Final Conference preparations

There is much excitement at Isaac Newton High School the day before they host the 3rd Humanist Schools Conference. Rooms are being cleaned, the site tidied, furniture and sleeping quarters arranged, catering arrangements finalised and welcoming posters displayed at the school entrance and along approaching roads.

While testing the equipment we found that the all-important data projector was overheating and cutting out after 3 minutes. With the fan not working we rushed the ailing machine to a technician in Masaka City, and placed a precautionary order for a replacement projector (needed anyway). The new projector is being sent by local taxi service from Kampala, so should be here this morning (?), hours before the conference starts this afternoon.

Although the school vacation has started, Senior 4 and 6 students have stayed in school for an extra 2 weeks of exam preparation. They are still trying to make up study time they lost during Covid and Ebola outbreaks.

I met the performing art students who made the school’s stunning new promotional video. The video is outstanding, and they are rightly very proud of their work. Students explained to me how, after writing and rehearsing the song, they were all taken to a recording studio in Masaka to make the sound recording. Once they were happy with that, they came back to school to make the film, miming to the sound recording. The young film maker used a small drone to take video sequences of the school from the air.

After talking about the video, a group of students sat for a relaxed chat. They told me of life in school. The pride they have in their school was evident. The only perennial complaint of school children throughout the world was of school dinners. As is the norm in Uganda, the staple diet is posho and beans. Though for a change they do have beans and posho. Although monotonous, it gives them the basic essentials and they get their vitamins from fruit which is widely available. Although the diet is limited, the students looked healthy.

They asked me about school dinners in the UK. I explained that British children can usually choose what food they pick, but there are various ploys to encourage them to choose healthily. I know that our British grandchildren look forward to their pizzas (less healthy than posho and beans!), which are served every Thursday. They asked me to name my favourite food. I had to come clean and tell them that it was a dubiously less healthy “bangers and mash”. The discussion ranged far. They were interested in how many children I had (two). I told them how quickly family sizes had come down in Britain from the previous generation to me. My father was one of “at least” 9 (I never knew the actual number), and my mother one of 3 (although her mother had died at the age of 31). They told me about their own families, which ranged from 2 to 13 children. The evidence is that, even in rural areas of Africa, the demographic transition is beginning to happen, as more cash-earning job opportunities become available to women and girls.

The three Humanist Schools coming from Bundibugyo District were so excited about the conference that they decided to arrive a day early. Peter Kisirinya is now rushing around to make sure that beds are ready for them and arranging for the kitchen to prepare food for an evening meal. Nothing is too much trouble for Peter, who wants this long-awaited conference to go well. I feel certain it will.