Over the summer of 2016, River Song School was fortunate to spend 5 weeks with Miss Rehema Nsan. Rehema visited our school from Kampala, Uganda, where she heads up the non-profit organization, GirlBe. Rehema came to River Song to learn more about Montessori pedagogy and materials, as well as to teach our students about different aspects of Ugandan culture, including music, language, and dance. River Song continues to support Miss Rehema and GirlBe from afar, with plans for another teacher exchange to Kampala in the future.
Rehema reflects on her experience at River Song:
Nearly a month ago, I interacted, shared and learned from the River Song School community. My fundamental understanding, practice and knowledge for working with children aged 3 to 6 took a drastic shift. From just hanging around, playing and shading on scrap papers, our children back home in Uganda specifically Kansanga local community, are headed for a well structured space that facilitates independence, deeper learning and connection.
The memory of my very first visit to River Song last year amazed me. I had no slightest idea that something like that existed. I had never seen a child’s environment with such order and intention. Our traditional schools of course do not offer anything comparable. However, we have moved away from complaints to creation of alternatives. That is why I started GirlBe, an organization dedicated to empowering girls and young women through creative means of learning. I wanted them to gain mastery over their lives. But yet, since the inception of the project, I learned that until we found a solution for the wandering child, the deprived young mother would never reconcile. That brings me to my experience from River Song.
At River Song, I saw children take responsibility of their selected works, make their own beds and prepare a table. They would also invite a friend or two for a snack. Children choose their projects while teachers simply guide.
In exchange for the personal hands on lessons, I shared my cultural and creative being. I taught them a few songs in my local language Luganda, told them stories of how we have many animals but less pets and shared my experience with traditional instruments. They loved it. They loved to question the idea of anything that seemed unfamiliar and enjoyed being a part of the whole process. It was a beautiful platform for expressing our perceptions and realities of cultural diversity.
Back home, I am experimenting. Our children are way too excited! Everyone in the community is happy to see their children in a circle or a pair or just as an individual fully engaged in an activity that almost fits adults.
I have decided to turn the whole cultural centre into a foundation for literacy, creativity and practical life for children. This way, we shall have full time space to curate an environment that is small, neat and organized to benefit our children and the community.
What I’m experimenting with at GirlBe
I have been utilizing donated material from friends and some extra that I bought, to experiment with the Montessori lessons I acquired recently. Also, more than three quarters of the number of children visited the zoo for the first time and chose their animal spirit. They are exercising their animal spirit yoga pose.
- During my first week of return, I engaged six young women in basic lessons to develop our teaching team.
- Two of the young women are mothers. They took up the cooking responsibility. We have warm and healthy food every day. Mostly rice and beans or posho and peanut paste.
- Once in a while, we have ice cream dessert from the village bicycle man.
- Among the four dedicated teachers, we have a librarian, two classroom set up assistants and the nap aunty.
- The school is based in an ex cinema facility in a local community of Kansanga.
- We registered twenty children aged 3 to 6 years of age. 99% are girls.
- We also include older ones up to 12 years as a leadership strategy and skills development program.
- Our registration requirements are 2 passport sized photos, 1 signed membership form and a membership account of 12 dollars for a year. All members are asked to bring at least a $ quarter once in a while in order to complete their annual commitment fee.
- When the children arrive in the morning, they are bathed and dressed up in uniform.
- Our classes start at 9am and end at 1pm after which they take a one hour nap.
- Children nap on hard ground only covered with a large piece of paper or the African mat. We also have not yet crafted individual sleeping compartments.
- On waking up, some children play table tennis while others warm up for drums and dance rehearsals. Sometimes, we have performances for visitors.
- The day ends in council. Council is an old tradition of sitting in a circle for conversation.