Stories from Cork, Ireland (Part 1)

I have so far spent 26 days in Cork, Ireland. Cork is Ireland second biggest city after Dublin. People of Cork are called Corkonians (sounds funny). Cork is also known as the “rebel county”. I like it here because you get to feel the real culture and traditions of people. There is a good quote that says “a nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.”

The best way to travel to Cork is by train from Dublin Heuston train station. It is a 2 ½ hour journey to Kent train station in Cork. The first days in a foreign country can be very stressful, emotional and also confusing. So many things to understand and workaround. Understanding the currency, where to buy basics like food and medicine. Adjusting to time zone. And many other things.

Food, shopping and accommodation. We were lucky that ICOS has already booked and paid for accommodation within university hostels. That is good. A well-furnished room, with a shared kitchen and common room. Perfect place for a postgrad student. Other foreign students had difficulty getting accommodation. Apparently, there is a housing shortage in Ireland, especially in college towns like Cork.

When it comes to shopping, at first you find it difficult because of trying to convert the prices to Ugandan shillings. For example a meal in a restaurant maybe 10 euros, so in your head, you try to calculate 10 x 4000 gives you UGX 40,000. Why would you use all that for just one meal only? That amount buys you food for one week in Lira. However, I got advice from a Ugandan living here in Cork – that the best way to live a normal life is that don’t convert currencies. Just buy whatever you want. After all, you are in Ireland, not Uganda. Currency values and prices are different. Just like in Uganda, eating out (in restaurants) is quite expensive. To cut down food spending, the best way is to buy food and cook. It is even better because you get to eat what you are familiar with – in my case Irish potatoes, rice, pork, beef, lamb, eggs, eggplant, chicken and cabbages are good. While I am upgrading my papers, I am also upgrading my cooking skills. It has been a long time since I last prepared a meal back home (Mandela’s mum is always fully in charge of the kitchen).

Lectures, multinational class & accents. The first week of lectures was difficult, trying to get used to mzungu’s accent. Funny enough, just like in Uganda, every region here is Ireland has a different accent. And the Cork accent is weird. The trick was to sit in front, so I could grab all the words. Another thing was getting used to a class of students from many countries. Uganda, Togo, Nigeria, Japan, China, Slovenia, Ireland, UK, US, Korea. Different countries, different accents but same class.

The weather, leisure and culture. Ireland is predominantly Catholic, while their neighbours Northern Ireland are Anglican. Despite being overly religious, they are also have drinking & smoking culture. As my favourite taxi man told me, the Irish people believe that God will always forgive them for taking a little Guinness. Smoking? Don’t blame them – the weather is harsh. For leisure sport, the university has a sports arena (Mardyke) free for all students. I am yet to go there. For now, I prefer taking walks, sitting somewhere listening to Irish traditional and pop music on FM stations. And then, there is the internet of course – stream anything. Summer is over. We are now in autumn (remember geography lessons about 4 seasons in Europe?) up to November. The Irish say they have changeable weather (one-minute raining, next minute shinning). For now, it is much getting colder (average 11-140C) with lots of rain. You can forget your phone but not an umbrella & jacket.

Traditional, Analogue, Digital – all together. One thing I have found absurd is that the Irish people have the technology to do things, but also like to keep the old traditional way of doing things. After opening an account, the bank insisted that they would post (instead of giving me) the Debit card to me, yet I stay 200 metres away. Then, after getting the card, they insist I had to download an app to set me up for internet bank. They treasure their old ways of doing things but also incorporate modern technology. Sounds good because it favours all generations of people. I am slowly getting used to it. For official things, you need an appointment. The other thing is adjusting the time. I had never known that in Europe, they adjust the time (one hour forward) during winter and again 1 hour back during summer. We were told at the orientation to be ready to time adjustments (meaning Uganda will be 2 or 3 hours behind) depending on the period. I just find unfair. But nothing to do. And the Irish people only strictly follow time for only official things. Otherwise, they use what they call “5-minute rule”-be at least 5 minutes late. This applies to social events & functions.

