construction

Conversations in Rubira

Last Tuesday brought me to the sister towns of Rubira and Rwakashande. These farming towns are located less than an hour’s drive from Kabale and are home to 3,000 people–mostly subsistence farmers.

My mission for the morning and afternoon was to survey the area’s water and sanitation facilities to add more content to KIHEFO’s growing research on the area. But I was in store for much more in my conversations.

I was fortunate to be assisted by the primary school’s P7 teacher, Simon Peter. Together we spent the morning visiting some different parts of the hillside and speaking with people.

WATER

From the school’s central location along the main access road, we headed east toIMG_1126 the closest water source. As we walked, I started to unleash the prepared questions I had arranged the days before; they were hit-or-miss.

How many functional and non-functional water pumps are in the town?

“The town has no water pumps.”

Does the town have a water committee to do monitoring and maintenance?

“No. The town has village health teams (VHT), though.” (They said that these VHT’s do hygiene awareness, but this I did not receive with confidence.)

Are there any community latrines? Maybe provided by an NGO or the local government?

“No. There are no community latrines. There are latrines at the church, but those are only for churchgoers and only during church hours.”

After this initial round of questioning, I realized that my plan was off base and that I should just slow down. I would wait to see what Simon would show me and build discussion from there.

On the west side of town, about a five minute walk from the school, Simon showed me a “spring” – as he called it. It consists of a underground pipe of constantly flowing, clear water, which is filtered somewhere upstream. This infrastructure was funded by the district and sub-county authorities in Kigezi. If the water is not collected at the point of exit, it either sits in the concrete basin around the outflow or finds its way through irrigation channels to farmer’s fields and then ultimately to the nearby river.

At the time of our visit, no one was there collecting the water that was falling to the ground. This puzzled me, but Simon remarked that families typically collect water twice a day: once in the morning and once in the evening. They may collect a third time, at midday, if needed.

We then took a long walk from here to the complete opposite side of town to see the second spring. This one had a high flow of water and was being attended to a woman with two jerry cans. Just opposite, there was a man cleaning his motorcycle in some standing water. A cow joined him to have a drink, showing the maximizing use of water here.

SANITATION

I further researched the sanitation facilities in the area. The typically household – parents, their children, and possibly elders – would have their own ‘latrine’. These latrines are made from local earth and wood materials. They have a wooden floor and a hole where waste is excreted.

I was very fortunate to actually view one in mid-construction. A group of men were digging a rectangular hole with vertical walls. The man in the hole was already 6 feet deep and was moving towards a final depth of 15 feet. The reason for this new construction is that the old latrine had collapsed. Most of these styles of latrine only last for two years before they collapse. The rainy season intensifies the deterioration by eroded the earth walls.

As I am learning more about public health through my outreaches with KIHEFO, I was happy to see that most latrines are a safe distance away from cooking and living areas. The one worry I have in the openness of these latrines and the potential for flies to transmit disease.

EDUCATION

We returned back to Simon’s primary school, where the 320 childrenIMG_1149 were slowly heading back home for lunch. In the small window of time before they departed, I was able to interact with many of the young ones. Or at least try, as their English was building and my Rukiga was non-existent. Through the help of another teacher, Innocent, I was able to introduce myself, ask them about their favorite sports, and see what futures they saw for themselves.

After the morning schedule, all children have to walk back home – up to 30 minutes uphill – to eat before returning for the afternoon activities. I was lucky, as the teachers invited me to eat with them in their Teacher’s Room.

Rubira Primary School hosts three levels of nursery classes – baby, middle, and high – although I suspect they are grouped together less rigidly due to available room. Then there are the seven classes, from P1 to P7, which children pass through before they can move into secondary school; there is no secondary school in town.

According to Simon, of the 100 students you might find starting P1, half would disappear by P4. The reduction continues into the next levels, but at a slower pace, as only 20 students would be found in a P7 class.

As Simon was the P7 teacher and I have an interest in understanding gender inequality, I asked him if what the male to female ratio was in his class. He said that there are 13 girls and 7 boys. I was surprised by these results. From what I’ve read and seen, girls are always devalued compared to boys. They are seen as having less future potential and bear the brunt of household duties – cleaning, cooking, collecting water, childcare – preventing them from attending school and reaching their full potential. It seems that either Rubira is a special case or that I need to investigate further to find the truth.

