By Carolyn Johnson, Vice-Chair of the Literacy Rotarian Action Group, TRF Cadre of Technical Adviser, and member of the Rotary Club of Yarmouth, District 7780
“What is Rotary – and what do Rotarians do?” I asked as I was talking with children who attend a small government school outside Kampala, Uganda. The school is located on the edge of a growing community, but most of these students live in a small nearby fishing village. Many of the children were barefoot and dressed in what they could assemble of the school uniform. The school is basic: a concrete floor, block walls and a tin roof- but clean and neat, with all the children wearing broad smiles and clearly happy to be in school with caring and supportive teachers.
The first time I visited this school, it was a very different sight. Just three years ago, the school was a tiny building of three cramped classrooms – no doors and no windows. Each teacher taught two grades without books and education materials. That day, children weren’t attending classes, but a cow had made itself at home in the school: tipping over benches, knocking down the old blackboard with its horns, and doing what cows do. It was not surprising that parents didn’t enroll their children in school. It just didn’t seem worthwhile.
Enter the Kajjansi Rotary Club – Rotarians living or working nearby who clearly saw an opportunity. After talking with the teachers and education officials in the area, they made plans to build three new classrooms – basic rooms to provide a classroom for each grade level. The Rotarians also understood that these children would benefit from role models to encourage regular attendance and commitment to studying. Each Rotarian mentors a student, as do local Rotaractors. The club gave each child a backpack and some basic school supplies to help them with their studies. It wasn’t a huge monetary investment and all funds were raised locally. But this investment is clearly yielding great dividends.
In return for the Rotarians’ investment, the ministry fulfilled its commitment to provide a teacher for each grade level. The school now has some text books and a few teaching supplies. And the results? Enrollment increased from 16 children three years ago to 96 children attending classes today!
My Rotarian colleagues recently took me to visit the school, see the progress, and meet the students. The Rotarians, all successful business people dressed in business attire, commented that this school reminded them of their own childhood: barefoot, walking to school, few resources, but committed teachers. One by one, and totally unplanned, each Rotarian shared their own story with the children. Their message: despite humble beginnings, the opportunity to attend school and receive an education was the key to their success.
It was then my turn to talk to the students. Though education has been so important in my life, my experiences were so unlike the challenges these children face. Instead, I asked, “What is Rotary – and what do Rotarians do?” A young girl, perhaps ten years old, raised her hand and stood. “Rotarians,” she said, “are people who give us opportunities for a better future.”
What more is there to say? Through connections with our communities, Rotary service offers opportunities for so many. What better investment of resources or better impact of Rotary service could there be than supporting education to give opportunity for a better future?