Stress, Loneliness and Courage to move forward. I must admit that one of the hardest decisions I have made in life is to decide to come here- leaving family behind. It is very difficult walking away from kids – and answering the many questions they ask. Sometimes, I still think I made the wrong decision. That I could have remained in Uganda and tried other ways of moving my career forward. This only brings stress. When these thoughts come to my mind, I remember that I am not the first, neither will I be the last – in pursuing education abroad. Through the history of mankind, many men and women have left the homeland to go to distant lands to pursue different things. For pursuing education, these people come to mind. Aggrey Awori, Museveni, Mwalimu Nyerere, Andrew Mwenda, Peter Okwoko, Paul Kagame, Winnie Byanyima, my friend Zibusiso Dube from Zimbabwe. The list is endless. And there is a sense in which society listens and appreciate you more. After all, you have seen things in distant lands (that most haven’t seen). Of course, most people come here and refuse to go back. For me, my project here is the MSc only, nothing more. I have never entertained the idea of coming to Europe or America and remaining here permanently. Working for a few years is okay. Finally, the loneliness is real. Just too much. Everyone stays indoors. I miss home. Fair enough, WhatsApp takes you home – to at least to hear their voices and see their smiles. for now, I am still a Ugandan Corkonian. End.

My unforgettable 7 years of work at Lira Town College

In late June 2012, I came back from Gulu University, with all my belongings after finishing the 3-year Bachelor of ICT study programme. Actually, I did final exams in May but had to stay because of financial issues, final year project issues, and personal ambition. I wanted to try to get work in Gulu, West Nile or Karamoja. It didn’t work out, the only remaining option was to return to Lira or Dokolo.

After arriving in Lira, I had to get something to do & had 3 places in mind – All Saints University Lango (since I had been reading there during holidays), Lira Town College (because my two siblings were studying there) and Dr. Obote College (my former school).

On Monday, July 02, 2012, I walked to town to kick-start my job search. I had 3 applications for 3 target places. I had already made up my mind to travel to the village after dropping off my applications. I started with ASUL, up along Obote Avenue (Lira’s main street). They declined, though they said they would have loved to have me since they wanted to start the department of ICT. No problem, I continued to Lira Town College.

At Lira Town College, I met the Headteacher, Ms. Acen Sophia Rose. After a brief discussion about my competencies (about 10 minutes), she told me I could take me & start work. That very day. I had to cancel my journey to the village immediately.

First Assignment-processing results

My first work assignment was to compute student marks for the whole school. I still don’t know how I managed to do that. Imagine marks for about 2,600 students. That was in July 2012. In early August, I then took over as ICT teacher for A-level. It was only one class (S.5) because the curriculum was changed that year from 4 Principal subjects & 1 subsidiary subject (G.P) to 3 Principal subjects & 2 subsidiary subjects (GP & ICT/sub-maths). So, the opportunity I got was also partly because there was an institutional problem to manage the change. In fact, many schools did the same – hired IT or CS graduates to teach the “new, complicated” subject.

From IT to Education

One would wonder how I managed to teach, yet primarily I was not trained as a teacher. While I in A-level, I admired teaching a lot (I was a “teacher” in discussion groups) and wanted to be a teacher of English/Literature. The other options I wanted was Mass Communication & IT (because it was the in-thing). In spite of this desire, I was unable to get government scholarship to do my education course. I then changed my mind to do IT, the in-thing then. Resultantly, choosing to study IT didn’t rub off the desire for “teaching”. I think that is why I was able to stay longer, even when I got many opportunities that would have halted my “teaching”. Today, most people actually think I studied education, and they call me “Apwony Emma” (Teacher Emma or Mwalimu Emma). I became a teacher by practice, not qualification. Train on job kind of arrangement. I believe that qualification just gives us the foundation to kick start our careers.