If someone makes it all the way through these classes and fairs well on Uganda’s Primary Learning Exam (PLE), they can move into a secondary school, if they can afford the expenses. Secondary school consists for 6 ‘forms’.  There are two paths on offer. If a student intends to go to university, then they would finish Form 6 and start their degree. But if they intend to study a trade – nursing, for example – then the can enter a vocational school after Form 4.

During our lunch break, I was able to talk with a larger group of teachers – both male and female – and learned about the community I now inhabited.

CULTURE

I was most surprised to hear their views of polygamy and bride price. These old, religious traditions, held by both Christians and Muslims in Uganda, but rarely found in the West, were deeply engrained in the minds of even the highly educated.

Would a woman be able to take two husbands?” I asked. TheyIMG_1117 all laughed – as expected by a question that would not normally be asked in normal conversation – but one woman noted that there was in fact a case where a woman took a second husband, as she was the primary breadwinner in the family and therefore, could make such a non-traditional move. But, on the whole, men are the ones who can take a second wife, a third wife, or really any number of wives. They also noted that many people – both men and women – might have additional partners that are not classified as either ‘wife’ or ‘husband’.

Another part of marriage that is widespread is the traditional of dowry, or bride price, where the husband’s family pays the wife’s family for their loss of a daughter. The price is not set in stone. Instead the two families meet and negotiate on the price. This acts as remuneration for the parent’s, who are losing a valuable member of their family and allows them to better prepare for their older years. A dowry might be paid in cows or goats, which hold value; in practical items, like pots and pans; or can be paid in money.

The teachers were eager to question me on if Canada had the same type of marital systems. I responded that we are a mixture of many peoples from many different lands. This creates a mosaic where traditional overlap. Rather than a Ugandan marrying another Uganda, you could find Brazil-English partnerships or Aboriginal-French unions. With this mixing of cultures, Canada and other Western nations have chosen very strict legal explanations of marriage that have eliminated dowries and polygamy. They seemed to be receptive to this counter approach of life and I think they enjoyed exchanging information as much as I did.

I have much to learn.

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Project HOPE 2014

A month has passed since my time in Nicaragua pushing to complete Project HOPE, so it’s seems fitting to recap the experience more broadly here. Our project involved repairs to six high school classrooms and the construction of a multipurpose room at Reina de Suecia – a secondary school in Barrio de 14 of Esteli, Nicaragua. These infrastructure projects will directly benefit 1,600 students and indirectly benefit their families and the wider community of people living in the Rosario community of Esteli.


This initiative could not be possible without support from MacEwan University and the management of Ceiba Association, who provided educational retreats in Canada and the logistical planning for our time in-country. Since 2002, Project HOPE has raised roughly $450,000 (including the money raised for the team experience), had impacts on the lives of over 6500 people, and engaged over 165 MacEwan students. To be involved for a portion of this ongoing legacy is truly rewarding.

From September 2013 – where me and my co-team leader Joelle narrowed down our candidate pool from 24 applicants to our team of 12 students – until April 2014, we were busy with several community fundraisers. We put on bottle drives, a cash raffle, a benefit concert, bar nights, and one large dinner with over 120 people in attendance. The Edmonton and surrounding community was also critical in helping us reach our fundraising goal of $71,000, which we surpassed! I would personally like to thank the Rotary and Lions Clubs which donated directly to the project.

We also learned a lot, through weekly meetings and retreats, focusing on Nicaraguan history, development projects, and how to be conscious global citizens.


As I described in past articles, we left Edmonton at the end of April and spent the month of May living and working in Nicaragua. After traveling from the capital city of Managua to Esteli and getting settled in our accommodations at Hostal Tomabu, we began to start the project.

We alternated out time between going to the school and doing cultural learning during out reaming fee time. The days were long. Mornings and afternoons were filled with manual labour. Tasks included demolition, painting, excavation, reinforcing metal, masonry, concrete, and moving dirt. We spent a total of 17 days on the build site, with the last 7 weekdays incorporating our mural project in collaboration with our partner organization FUNARTE. (You can find more about FUNARTE and their website on my IDW page.)

