Victor Hugo, a French poet, once said, “To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.”
For many years, there has been a significant deficit in reading skills of village children in Zirobwe, Uganda. This is partly due to the lack of teacher trainers and partly due to not having reinforcement at home since many village parents do not know how to fluently read or speak English. Since English is the national language in Uganda, it is important that students are taught not only how to speak it, but also how to fluently read it.
When volunteer, Natalie Puzuk, an elementary school teacher from Texas, traveled to Uganda and saw the huge need for reading skills in the village. She felt called to come back for 9 months in 2017 to volunteer specifically with Empowered Leader’s Academy, Empower a Child’s primary school, to help spark a love for learning and create an opportunity to each child in her class.
She partnered with the national teachers at Empowered Leaders’ Academy to carve out time every day working specifically on children’s reading skills in each class. However, she quickly realized there was an even greater need than just reinforced reading in the classrooms. Some students were struggling more than others and needed one-on-one time with the teachers. In response to that need, she collaborated her resources and ideas with the management at the school and created a space for the children to have one-on-one reading lessons. The reading room was painted, remodeled with shelves and tables, and filled with reading materials to make a fun and appealing place for children to learn to read and to love to read. Teacher MiIly describes Natalie’s impact on the school, “The children have been very blessed to have her as she taught them all the reading skills that she had. She did not leave a single child behind and even went to the extent of having one-on-one time with children who struggled in class. As teachers too, we have benefitted from her skills as much as they were taught to the children. We also got an opportunity to learn a modern way of teaching.”
However, Natalie didn’t just stop there. She also realized that there was a need for a pit latrine, also known as the restrooms, in the school since theirs was in need of repairs and renovation. Natalie was able to launch a campaign and raise funds to give the school new pit latrines for the boys and girls.
The time Natalie spent in Uganda not only made a significant impact on the community of Zirobwe by strengthening and improving their education standards but also on her. Natalie describes her trip, “Working alongside these teachers has taught me to put my trust in the Lord. The children are so eager to learn, even when they haven’t eaten all day. Seeing them running to me saying, ‘Auntie Natalie, we want to read!’ made me feel so encouraged and wanted to do it more and more.”
Thank you Natalie for your impact on the students and teachers at Empowered Leaders’ Academy and thank you Armstrong Elementary School for your huge support to our children’s reading and hygiene standards. Empower a Child community will be forever grateful.
by Kristin Ehler