Monday, February 18, 2008
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
By Amanda Robert, Princeton High School, Princeton, Texas
Today I did something new. Something revolutionary. At least, revolutionary in my household. I started a change, slowly easing my family into it. First, I started with convincing them that purified water was better than spending all that money on water bottles. My parents seemed to agree as they went out that day to buy a water filter for our faucet.
Then, I worked them into buying more environmentally friendly house products. Started them off easy with new light bulbs, buying recycled goods (as well as recycling our own things), and different cleaning products than we usually get. They learned the joys of products from companies like Clean Environment Co. and were behind the 'going green' project I had started. But today was different. I was still fighting the battle in my home for things to be cleaner and better for the environment, but in a more drastic way. Our family rents their cars instead of buying them, so every few years they go out and pick some new ones. I'm sad to say that in the past we haven't had the cleanest cars around, but I convinced them to try something different this time around.
My parents decided, with some prodding, that looking into hybrid cars for this run would be worth it. I was surprised that it didn't take much to convince them (probably because they were renting it instead of buying), but they tend to tell their friends about things they like. So, if the new hybrid cars go over well, they might convince a few more people to give them a try. Here's to hoping to seeing more environmentally friendly cars out on the roads!
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
The issue of school fees often hits girls the hardest, as parents sometimes marry their daughters off as young as twelve in order to collect a "bride price," or dowry. Ironically, this bride price is often used to pay for the secondary education of other family members -- more often than not, boys. I sat down with the Ugandan girls of the CTAC Project to discuss what it is like to grow up as a young woman in Uganda.
This interview with Aseku Genavive, Namirembe Brenda, Achan Alice, and Ayee Beatrice -- the Ugandan girls of the Linking Individuals, Knowledge, and Culture Program -- was conducted over a two day period in July 2007. It has been edited and broken down into three parts: Women in Uganda, Education, and Politics, and The Future....
Women in Uganda
RB: As an American man, it's difficult for me to understand what it would be like to be a Ugandan woman. So what is it like? What are the lives of most Ugandan women like?
GENAVIVE: The life of the Ugandan women.... We are always oppressed by the men in Uganda.
RB: How so?
GENAVIVE: Okay, the reason I say so.... Women in Uganda are oppressed even in official work. We are always under men. We are not given the chance to be equal like men. For them, they want to be on top of us and we would be below them. And yet, in actual sense, we are capable of doing more than what they are doing right now.
BRENDA: And this is the result of men. Many still have the belief of traditional society where men used to be the boss, they're on top.... Now people are contradicting that belief that men are on top forever and ever. But even if they say we have emancipated women, (oppression) still exists in certain circumstances.
RB: So women are treated as property?
RB: We had this other discussion in the parliament about early marriage. Could someone just explain what early marriage is?
ALICE: Okay, Early marriage. This is still existing in the rural areas.... For instance, if you go into Northern Uganda, you'll find that a girl of thirteen years old is already married, simply because their parents want to get property. Because of financial problems they tend to send their daughters for early marriage so they can get money and other things, like cows, goats... So they are released from the problem of poverty.
RB: So they essentially sell their daughters.
BRENDA: And if they happen to give birth to a girl child, they are happy because they have already got rich. They are rich now, to give birth to a girld child.
RB: So a Ugandan family is happier to have a girl?
BRENDA: Yes. They are happy they have given birth to a girl child --
RB: But only because they know they can get a bride price--
BRENDA: Yeah. And that's why we are here, to stand and fight so that may not continue.
GENAVIVE: It should be abolished.
RB: Early marriage should be abolished?
GENAVIVE: Yeah, because a person like me, I get married now and I cannot support myself as an individual. I become a parent.... How am I supposed to support my family? And yet also in a family a man goes to work, gets his money, goes to drink. He leaves me with all the activities in the home. I'm the one to buy food for the children, I'm the one to clothe them. You see that kind thing. That's why we stand firmly that early marriage should be abolished here in Uganda.
RB: But can't a girl refuse early marriage?
