the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other Dorset writers

Relationship Strings

I spent the weekend at the VSO offices in Kingston with nine other international volunteers. We took part in facilitation training to assist in the development of our roles at educational settings based in Myanmar, Rwanda, Nepal, Malawi and Uganda. What a lovely bunch of people! Our WhatsApp group is now buzzing with feedback.

One of the things we educationalists find it hard to get our heads around is the idea of ‘passing the stick’. That is, we should adapt our ways of working so that we allow participants in our programmes to take a lead on how input should be focussed and which ideas and strategies to share and develop. As teachers, we’re too used to coming up with questions to solve, but for ownership of the process, participants need to be fully involved with identifying the areas of learning and routes to acquiring skills and confidence.

Many of you will know, I like using string so much I named my debut novel The String Games. But string is also an accessible learning resource available anywhere in the world and can be used to facilitate discussion. As a mixed group of people, the purpose of my activity was to shed light on the things we held in common. Following the directions in the participation manual, we sat in a circle on the floor and as the holder of the ball of string, I was the first to speak. I held the end of string and rolled the ball to someone who I knew I shared something with, saying their name and what we had in common. It could be that we’re both mothers, teachers, shop in the same stores, like the same food … anything really. Upon receipt of the ball, the next person hooks the string over their finger and rolls it to someone else, saying their name and the thing they hold in common. In this facilitation, I appointed roles to each of the participants so we could imagine the activity being delivered on my placement at the Bidibidi refugee settlement in Yumbe, Uganda. You can read more about the context of my placement here.

The photo below shows the string pattern that was produced as part of the activity, illustrating the links between members of the group. In terms of using this on my placement with members of host and refugee communities, it could prove to be a useful tool to inform analysis and planning.

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Another way to use a ball of sting in participatory training is to sit in a circle and roll the ball from participant to participant whenever they wish to speak.  Holding the ball of string gives a platform to the speaker and avoids interruptions. The web that is created by hooking the string after turn taking demonstrates whether all have contributed to the discussion and whether certain members have dominated. I’m keen to try this activity at some point. Thanks to trainers Wim and Sue for their input over the weekend and to everyone on the course for their friendly support, ideas and encouragement.

My departure date for Uganda remains unconfirmed but as soon as the visa is sorted, I’ll be off.

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Packing for Uganda

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I will be leaving in December to spend four months in Uganda as an international volunteer with VSO. With advice from VSO Uganda I drew up a packing list and undertook a trial pack at the weekend. Some items had to be abandoned because my bags were overweight. Out went a supply of my favourite shampoo and shower gel, abandoned where a number of books I had hoped to read, and I slimmed down the learning resources I planned to take. I’m nearly there but my list of last-minute necessities is growing! Before I leave, I will attend a skills for working in development course and I’m currently undertaking lots of online learning. Although my fictional writing is on the back burner, I plan to use my experiences in Uganda to develop fresh writing. And blogging, of course! So here goes with a little information about Uganda and my placement.

Background

Since independence on 9 October 1962, Uganda has gone from a period of brutal dictatorship in the 1970s to political stability in the 1990s. While more than half the population (56.4%) lived below the poverty line in 1992/1993, this dropped significantly to 19.7% by 2012/2013. Uganda, the Pearl of Africa, has not experienced fighting since 2006 and now focuses support on districts in the north to improve infrastructure, growth and development in an area that was particularly affected by conflict.

North Uganda

Between 1986 and 2006 thousands of children were kidnapped from villages and forced to join the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) as child soldiers. Those children are now grown up and living with the legacy of extreme violence experienced in childhood. In addition, north Uganda has become a home to refugees fleeing the civil war in South Sudan.

South Sudan

South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in July 2011 as the outcome of a 2005 peace deal that ended Africa’s longest-running civil war. However, conflict in South Sudan erupted again in 2013 causing many people to flee their homes and seek refuge in neighbouring countries. There are one million refugees from South Sudan living in Uganda.

Bidibidi Refugee Settlement

The once small village of Bidibidi became a refugee settlement in August 2016. It covers 250 km2 stretching across the eastern half of the district of Yumbe where a quarter of a million refugees live. Uganda has a progressive policy towards refugees and in Bidibidi new arrivals are given land to build a house and a garden to grow vegetables. They can also work and access services. While Ugandans provide a warm welcome to refugees, when resources are in short supply, tensions can arise.

VSO in Bidibidi

In my role as an international volunteer, I will work with host and refugee communities to aid recruitment of children to Early Childhood Care and Education. Where young children are able to develop early learning skills, it puts them in a better position to complete their education. My work will focus on under-represented groups including girls and children with disabilities. Through participatory approaches, my role aims to support the protection and psychosocial needs of children and families.

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