The end of my time here in East Africa is getting close so, as my Facebook friends know, I said goodbye to the Cathedral choir this morning, thank you for the shirts, look forward to wearing them and sending the photographs soon! On Friday there was a goodbye lunch for another colleague and me, I hope this is all right, I would like to give the transcript - more or less - of what I said. Leaving with a mixture of feelings, some things I won't miss, other things I certainly will!
There are many memories I will be taking away from my 4 and a half years here in East Africa, if I may I will tell you about just one of them. It was about 2 years ago, I was representing the University at a certificate presentation ceremony in Lodonga, North West Uganda. As is normal at these events, some local school children came to provide entertainment, which is typically singing, dancing - often a combination of the two - display of artwork, the playing of educational games they've learnt and others. On this occasion it included a poetry recital by a girl, I would guess about 8 years old, who started, "Why have my parents been taken from me? Why? Parents bring good things like.." Like what? Sweets, toys, holidays? No, no, no. "Parents bring good things like bread and milk. So why have my parents been taken from me?" And then, right in front of us she burst into inconsolable tears.
I'm pleased to say that my turn to speak was about 15 minutes later, I would have found it extremely difficult to go straight after that. From one point of view, I didn't learn anything I didn't already know, I know there are orphans in Uganda, working on a book chapter with my friend and colleague Veronica we used Government statistics as source material which included figures for orphans. But from another point of view, my goodness was that a learning experience, seeing such raw emotion at a distance of maybe 3 metres.
Meanwhile, we here at the Institute of Educational Development (IED), and the Advanced Nursing School (ANS) with whom we share buildings, are small institutions looking to make a big difference here in East Africa. So, how would we explain to that 8 year old Ugandan orphan girl what it is that we do? If I can start with education, we take gender responsiveness extremely seriously, working hard to ensure the best possible opportunities for all children, girls and boys, working with teachers to ensure that they maximise opportunities for all in a region where it is still the case that girls are under-represented in school, particularly as they get older, with pressure to stay at home and get married early.
I don't know why that girl lost her parents, but we do know that many orphans come about in Uganda through the ravages of AIDS. At IED we have strong expertise in HIV / AIDS education - so while we cannot bring that girl's parents back, we can - and do - work with teachers in ensuring that they communicate principles of healthy living to minimise the chances of infection. We work with school leaders in ensuring that schools are well run in maximising learning opportunities. Whilst now beyond the age to benefit directly, we work with teachers on early childhood, looking to make learning active, enjoyable and locally sustainable. We teach about the use of assessment and particularly how it can be used to promote learning. And we have expertise in three key school curriculum areas - mathematics, science and literacy - and look to upskill the teachers we work with in these crucial areas, vital for individuals' life chances and the prosperity of the country.
The Nursing School, meanwhile, looks to support good ante-natal and post-natal care, nutrition and health and much more, all of which are vital for flourishing lives and being able to take full advantage of the learning opportunities that there are. And the support departments we have - registrar's office, admin, technical, finance, library - all play a vital role in the smooth running of our institutions.
Could we explain to that girl what we do that makes a difference in her life, now and going into the future? Yes, I think we can. I came to this job believing that it offered an opportunity to make a difference, and I think that has indeed been the case. Working together, absolutely we make a difference. It has been a privilege to work here, thank you for putting up with me - I'm' not the most restful fellow traveller as a number of my colleagues know! I hope to keep in touch and will be pleased to work with you again on a consultancy basis if the opportunity arises. My thanks once again, and very best wishes going into the future. Thank you.