Taking You Inside the Humanist Mission Trip to Uganda

This is a guest post by Sean McGuire. Sean lives in Montreal with his wife and young son. He blogs under the pseudonym Godless Poutine at My Secret Atheist Blog, which is becoming less and less a secret every day.

[Hemant's note: The Pathfinders Project is a secular service trip sponsored by the Foundation Beyond Belief. I'm on the FBB board and I couldn't be prouder of our involvement in getting this project off the ground and really putting Humanism in action. You can help us do more things like this by becoming a member of FBB or donating specifically to this project.]

Pathfinders visiting one of the Kasese Humanist Primary School student’s homes. (via Kasese United Humanist Association)

Last month, I wrote a guest post on this blog introducing the Kasese Humanist Primary School in Uganda. In it, I mentioned that members of the first ever Pathfinders Project, an initiative partly funded by the Foundation Beyond Belief, would be visiting the school in September and staying for several weeks to help out at the school.

Well, they safely arrived at the school on September 11, and I would like to share some of the updates I’ve been getting from both School Director Bwambale Robert and Pathfinder Conor Robinson.

On the afternoon of September 15, I got an email update from Conor about their long trip from Cambodia to Kasese and how they are helping out at the school.

Aside from the length of the journey from Phnom Pehn to Kasese, colds for a few of the Pathfinders, and the unavoidable issue of squat toilets, our time in Uganda has already been wonderful. The land is beautiful, the people are warm, and although our purpose in being here is to make ourselves available to the school, it feels as though the school is making its resources available to us. We have been accepted into the staff not as Teacher’s Assistants, as will be the case in some other volunteering locations, but as teachers outright.

Pathfinders Wendy Webber and Michelle Huey meeting in the School Director’s office.

Bwambale filled me in a little more with an email update of his own a couple of days later:

I hope you are doing fine. Just updating you on what is going on since the Pathfinders Project Team reached here at the school. They were warmly received by myself at Entebbe International Airport on a sunny Wednesday afternoon of 11th September. I received the four Pathfinders by the names Conor, Wendy, Ben and Michelle. We straight away boarded an airport Taxi that took us to Kampala where we again caught a bus to Kasese. We arrived at 10 PM.

Bwambale also told me that on Day Two, they took a tour of the school, met with some of the staff and some of the students who were doing holiday revision lessons. They were then introduced to local authorities — including the chief of the village! They also met officials from the railway, police station, and the District Commissioner for the District of Kasese. So things were pretty busy the day after their arrival.

On Day Three, the Pathfinders were given a tour of the newly purchased land where the school intends to build new structures for its permanent home. (You can donate to this initiative here.)

More from Bwambale’s email:

The Pathfinders thereafter visited the School Farm in Muhokya where they saw for the first time what goes on there. The Pathfinders on a separate note visited the proposed site location of the Kasese Humanist Botanical Gardens which is no longer in Muhokya for reasons having to do with the harsh weather conditions there and the new location is just conducive for it as its served by two permanent springs or water sources coupled with the relatively cooler environments of this area.

The Pathfinders take a walk around the community. (From left to right: A member of KHPS staff, Pathfinders Michelle Huey and Ben Blanchard, School Director Bwambale Robert, Pathfinder Conor Robinson)

But Bwambale wasn’t done there. He also showed them around some of the local landmarks.

To spice up the tour, I moved the Pathfinders to a nearby fishing village in Kahendero located on the banks of Lake George where the Pathfinders got chance to enjoy a canoe ride on the lake George waters. The Pathfinders too got chance to look at Queen Elizabeth National Park rich with Savannah vegetation, wildlife and lovely birds.

Sounds fascinating. Exhausting, too! Conor summed it all up in a one-sentence e-mail:

We have visited the three exquisite pieces of land that Robert has purchased and learned of Robert’s plans for them.

It wasn’t long before the Pathfinders were recruited to do some teaching of their own! Conor gave me this rundown for their first day of teaching class at the school:

We are all set to begin teaching tomorrow. Ben will be teaching P7 Maths and P7 Sciences as well as overseeing Indoor Games. Michelle will be handling P4 Sciences and P5+P6 Physical Education. Wendy is tasked with Religious Education for all levels and P5 English, and I have First Aid for all levels and P6 English. I will also be directing the Outdoor Games department and teaching P1+P2 Physical Education. All of us will help teach the Computers classes and contribute to the seminars on Humanism.

Ben Blanchard teaches students about HIV and AIDS.

Conor Robinson coordinates a relay race for P.E. class.

