What does it mean to experience the community?
The first part of our project was dedicated to approaching the community, as we have emphasized at different times. But what does this approximation mean and what activities are involved in this process? Let’s share with you the line we followed and what we did in that one and a half month in Uganda.
The project is based on community social psychology, which says that the demand for work to be performed by professionals must come from the population with which they work. To do this, it is necessary to be available to this population: to be close to, listen to, welcome and initiate together a process of reflection that rethinks consolidated forms of exclusion and poverty, showing that this state is not natural, but is the result of a system that includes ones and excludes others.
And in order to be able to deepen in these matters, it is necessary to create a bond with the community, which in our case, in the case of the school, means more specifically the students, their families and the teachers. However, the work involves several dimensions and focusing on these three audiences includes looking at local leaders, other residents, and understanding economic, political, and social issues. That is why, at all times, we have been present and attentive to what the community has told us. Being together must be with a look and listening based on the subjects as unique beings and with their own potential, and also as social subjects and the issues that shape lifestyles and behaviors, such as religious beliefs, gender, influences from the colonization and media.
But let’s talk about practice! What does all this mean, then? It means, at first, to participate in the activities that are already established in the daily life of the community. We are in a rural area and we see that human relations are very close, just as the value given to a company is great. Few people have cell phone and internet access and we see that there is a preservation of personal encounter. All the invitations that have been made to us, such as attending cults or other social events such as birthdays, visiting relatives or accompanying them at home, we accept.
To accompany them in religious events, for example, has a great meaning, because religion is very present in the community. This is an established activity, a moment that all meet, wear their best clothes. When we become part of this and attend an environment that is common and sacred for them, we are welcomed and more intimate. At the same time, it is fundamental to understand how religion permeates the everyday relationships and specific issues of that community. In the case of education, there is a direct influence because it directs how family and teachers should act with the children in the home and in the classroom.
One of the important issues is also to be present in the moments of relaxation, as we gather in front of our house – the residence of Augustine. It was already a meeting and reference point for the community, so we took advantage of this fact. Laughing next to each other is a way of breaking down barriers and we already have some examples of how this was reflected in our relationship with people here.
For example, Marcelo was invited by Alan, one of the community’s children, to accompany him on the day of his parents’ visitation at his school, as his “responsible”. Their relationship began with Alan occasionally visiting our home and both having fun playing ball and listening to music. Now, Marcelo knows Alan’s family, visited his home and can learn about the reality of a new school and learn a lot during this process; to Sophie, a 15-year-old girl, we also met St. Mary, who approached Elisa and brought many questions about the future, gender, freedom of choice, dreams. These people and so many others are part of our lives now and bring us visions about factors that we only have access to in establishing a bond and a relationship of trust. They know us and we know them. And we’re having Luganda, the local language, so we can communicate better with people because not all of them speak English. We see that when they greet us and we respond in Luganda, it is a way to break the ice and generate empathy right away.
Another major activity we did was to accompany St. Mary daily. Children ages 3 to 6 study in the Nursery Section (which relates to our kindergarten), which includes the Baby, Middle and Top Class series. From the age of 6, they enter the Primary School, which goes from Primary 1 to Primary 7 (P1 to P7). However, St. Mary goes to P5, because it has no structure – financial resources, teachers, rooms – to have the P6 and P7 series.
We met the teachers and students, in the beginning some rooms were without teachers, because they had to divide between two series. The students called us to teach and we did activities with them reading, we showed where our country was and we designed the World Map on the board, we taught Portuguese and they taught us Luganda. We also taught mathematics, English, geography, everything the teachers asked us to do. We attended classes in all grades, we took turns to accompany a class each day, so that our presence was not intimidating – and neither did the three of us in the same room. In this way, each one approached the one who felt more affinity and in a certain way all were contemplated.
We had the dimension of the conditions that the children study. Sometimes it was difficult to stay too long inside the rooms because of the heat, the smell of the toilet and the garbage, dust and mosquitoes. There is no eraser in the classes and children bring home sponges to use to extinguish; there is no toilet paper, no place to drink water, no place to wash your hand.
Because we are in the classroom, we create an initial bond with the teachers, a factor that we consider essential, after all they are the ones who work with the children every day. Teachers need to have their speaking place and we need to understand what they are talking about and see how these issues influence their work within the classroom because what children experience at school they lead to their lives . Suzy on some Fridays accompanied the teachers to TORUWU’s office, went up with them in the tree to get jambula (type a jabuticaba), they collected organic cabbage, they talked and they laughed about diverse subjects, taking advantage of the end together afternoon after a week of work.
The entire process in that one and a half months showed us how being available to the other makes difference. It is not just us looking at them and listening to them, they also look at us and the process is a two-way street: both together seeing, living and rethinking many questions. We will now start a new phase of the project, which includes groups with the teachers and the organization of home visits to get closer to families. We are at full steam! Until the next story!