Working with diverse Students

For the 7 years I was at Lira Town College, I met very many good students. And I love the diversity in that school. It has students from all over the country & abroad (South Sudan of course). It has a good social mix – biggest number of adult students, Muslims, students with disabilities, the urban poor, the rural poor and Indian students. It is culturally very diverse, with many ethnicities and languages.

Also enjoyed involving students in tech activities, and together, we won quite a number of awards. Even after leaving school, we have always kept in touch, and many of their parents are my friends. I like that.

Recognition from outside school, not the school

In the first 5 years, I was very dedicated to my work. My work in class and other tech activities brought me some awards and recognition at various tech events. I was featured on TV, newspapers and radio many times. I was made an Examiner, gained respect and my social status reputation improved. I became a role model for many young people. However, I was never ever acknowledged or recognized (in private or publicly) for anything. Very ironical but I don’t feel bad. It was always that this is not working, this is wrong. And bla bla bla. But that’s life. Most times we don’t appreciate what we have, and admire what we don’t have. What mattered for me was the impact my efforts had on students & respect from the community. It is very uplifting & fulfilling to know that your effort has propelled someone’s career. That your little help opened other opportunities for them. And that you made a difference in their lives.

Diving into STEM & national recognition.

In a school with about 2,600 students and 100 teachers (right now), it is difficult to get the attention of the boss. There is a lot of drama involved in getting this attention. Some people spread rumours, lies or buy the boss something – just to get their attention (and some favours as well). For me, at first, I would overwork, so much. Sometimes I would go home at 11:00pm. I would work sometimes 16 hours a day to beat unrealistic deadlines. In spite of all this, I didn’t get any attention or recognition. But kept working no matter. The turning point came when one day, left school, passed by supermarket to buy some groceries (sugar, bread etc.) and went home (ate something and slept). The following day I rushed to school again. More work. More work. Then one day I opened my bag and saw sugar that I had bought many days ago. I bought, forgot to remove it, carried it in my bag for days. I realised that I was overworking so much so that I did not have me time (on the other hand, it also saved me from many challenges that come from being youth). I did not have life after work. After that incident, I cut off most work (secretarial work), focused only on class & tech projects. My life came back to normal.

In 2013, together with students, we won our first tech award (Robotics). We were featured in newspapers & TV. We were good. That moment made me focus more on getting national awards & recognition, not school recognition (it was not coming). That meant doing many things differently, different from other teachers. That made me closer to students, but farther from my colleague teachers. I stopped pursuing money (it never came to me). I pursued excellence & recognition outside. The following year we won ACIA, pioneered with Technovation Challenge, Africa Code Week, HIVOS Social Innovation awards, Biotechnology Essay writing competitions. We got full board into STEM. We did any tech project we could find. All was good. We competed against the best schools in the country, and many times, we beat them.

All these came with awards, recognition & popularity. Unfortunately, funding for these activities were cut off, leaving me with no choice but opt-out.

What was not possible?

I kind of feel uneasy that during those 7 years, many good ideas were never implemented. My aim to make Lira Town College the best school when it comes to use of technology. The teaching was good, however the percentage pass in computer studies & ICT were averaging at 30-38% (not so good). I was not the only one with this not-so-good statistics. I still feel some kind of guilt. I was not successful in making management adopt to use school management system, school-wide e-learning system and website (I hosted a school website for 2 years on my account). I was also not able to fully make the computer lab a centre of excellence (community learning & innovation centre) and procure all-year internet access for students & staff.