Our evenings were equally busy. We made the most of our time in Esteli with a number of cultural experiences. There was salsa dancing and Spanish classes. We tried our best but ultimately lost in a soccer match at the city’s university. We were able to visit a women’s cooperative where paper is made from recycled materials and also a cigar factory – Drew Estate Tobacco Company – where 1600 people are employed and they receive thousands of bales of tobacco from around the globe. We even had time to celebrate a team member’s birthday and to have a going away party during our last night in town.

Weekends were set aside for experiences requiring travel. We visited a FUNARTE youth workshop, where our team mixed with the group of children and worked together on painting, while also getting some information on their other projects. We swam under a waterfall one week and jumped off cliffs in Somoto Canyon the next. On a trip to El Jalacate, the team met Alberto and saw his rock carving art. He is a man who enjoys sharing stories of his past and bringing people inside his home. Our last weekend journey took us to Matagalpa to visit two enterprises: a chocolate factory and a coffee plantation.

We used Sundays as a time to re-energize and get ready for the upcoming week.

One of our biggest accomplishments was working together as a team to create and paint a mural at the school. Even with a very short window of time, we were able to come together with the idea of showing the transformative power of education and the partnership we’ve experienced between Canada and Nicaragua.

During the month of June, while our team either returned home or toured the countryside for a bit longer, our construction team, which included a group of three brothers, continued the process of construction. They finished the walls and added a roof to our multipurpose room. They started laying floor tiles, as well. They finished the two classrooms we started and worked on the other four that were being occupied during our time there.

I am excited to see the final result.

Similar But Different

Canada and Nicaragua are different countries. This may seem redundant to point out, but it’s always good to start with the truth.

These two countries have different national languages, different climates, different histories, different economies, different political structures, and even different flags. Even with all these differences, they are similar in that they both have these common marks of a country. These two nations might be different in almost every possible  way, but it is also possible to see similarities in the struggle for progress that both possess. I will try to highlight three of these differences/similarities below.


Transportation

One thing that you can reflect upon when
traveling outside Canada is on our use of technology. When we board a bus or other public transportation, you can purchase a ticket ahead of time and it might even stamp the time that ticket was purchased. This makes it easier for the driver as he doesn’t have to worry about collecting fares. This is doubly true if a Canadian utilizes a monthly bus pass; then all that person has to do is flash it to the driver and move on
board.

In contrast, Nicaragua uses a person in photoplace of a machine. On our morning bus ride to work, each person would get on the bus and either find a seat or stand. After a few minutes have passed, a man (I never
saw any females doing this job), like the one in the photo, would walk through the aisle and collect the fare, which was 4 cordoba, or about 16 cents. The fare is a flat rate to ride the pass and it travels in a loop.

The Nica method has some interesting benefits. For one, the fare taker will help an elderly or pregnant women get off the bus, if they need it. They will take over for the driver, if need be. And they (along with another helper) will tell the driver when to leave. This last one is very handy if you are racing to get on and don’t want to be left behind.

It also is a tough job when the bus is 110% full and they have to walk from the front to the back with an aisle full of people, bags, and whatever else is brought on board.


Commerce

If you walk through Esteli, you will see a variety of commercial establishments. Some are massive, with everything you would ever need. Some are small roadside stores selling a single product, like shoes or clothes. And some might be just a man and a cart, selling vegetables or phone accessories.

It’s even more surprising when you see all ophoto (2)f these within a few feet of one another, as in the photo to the right. PALI is a chain of supermarkets, owned by Wal-Mart, found throughout Nica. There are even larger MAXI PALI stores that are on the outskirts of town which have more room for parking.

In North America, we can sometimes romanticize the memory of “Mom and Pop” stores where you could walk in and speak with the owner. They would answer your questions and in doing so, you would build a relationship with your retailer. This is still a reality in many developing countries, where the worker behind the counter is usually the owner as well. But due to globalization and open markets, the large transnational corporations are also able to get a piece of the pie. It is an interesting contrast between large and small entrepreneurs and one that affects Canada as well.


