52 POEMS OF 16 ALUMNAE OF PMM GIRLS’ SCHOOL, JINJA ARE IN THE PROCESS OF PUBLICATION. IT IS ALSO PARTIALLY AN INFUSION OF POETRY AND PAINTING, THANKS TO ALUMNI OF LUIGI GUISSANI HIGH SCHOOL, KIREKA – KAMPALA.
I joined PMM Girls’ School in 2001 and almost from day one with my literature class, I got fired up with the possibility of one day publishing a poetry anthology of my students. The level of creativity of most of them, their enthusiasm, and dexterity of language, relative to their knowledge and experience was mind blowing. Their authentic relay of thoughts and feelings, especially in poetry was infectious.
I got so much inspired and energized to set up a writers’ club for which I proposed the name, The Lit. Writer’s Club. We did all sorts of creative stuff with a great sense of play, yet underlying it was flow of creativity and innovation. We famously did not wait for the school to revive its then defunct magazine but simply set up our own with available local material and tools – thanks greatly to the computer department and its staff.
Overtime, our exploits took several facets – poetry, skits, story writing, play writings, recitations. Occasions of music dance and drama and community engagement were opportune times for us. Not long after, some of the students were excelling and winning awards in regional and national events! It was the kind of validation we needed to press on with our exploits in literary creativity.
One significant occurrence was introduction of literature as a subject at senior one over ten years later in 2014. The new headteacher then, Mrs. Epenu greatly facilitated the subject. Human mind, spirit and body are best captured in their formative stages. That time when young people are eager to absorb everything in their surroundings like a sponge. Such was the opportune situation with this new lot of senior one class. I decided that literature for them was not going to be just an academic experience to pass tests and exams but a full time practical, engaging and lifetime learning. We developed all sorts of activities out of the first story book for their studies, Patrick Mangeni’s “The Great Temptation” – debates, poems, essays, speeches, quiz, panels of discussion, songs, skits, graphic arts in several form. Never in my entire teaching experience have I witnessed young people so into a subject like the senior one students of 2014! Never has teaching been so much fun! Teachers and other students alike were awed by them. I recall the headteacher remarking that the senior one kids never parted with their copies of “The Great Temptation”. They would be everywhere in the compound with the text with something to tell somebody about it. I memorably recall us exporting our learning outcomes to senior one class of Kakira S.S. who were as much mesmerized as my students were excited! The one thing I miserably failed at was to bring the author, Mr. Mangeni himself to meet the girls. I think it would have been the icing on the cake.
Overtime, we tried many other creative ideas, some independently invented by the students, like ambitious project of co-authoring a fantasy story book with which they reached out to primary schools in Jinja. At Victoria Nile Primary School, the copies sold out and the pupils demanded for more and the authors’ autographs! We even attempted to support primary kids in writing their own stories. We did not go far though. We succeeded in starting an annual creative writing convention. The inaugural had three schools in Jinja and one from Kampala, Nabisunsa Girls, where already a powerful writers’ club operated, thanks to the efforts of Kagayi Ngobi whose work and contribution to today’s literary creativity is laudable and to be emulated.
I must pay special tribute to the Uganda Association of Women Writers – FEMRITE which seeks to promote women’s voices in writing. FEMRITE has provided several platforms for talented girls in writing to excel.
Above all this experience was the transformation of the young learners by empirical evidence alone. Most of them exuded confidence, enjoyment of learning and desire to move on with their newfound love for not just the study of literature in class but creative writing as a potentially lifetime learning. I witnessed shy and withdrawn students suddenly blossom with a lot of things to talk about and do. I have seen older students at advanced level and even universities struggle to understand and use literary elements like imagery, similes, metaphors, paradox and so forth but not these young crops. These simply lived and blended literary terms in their communication and creative work. They were quick to think of and take initiative like I have never seen in my teaching life. Several of them went on to take literature in English as their subject of choice all the way to candidate class. Several others dropped literature as a subject but lived on with love for creative writing. I saw many of them committing more time and thought to creating, refining, and sharing their poems.
Alongside their growth was my own renewed resolve to publish students’ poems as a fulltime engagement with them. I as much as possible involved them in the process. So, it was not just mere collection of students poems for publication but a learning engagement through which I have seen them grow and develop. By the close of my last year at PMM Girls School – 2018, I had collected at least 100 of their finest poems over time. In 2019, I moved on from teaching to work for a nongovernmental organization which got me fully engaged and far away in Western Uganda. With that, the idea of the poetry anthology was temporarily shelved.
In March 2020, a countrywide lockdown was imposed to slow down spread of COVID19. Field work came to a standstill and it was replaced by sedentary home-based work. Remote engagement with aid of information technology became the only option. The sense of confinement and relative redundancy inevitably brought urge to fill gaps with some other constructive things to do. The thought of revisiting the work I began with my students came to light.
And that is how I came to reignite my interest in students’ poetry and seek for the editing support of Ms. Kaigo Betty, an enthusiastic teacher of literature at Luigi Giussani High School, Kireka in Kampala. She is passionate about literary creativity and has worked extensively with Uganda Women Writes’ Association, FEMRITE. Ms. Kaigo was more than ready to work with me. Later, she would be joined by her friend and alumni of PMM Girls’ School, Ms. Nambuba Mercy. She was one enthusiastic student of literature. She greatly supported Kaigo Betty in the editing process.
I quickly re-established contact with several of the students who had already submitted worthwhile poems for publication. A WhatsApp group was set up for collaborative purposes. As stated earlier, mine was a continuous engagement with the students. They are, in a way, integral part of the anthology’s development right from their year one in secondary school. I think my students’ interaction with poetry was what David Rubadiri had in mind when he named the well-known secondary students’ poetry anthology, “Growing Up with Poetry”! The ladies were growing up with poetry!
Now, the anthology has evolved further to be at least a partial fusion of poetry and painting. Alex Muleke, one of Ms. Kaigo Betty’s former students took up to illustrating 20 of the poems with paintings and it is now complete. It gets even better: The leadership of Luigi Giussani High School has gotten excited and decided to hold an exhibition as part of a gala celebrating painting and poetry, exclusively featuring these paintings! I think this five-day occasion is a wonderful opportunity to inspire young people to take on creative writing. It is also a wonderful opportunity for the upcoming poets and the one fine artist to have an exposure of their works in public domain. This exhibition of the paintings is, in a way the precursor to launching of the poetry anthology which will surely be the crowning moment of excitement for us all. But first, working on the finer details and eventually printing of the copies must come to pass.
We are keeping fingers crossed!