Sunday, August 12, 2012

Beakers and Test Tubes and Bunsen Burners

For those who are wondering, there ARE a few key differences between summer camps in America and Uganda.  Firstly, as a counselor, I am called “Madame Ilse” by my campers, which may sound overly formal, but is rather adorable.  Secondly, there are monkeys.  Not always, but certainly sometimes.  At this particular camp/professional development week, there were hundreds of monkeys running around the campus, and trying to break into dorms to eat food.  Thirdly, rather than being located in the Northern Woods of Minnesota, this camp was located at a school on top of a hill overlooking the source of the Nile.  Fourthly, and most drastically, are the contrasting levels of hygiene.  In America, my experience as both a camper and a counselor is that girls had to be literally pushed into the shower when smell became an issue, and this point usually came about once a week.  In Uganda, no matter the age, girls will bathe twice a day, late at night and early in the morning, and not only this, but they lack our nice facilities such as showers and hot water.  So, they bucket bathe with COLD water twice a day.  And, they put up a fight if they sense anyone threatening their right to do so.  The result of this is probably horror on the side of the campers, when they realize just how little Americans clean themselves.  We had to also set strict rules against washing clothes during camp, because of tight schedules, and this was very hard to enforce.   There are similar things, too.  Campers in America and Uganda alike love singing and dancing and playing games.  And they stay up late gossiping and telling each other stories. 

This particular camp involved 80 campers; Senior 1-3 female students from all over Uganda (except for West Nile L), who have demonstrated talent or interest in the maths and sciences.  As you may know, finding girls who are interested or talented in the sciences is fairly rare here, as many discourage this.  As a result, the girls who did attend, are quite possibly some of the brightest and boldest girls in the nation.  Coming from one of the less-developed places in the country, where (I believe) education is failing, it was incredible for me to interact with and witness these well-spoken, and well-educated young women.  It shows what a difference going to good schools, with motivated teachers, and resources can do.  Anyway, it was completely inspiring.  We split the girls into 8 mentor groups, named after the planets in our solar system.  I was Earth, and I had 10 girls, mostly from SW and Central Uganda.  I had a female Ugandan counterpart, Zuhrya, a secondary school teacher.  Among my girls, was Zubedah, an inquisitive, and beautiful girl who loved dancing, and wanted to become a heart surgeon and go to school at Oxford.  Do I doubt that this will happen?  Absolutely not.  Also, Brenda, who was the sweetest girl I have ever met, and who is completely determined to become an engineer.  Brenda was very confident, despite being an albino in sub-saharan Africa, and all the prejudice and sneering that most likely goes along with that.  They were all wonderful.  The week culminated in a science fair, which the girls researched and worked on a little each day.  My group split up and did two projects: Why is the Sky Blue? And The Science Of Solar Panels.  It was interesting to see, because at first when we were discussing, some were quick to say things like, “Because god made it that way,” but by the end, each one of them had a succinct and scientifically correct answer.  God?  Well, no.  It’s more about the scattering of blue light when the light from the sun runs into particles in our atmosphere.  Apparently.  The week was a whirlwind of activity; speakers, sessions, demonstrations, mad science experiments, astronomy nights, science videos, etc.  (insert letter here), and it was amazing to see how absorbed the girls were during each part.  Tom was a teacher throughout the week, and taught projectiles, took the girls on a nature walk, and helped with other sessions.  Some of the other sessions were bottle rockets, baking soda volcanos, life skills, computers, astronomy, the water cycle, nutrition, epidemiology, etc.  My hat goes off to my friend Stevie for organizing and directing the camp.  It has inspired me to start working on a grant for a similar idea; a camp that focuses on creative, self-expression through the arts. 

After the camp, in a delirious state formed from a delicate mix of exhaustion and hysteria, all of us staff piled (read: overpacked) a private hire to Jinja Town (read: mzungu town) and ate ourselves insane off of milkshakes and burgers.  That’s another difference between camps here and in America; beans and rice (if you are lucky) everyday!  Now, I’m back in my village after a long day of travelling, and it has felt nice to be able to greet people in a language that I know, and see a lot of friendly, familiar faces.  When I told my campers where I lived, most of them asked which continent West Nile was in.  Oops. 

Now is time for relaxing at site, reading a lot of books, and cleaning, before I leave again for SW Uganda, Rwanda, and then the all volunteer conference.  

Love and Light Waves,