My Two Years as a Peace Corps Volunteer at School for Life

School for Life Foundation has been lucky to have an American Peace Corps volunteer living at our Katuuso campus for the past two years. Greg has become a valued member of the School for Life community - he will be remembered for his passion for reading and for his dedication to the the school's library. 

Greg's shares his School for Life experience in this blog. 

Working with children is an art form anywhere in the world, even though I had a degree in International Studies and had taken a crash course in literacy and ESL language studies, I had an incredibly steep learning curve. I also had to learn the local language consider the local culture, curriculum, language, and school culture.

However the assistance, guidance, and patience of my fellow teachers was invaluable as I helped out in classes, especially with regards to teaching English Literacy. One of the initiatives I worked on while at School for Life was our monthly D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything and Read) Days. On the last Thursday of each month, all classes and staff members stop normal lessons and activities to find a shady or secluded spot to participate in group read-alouds, small group reading, or individual reading for up to an hour. Monthly D.E.A.R. Days became a fun, exciting opportunity to break out of the normal routine and celebrate reading as a community. In addition to focusing on literacy-related activities around the community during my first year, I also worked with other teachers to design and implement lessons around Permagarden construction in conjunction with nutrition education and healthy living education that included lessons on disease prevention, cleanliness, sexual health, and stress management.

The life lessons I learnt living in a rural African village about living simply, appreciating what I have, and above all, the power of literacy and education will stay with me for the rest of my days
— Greg, Peace Corps Volunteer

As my first year at Katuuso Primary came to a close, I found myself more and more gravitating to the school library. Not only was it a well-equipped and colourful learning space, we were also fortunate enough to have a collection of quality reading materials sent from Australia in addition to an impressive collection of locally-published readers – some written in Luganda language.

In the library I saw great, untapped potential. I first implemented a more functional organisational system, separating books into fiction, non-fiction, genre and reading level sections, and locally-published sections. I next came up with a regime of library rules and community expectations that all classes were trained on over the course of months. Instead of conducting lessons in classrooms, I found that everyone’s time could be best spent in the library, teaching and learning how to use the space most effectively. Over the course of the year, I also gave several workshops to the teaching staff about how to use the space, the basics of literacy, and how to perform an effective class read-aloud using critical thinking comprehension questions.

When it comes to broadening the horizons of people of all ages and cultural backgrounds, maps are a great way to illustrate the diversity of the globe. Orienting someone in time and space with the aid of a quality map can be the start of deep new understanding of the wider world outside of one’s respective bubble. For this reason, I also took on the project of painting a wall-sized world map one on the walls in the library. As a space of learning and reading, a world map perfectly complements a children’s library. At 3 metres by 1.5 metres, our library’s world map displays the names of more than 200 countries and territories in 7 vibrant colours, indicates the equator, and has a compass.

When the map was complete (it took six weeks), I wrote “Our World” around the perimeter of the map in the 15 most widely-spoken world languages, as well as in Luganda. For the second half of 2016, one of my favourite things to do was give short geography and history lessons to students visiting the library. What amazed me most about the map was the curiosity of our children and their hunger for knowledge of the wider world. Along with the geography lessons and games, I played music from around the world and sang in other languages.

I also implemented a library monitor programme training 20 mini-librarians. These students were trained on how to teach the library's rules, guide readers on proper book selection, and how to use the book organisation system. As responsibility and accountability was handed over to these children, they relished in the opportunity to demonstrate their expertise to their peers. Over time, use of the library increased and more and more children started using learning materials.

In terms of its impact on the wider community, I believe that of all the initiatives, projects, and activities that I participated in at Katuuso Primary, working to develop the functionality and proper usage of the library was the most valuable and will have the most positive impacts for years to come.

Now, two years later, my work as a Peace Corps Volunteer at Katuuso Primary has now come to a close.  I feel overjoyed at the opportunity I was afforded to grow personally and professionally while also helping a Ugandan community to develop.

The life lessons I learnt living in a rural African village about living simply, appreciating what I have, and above all, the power of literacy and education will stay with me for the rest of my days.

In Katuuso Village, I saw first-hand the power of education to change lives, broaden horizons, and empower people with knowledge to change the world.

The slogan of School for Life – “Education Changes Everything” – should never be taken as just a slogan or platitude. It is a fundamental truth of the human experience. I got to live this first-hand for two years and for that I will be forever grateful to the School for Life and Peace Corps Uganda staff, fellow teachers, and students who have left their mark on me forever.

As I now finish my two years of Peace Corps service at School for Life Foundation, it's worth reflecting about how much has changed in this time. The community, the school, the staff, and students have grown and developed and it has been the opportunity of a lifetime and such a privilege to witness this growth first-hand over two infinitely rewarding years.