The Nyaka School for AIDS Orphans uses a community-based approach committed to finding sustainable solutions to the challenges of the AIDS/HIV epidemic. It was established specifically to address the plight of orphans and the grandmothers and guardians who are raising these children. We now operate two primary schools, a grannies education and support program, and are currently building a vocational center and a self-sustaining farm. A community library, the first one in Western Uganda, is being built to serve all of Kanunga District.
In this area with no electricity or paved roads, there are virtually no books, signs or visual stimuli. Most of the grandmothers who are raising these orphans are illiterate; most speak no English which is the national language. In order for our children to progress in their education, they need to develop their reading abilities, English language competency and critical thinking skills.
The Paper Picker Press project developed by Professor Doris Sommers of Harvard University was designed to address these areas by promoting learning through creativity. The program offers great flexibility so can be adapted to remote areas like ours. The basic idea is to expose the students to one literary text over a 10-week period using creativity to explore and interpret the story. At Nyaka, we introduced a Ugandan folk tale in the local dialect and, slowly, brought in the English. The children acted out scenes, drew characters, described the characters to each other and made puppets. Since we had no access to art materials, the children had to create the puppets from nature, so we had lions with manes made of banana fiber and antlers made of twigs.
The students learned that stories have value and meaning. They were able to connect the story to their own lives. The grannies were made a part of the process when the students performed scenes in front of them. Plus, we asked the grannies to share their stories with us. Each student was able to experience success with some aspect of the project. Most important, students realized that learning is fun! We have taken some of the stories told by the Grannies, written them up and are having them illustrated. We want to formalize this process as a way of preserving these folk tales.