Community Education Volunteers promote equitable education in Uganda

By Gabby Douglas 

Community Education Volunteer (CEV) Kembabazi Adrinne helps women and children learn how to read and write in her free time

In Uganda, only 35 per cent of children who enrol in primary school will complete their primary level education. 85 per cent of rural Grade 3 students are unable to read, write, or do basic math at a Grade 2 level. The covid-19 pandemic means nearly 20 million children are out of school compared to approximately 700,000 before covid. This is terrible news for the children of tomorrow – especially given that many of their parents cannot read or write. Adrinne Kembabazi, a Community Education Volunteer (CEV) in Lwemiriti wants to change that. She teaches women and children how to read and write in her free time.

“I smile when I see my student Rehemah draw a thin white line on the sand. I watch as she carefully writes her name with the precision and focus of a hawk,” says Adrinne. “She has been my student for nearly a year, but she isn’t a child. She’s a woman in her twenties, a mother in my village. Twice a week, she and a group of other local women come to my home in Lwemiriti for adult literacy classes. I take them through the alphabet and teach them how to read and write.”

Building Tomorrow promotes equity in education in underserved communities in Uganda and they help Ms. Kembabazi to teach her peers.  Ms. Kembabazi’s  parents were poor and could not afford to pay her fees. “I only attended classes until Primary 7. This, however, did not deter me from working with Building Tomorrow in their education initiatives”. She joined one of the organisation’s programmes, Tomorrow Is Now last year. Together with other CEVs, she learned how to facilitate games and activities that help children learn in a fun way by teaching them memorable tricks for solving basic maths problems as well as for reading and writing.

After two weeks of training, she was ready to host her own Roots to Rise community camp. Teaching came naturally to her. “I started singing songs that got children energized and learning for the first time in over a year,” she says. “And it’s not just the children – the women in the market are very keen to improve their maths skills.”

Despite being a drop-out, she chose to volunteer to ensure that children in her community never miss an opportunity to learn regardless of their family’s financial situation. “Parents are elated when they see their children making such enormous progress in just a few short weeks. When Olivia first came to my camp, she could not read a single letter. But soon, she advanced from Level 1 to Level 3 in literacy. Now she can complete the entire alphabet.”

Ms. Kembabazi has worked with various groups of people.  Recently, a women’s microfinance group approached her for help. None of them could sign their name to a loan document; now, they’re slowly improving. They continue to meet each week to discuss their small business initiatives and they work on their literacy at the same time.

“Will you please teach us how to read and write?” they asked. I had limited free time, but I knew that these women needed my help and I was determined to share with them my knowledge. At our first official lesson, one woman struggled to use her phone as she could not read her contacts. Another had trouble reading road signs when visiting a town while none of them could make sense of the notes in their children’s school notes.”

After the adult literacy sessions, the women can now read and write. “Their success motivates me to keep teaching others, and to keep doing everything I can to improve the literacy levels in my community. I look at volunteering as my obligation to the people in my village. Teaching is my passion. I want the children and women in my village to have an education because when you’re educated, there’s no limit to what you can accomplish, no limit to what you can do for others.”

Building Tomorrow’s Community Education Volunteers have been on the front lines of the covid-19 education crisis, working tirelessly to connect out-of-school children with learning opportunities while schools remain closed throughout Uganda.

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