A day as a teacher in St. Bakhita

I stopped off in Narus for a few days on my way to Riwoto to visit my friends there. More to follow on that but I had a great time going back to St. Bakhita Girls Primary School where I had taught maths two years ago.

It was wonderful to see the changes in the school. There are more teachers and the security has been improved. The new Principal Sister Jane has worked wonders on a shoe string and the girls seem so happy. 

Sister Jane was quick to jump at the opportunity to have a new maths teacher and I spent one day at the school teaching revision classes. I helped to prepare the girls for their mid-term exams which will take place over the coming weeks.

I must admit, I was completely exhausted by the end of it all. But very happy to be back!

On Friday morning, there was a special assembly for me. The girls danced and sang and presesnted me with letters of appreciation for the domitory as well as beautiful beads. I felt so lucky. There was a sense though that I was moving on to a new adventure. 

There are more than 700 girls in the school now which comprise of both borders and day students. About 400 of those girls are borders with many coming from villages and town days away. St. Bakhita is one of the best schools in the province and those parents to value education are always keen to have their children attend.

I will write more about the dormitory later. Theres plenty of news on that front!
   

  

  

Sister Susan sends thanks for the new dormitory

This is another post that I should have written months ago but better late than never I guess.

I am proud to say that this is the fruit of my last visit to South Sudan and I am excited about what adventures my next trip holds in store.

Thank you Sister Susan for such a lovely message and to Fr. Tim for his impressive camera work!!

But most of all, thank you to my family and friends for their financial support in making this happen….look what we did!!!

https://vimeo.com/103996040

The Temporary Dorm

As I mentioned in earlier posts, the war broke out shortly after I left South Sudan in 2013. It was during the girls “long holiday” so we feared that they would not be able to return to school when the term started in January.

The opposite was the case. Girls came to school in such numbers that there was not enough dormitory space. In this video, Fr. Tim shows us the tarpaulin tent he constructed to go some way towards protecting these new students from the elements.

 

https://vimeo.com/103948073

The post I didn’t want to write

This post took me a while to write for a whole host of reasons.

1) For a while I couldn’t quite process the fact I was back. Of course, I was looking forward to starting my new job and getting stuck into that new adventure. I missed my friends in London but I didn’t want my life in South Sudan to be over. I thought that my next post would be a “Farewell Post”

2) I just didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t find the words to explain how much I missed being in South Sudan. I couldn’t quite describe in a way that would make sense to anyone else how I never cried like I cried when leaving Nairobi and how I didn’t stop crying for about 3 days after I got back to London. I didn’t know how to admit that I didn’t want to see anyone or talk to anyone once I got back.

3) My life in London is so very different to the life I led in South Sudan that I really didn’t know how to draw any parallels.

That first week back in London was I realise now and without any shadow of doubt, one of the worst weeks of my life. Of course, Fr. John and Fr. Tim were so supportive and understood how I felt. Once again, they proved how fortunate I am to be able to call them friends.

My father too understood. I had heard the story of his return to Ireland after his first tour of duty in Katanga – that faithful trip where he and the other men of A Company were taken captive for three months by Katangese rebels after the Siege of Jadotville. He described arriving home to our small country town at Christmas time and how he just could not relate to people and indeed how people could not relate to him. What he had done in that time in the 60s was so out of the ordinary, so far away, that no one understood what he had been through. So, we Facetimed while I was still in London and he listened to me be lonesome and watched me cry….and then he told me to toughen up….and he was right.

He made me realise how happy and lucky I was to have kept and shared my journal. It meant that when I returned, my friends and family had some sense of life in South Sudan. Dad didn’t have this crutch and so his detachment from those around him was so much more severe.

He returned to the Congo and I will return to South Sudan.

Sunday Mass in Kamai – video

Now that I’m back in London, I can share some videos from my adventure in South Sudan. I posted some pictures a few weeks ago from Sunday Mass in Kamai. We had been due to be there a week before but we were unable to travel because it had rained heavily that morning and there was water in the rivers.

We left Narus at about 7am that morning and travelled the three hour journey together to Kamai. A message had been sent earlier in the week to the Cathecist, a blind man named Michael. Michael is a force of nature and had he the gift of sight, he would be unstoppable.

Mass was a celebration in every sense of the word. The young children were nervous of me at the start and kept a very safe distance but once they saw that I was friendly they couldn’t get close enough. Once again, my hair was a real attraction – these young children had never seen a white woman let alone a girl with long straight hair. What a novelty!!

http://vimeo.com/78248944

http://vimeo.com/78248945

What can you do??

