Planting an education

I take bags with me when I go grocery shopping. I walk places if I have the time. More than a few people have called me a tree hugger or hippy in my life.

So imagine my excitement on Friday when I went to Sironko High to teach students about the importance of taking care of the environment. A few weeks ago we surveyed the students to find out their interests, and a large percentage wanted to learn more about the environment. Sironko High’s headmaster, Chepsikor, helped us arrange a day to come teach and plant trees with his students.

We arrived early and talked with Chepsikor about our plan for the day; he’s easygoing but isn’t afraid to correct us, no matter how trivial a correction it may be. First off, he informed us that our phone conversations had been so difficult because we somehow turned “magic voice” on on our phone. So basically we always sounded like helium-induced squirrels on the phone.

HELP International volunteer Cheryl Neufville plants a tree with one of the Sironko students. (ryan turner)

He has provided us with rice, beans, goat, bananas and posho today. Later, two heaping plates of sizzling maize arrive — the maize we picked in his fields. I get the impression he cares about feeding his students just as much as he cares to feed us. He seems to want the best for everyone and to help them get there.

Seven of us split into four groups to teach his classes. In every class, Chep makes a joke with an ensuing roar of laughter from the children; they look up to him just as much as I imagined. He singles out a couple students in each class and shares a personal story or comment about them. We teach about what’s bad for the environment (plastic, burning rubbish, littering, deforestation, etc.) and what we can do to make a difference (reuse bags, compost foods, use rubbish bins, plant trees, etc.). We explain the water cycle and why we need trees. The students all seem to understand and answer our questions well. Planting the trees was to make the lesson more hands-on, memorable and sustainable, and the students were all excited.

(ryan turner)

A mass of students flowed out of the buildings and branched out, grabbing trees. I learned the names and spoke with a few of the female students. It was so refreshing to hear their career goals: midwife, lawyer and nurse to name a few. I again thought of Chep and how he must motivate and encourage these girls to stay in school, work hard and achieve their goals.

The real leader in Sironko that day wasn’t any of us mzungus teaching classes and planting trees; it was, as it had been for some time, their local headmaster Chepsikor.

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