By Maria Paulina Mendoza and Kelly Haggart
Four students who completed a memorable practicum in a Ugandan village this spring have helped blaze a trail for future uOttawa teacher candidates.
Professor Ruth Kane, Director of Graduate Studies (English programs) at the Faculty of Education, has a longstanding personal connection to the village of Kamengo, located about 50 kilometres from the Ugandan capital, Kampala.
As part of her commitment to the Agnes Zabali Boys and Girls Club, she has visited Kamengo four times. This year, with the support of the Faculty of Education and the Michaëlle Jean Centre for Global and Community Engagement, uOttawa teacher candidates took part in an international practicum in Kamengo.
“It’s important for educators to understand that we all come from different backgrounds and have had different experiences,” Professor Kane said. “This international practicum gives teacher candidates an opportunity to see the world differently.”
For three weeks in April 2017, the teacher candidates co-taught Grade 4 and Grade 5 classes – with as many as 89 students – in a setting dramatically different from anything they had previously experienced.
“Classrooms with dirt floors, open spaces for windows, usually one textbook for the whole class,” Professor Kane said. “Our teacher candidates also encountered different teaching and learning styles, which helped them mature as educators.”
After teaching at the local primary school during the day, the teacher candidates tutored, planned activities, and played with the children and youth who attend the boys and girls club after school.
“The children of Kamengo are thirsty for education and for recreation,” Professor Kane said. “And when they met our recently graduated teachers, they formed an instant bond.”
She first went to Kamengo in 2014 as part of a medical mission sent by the Canada Africa Community Health Alliance (CACHA), a humanitarian organization co-founded by the medical director of the University of Ottawa Health Services, Dr. Don Kilby.But her involvement with the village had begun in 2006 when she met Agnes Zabali and her son Jimmy Sebulime in Ottawa. Zabali had built a good life for her family in Canada after arriving in 1985 as a refugee from the Ugandan civil war, but she also worked tirelessly with her son to improve lives in her home village.
After Zabali’s tragic death during a 2012 visit to Uganda, her son vowed to continue the work his mother had begun on behalf of vulnerable children in Kamengo. Now, Sebulime and Professor Kane are both members of a small Ottawa committee that raises more than $40,000 a year to support the youth club named in Agnes Zabali’s honour.
“We work closely with a youth committee in Kamengo and have had significant success in ensuring that children and youth have safe spaces to study and play,” Professor Kane said.The money raised in Ottawa pays school fees and buys school supplies for 155 youth in Kamengo, and also helps some of them go on to higher education elsewhere in Uganda, she said.
Professor Kane hopes to make this Community Service Learning practicum for uOttawa teacher candidates an annual tradition. Fifteen have already signed up to accompany her to Kamengo next April.
Related story: Training for the Boston Marathon in Uganda
Read about the Agnes Zabali Boys and Girls Club
Learn more about uOttawa Faculty of Education programs