Children in Uganda Enjoy Writing Their Own Books

12/17/14

Second-grade student Pasca eagerly walks to her teacher’s house. She can’t wait to start writing a new book this week. Teacher Lindsey, as she’s affectionately called by the children in the Uganda Children’s Homes, will be there waiting with freshly stapled colored paper, just like she is every Tuesday afternoon. 

 
The small, homemade book is a blank canvas and Pasca is eager to begin. She used to hate reading and writing. Now she’s always one of the first of her classmates to arrive.
 
Lindsey Mueller, an education specialist in Uganda for Children of the Nations (COTN), is working with Pasca’s second-grade class today, but she works with all of the classes from nursery to fourth grade throughout the week.
 
As the students arrive, Lindsey tells them what the theme is for today. They grab the supplies they need and get to work. Lindsey moves slowly around the room, answering questions and encouraging the students’ creative efforts.
 
                            “Some of the children take a lot of pride in writing a book,” Lindsey says.
 
Some children write a short story and draw lots of pictures. Others fill the pages with as many words as they can. Lindsey isn’t grading them for content or grammar. This isn’t a project for school. This is an after-school experiment Lindsey began several months ago for the children who live in COTN’s Uganda Children’s Homes.
 
 
“We have some really good artists even among the young kids,” Lindsey says. “They love the reading and story part, but they love to draw. It’s really fostering their artistic and creative side.”
 
But creating the books was just the beginning. As a teacher, Lindsey knows it’s vital that children grasp the fundamentals of writing and reading. So, for the reading portion, Lindsey enlisted the help of COTN staff who care for the children every day.
 
“It was one of those things,” Lindsey says. “It was going to be awesome or fail miserably.” She held her breath as the children read their books to the staff, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. “Oh my goodness, our kids can actually read!” they exclaimed.
 
                                                 The children love sharing their books with the staff. 
 
In Uganda, traditionally a child is taught to read by memorizing a daily list of words their teacher writes on the chalkboard. By fourth grade, ideally the children have memorized so many words that they’re finally able to read. “Kids who can’t memorize very well can’t read very well,” Lindsey explains. “They’ll basically be illiterate for the rest of their lives.” 
 
This teaching style isn’t used by COTN’s teachers, thanks in part to Lindsey’s work as an education specialist. But she’s always on the lookout for more ways to improve the students’ learning experience. When she heard about this hand-crafted book idea from another teacher working in Sierra Leone, Lindsey was eager to try it with the children here. Her goal is to help the children develop confidence in their skills—and it’s working.
 
 
“This has given them a little more confidence in reading, which, for some of our kids is very difficult,” Lindsey says. Pasca was one of the children who struggled with reading. But as she gained confidence, it changed her entire outlook. “They think, If I can read then I can learn English,” Lindsey says. Then the children are able to do better in other subjects, as well.
 
Now, every week, the children create a new book and then find a staff member on campus to read their new story to. The children get coveted one-on-one time with an adult who loves and cares for them, and they get a piece of candy from Lindsey as a reward. The project has proved to be an invaluable addition to the lives of the children.
 
“Transforming nations—there’s so many different parts to it,” Lindsey says. “There’s a million ways to do it, but being a teacher, I’m a little biased. In the United States we are able to read and further ourselves. Reading opens up so many more opportunities for the children. They’ll be able to use this knowledge to transform their lives and the nation around them. It’s going to be a generational thing.”
 
                  Now the older children are having fun reading their hand-crafted books to the younger children. 
 
Now some of the older children are reading their books to the younger children. They’re already inspiring the next generation. Lindsey loves watching the students’ confidence grow. She’s already looking forward to next year. “Hopefully they’ll be able to come up with their own ideas and be able to write it on their own,” she says.