The African Slum School

Imagery of a primary school includes playfulness, nurturing, and the planting of seeds of education and a bright future.

Imagery of a slum is one of struggle, suffering, and the seeds to a short, hard life.

Today we put these two together.

***

After we had toured the Bwaise slum and visited the residence of a mother of three (all four HIV positive), Salim and Seru-Nassar, operators of Volunteers of Sustainable Development (VFSD) and guides for this Slum Tour, took me to see the Bwaise school.

Walking out of the cramped, dirt pathways lined with corrugated metal shacks, we popped out to a broader street. On the way, we walked by the local Kindergarten:

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Stores out front; school within

Then we approached Bwaise primary school.

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First thing I did was recall a visit to a school in Cambodia:

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Four years earlier, I came upon this UN-funded school outside Battambang.

Inspired by that improv visit, the second thing I did was walk into a classroom of this school in Kampala:

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But I was soon taken back out to meet with the headmaster, a bright-eyed gentleman frequently gracing his company with a genuine smile:

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I found out that this was a private school for students about ages 6-12.

Curious about the idea of a private school in the slum, the headmaster told me that here in Bwaise, the government schools are inadequate.

“Teachers don’t teach. Some don’t show up,” he said. And partial credit for this is because “pay is not regular in government school.”

So they started their own “third world private school,” he said, to cater to the Bwaise children, including some orphans that VFSD works with.

We walked back outside for the tour.

Just outside his office, staff worked on lessons:

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Then he took me from class to class:

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We then saw the kitchen:

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And then the bathrooms:

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School outhouse and this water tank were donated.

Finally, the school handyman was off to the side of the front school yard making desks:

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Enjoy this footage from the school tour and a few words from the headmaster:

 

The sun was setting. It was time for our school visit, and the Bwaise Slum Tour, to come to a close.

But though the tour was finished, my interaction with VFSD had only begun. I decided to connect the dots–the “dots” being Salim and my very first contact in Kampala, my host Nathy.

I had met Nathy online via the web community Couchsurfing.org. Soon after arriving, she shared about her job working for an organization that consults area nonprofits to help them better operate and serve their purpose.

I told Nathy about VFSD. Two days later, we arrived to meet with Salim.

***

I arrived early, and Salim showed me more of Bwaise, the other side of its main street:

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On this side was the slum aqueduct:

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We walked along it.

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The new development in the background clashed with the dilapidated structures currently standing.

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As usual, kids came running over to me:

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Salim said it was because of my camera.

Residents here collected their garbage in an open lot:

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They also recycled.

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This guy ran a noisy grinding machine inside that chewed up the discarded plastic in the bags out front.

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We continued:

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Finally, we reached the end of the aqueduct and the end of road for Bwaise. Beyond here was a freeway, manicured lawns, and the border of a new neighborhood.

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Soon after getting back to the Bwaise main street, Nathy arrived. She and Salim then met in the VFSD office:

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Area children clung around Nathy, this perfect stranger. Something to be said about the slum: people are close.

Nathy then paged through the folder of the children profiled as those from families most in need.

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She asked about VFSD’s funding, operational expenses, and goals. This was in September. To this day, these two 20-somethings remain in touch to tackle one of Kampala’s biggest concerns. As far as I know, VFSD is the only on-the-ground organization working to improve the conditions of the slum.

If you wish to help, please contact Salim at volunteers.vfsd@gmail.com or via their Facebook page.

***

Looking back on my experiences as shown these last two weeks, I realized that we imagine a slum by the overarching aspects that strike us: the dilapidation, the unclothed children, the unsanitary conditions–all true, but not the whole picture.

There are smiles. There is contentment. There is day-to-day living just as you or I enjoy ours.

For a well-rounded understanding of the situation, it’s best to remember all of these aspects–not just because they are accurate and true, and not to take away from Bwaise’s need for help, but to reveal a lesson about the human spirit and its ability to find joy in even tough circumstances; and then to laud those who endure the challenge by putting themselves into these situations to help–not begrudgingly but with a smile on their face.

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What say you?