘Oggie, oggie, oggie’, dancing, giving hugs and shouting ‘Mzungu! Mzungu!’. It was just one of many outstanding
experiences we found in the Pearl of Africa.

Whilst Kasengejje Primary School often felt like one of the happiest places on Earth, there were often times when you were reminded that these seemingly carefree children are living difficult lives in so many ways. Without even thinking of the difficult circumstances many of the children were facing at home, it became obvious that these lovely children are at significant academic disadvantage in so many ways. Commonplace school resources in Ireland are rarely found in Uganda. When we arrived, we couldn’t believe that a child who had split open his knee could not even be treated with so much as a wet tissue, never mind a plaster or bandage from the First Aid box. Classooms are filled with 70 to 100 chidren. There are no teacher desks or glass in the windows. The staffroom is a makeshift area in a hall no longer used due to major structural damage.
There are no basketball hoops or pretty playground markings for the children to enjoy. There are no Science or Geography cupboards laiden with resources for experiments or investigations. The Maths cupboard consists of some teacher Maths books and one blackboard sized maths set. There are no classroom libraries or large storybooks for storytime. There are, however, lots of teacher made posters created out of the most surprising materials and containing stark reminders of health issues in the area. Certainly not the usual school artwork seen at home! The blackboard is still king in Ugandan schools. Never before would it have crossed my mind that chalk would be a serious annual expense for schools who have so little. School books, pencils and copies are not plentiful and the classroom pencil parer is a blade.
Unlike most Irish schools, Kasengejje actually does have its own cook and tuck shop. Unfortunately though, only 30 children last year had parents who were able to pay for this hot food. Some received a cup of maize porridge for lunch, courtesy of Nurture Africa, and the some 330 others brought a small maize corn, bread or nothing at all. The ‘tuck shop’ appeared only to sell blocks of ice in small plastic bags which the children sucked on during lunchtimes for sustenance. What about water? Well, children are encouraged to bring in their own water as there are not enough water tanks to harvest water to last the whole of the dry season. In reality, there are few, if any, that do this.

Kasengejje Primary School gave us so much in terms of happiness, jokes, laughs, music, dancing, gratitude, warmth and welcome that we felt we couldn’t walk away without doing something for them. Our children are so lucky in Ireland and they don’t even realise it. Even in our lowest socio-economic areas, children receive menus so they can choose water, milk, fruit, vegetables, sandwiches, pasta or rice for their breaks and lunches. There are no menus in Kasengejje. Even worse, most children don’t regularly receive a meal at home either. They are basically existing on nothing for a long school day, 7am to 5pm. Well, without even taking into account the effects of this lack of nutrition on their health, growth and learning, the inequality and injustice of their situation is just not on. You can argue all you like that it shouldn’t be our problem, or that people like us are allowing their government to continue funding their schools with the equivalent of 21c per child, per term. But we say, tell that to those beautiful children with bright eyes and beaming smiles. Those same children who can’t help but lose concentration and energy because of the hunger pains in their bellies.

We are just two ordinary teachers, spurred on by the support and backing of our friends, families, other volunteers, colleagues, Nurture Africa, the wonderful memories of the staff and children of Kasengejje Primary and the INTO who have so kindly donated €10,000 from their Global Solidarity Fund. Our vision, to set up a sustainable farming project to provide every child in Kasengejje with adequate food and nutrition EVERY day. We have called it 'Bia Le Beatha'meaning 'Food for Life'. This time last year, we could never have imagined all that we would have seen, heard, felt and experienced. Never would we have imagined that we would now be in the process of attempting to raise over €30,000 to help realise the dream of
'Bia Le Beatha'.

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