Vision in the Bush

As she speaks of her hopes for the education
of the children of the village, Susan Nanto displays the vision that will lift
this village out of hard scrabble poverty.

Mukono, District–Sitting in the dappled shade of jacaranda and banana trees, Susan Nanto speaks of the poverty that afflicts this rural area in the bush near Mukono Township.

She sits on the hard, red clay on a woven fiber mat. Two small boys kneel to her side, one playing with a tin can, the other leaning on the handle of a pick axe. A soothing breeze cools the air.

Ms. Nanto explains that she has lost five of 13 children. Her husband died 10 years ago. At age 73, she moves with energy and as she talks of her life experiences, her face brightens into a wide smile. Yet her story reveals the depths of hardship the poor face in this rural settlement.

Ms. Nanto has taken guardianship of the two boys, both orphans. They live with her in a neat, one-room house constructed of bricks from the red clay earth. The 10 by 10 foot one-room structure with a rusty, red galvanized tin roof is solid and well-tended. A banana grove with a dozen trees lays to the west of an uncompleted second room under construction.

It’s common here for construction to take several years as people buy and build as they can afford materials. The room to be added to Ms. Nanto’s house may be completed in months, but it could take another few years.

Such construction speaks of determination and hope. Progress is measured long-term. This attitude is more than a point of character. It’s an attitude necessary to survive here. In the hot, dry season when garden plots cannot be cultivated, Susan Nanto and her neighbors can easily run out of food. Then, obviously, they don’t eat. Survival is that basic and that simple.

When asked by a visitor what she would like to see change in the community, Mrs. Nanto doesn’t hesitate. “I want the Humble Place School to add classes beyond primary six. We need a highschool there. Then we need a university.”
The headmaster of the school, standing nearby laughs out loud. He knows the challenge of keeping the elementary school open now. To contemplate a highschool and university is a long-term vision, at best. But, asks Mrs. Nanto, if you can add a room brick by precious brick, why not a university?
She explains that university graduates could bring knowledge to people like herself, but more importantly, education provides a means for children to learn the skills needed to participate in the world of work. University education would place them on an even footing with city children.

In fact, her hope is not so far-fetched. Before the school opened there were no university students in this forgotten part of the district mired in mind-numbing poverty. Today, with aid from the school, four young people have moved on to college. It is a source of great pride.

The two boys who live with Mrs. Nanto help her with chores around the compact home site. They tend a small flock of chickens and four goats. She also has a garden and banana trees. Her life, poor as it is, is somewhat less harsh than those who have even less.

She explains the children assist with chores in the morning and at night. They walk to school and sometimes they read to her. She’s impressed with the speed with which they’ve picked up their skills. Another child in public school doesn’t read as well and seems to be receiving less encouragement. She attributes this to the higher quality of instruction the boys receive at the United Methodist school.

Unable to read and write, she knows the value of the skills the children are learning.

In a final question she is asked what would happen if the school were to close. She said it would be a tragedy, but it won’t happen. When asked why, she said with a matter-of-fact determination, “Because we won’t let it happen.”

Off the main road there is vision in the bush in Mukono District.

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