My adventure in Narus, South Sudan has come to an end for now but my love affair will continue. I know that many of you have followed my journey and offered words of encouragement and support. I have greatly appreciated these kindnesses.

It is not that I feel I have done my bit but rather I need your help in achieving the next bit. I have grown to love Narus and I have learned the culture and more importantly the need of the people there. In particular the need for educational support is overwhelming. 

In St. Bakhita there are 600 students but the facilities are dire. I have identified a number of projects that I would like to help make a reality. To do this, I need to be very sensible about how money is managed so I am asking you to contribute and I have asked Fr. Tim (who you will have read lots about on my blog) to administer and manage the money. We can collect Gift Aid by sending funds through St. Patricks Missionary Society and then onwards to Tim.

These are the improvements that with your help, we hope to make in St. Bakhita, some of these projects will impact the rest of the village so positively too.

– The installation of a play ground  for the youngest  children. Currently there is nothing to amuse the small children and nothing for them to play with. I have arranged that the equipment (swings, slide, climbing frame, merry-go-round etc) will be built in the metalwork shop at the local Vocational Training Centre to keep costs down and to provide work in the local area. Thus, we just need to find funds for the materials and the delivery of those materials to Narus.

– The dining room is in desperate need of refurbishment. Right now, children do not use it because it is full of bugs and the floor is all broken up. They sit outside under the trees with their rations. The floor needs to be relaid and the windows which have been eaten through by termites need to be replaced with more suitable metal alternatives.

– There are no fire extinguishers or lightening rods in any of the buildings and I feel that this needs to be addressed as a matter or urgency.

– Funds have been procured to build a new dorm so that girls will not need to share beds in cramped dorms. 50 metal beds, mattresses and linen will need to be purchased to furnish the dorm.

– The school is in desperate need of teachers. Many of the teachers who remain are not qualified. Despite this, the girls do so well. It would be wonderful to be able to support the development of teachers by sponsoring their qualification.

What can you do to help?

 I have set up a facility for online donations which can be found at:

 http://www.charitychoice.co.uk/fundraiser/helenaquinn/

Alternatively, you might prefer to lodge any donations directly to the Abbeyfeale for Africa account. If that is the case, please contact me directly on helenaquinn@gmail.com for the details.

Thank you 🙂

Goodbye Nakalong

In two hours I will leave Narus and so far this morning has been an emotional one, in fact it seems that this weekend has been one long goodbye.

There are other posts to come, a more detailed account of my farewell party at St Bakhita, some pictures from UNICEF International Handwashing Day and others I will think about on my journey. I admit I have fallen out of the habit of posting in chronological order, the Internet availability determines what I can post and when I can post it.

Yesterday was a super busy day. Mass in the morning, the usual two hours of song and dance, or greeting the local people afterwards. I was called upon to give a farewell address at the end of mass and I am proud to say that I didn’t cry!

After mass a young girl from the school looked terribly sad and when I went to greet her she ever so shyly asked me if I would like to come to her birthday party that afternoon. What a lovely invite! Anne Grace joined me and Fr. John Joe for lunch and afterwards I went to the school to celebrate Nancy’s birthday with soda and sweets. 

I spent the evening with Sr. Edwin who is a commissaire for Mercy Beyond Borders discussing possible avenues of progression for the strongest girls in Standard 8. They will start secondary school in April and I am keen for them to become a great example to the other girls in this county. It is the first class where it is exceptional not to be above average. The girls work hard and they excel in their exams. I would love to see them do the International Baccalaureate as well as the South Sudanese exams. I feel that this might give them a better chance in the future. That’s a work in progress though but it was encouraging to hear Sr. Edwin’s perspective.

That evening Sr. Susan came to greet me and to pay me (!) – a whopping 8,000 Kenyan Shillings which is about 160 South Sudanese pounds. A gesture and a very welcome one. I signed for the money and then handed it straight back to her with the direction that it was to be spent on the girls end of term party. Sr.Susan has been so kind to me and I will miss her terribly. 

Sr. Susan and I became friends over banana cake. The banana saga was ongoing between Tim and John Joe so something had to be done. My sister kindly sent me a recipe for banana cake but being almost completely useless in the kitchen, I asked Sr. Susan to help. She allowed me to break the eggs and mash the bananas. Clearly that’s where she felt my aptitude for baking ended. She’s probably right. The cake was probably the most divine thing I have ever eaten. I took half to Riwoto and John Marren and I literally ate the breadcrumbs. She also made me a traditional Ugandan dress as a farewell gift. I will treasure it always.

