Salima's story: Focusing amidst trials

Salima, seated at a bench with her Primary Five workbook, during an outdoor learning session at Wamulongo Primary School in Mayuge District

Life is full of ups and downs. But like many people say; staying focused and never giving up rewards hard work.

Early this year in February, I met an 11-year-old girl called Basanya Salima; a primary five pupil at Wamulongo Primary School in Mayuge District, Eastern Uganda.

She is a bright girl and so curious — always willing to learn and explore more ahead of her colleagues in class. I found time to have a conversation with her. It’s my policy to have such conversations with learners at my school because it helps me understand them better and how they are living.

Salima’s dream is to become a doctor. She aspires to change her community by saving the lives of her people. I was elated with happiness when I had about her dream. I encouraged her to work hard and gave her assurance that her dream will come true.

But there is a problem. Salima regularly struggles to interpret words in English and this has affected her scores in the class assessments. She also lacks scholastic materials, clothing, shoes among other basic things.

Her parents divorced when she was only 2-years-old and she is being raised and supported by her grandparents. The life she lives is still challenging. Sometimes she comes to school on an empty stomach since the grandparents can’t afford to pay for her meals at school.

Wamulongo Primary School was named among the worst-performing schools in the 2018 PLE exams. This level of performance was attributed to either low student attendance, less parent involvement, and incompetent teachers.

Teach For Uganda fellow teaching ‘letter sounds’ to a group of children in Wamulongo Primary School. These are some of Salima’s colleagues who equally strive to get quality education.

Salima has grown up with no parental love and she confides in me as a friend and teacher-parent. She is determined to achieve her dreams but the overwhelming challenges at home worry her all the time to the extent of self-doubt.

Many learners at my school are going through similar situations but it’s really hard to notice until you talk to them. Many children fear to reveal the hardships they are going through because they think their caretakers/parents will torment them for opening up.

Possible strategies have to be put in place to raise awareness in the community about such challenges faced by school-going children. Some parents choose to neglect their children and others run away.

Today’s children are the future generation. It is our responsibility to speak out and shape commendable ways of supporting them.

The question to the world is; how best can we support children living amidst such trials to realize their dreams?

Written by Dhikusoka Dickson 2020–2021 Teach For Uganda Fellow serving at Wamulongo Primary School as a teacher-leader to improve the quality of education in marginalized communities to benefit disadvantaged children.