Tuesday’s schedule of events was already action-packed, but our road trip from Mbarara into Isingiro District, south of the town, provided some additional cultural and geological surprises for us! After setting out from our Mbarara hotel for the 24 kilometer drive to our planned cultural exchange at the Ngarama Girls Secondary School, our guides added insightful stops at:

•    A monument to Henry Morton Stanley, the Welsh-American explorer reknowed for locating the British explorer and missionary David Livingstone and his quest for the origin of the Nile River. Close to this site he became a blood brother to a representative of the Ankole king in 1889 at the dawn of the colonial era;
•    Lake Nakivale, which suddenly relocated overnight from one place to another after an unexplained geological event; and
•    A striking example of parallel drainage system on a series of weathered hilltops stretching alongside the road close to the district headquarters.

Once we arrived at Ngarama, we enjoyed introductions along with tea and banana pancakes with the members of the Board of Governors. The Chairman, Mr. Johnson, explained the institution’s objective to empower the female members of this rural area by providing education and self-sufficiency skills, as well as their interest in partnering with Harper College. Their motto is “Develop a Girl, Develop a Nation.”

It was finally time to meet the students! Excitedly, our Harper Study Abroad team broke into groups to meet the four grade levels, called “forms,” of the school. Facilitated by their regular teachers, Ngarama students were encouraged to share their culture with us and question us about our American ways. Initial shyness melted away as the students became more comfortable as we shared information and laughter. It was a pleasure to observe how happy these students are to be enrolled in school, and just how ambitious the goals are that they set for themselves and their educational aspirations! Following this classroom exchange, we spilled outdoors to continue our interaction with games, conversation, dancing and singing, and even photography lessons! It was evident from shared smiles and hugs that our encounter was a complete success.

After lunch, two varieties of hardwood trees – mahogany and maesopsis (umbrella tree) – were planted throughout the campus by Harper College students as well as Ngarama teachers and board members, assisted by students who took photographs and helped dig and water the plants. These plantings will be lasting reminders of our visit and will outlive all of those who participated in this significant day. Moreover, they will serve as reminders to future family members of the friendships forged today between members of our two schools.

Isingiro is part of the banana cultivation heartland of Uganda and on the drive back to Mbarara we witnessed the harvesting of a bunch of bananas on a large plantation. Most of us had not seen a banana plant before, so close up views of this herbaceous plant, and the discussion about its lifecycle, varieties, and uses generated great interest.