Today I had the best lunch-break of my life. And it wasn’t because of the of the bag of lime and chili crisps hastily consumed at the back of the bus – although they were delicious.
We’d been invited to visit a school with a unit for visually impaired girls, in the break between our morning and afternoon sessions. After swinging by one of the small multi-purpose shops that are in abundance in Uganda – crisps and Pepsi for us, balloons and toy rattles for the girls – we headed over, spending the journey figuring out a way to get those bells into the balloons so they were big, bright and noisy.
When we arrived we were ushered into one of the classrooms for visually impaired girls. It was quiet, subdued. This is what happened next.
I lost track of how long I spent in that classroom with those girls. We knocked balloons around until they popped, and then blew up more. The energy was infectious – we were all boiling hot, sweat pouring down our faces, but we didn’t want the fun to end. I’ve never known a feeling like it.
Eventually, we had to wrap things up. A discussion of the ABC and Ts of HIV prevention as we stood in a circle panting from the exertion. Hugs and smiles and goodbyes.
The school wanted to show us what they did for “our girls” – this remarkable set of teachers were determined to enrich the lives of their visually impaired students, and had gone through great creative lengths to achieve that.
First, we were shown their home made paddle-ball style game. Like a cross between table cricket and table football, they’d built the table from scratch and the teachers pride was palpable as they asked their star VI students to demonstrate the game in action, as they listened for the ricochet of the ball of the boards. Fantastic to watch!
Next, we headed outside to the back field. Here, the whole school was congregated, and we got stuck in chatting and playing little games, singing and dancing. As I was in the middle of teaching a group of girls the hokey cokey I heard a commotion from across the field and we headed over to see what was happening.
Someone had produced a goalball ball – a heavy, basketball sized ball with bells inside. Inevitably, a game of goalball had been set up – the dynamic CWB trio of Lee, Reece and Emmanuel against 3 of the students. The objective: roll the ball past the other team. With improvised blindfolds of caps pulled down over the eyes, the game was on.
I’m pleased to say we have access to the highlights package here (make sure you’ve got the sound turned on!):
Unprecedented levels of athleticism I’m sure you’d agree!
Before we knew it our time was up – back to the bus an onto our afternoon sessions. We left the remaining balloons in the care of the staff, and were waved off by the whole school, grinning from ear to ear.
So – a wonderful, unforgettable hour or so.
And some take-home messages as well. The girls we visited were, in many ways, fortunate. They had remarkable staff, who cared about their well-being and enrichment of their lives. But what beyond that? These girls will leave school and enter a society where they will be at a significant disadvantage. They are more likely to be subject to sexual abuse than their peers, more likely to be impoverished, more likely to face stigma and discrimination.
I hope that, by playing games together – visually impaired and fully sighted alike – these girls will begin to have a sense of empowerment, of their ability rather than their disability. I hope that they have more happy hours, more chances to laugh and enjoy a sense of belonging and community. I hope that they can forge a way in a world that puts many hurdles in front of them.
If we have helped in any way to make those things closer to a reality, well, that’s not a bad way to spend your lunch break is it?