Returning for school and putting self

In 2016, when I made 30 years, I had a moment of reflection. One of the things that came to my mind was that, I had worked for 5 years, but didn’t have anything to show for it. It seemed like for I was working for the school. Nothing for me. I was part of “young teachers” paid by the board (not on government payroll). The money – let me not talk about that. It was only good for bachelor. That changed in 2017. I now had a wife. But also, we lost dad (January 2017) and was made heir to family. That is huge responsibility. I made a decision in that in the New Year (2017), I would still be working in school, but I would focus on my myself. Circumstances change people. Experiences change people. I needed new thinking. I decided to return to school for Masters, and as they say, when you join another road, it takes you to another destination. The Masters class opened my mind. My wife also opened another part of my mind. We work so that our families are fine. And family includes children! That’s the point.

With the loss of dad, the going back to school, and family life, the year went by very fast. But within the year, I won the 2017 Teachers Making a Difference award, and that opened more doors. It made it possible for me to travel abroad –for the first time. My aim then was to finish masters and cross over to university. I had started my journey out of Lira Town College.

Many teachers, many friends & solidarity

One of the things I loved most from Lira Town College is the solidarity that the teachers have. Many are very dedicated to their work and are generally free with each other. They are also ambitious. It is only at Lira Town College were you can find teachers in school all year round –everyday – even on Christmas day. To most of us, the college is like home.

Headteacher, the good & the bad.

The Headteacher, Ms Acen Sophia Rose has done a good job. After the mismanagement that occurred over the years (including during the 20-year insurgency in the north), she has managed to put most things right. From the time she came to Lira Town College, she has done many things. New structures are many, student enrolment is up & good teachers are in place. But just like most leaders, there are bad things that she is blamed for. I take the view that one person cannot be blamed for all the problems in society. There are many socio-economic & political issues that invade Lira Town College, considering that it is within an urban area. As a person, I choose to complain less, and work hard instead. For the rest of my life, I will always remember her for giving me the opportunity to serve and trusting me at the time at was just 25 years, with no experience. I know she will also remember me for having remained faithful & staying longer, even when opportunities knocked on me.

When will studies stop?

My decision to return to school in 2017 has brought both good luck and challenges. I have traversed places I didn’t know I would reach. But above all, I have been to many universities – Mbarara University of Science & Technology (2 weeks only), UTAMU (4 semesters), Uganda Martyrs University – Rubaga (1 ½  months), Kampala University (not admitted) University of Delaware – U.S.A (6 weeks, Mandela Washington Fellowship) and now here at University College Cork, Ireland (1 year). When will studies stop? Definitely after that PhD.

What’s the next plan?

When I return to Uganda next year, I will be playing with children at home and do some agriculture as I look for the next opportunity. I will end with this quote from William Ayers that; “Teaching is an act of hope for a better future. The reward of teaching is knowing that your life has made a difference.” End.

Meeting 120 Irish Aid Fellows from 17 countries

Yesterday, September 21, 2019, was the official orientation and welcome for the 2019 Ireland’s Fellowship Programme. Fellows from 17 countries from Africa, Middle East and Asia assembled for the official orientation, organised by the Government of Ireland – through Irish Aid (sponsors) and International Council for International Students (ICOS) – the implementing agency. I think these fellows are from countries in which the Republic of Ireland has its embassies and consulates.

Since we applied for the fellowship last year, I only knew fellows from Uganda and Rwanda, since we did some activities together with them. The last day we met was at the pre-departure orientation, at the Ambassador’s residence in Kampala.

When it came to travel, we traveled differently, and travel was timed with the orientation at the university in which you were admitted. All the fellows, therefore, even those from the same country, travelled on different days & different flights.

The day was special because it was the first time all the fellows from 17 countries were meeting. People from different countries, different universities in Ireland gathered in one hotel, one hall.

For me, the highlight of the day was meeting and interacting with fellows from Palestine and Vietnam. You know, with all the challenges that Palestinians face in their country (including hostility from the Israel which we fantasize about), they are very resilient people, and not afraid to take a stand to support their country (or rather nation).