Construction

One final contrast I found was the way construction happens.

Small-scale building, like a house or school imageblock, is more labour intensive in Nica versus the machine-intensive style you would find in Canada. Many people are skilled at construction tasks, such as excavation or building. I believe this is owed to the high cost of machinery in Nica as compared to the high cost of labour in Canada.

It is also important to note that the building
materials are different. In Canada, you find a lot of wood used in framed homes and in hardwood floors. This is a result of our easy access to lumber. In Nicaragua, the vast majority of urban homes are constructed from concrete – a mixture of sand and cement.

(On the build site, we mixed 1 bag cement : 9 buckets sand : 7 buckets gravel for foundation concrete. To make mortar for the beams and touch-ups, it was 1 bag cement : 7 buckets sand; no gravel. Both cases required water to mix.)


I highlight these examples as a means to show that all people have a shared humanity. It is easy to identify differences, but it’s just as important to consider the common thread that links different parts of the world together. We have a shared drive to improve our lives through hard work and determination.

We all have family and friends.

We all experience love and loss.

We all share this planet and are connected to one another.

Schools in Sonyo

Last Thursday, I was fortunate enough to go on a field visit to Sonyo and assist in the inspection of a newly completed government project. It this instance, the project was a 3-unit classroom block intended for Upper Primary grades.

The project was completed nearly 6 months ago and the purpose of this visit was to record any defects for the contractor to correct. In attendance was the District Planning Officer (DPO), the District Budget Officer (DBO), the Planning Officer from Ghana Education Services (GES), the school’s headmaster, the contractor, the district’s driver, and myself.

Upper Primary Classroom Block

The district officers were quite happy to highlight the inclusion of an access ramp for people with disabilities at the entrance of the new facility. These are mandated from the national government for all new educational structures.

As with most times, whenever my camera comes out, so do the children.

Entrance to Upper Primary Block

Along with the new classroom block, the project also included for the construction of urinals (not shown) and a series of Kumasi Ventilated-Improved Pit (KVIP) Latrines. There are 2 private rooms for boys and 2 private rooms for girls.

On the left side of the photo, you can see the concrete septic tank behind the structure and just a portion of the pipe providing ventilation. There are 4 separate tanks, each having its own ventilation pipe. These facilities provide a safe and sanitary environment for the children, so that they can focus on their studies.

KVIP Latrines

All of the structures were completed with excellent craftsmanship and were seen to be in regular use by students.

In addition to the inspection, I was able to learn many new things about the other schools here. From what I was told, the Ghana education system is made up of the following school and grade levels:

  • Kindergarten (KG) 1, 2
  • Lower Primary 1, 2, 3
  • Upper Primary 4, 5, 6
  • Junior High School (JHS) 1, 2, 3
  • Senior High School (SHS) 1, 2, 3

Sonyo does not have a SHS yet. So, there are a total of 11 classrooms, ranging from KS to JHS. All are within sight of each other. The old Upper Primary classrooms constructed as an open air structure, made up of mud bricks, wood, and a metal roof is located just behind the new structure. Then there is the Lower Primary classroom block and behind that, the headmaster’s living quarters (not shown). Because of the new structure, the old classrooms can now be used to teach the KG students.

KG (foreground) and Lower Primary (background) Classroom Blocks

Inside a KG Classroom

The Junior High School is just a short walk away, through a pack of goats and sheep.

JHS Classroom Block

At the end of our tour, I talked a little with the GES Planning Officer and school headmaster, who collectively gave me some insight into the make-up of the schools. There are a total of 387 kids attending the different classrooms. This means that on average there are 35 children in each classroom. Oddly enough, GES uses this same value of 35 to determine the ideal classroom size when planning for future development. I will also be using this figure many times when analyzing the data my department has on hand.

On the way out of town, we were able to pass the teachers’ quarters. A new structure with 3 self-contained units. Located on the main road and just a few minute walk to the school, this building seems to be ideally positioned to give teachers an easy commute to work and an enjoyable living during the school year.

These buildings and the 8 teachers on hand will give Sonyo’s school children the tools they need to gain a great education. I’m looking forward to what the future has in store for these bright young minds.