21 September meeting: The ups and downs of ‘doing good’ – lessons from Bwindi, Uganda

The story of Omushana, Sunshine for Children – a small charity based in Shrewsbury and helping children in southwest Uganda. This illustrated talk will include observations and anecdotes (serious and amusing) on the pluses and minuses of charity and Fair Trade projects in the area. The talk will be given by Gillian Castle, who is a Shrewsbury resident and runs the charity.

Thursday 21 September at 7.30 pm, University Centre Shrewsbury, Guildhall, Frankwell Quay, Shrewsbury SY3 8HQ.

Impressions of the Humanist schools in Uganda, from an SHG member

 SHG Chris SmithChris Smith is a retired maths teacher and former VSO Uganda volunteer. She is also a Shropshire Humanist Group member and has been Secretary of the group. 

Chris recently revisited Uganda and wrote the following informal update from her visit to the Humanist Schools in Uganda. For more information please visit the Uganda Humanist Schools Trust, a charity that SHG supports

My recent visit to Uganda came 6 years after my first arrival.  I had already known about the Humanist Schools; by the end of my placement I knew Isaac Newton, Masaka, quite well; it was only a 3½ hour drive and I had my own vehicle.  In 2012 I joined the Friendship visit and managed to get to Mustard Seed, Kamuli, for the first time.  But I still hadn’t really been to any of the schools as a Maths teacher and that niggled.

I visited independently in February this year, at the start of the academic year, spending a week each at Isaac Newton (Masaka campus) and Mustard Seed.

I found that Primary Leaving Exam results were out late so S1 were only just starting to register.  “O” level results were very overdue, so S5 (lower sixth) hadn’t started.

I observed lessons. Venn diagrams loom large on the Ugandan curriculum, tedious and artificial, but other topics were more lively.  When “supplementing” lessons I asked why and how questions.  Rote learning is at the heart of Ugandan teaching, there are large classes and few resources; this can work well for Maths but there is a loss of independent thinking and flexibility.

S6 students (the A level year) sought me out when I was not in other classes. At INHS I was amazed by the standard already achieved by some of the students; they asked me about exam questions which they found difficult, I counted the years since I last taught at that level and consulted text books.  Students at Mustard Seed were not as advanced, but I team taught with one of their teachers and found him to be highly professional both in the content of the lessons and the non-dogmatic way he communicated with the students.

So far so ordinary.  I introduced experimental probability, coins were spun, dice rolled.  Initially students were very hesitant, out of their comfort zone.  I presented some of the questions I have used with my U3A “Numbers and Stuff” group; these led them to think in different ways.  I spoke to teachers about positive discipline, giving praise, quick ways to assess the progress of whole classes.

SHG Chris Smith Uganda 2At Mustard Seed the director asked me to speak to the boarders, boys and girls separately, about Humanism but emphasising the importance of females staying in school, avoiding early sex and pregnancy.  I told them about my life so far, emphasising my humble origins, being the first person in my family to be able to stay on at school after 14 and the difference that had made to my opportunities; that I have only two children so we could do our best for them and so I could work at my chosen profession.  I asked what they thought education could give them.  I explained that Humanists don’t have a rule book or leader, consider they can use reason to decide how to live well, can be friends to people of any religious belief or none, did not fear hell or try to act well just to reach heaven.  I emphasised that the Humanist Schools welcome staff and students who followed any religion, or no religion, equally.

Buildings, equipment and infrastructure have improved and numbers of students have increased; the purposeful atmosphere is just the same and what I most enjoy about my visits.

Uganda has very many places of worship. Some explicitly offer cures and wealth, it is the churches themselves that benefit.  Religious belief is often used as the excuse for persecution of “the other”, homosexuals the most extreme example at present, and it often overlays superstition, acceptance of witchcraft, inappropriate treatments from local healers.

Can the Humanist Schools make a difference?  Emphatically, yes.  Anything we can do to demonstrate atheists being generous and trying to lead good lives, and to encourage the use of reason rather than dogma is worth the effort.

Coming up…

Chris Smith writes: An early reminder of June’s evening meeting.  David Brittain, the Humanist “chaplain” to UK Armed Forces, will speak to us. A positive story of Humanism in practice will be encouraging after the scary Scientologists in May!  7:30 pm, Thursday 21 June, The Lantern.

On to July, I am planning the walk and lunch for Sunday 22 July.  We will meet at 10.00 am on the big car park in the centre of Shifnal for the Lodge Hill walk; a couple of hours stroll with great views and very little up and down, in spite of the name.  This will be followed by lunch at Odfellows Wine Bar.  A table is booked in the large conservatory, at “12 for 12:30”.  Of course non-walkers will be welcome join in for lunch – good choice of beers too.  There will be Sunday Roasts, beef, lamb, turkey have been mentioned, as well as the menu attached.  Early expressions of interest will be helpful, definite numbers and pre-orders will be needed in July.

Meanwhile for most of June I will be in Uganda, much of the time with the Uganda Humanist Schools Trust.  We will be visiting all three secondary Humanist Schools, and working with The Isaac Newton High School, Masaka, for the final week.  I know that school particularly well as Masaka is only 3 hours by road from the college where I did my VSO placement.  Internet connection will be uncertain but with a laptop, dongle and spare battery I hope to send out news of my travels.  If you would like to receive these emails please let me know.

Meeting of Shropshire Humanists

Tuesday November 30th at the Hobbs Room, Shrewsbury Library, 7.30pm: “Working in Uganda with VSO”.
A short account by newly-returned member Chris Smith of her experiences in Uganda over two years – which included several visits to the humanist schools there.

Bring your ideas for social events/actions/talks that can be organised in the new year and we will rough out a timetable.

Derek will tell us about the Groups Annual Meeting
(and a reminder that he’d be happy to have company if anyone wants to go as well to GRAMS, which is in Priory Rooms, 40 Bull Street, Birmingham, B4 6AF on 27th November. Do ring him if interested: zero one seven four three three six two six three seven.)

All are welcome.

Chris Smith on Uganda

Our next meeting will be on November 30th at the Hobbs Room at the Library in Shrewsbury, when we shall hear from Chris Smith, who has just returned from Uganda after two years plus with VSO, involved with maths teaching. She visited the humanist schools whilst she was there too.

Full information will be on the website next week.