While growing up, I watched a lot of movies – you remember America versus Vietnam kind of movies, it was nice hearing and listening to them. They are focused, patriotic and loyal to their country (you know how they are depicted in the movies). Of course, they looked all the same – both height and faces. It’s difficult to tell who is who. But I recall from my Political Education class (in secondary school – before it was scrapped for obvious reasons) that monolithic nations (countries that evolve from one dynasty /emperor) are very closed societies and tend to marry from their own relatives – which makes them look very similar to each other. All in all, they were amazing.

Events like these are meant to mainly disseminate information and accord you some kind “official welcome”. What liked most was the presentation “Becoming a Student in Ireland,” presented by Dr. Padraig Wims of University College Dublin. And the perspectives of the finishing fellows. It was very insightful. That being said, I believe that however much somebody tells you about something, your experience is mostly going to be different. And so, most times you just have to live on and let things unfold for you.

For now, I am part of the about 3,300 international students at University College Cork, Ireland from 144 countries. Broadly, this number is part of the bigger 17,000 international students – about 20% of the student population (most of them postgraduate) studying in Ireland. The diversity of huge. This year I have been quite fortunate to have met people from all corners of the world – first during the Mandela Washington Fellowship (June and August) and then now with Ireland Fellowship programme – which will enable me to attain highly regarded European postgraduate education.

With the arrival, university and Irish Aid orientations over, I now look forward to settling into the real academics – reading, lectures, assignments and lab sessions.  Nothing more. End.

Ireland-Africa Fellows Programme fulfills my dream for European education

On Monday, September 02, 2019 I arrived in Dublin, Ireland as a beneficiary of the Irish Aid Fellowships 2019/2020 (now called Ireland-Africa Fellows Programme) to pursue postgraduate studies in Ireland. I was part of the only 11 Ugandans selected for these fully sponsored study fellowships. In Rwanda, only 4 were selected.

Since childhood, I have always admired to study in Europe, especially the UK. I remember writing to some distance learning institutions in the UK back in 2002 (17 years ago), after reading about it in a newspaper. I was in S.3 and 16 years old. That’s the same year I started buying newspapers for myself. Of course, I didn’t have the money to fully pay and enrol. I again did the same 8 years later while at Gulu University in 2010. This time, I was even sent (by Post Office) course information, notes and some assignments. However, due to financial challenges, I could not fully enrol.

The turning point was in 2014. A friend of mine, Kisarach Phillips, who at the time was teaching in Kigumba Intensive S.S managed to obtain a scholarship to study at the University of Liverpool. We had been marking mock exams together at Lira Town College, and immediately after that exercise, the guy left for the UK. I admired him a lot. After a while, another classmate from Gulu University, Peter Okwoko also went to Denmark for master’s education. Later, I was a survey respondent for his research. I admired him a lot.

As a teacher, I always wanted to attain a postgraduate education at all costs. My serious search for this opportunity was ignited in 2014 by Kisarach. However, at the time, I did not have my undergraduate papers at hand (you know how long it takes to get papers after graduation).

Finally, in March 2017, I was able to get my papers and without wasting time, I immediately applied for Msc Information Systems at Mbarara University of Science & Technology (MUST). I was admitted, but due to the distance, I later changed my mind and applied and enrolled to UTAMU for Master of Information Technology (MIT). This programme was flexible (you attend lectures 6 weekends only). I am hopeful I will go back and finish (still have a few things to complete, including research).

The UTAMU experience was every good. I enjoyed the lecturers and their system of learning, they inspired me further. All of them had attained masters and PhDs from Europe. Dr. Drake Mirembe. Prof. Jude Lubega. Dr. Rehema Baguma. They are really good. I remember one lecturer told us that “when you do masters, you master your destiny.” I believe that very much.

