Summerside native Melanie Gallant was in Uganda with Project Overseas, helping teachers develop new methods. Submitted photo.
SUMMERSIDE – Melanie Gallant was 10,420 kilometres from home, but she couldn’t escape the red dirt.
Everywhere she went in Uganda, she was served with a pleasant reminder of her Island home. The soil that makes P.E.I. world famous for its potatoes is the same type of soil found in the landlocked African country.
The Summerside resident and Kinkora teacher came back from Uganda last week with a wealth of new experiences and a touch of a cold.
“That probably has to do with the lack of rest I had all summer,” she laughed.
Gallant was in Uganda with Project Overseas, a group of teachers assigned to help Ugandan teachers improve their trade.
While there, Gallant was amazed to find many of the teachers could not write cursively. Some couldn’t print.
The Ugandan teachers are stuck with class sizes that average 120 students. They do not have adequate supplies. They have no technology. They worry about malaria and HIV/AIDS. Half of their female students drop out by Grade 7 to get married.
But the Ugandan people are not complainers, she said. They relished the supplies they received, even the small things like a sharpie or a bag of chalk.
“They appreciate anything that can be given to them. Life there is not taken for granted. They appreciate the little things.”
Outside of the classrooms, Gallant managed to squeeze in time at the end of the trip to enjoy the sights and sounds of Uganda.
One experience, which she’d looked forward to and planned for a long time, brought her a little too close for comfort with a 250-kilogram silverback gorilla.
Gallant and seven other tourists joined two park rangers – armed with AK-47s – trekking through a national park in the southern region of the country. In pursuit of finding a family of gorillas, they tracked up and down through thickly covered hillsides.
Gallant would get her wish – and then some – after they came across a family in the brush. Ignoring the rules of staying 30 metres away, the rangers let the group come within 10 feet of the gorillas. They were allowed to spend one hour with the animals, but the dominant male of the pack decided otherwise. Turning away from the plant he was feeding on, he faced the group and lunged.
Instructed by the rangers not to budge or make a sound if a gorilla charges, the group chose instead to run and scream, falling in heaps on top of each other. The gorilla stopped inches short of them, and then resumed eating from a plant.
“After that, I was just kind of thinking ‘Okay, when is this hour up?’”
When it came time to leave the country, the Ugandan teachers urged Gallant and her team of Canadians to promise they would return.
With lives and families at home, the teachers instead promised to at least have a team return next summer.
“We lived and worked there,” Gallant said. “It does sort of become a second home, and it was quite difficult to leave.”
Now back in P.E.I., Gallant is enjoying what little vacation time she has before the upcoming school year at Somerset Academy.
“It’s been nice to be able to unwind, that’s for sure.”