Visitation Day

Wilsons_2013 Posted by Rory Wilson on Sun, 13 Jul 2014 | 0 comments | Bookmark: digg this Post this to del.icio.us Post this to Facebook

In my personal experience the closest that I have come to boarding school is reading Malory Towers by Enid Blyton as a young girl.

It is common in Uganda for schools to host both day attenders and boarders. Some children are sent to boarding school because they live too far away from school to walk or cycle daily; others because they will be able to attain better grades if they board because there will be paraffin or electricity to read at night; and others because the school is renowned for producing a high standard of academic students. Children will board from primary 1 believe it or not. Teachers act as parents in addition to providing a good education. The highlight of the term is Visitation Day.

Visitation Day, which is usually a Sunday, is an opportunity for students to receive their family and friends at school. It is a greatly anticipated day on both sides, and a lot of preparations are made so that the day is a success. The teachers prepare classrooms, ready to talk to the parents about student progress. Classwork is displayed and results of tests posted on the wall. The Bursar prepares to collect outstanding fees and deal with parental queries. The students help to sweep and clean the compound of the school, to ensure that a good impression is made. The students will have washed and ironed their uniforms and polished their shoes.

On the family side – Sunday best will be worn and a meal fit for a king is prepared, so that their children have an alternative from the usual posho (maize flour) and beans diet. It is a day when meat will be eaten, where families can afford it. No soggy sandwiches here! A full dinner is cooked and transported warm. A fizzy drink may also be bought for the occasion.

Many of these schools have upwards of 300 pupils, so on visitation day the roads are busy with vehicles illegally overloaded with passengers eager to visit their kin. The parents travel to the school walking, cycling, on motorbikes and in cars. They converge at reception as a noisy colourful crowd armed with mats (to sit on like a picnic rug) and food hampers, with the smell of maooke and meat wafting through the air. It is a little like being at an airport to meet a plane – families run to each other, there are hugs, lots of banter and the odd wet eye. Some older pupils are a bit coy and embarrassed by their mother’s enthusiastic efforts at pampering. Not everyone arrives on time of course – this is Uganda after all, so some students hover around the entrance to the school anxiously waiting for the first sight of their visitors on this special day. Some children don’t receive visitors for many reasons but they usually are adopted by a family for the day if they are lucky and so can still enjoy the spoils.

Students proudly introduce teachers and parents, and with chin lifted high show their family the football pitch, the dining hall, dormitories and of course the classroom. The dorms are not the clean comfortable rooms that Enid Blyton described. They consist of plain, grey plastered walls; bunk beds made of metal; grey cement floor and no other furniture. A child’s belongings are kept in a metal suitcase with a padlock to keep it secure. A child brings their own mattress, blanket, sheets and pillow, so the variety in quality of these items is quite wide. A paraffin lamp is set on the windowsill and gives out its distinctive odour in addition to illumination. There are no curtains. Boys and girls dorms are positioned so that they are on opposite sides of the school campus and never the twain should meet!

Visitation Day winds up with parents giving advice and encouragement to work hard for the upcoming exams. Small amounts of pocket money are given and gratefully received by students. Everyone is tired but happy and generally parents leave reassured that their son/daughter is surviving and being looked after. Students are happy to have had their day where they have been fussed over and pampered ever so slightly.

Our boy has indeed survived and looks very comfortable in his surroundings. No complaints on any front. We were relieved and contented as we said our goodbyes.

Now we await the holidays and the end of term report…

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