While still at UTAMU, I again saw a World Bank Funded scholarship advert for master’s study at Uganda Martyrs University (UMU). Together with colleagues at Lira Town College (Peter & Dick), we applied. We were later invited to do GAT (which was expensive). We all passed the Graduate Admission Test (GAT) and we were all admitted. This was Msc. in Monitoring & Evaluation. In mid-August 2018, we started classes at UMU Kampala campus. Around that time, I was actually pursuing two masters’ programmes at the same time. I had to balance the Bugolobi & Rubaga timetables accurately, which was tiring & expensive. However, I was not given the scholarship (but Dick got it). So, in October I dropped out from UMU (due to financial challenges) but I had already learnt so much about M & E (I am still on their WhatsApp group).

While juggling all this busy study stuff (my wife had also just given birth to a baby boy in July), I applied for the Irish Aid Fellowships (Sept/October 2018) and the Mandela Washington Fellowship (Sept 2018). However, I had to leave my lecturing job at All Saints University Lango (ASUL) in order to concentrate on studies & the baby. It was a very busy year.

In January 2019, the Embassy shortlisted 20 Ugandans and 4 Rwandese to continue further to do the English test – IELTS which was paid for by the embassy (about UGX 912,000). On February 02, 2019, we did the test and thankfully, I passed on the first attempt. However, many others failed and were allowed to redo it (at their expense of course). After that, a list was then sent to Dublin for final selection. When the list came in March, I was successful. But other names were dropped again, despite passing IELTS.

The 11 successful Ugandans and the Rwandese were then invited to apply for their chosen 2 programmes of study in the application (the application fee was also paid for us). I think I managed to get this because I had come to Ireland last year because of the Teachers Making a Difference award, which was also sponsored by the Embassy of Ireland. But my application was always strong. In early June 2019, was admitted to University College Cork (UCC) to pursue MSc. Interactive Media. I choose this because I wanted to be within the tech domain but study something I had not done already at Gulu University or UTAMU or UMU. The second choice was MEd, however, it delayed so I had to accept the MSc. offer.

On June 19th, I travelled to the U.S for the Mandela Washington Fellowship, civic leadership institute at the University of Delaware. I was very scared, thinking the travel may coincide with travel to Ireland. The U.S experience was very good because I learnt a few things on how to live in the developed world. I was there for 6 weeks – actually 44 days.

I finally received the final offer of award while still in the U.S (it nearly collided). I sent my acceptance from there and requested the Embassy to consider adjusting the date for me to medical test & submission of other documents (date was August 02, my departure from the U.S). Thankfully, this was accepted and I was able to do my medical the week after, and also apply for the visa.

# Name Sex Programme
1 Isabella Janet Nakimuli F LLM in International Human Rights Law and Public Policy, UCC
2 Innocent Aleto F LLM in International Criminal Law, NUIG
3 David Mugarra M MA in Peace and Development Studies, UL
4 Asha Nakiwate F MSc in Human Rights, UCD
5 Angela Nyesiga F LLM in International Commercial Law,
6 Frank Ssemakula M MSc in Electronic and Communications Engineering, TUD
7 Rachel Juliet Mujawimana F MSc in Pharmaceutical Sciences
8 Lindah Niwenyesiga F MA in Public Relations with New Media, CIT
9 Susan Labwot F LLM in International Human Rights Law and Public Policy, UCC
10 Benna Lolem F Master in Education – Foundation Studies, TCD
11 Emmanuel Angoda M MSc in Computer Science (Interactive Media), UCC

For now, my dream has been fulfilled. I know after here, I will continue for PhD here or cross over to the U.S. I also believe life will be much better after here. One day I will be Dr. Emmanuel Angoda (BIT, MIT, Msc.IM, PhD). After being a secondary school teacher for 7 years, my ambition now is to be a lecturer at nearby Lira University or Soroti University (I have never admired working in Kampala). That small position will enable me to continue working with young people, continue with STEM activities and become a famous scholar. It is possible to pursue your dream, no matter how long or hard it takes. If you remain persistent & focussed, you can achieve it. I rest my case.