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The nuns dedicated to educating deafblind children in Uganda

7 November 2013
Posted by Stevie Kent

Stevie Kent

Last month, I visited our Uganda programme and spent a day visiting the deafblind unit at the St Marks VII School in Bwanda, a rural area three hours' drive south of Kampala.

As I walked out of the baking Ugandan sun into the shade of the school's deafblind unit, I was greeted by the sight of twenty deafblind children sitting around tables in their smart green uniforms, enjoying their morning snack of Obuugi, a local porridge made from corn flour and milk, which they were drinking from big green plastic beakers whilst munching on roasted corn kernels from green plastic plates.

Sister Angela in her blue habitI was also met by the now familiar site of Sister Angela (pictured left) grinning from ear to ear in her sky blue nun's habit. The school is run by Catholic nuns and Sister Angela runs the deafblind unit.

On this visit I also met Ms Namata Mable, a teacher at the unit who has recently returned from a nine month teacher training programme at Perkins School for the Blind in Boston, and has returned with extensive practical knowledge of best practice in deafblind education. To capitalise on this, we will now be arranging training courses taught by Namata for teachers of deafblind children from all over the country.

Having made my greetings, I began inexpertly taking photos of the children in the classroom, but luckily my camera was soon taken by a girl called Diana who had a little bit of sight and was quickly taking much more professional photos than me. My favourite of them is of a girl called Teddy hugging me around the neck after having strolled up to me and with incredible strength climbed up my body like a tree (see the picture below right)!

Stevie being hugged by Teddy, a girl at the school

Next stop was an inspection of the income-generating activities we have established this year in order to support the running costs of the deafblind unit. I looked on with amusement as Sister Angela donned seemingly standard issue sky blue wellies perfectly matching her habit to squelch through the mud and show us some cockerels residing in one of the newly built chicken coups.

Along with the cockerels I was shown 300 chicks that would become egg laying hens and would provide a means of income through the sale of eggs.300 other chickens called kroilers will also be purchased to be bred and sold for their meat. In addition, ten pig sties have been constructed housing 20 piglets which will be bred and sold for meat to create a third income stream.

Having toured the school grounds we set to work on producing a monthly cash flow forecast for each business venture. Last year we supported both Sister Angela and Sister Immaculate, the Head of the School, to travel to another partner of ours the Sikri Vocational Centre in Kenya in order to learn about agricultural business from the head teacher. He is our go-to expert in such matters after having developed so many income streams from farming chickens, pigs, cows and even tilapia fish that his centre is now almost self-sustaining. Because of this prior training, the nuns were confident in discussing their business plans, but admitted that they didn't imagine they would become pig farmers when they first decided to join the convent!

Two children in their green uniforms eating and drinking at a tableHaving completed the business planning, we discussed future plans for the deafblind unit.

As part of our strategy to develop a scalable model of education capable of reaching all deafblind children in East Africa, the deafblind unit at Bwanda will from next year become a Regional Deafblind Resource Centre with additional teachers. They will make outreach visits to homes of deafblind children in order to train parents and local mainstream teachers how to educate the children at home.

As part of this transformation, the deafblind unit will start to function as an assessment centre where multi-disciplinary teams of education and health professionals will assess newly identified deafblind children and will work with parents to develop Individual Education Plans that can be followed at home.

Having discussed plans for this with the staff at Bwanda in detail, I am confident that they will make a success of this new approach to deafblind education. They have already turned the school's deafblind unit into the model of excellence for deafblind school-based education in Uganda, and are already starting to make a success of their new business ventures.

It seems when these nun's put their minds to it, and presumably their prayers, good things happen for deafblind children!

Stevie Kent is Senior Programme Manager at Sense International 

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First published: Friday 7 June 2013
Last updated: Thursday 18 September 2014