Wednesday, February 12, 2014

SHARPening Ugandan education

While the girls are off playing (see last post), Daddy is busy working. A couple of months ago, I was asked by my SIL supervisor to be a part of a workshop in February-March of this year. The request came at a good time because I planned to finish the first full draft of my Ik grammar by 31 January, and we don't have anything else big tying us to Timu for the moment.

The workshop is part of a big program funded by the USAID (United States Agency for International Development) called the School Health and Reading Program (SHARP). It is headed by an agency named RTI and involves a handful of partner organization to implement the program. One of those partners is an SIL subsidiary organization called SIL-LEAD whose vision "is a world where all peoples have a voice in their own development---in their own words." SIL-LEAD subcontracts work out to local SIL branches (like Uganda), which is how I got involved. The SHARP program is also conducted under the Ugandan government which means the workshop I'm taking part in is held at the National Curriculum Development Centre here in Kampala, where they write school curricula for the whole country.

Like I said, it's a very big program, and if you want to know more about it, go here. This four-week workshop is only a tiny part of it. The goal of the workshop is to evaluate the orthographies of five Ugandan languages and determine if any improvements need to be made. The five languages are: Lukhonzo, Lugwere, Lusoga, Ngakarimojong, and Ateso. The first three are Bantu languages, while the last two are East Nilotic languages and therefore closely related. Because of my familiarity with Ngakarimojong, I was assigned to Ateso, its close linguistic cousin.

The Ateso language has been being written for at least 100 years. Its alphabet has 17 consonants and 5 vowels. But last year, when the new P1 and P2 (grades 1 and 2 in the US) school books made in the SHARP went to the schools, a lot of complaints were made about how they were written. So it was decided that the Ateso writing system should be revisited and revised. A major issue is that, technically, the language has 10 vowel sounds, not 5 as are written. That means that a fairly large number of words are spelled the same but spoken differently. Now it is being suggested that they write 9-10 vowel symbols to represent their vowel sounds. That way, there will be less ambiguity in the writing system.

My job in this workshop is to be a linguistic consultant and facilitator for the Ateso group. They consist of 10 folks, 5 men and 5 women from all over Teso-land. They are wonderful, educated, Christian people and just a delight to work with. They are passionate for their language and their people and are working hard every day to get a linguistic knowledge of their mother-tongue so they can better make the very difficult decisions of how to write a language. What I try to do with them is basic linguistic research, letting them do most of the work only with my guidance. That way their linguistic awareness is raised such that by the end of the workshop, they will be novice linguists of their own language!

Creating an orthography is a complicated process, fraught with tension and compromise. A writing system should be based on sound linguistic principles, but it must also be teachable and acceptable to the speech community. With Ateso's century-long tradition(s) of writing, any major changes will be met with strong resistance. The ten folks I'm working with are part of a slightly larger Ateso Language Board whose members have been elected from the Teso districts. Once a revised orthography is proposed, they will have to advocate for it and defend their decisions to the people.

I'm certainly not used to working from 7:00 am to 6:00 (that includes the commute), especially being away from Amber and the kids for that amount of time. The weather here is hot and muggy, and Kampala has been draped in a lethal layer of smog since we got here. I've had diarrhea and haven't slept a good night since we came. The work hours are long and sometimes grueling. But I sense the grace of God through these difficulties, and I'm thankful for the chance to invest in the development of the Ateso language and its millions of speakers. My prayer is that their education will improve through a good orthography so they can better participate in their national culture and the global community. And in this way, God's purposes for them and all of us will be edged a step closer toward fulfillment.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

When daddy is away, the girls will play.

For those of you who don't know, we're currently in Kampala and will be here through the beginning of March. Terrill has been asked to assist with an orthography (alphabet) workshop to revise the alphabet for the Ateso people of eastern Uganda. Last week he was away from 7am-6pm every day. Thank God he has the weekends off! 

So what are the girls doing? Last week I tackled errands every morning and dragged the girls in the car along with me. My goal was to get one errand accomplished per day, then to do something fun with the girls. After nap-time, we usually have an hour of preschool activities and then I make dinner. 

One place I've been really thankful for is the Makindye Country Club (formerly the American Recreation Association sponsored by the US Embassy). After paying a small fee, I have the rights of membership for a week. Mostly we just make use of the swimming pool and playground though. So this is what we've been up to...
My girls are both learning about table manners, including how to use a knife. They both like to eat...but the knives brought a playful diversion to their normally ravenous appetites.
 They've been sliding...
 Swinging...
 Jumping...
 Climbing...
And tying things up. I remember when my twin brothers used to tie my mom up and she would plead with them to untie her. In my case, I make the girls practice on each other rather than me.
The girls are also reaching some other milestones this week. They both learned to tread water in the deep pool with floaties on and can now swim the length of the pool by themselves. Lemu still likes me to be close by, but Janet is unstoppable and daring.

They also went to Sunday school this morning for the first time. Although we've had them for ten months now, we've been reticent to leave them because of their past and abandonment issues. Lemu especially does not like to be left at night. But this morning was so different. We walked into a bright classroom where they were greeted by two friendly teachers. Colors and paper were on the table ready to be utilized. They both chose a seat and got to work. When I asked it they'd be okay, they didn't give me even a sideways glance as they shook their heads and waved me off. I left the room uncertainly, wondering if I'd be called back in. Two hours later and I found my girls smiling and happy to have attended their first Sunday school. Thank the Lord for this opportunity for them to interact socially with other kids of Christian families. It's one of those things we wish we could transport from home to the mission field.

One other milestone we reached is that they both asked to say the sinner's prayer with me after breakfast one morning. We had been in a doctor's office the day prior and they were thinking about a Catholic picture of Jesus they had seen. Janet burst out crying (she is SO sensitive and tender) in the office and was almost unconsolable. But as I calmly spoke to her, she calmed down and started asking questions about the picture. I explained to them their need for Jesus to be the Lord of their lives and that He had to die so we could live with Him ever after. The next morning, they wanted to ask Him into their hearts. They wanted His help to stop doing the bad things and start doing good things. It was almost too easy....and surreal. They wanted Him. I did not have to convince or force or coerce them into believing. If only it was that easy introducing adults to Jesus. I still don't know how much they understand, but I feel like the Lord is working and they definitely have an awareness of Him. May He firmly embed Himself in their hearts!