She stayed for evening prayer and supper last night. I found myself in floods of the most lonesome tears once we finished prayer. I have learned to enjoy the daily ritual and I was lonesome not just that it was my last night in Narus but also that it would be my last time sharing evening prayer with John Joe.

So, I will leave soon. Mowngi will drive me to Lokichoggio and I will fly to Nairobi this morning. I went to the school this morning to say a final farewell to the girls. More floods of tears from all of us. They insisted on escorting me back to the compound (the long way) and sang farewell songs for me all the way while decorating my hair with flowers. We must have been quite a sight, a strange white woman being escorted by 30 young girls all singing and dancing. When we arrived at my compound we took our last class picture. 

Nakalong and her girls!!

My farewell party – just a snippet

Im on a bit of a roll this evening so why stop now!! A small taster of my farewell celebration from St. Bakhita. Do those girls know how to party!! 

It was the most special day of my life and I will forever thank God or the Universe or whatever it was that lead me to that day. When I am over the excitement and emotion of it all I will share it in full! And when I finally I get stronger Internet access I will bore you senseless with photos and video…

Until then….

Standard 8 update

Big news from Standard 8!

I thought you might like to see some of my friends in Standard 8. We took this picture after a revision class last Saturday morning. We had begun at 8 am and finished at 10:30am. A long morning for the girls!

I wish I could tell you the stories about Gloria who always scores top of her class while at the same time nursing her fellow pupils through their illnesses, about Stella who as soon as she gets a result of an exam runs straight to Sister Susan to share her news – just as I ran to my Grandad when I was her age, about Mekhides who came to Narus from Ethopia two years ago with no English who is now consistently in the top three in her class, about Rose who is so full of fun and love.

The girls sat their mock exams last week. Students from Comboni boys school, Lolim and Newcush joined us in our dining hall to sit the exams. There were four exams, Maths, English, Science and a combined exam for CRE and Social Studies.

And my word did those girls perform! The English paper came first on the Monday morning. In the afternoon was Science. The panel began correcting the English papers for the 95 students during the next exam. But…apparently our Standard 8 girls performed too well and were accused of having cheated. The head teacher of Lolim accused us of having shared the paper with the girls and said that he had heard it was for sale in the Dinka market.

What utter rubbish. The most obvious response would have been to tell the guy to sober up (he had been drunk for most of the day) and ignore him but instead the inspector was called and a two hour meeting took place on the next morning while I invigilated my own maths exam. The girls results in the mocks (with the possible exception of maths) were consistent with their mid term and end of term exams. They work so very hard and Aguer, their English teacher seems to spend endless hours with them.

And then maths. I haven’t yet seen the maths results in their entirety but what I do know is that we are the top school in Kapoeta East after this exam. There were quite a few girls who scored in excess of 85% which I think is incredible. The top score was 92% and the girl is disappointed. She normally scores in the very high nineties.

I will admit though that there was just one that desperately mattered to me and that was Christine Peter. She is a very quiet and shy girl. She works hard but finds maths a challenge. She was always around and about the 40% mark. Her sister Josephine is in Bakhita Secondary and from is a gifted student. Her younger sister Regina is in Standard 7 in Bakhita primary. Christine came to me and asked for help with Algebra. We had extra classes every Saturday morning so we used those classes to work together on Algebra.

I subsequently realised that not only was Christine taking extra classes with me but also with a teacher called Karragache who teaches maths in the younger classes too. When I realised that the papers had been corrected, I went immediately to look through them. As excited as I was to see the other results, I really just wanted to see Christine’s result – a mind blowing 87%! Can you believe it? I was so excited and so happy for her. I texted Fr. Tim immediately to share the news through my tears!

Seeing her this weekend and seeing how happy and how proud she was, that’s a feeling that will stay with me. Her fellow students seemed equally happy for her. She was so excited to tell me, I gave her the biggest hug!

Through my education I was lucky to have teachers who cared about me, more than I can name but they included Miss Caroline Griffin and Master Pat Callaghan in primary school and in secondary school Maura Curtin, Bat Wrenn, Marian Madigan, Joe Keeffe and Marian Horgan. All gave me extra classes and endless amounts of their time and energy for which I have always been grateful. I would hope that I made them as proud as I was of Christine.

Maybe in years to come, Christine will write a blog on some adventure of hers and remember that Irish woman who came for a few months and cared about her.