GENAVIVE: You cannot.
BRENDA: If you refuse they just send you out of your family. "You go, and look for someone to care after you!"
ALICE: That's how many girls are now in the streets, because of early marriage. They tend to run away. Because they have nowhere to go, they tend to be in the street.
RB: Can we talk about school fees for a minute? How much are your guys' school fees? Can we just go around -- Alice, How much per year are your school fees?
ALICE: It depends on the school....
RB: Well, let's say the worst school in your district and the best school in your district. What are the two prices?
GENAVIVE: For me, the worst school in the district -- Okay... The schools which are not highly paid, which have a low standard.... like where I am.... We pay 106,800 (Ugandan schillings) per term.
RB: And how many terms per year?
GENAVIVE: Three terms.
RB: Okay, so that's roughly 300,000 per term....
*NOTE: 300,00 Ugandan schillings is roughly $200... for huge classes, limited supplies, and untrained teachers. In sum, a substandard education. Quality schools -- boarding schools in the capitol, for example -- cost 600,000 or more, roughly $350 per year, an amount unaffordable to most families.
A final note of clarification. Ugandan students refer to amounts in the hundreds of thousands in terms of a fraction out of a million. Six hundred thousand shillings, for example, might be described as "point six."
GENAVIVE: I have heard there are schools that cost one million here in Uganda, but most of us don't even know the direction (laughs), because you cannot start going there looking for admission and yet you are not capable of paying.... and even in the lower school (laughs) I am not able to pay....
RB: So what are your schools like? Can you tell me a bit about the schools you're currently attending?
ALICE: First, you find that good teachers tend to go away because the pay is not there.... Like...we don't have literature in our school. Political education is not there, and many other subjects we are not being taught. We are supposed to have eighteen subjects, but we are being taught fourteen only. For the case of Northern Uganda, it is even the worst. You find many students who did not finish Senior 6 (the final year of high school) are the ones who teach, because there is no one else....
RB: Like in Gulu, for example...
GENAVIVE: Qualified teachers are based in Kampala.
ALICE: Rob, all of us who are here you picked from rural schools, and most of us here are bright. But the reason you picked us from those rural schools is because we are lacking school fees. Otherwise, we would be attending better schools where they pay .6 million.... But we are not capable of paying....
RB: But you’re confident that, if you could pay, that you would be admitted to a good school?
RB: Okay.... Beatrice, you haven't spoken much. What is your school like? Explain for us.... How many students per class, for example?
BEATRICE: Okay, at our school we have a total of one thousand students --
RB: And you go to a girls' school, is that right?
BEATRICE: Yes. It's a girls' school. And there would be between one hundred fifty and two hundred students....
RB: Wait. So if you walk into a class, and the teacher goes to the front, how many students are sitting in those desks?
BEATRICE: We don't use desks; we used lockers....
RB: What do you mean by "locker?"
BEATRICE: A locker is just like a cupboard.
RB: Oh okay. But seriously, you would have one teacher at the front of the room and one hundred and fifty students?
Politics and The Future
RB: Okay, we were talking politics and someone mentioned Nelson Mandela. Who mentioned Nelson Mandela?
RB: So do you think.... Well, you were telling me this the other night. Do you think it's necessary to suffer in order to govern, to understand --
BRENDA: It was like this. There was an Apartheid policy in South Africa, where blacks were discriminated against. There were schools for the whites, and gardens for the whites.... and Nelson Mandela said no, the only difference is color. We are all human beings, and we are all from God. Why can't we have equal rights?
RB: So what makes Nelson Mandela different from other people? From other leaders? You were saying, Genavive, that he gave away power peacefully --
GENAVIVE: When it came time for him to retire, he didn't fight. He never fought. He told his people, "You elect the leader of your choice. It is my time to retire. I can only be an advisor." And that is what he is doing.
RB: So Nelson Mandela is the model for you?
ALICE: In fact, we want all the leaders to be like Nelson Mandela. You retire when your time comes, and not guns, guns, all the time....
