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Intel Education Service Corp: Days 5&6 - Graduation, Driving Excursions and Exciting Weekend Plans

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Note from the Blog Manager: Follow Donna, one of the Co-Program Managers for the Rotation Engineers Program, as she serves as part of the IESC in Uganda. The Intel Education Service Corp, a program that allows Intel employees to work with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in developing countries all over the world. Catch up with her first post before you hear about her first few days below.

I can hardly believe that I arrived in Uganda almost one week ago and that we have completed four days of training. Yesterday we ‘graduated’ our first class of students—complete with diplomas and photos (we skipped the caps and gowns). We found a wide range of skills; some students were very focused and dedicated and made amazing progress. Even when surfing the net they were the ones who were linking to Al Jazeerah, using Wikipedia to research the history of Nelson Mandela, looking for jobs with the UN. Others were much less dedicated—instead looking at pop stars, football teams and wedding dresses.

We managed to get the tents and classmate PCs all unplugged and loaded up before the afternoon downpour—quite a relief from the previous day. We went back to Eric’s house (one of our hosts) to find that the red dirt road had suffered from the previous day's torrential rain. When we arrived we learned there had been no power all day—a challenge for a computer training center (thank goodness for big batteries…and a gas powered generator). In spite of it all, our Ugandan hosts managed to create an amazing dinner of six dishes which we ate by candlelight. We made it to the new hotel and hit the showers.

The arrangements here are extremely comfortable. We are staying in one of three houses built on the manicured grounds (complete with tennis court) of a wealthy Ugandan politician. So we have our own self-contained unit of three bedrooms, a small kitchen (including an impressive fridge…now if only we had power we’d have cold beer!) and a sitting room. Each room has a shower with good water pressure AND reliable hot water. After a day working at the Centre we find that any part of our bodies not covered by clothing carries a fine coating of red dust so having access to those showers is a really big deal.

This morning we were back at the community centre for a very different day—instead of high school aged students we were to have approximately 200 primary school students walking to the Centre for 30-minute sessions. This made for a taxing day as few of them had any prior experience using a computer or a mouse so each student required a great deal of personal attention. But we soon had them using the Maendeleo software—popping balloons and painting pictures and solving puzzles. They loved getting those pencils and stickers—so thank you everyone for your contributions! I am also pleased to announce that the pencil sharpener has finally been firmly screwed to the top of the youth centre's desk and the volunteers are having a field day. I fear that a number of pencils have been sacrificed in the discovery of a really sharp pencil lead (as opposed to one whittled with a kitchen knife).

Along the way we had noticed a much greater presence of police and even some army personnel in anti-riot gear stationed at all the roundabouts, markets and major intersections. Ellie, our driver, explained that there were people inciting demonstrations because of the price of gasoline (about $6 a gallon). That afternoon, we were advised advising him to take an alternate route back and we should plan to leave as soon as possible because some of the roads had been closed and there was concern that we could get stalled in unpredictable conditions. He chose a great route that took us into the countryside outside of Kampala so we had a chance to see a more rural form of life. Lots of wonderful vegetation—avocado and mango trees, coffee plantations (the beans spread on plastic sheets beside the road drying), wonderful flowering shrubs, wide horned cattle, goats tethered up to their bellies in fresh grass. It was all very peaceful so it was hard to remember that we were on this route because of political problems.

Ellie has negotiated the rental of a small van and will be taking us to Murchison Falls for the weekend. We’ll travel light and plan to leave directly from the centre around noon tomorrow so as to avoid the usual congestion around Kampala. We have reservations at Paara Lodge just outside the national park—my first safari experience—gin and tonics on the veranda??? We’ll have about 24 hours to sample the wildlife before heading back on Sunday afternoon. Expect to read about hippos and giraffes in the next update!