He uses old slippers to teach

By Vision Reporter

Added 17th December 2000 03:00 AM

WITH the Bwindi incident that claimed many lives and several bombs blasts in Kampala last year, Peace Corps from the United States of America (USA) had to stop its operations.

Teachers need to be empowered to use these aids and learn how to pass on the skills By Joan Mugenzi in Busolwe WITH the Bwindi incident that claimed many lives and several bombs blasts in Kampala last year, Peace Corps from the United States of America (USA) had to stop its operations. The Peace Corps volunteers were called back. But one volunteer was not ready to leave. At least his idea was not to settle back at home in Iowa, USA. His heart leaped for the little children studying under the UPE programme. Craig Esbeck was enjoying his work at Mukuju Core Primary Teachers' College in Pallisa at the time. As a matter of fact, Peace Corps volunteers had to work for two years but Esbeck had extended his term for a third year . "I had to figure out how to stay," says the humble 44-year-old man. "I came back to the village and this is what I figured out to do. It has worked out so well," he says from his instructional materials workshop in Busolwe, Tororo District. The workshop, Mango Tree Educational Enterprises, designs local instructional materials for teachers. The learning aids enable a child learn while enjoying themselves. The raw materials are things that any Ugandan child can identify with. He uses bottle tops, grain sacks and old slippers among other things. Esbeck graduated with a degree in International Studies at the University of Iowa and later undertook a primary teaching course. For eight years, he taught three to l2-year olds. Something that he enjoyed. After that, he needed a new challenge. Peace Corps seemed to provide, that challenge. That was how he found himself in Uganda. It marked the beginning of rubbing shoulders with a developing country. "1 had never been to poor countries not even in the US," Esbeck says. With over 100 pupils to a teacher, and the big heart that he has, Esbeck decided to use his re-adjustment allowance to do something. "1 thought to myself that how can I just go back and live my life like I did not know what was happening here to be honest," recalls Esbeck, compassionately. "Problems in the US look so insignificant. Here, I feel I have some contribution to make. Here it is simpler. I am developing tools that can help teachers do a better job," reasons Esbeck. His observation is that there is a genuine desire to reform primary education. Which is why there is need to have these efforts complimented. "Yes, there are problems with UPE, corruption. But that aside, for the three years, I have been here, there have been a lot of changes. Uganda is moving forward. There is commitment from government to the grassroots person at the Local Council level," says Esbeck. His dream now is to have the instructional materials spread out the country in the next five years. "I still see it as something that is through Uganda. I want to have even the most remote schools have access to these materials," he says. His idea of spreading out the materials is by conducting workshops and thereafter, teachers can go back and use the materials effectively. "I get people who want to sell my materials but I resist them. Teachers need to be empowered to use these things and learn how to pass on the skills," says Esbeck. Esbeck first broke ground for his ideas when he met and talked to Susan Kajura of World Learning Incorporation. "She was very supportive. She liked the idea of games. So, World Learning was the first NGO that hired me to do work for them," he says. Kajura was impressed with Esbeck. "Craig's humility and total respect for our people and culture captivated me. He did not come with this arrogance that comes with people from the external world. He was different and he was providing a real solution. He was making quality products from our own environment," she says. The idea was to help NGOs ensure that education was more participatory. That workshop went well and Esbeck has never looked back. "It gave me confidence. It gave me the guts to reach out to other NGOs," he says. Through the NGOs and Centre Coordinating Tutors for Core Primary Teacher Colleges, he has been able to reach. How does it feel to see his efforts kick off? "1 thought about it this year. In grade school, I wanted to know how old I would be in the year 2000. I also wondered what I would look like because 44 sounded old and, I wondered what I would be doing. Certainly, I never thought of doing business in Uganda. It is a nice surprise," he laughs. The flourishing business has seen Esbeck tucked away in the village. The Mbale-Kachonga road that gets you to his place is full of potholes. When it rains, the road is flooded. It can take one four hours to get to the Mbale –Tororo highway. It is a major challenge for his job, so he points out. Another challenge is that UPE funds do not come on time. A workshop may be scheduled but since headteachers may have no money, they do not buy his materials. This leaves him with only the facilitation fee of shl,000 that every school has to contribute. The village that he lives in is his dream home. Nothing will see him living in your urban areas. "I like living in the village. I looked for jobs in Kampala but I didn't get them. I am glad I didn't. I am not sure I would have liked to live there." Ends

He uses old slippers to teach

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