Conor told me they have already visited many children’s homes in the region and will visit more families this weekend. This will give them a good indication of the true situation of many of the students, how the school is making a difference in their lives, and how it could help them even more in the future.

Yesterday, we visited around 25 homes associated with Kasese Humanist Primary School, including many with students who attend the school on scholarship. Everyone we met welcomed us to Kasese and wished us success in supporting the educational programs here.

Pathfinders Conor, Ben and Michelle visit one of the parents’ houses

You can find a video of this meeting below:

Bwambale also added more perspective in an e-mail to me:

The Pathfinders had chance to meet with a section of KHPS parents… During this exercise, the Pathfinders donated books, pens and pencils to the children. The visited families were so happy with this exercise… next weekend we shall again visit more homes.

Pathfinders hand out learning materials to parents of KHPS students

On Friday, the Pathfinders were treated to a school debate. According to Bwambale, the school normally has debates every Friday. Conor sent me this entry from his journal:

After lunch today there was a P4-P7 debate on the resolution that people can be good without God. The debate was entertaining. The students all argued respectfully and within the parameters of parliamentary procedure, but many did so with spirit and humor and the student body had to be called to order several times by the chairperson, a sharp P7 girl named Ephebus… Students showed they could challenge from both sides of the issue whether religious or not, and some of them even argued more effectively than a few of the teachers who joined in.

It was refreshing to see that KHPS is succeeding in encouraging skepticism and scientific thinking in a country where all government schools are religious and where, even though there is no official state religion, questions of belief dominate politics and policy. It was also refreshing to see that the religious students at KHPS are not alienated. Regardless of belief, the school challenges students to justify the claims they make, and the students do the same for each other.

Students outside KHPS

By all accounts, this first year of the Pathfinders is a resounding success. It is truly amazing to see such a wonderful initiative take fruit from the secular community with the help of organizations such as the Foundation Beyond Belief. I’ll leave you now with some words of gratitude from school director Bwambale Robert:

… it’s great that these guys joined our school project for there is a lot I have benefited already from them like their efforts to teach the KHPS children and how they have supported the children by availing to them scholastic items and purchasing a soccer ball for boys. The children and School Management of KHPS are indeed enjoying presence of the Pathfinders Project team as we have a lot to learn from each other. Many thanks to the Foundation Beyond Belief to coming up with such a program.

In the conclusion of one of his emails to me, Conor told me about how amazed he is that this school has sprung up and has grown enormously over the past few years from the seeds of a multitude of secular organizations and individual donors.

We have met students who are supported by scholarships from the Uganda Humanist Schools trust. Stickers and posters from SSA and CFI adorn the library and other school buildings. I’m sure many other organizations and individuals have been involved, and in only three years this virtual community of Humanist donors has helped create a growing community of Humanists in Kasese.

If you would like to help the school realize its dream of building permanent classrooms on the new land, please consider contributing any amount to my fundraiser with the generous help of Atheist Alliance International.

And remember, you can read more about the Pathfinders Project and support them on their site, which includes blogs from the Pathfinders themselves! Their year-long humanitarian trip was made possible in part by the Foundation Beyond Belief, an excellent organization that is doing great things with support from the secular community.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • JN

    This is fantastic! I grew up in the Seventh-Day-Adventist church and they have a youth group, somewhat like boy/girl scouts, called Pathfinders. I like the use of the term here better because these kids are learning how to think for themselves instead of following a predetermined path decided by the church. That being said, I still know how to tie some knots which come in handy once in a while, lol.

    • Quintin van Zuijlen

      Pathfinder is actually just an alternative word for scout and you’ll find that German and Dutch use similar words, namely Pfadfinder and padvinder respectively, so I can’t really say the Adventists’ usage of the term is wrong.

  • GodlessPoutine

    Thanks so much to Hemant for letting me guest post on his blog about this! I’ve been very impressed with the Pathfinders project and you can read the blog entries from the individual Pathfinders over at their website http://pathfindersproject.com/meet-the-pathfinders/

    And if you would like to read all about the school, I’ve been covering it for over a year on my blog: http://www.mysecretatheistblog.com/search/label/kasese

    Thanks again to Hemant, Conor and Bwambale Robert for making this post possible!

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    Funny, you never see Donaving or Joe Klein supporting Humanist schools in Uganda.

    (too subtle?)

    • Mitch

      Nope, third bowl of porridge. Just right.

  • Daniel Schiff

    So glad to see the extraordinary progress and support for Pathfinders by FBB, Hemant, and others. I remember when Conor floated this idea by me just over a year ago! This is a wonderful model for what I hope will be a larger program in the future. You are all great role models for the atheist/humanist community.


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