RB: Okay, let's wrap this up. I want each person to tell me -- for one minute each -- where do you see yourself ten years from now?
ALICE: For me, the way I see myself... If I am to be educated, well-educated, I will be someone useful in the future.
RB: So you see yourself in a university?
RB: An American university or a Ugandan University?
ALICE: It is my dream to study from an American University. Yeah.
GENAVIVE: I see myself as a gift from God. So I have to utilize my life to support others. If I am well-educated, I have to become a politician, because politicians are the ones who speak in the parliament....
RB: Okay. Beatrice?
BEATRICE: For me, if I'm supported, I would like to become a medical doctor. And you know, in the camps, people are really having problems. The sanitation is so poor, people are almost in a place with the animals, and that is very, very bad --
RB: And this is the Internally Displaced Persons Camp where you live, right?
BEATRICE: Yes. So if I'm educated, I would really fight for people's health. I would like to be a medical doctor. My dream... I would like to study from the outside where the technology is advanced.
ALICE: Even in politics, you find that many of the politicians go and study from the outside and come back to implement the knowledge.
RB: What about you, Brenda? Where do you see yourself in ten years?
BRENDA: For me in ten years, if I happen to get a good education, I can be good for my country....Because I pray that one day I become the president of this country.
Friday, February 08, 2008
The first evening was a time for icebreakers and activities to put all participants at ease. Picking 5 people – George Bush, Paris Hilton, Osama bin Laden, David Beckham and me (I didn’t pick me! A student did!) – and putting them in a hypothetical crashing airplane with only 1 parachute led to some stimulating debate. The students also shared their expectations and hope for the camp.
On day 2 we leapt into heavier subjects with a session introducing debate generally and two sessions introducing British Parliamentary debate in particular. While Yem and I worked with students in the afternoon, Fareez worked with the new adjudicators to outline how to run and judge a debate. At the end of the day, with the camp divided into 3 smaller groups, debaters practiced their skills by giving public speeches on subjects ranging from global warming to Malaysian national service.
Saturday saw the debaters put all of their newfound skills together and do full debates. Yem and I, feeling particularly mean, assigned debate partners by randomly drawing names out of a paper bag! Debaters then assigned their newfound team a name. Although grumbles could be heard when we revealed our plan, I can see that new friendships were formed from our short camp. As is sometimes the case with beginning debaters, speeches on Day 3 were not always the full 7 minutes and some of the rules of the format were still being discovered. At the end of the day, though, most debaters were prepared – if a bit apprehensive – to participate in the mini-tournament with their new partners at the end of the camp.
The tournament featured 3 preliminary rounds, plus a semi-final and final round. Many students who on Day 1 shared their fears of speaking publicly were giving rousing 7 minutes speeches by Day 4. Some even asked if they could extend speeches to 10 minutes! Topics for the tournament mostly focused on issues relating to Malaysians and Malaysian youth. Preliminary topics centered on lowering the voting age in Malaysia (currently 21), banning smoking in public places and censoring the internet for political content. Those advancing to the semi-finals debated the merits of Malaysian National Service – a system wherein young people go to a 3-month camp run by the government to learn life skills.
The final round topic was “This House would restrict foreign laborers from coming to Malaysia” and featured plenty of entertainment for the sizable audience and three new adjudicators. Eventually, team Paranoid Duo of Nicole and Farah took first place from the Closing Opposition position, while teams Kaiser Crew, Assassins and Left Brain finished second, third and fourth, respectively. A three-way tie for first individual speaker from the preliminary rounds could not be mathematically broken, so Nicole from Paranoid Duo, Rena from Assassins and Thiban from team TZ currently shared a trophy.
The enthusiasm for debate in Kulim is high and we have to thank Lye Wah and Isyati Suparaman from the Polytechnic for arranging everything and helping to put on a fantastic camp. Also thanks to Yem and Fareez for donating their weekend to help spread debate in Malaysia. Thanks everyone and we hope to see you again!