The Pathfinders Depart Uganda

Our four young Pathfinders’ time at the Kasese Humanist Primary School in Uganda has come to an end and Conor Robinson, the leader of the entire project, writes about all they learned and experience in their weeks there. It’s really quite an incredible story.

On our first Monday in Kasese we learned about Ugandan diligence. When we met with the head teacher to discuss the schedule for teaching, we found out that, on weekdays, the P7 students reported to school at 6:30 a.m. and left each day after 8:00 p.m. They were allowed to sleep in ever so slightly on weekends: until 7:30 a.m. on Saturdays and 10:30 a.m. on Sundays. Due to the hours of study, some students chose to sleep at the school, and if the head teacher hadn’t lived just across the football pitch, I suspect he might have done the same. Just like the Cambodian children who had to row for thirty minutes each day to catch the bus to school, the Kasese schoolchildren showed an impressive dedication to their education. We never once sensed that they resented the long hours…

Our students taught us another lesson in maturity as they debated diverse topics each Friday. When discussing whether “people can be good without god,” whether “science has done more harm than good,” or whether “bride prices should be abolished,” students demonstrated the ability to argue from both sides of the issue and critique viewpoints (not each other!) intelligently and civilly. KHPS students may be a mix of Christians, Muslims, humanists, and traditionalists, but they are all budding global citizens who are accustomed to being challenged and challenging others respectfully. In most households and schools, children are robbed of the opportunity for valuable lessons in communication and comportment by adult figures who save weighty topics until students are mature enough. Not at KHPS. The KHPS teachers and administrators know that it is the topics themselves that facilitate maturation. Schools need only emphasize charity and empathy in considering such topics, and the respectful communication will necessarily develop…

Of course, our biggest legacy in Kasese will always be the relationships we created with our students and colleagues. When we arrived in Kasese, we walked into an interesting political situation. The majority of KHPS teachers are Christian, and all of the teachers had a very limited understanding of humanism when we arrived. Unfortunately, they initially associated us with a brand of humanism that rejected and poked fun at their beliefs while worshipping science. Through our respectful and inquisitive interactions with the teachers, we quickly demonstrated otherwise. Several of them, including the most outspokenly religious ones, asked us to teach them lessons on humanism, much like we did for the students two times a week. All of them came with us to see the wildlife at Queen Elizabeth National Park. (Seriously, all of them. 19 adults and two babies in a 14-person van.) Most of them asked us to help them set up email addresses and Facebook accounts so they can keep in touch. One of them has called us every day since we left Kasese (we think more of the teachers would have been calling, but she thought we didn’t want her to share our number). As for the students, several of them will be in contact with us via email with their questions about science and religious education. Some of them simply had too many questions for us to answer during our time there! Which is awesome. One student has already expressed a desire to come to college in the U.S. and work in Ben’s lab.

As a result of our time in Kasese, KHPS teachers and students alike have an increased understanding of what it means to be good without god. Before we arrived, their understanding of humanism placed the emphasis on the “without god” part. By the time we departed, they understood that the “good” was much more our focus, and that focus included respecting them as individuals, whatever their beliefs, and working with them to improve the world. THAT is Pathfinders Project.

I’m honestly just overwhelmed by what Conor, Ben, Wendy and Michelle are doing. I am inspired by them and proud to be associated with the Foundation Beyond Belief and the Pathfinders Project.

Comments

  1. Moggie says

    I’ve donated money to KHPS, and I’m glad to hear what they’re doing for the kids. And yet, I have to say I’m disappointed to hear that the teachers at this self-described “Humanist Primary School” had a poor understanding of humanism, and a negative view of it. That’s an illustration of the challenges faced by secular education in Uganda.

  2. Sastra says

    Unfortunately, they initially associated us with a brand of humanism that rejected and poked fun at their beliefs while worshipping science.

    Is there such a branch? I mean the ‘worshiping science’ part.

    Discretion is the better part of valor.

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