The concepts behind PONT started as far back as the Ethiopian Famine of 1985. At the time a team of health workers from the Pontypridd area volunteered to work in refugee camps in Ethiopia, whilst another team that also included church leaders visited camps in Sudan. This direct link resulted in the amount of aid raised in the Pontypridd area being much higher than the norm, and with people from all walks of life offering support. People in Pontypridd were able to hear first-hand accounts of the work undertaken, and they became more informed and involved as donors.
The current PONT project was conceived in the year 2000 when a small group of people met together to think through ideas for a longer term town partnership. The intention was to set up a framework that could harness people’s interest from a grassroots level to aid in the delivery of the Millennium Goals. In 2002 the first visit was made to Mbale, a town of a similar size to Pontypridd that serves a region of 760,000 people, most of whom live in poor rural villages. The people of Mbale district are amongst some of the poorest in Africa, with average income less than $1 per day, average life expectancy of 46, and infant mortality rates of about 200 per thousand. The first step was to identify the key indigenous NGO's (Non-Governmental Organisations) who were seeking to maximise the aid work amongst the poorest communities. This was helped by contacts provided by international NGO's who had worked in this area previously.
In late 2003 early 2004 professionals with backgrounds in Health, Education and Christianity were invited to look into the possibility of partnering the whole community with the community of Mbale in Uganda to help eradicate abject poverty and deliver the Millennium Development Goals. This was an initiative of Pontypridd Christian Concern (PCC).
As a result of this meeting, and subsequent meetings, volunteers made an initial visit to Mbale in November 2004 to investigate and research the situation there and report back their findings.
In 2005 PONT was launched publicly by holding official twinning ceremonies with both local and regional politicians in Mbale and Pontypridd. The projects that were established initially included medical links, school links and church links. The PONT framework has developed quickly, with individuals and groups throughout the community establishing different links.
“Pont” is the welsh word for “bridge” and originally was the acronym for “Pontypridd Overseas Networking Trust” and seen as the bridge connecting the two areas. This was soon changed to “Partnerships Overseas Networking Trust” to include all of the Borough of Rhondda Cynon Taf to partner with the greater Mbale region composed of Mbale, Manafwa, and Bududa. At first, PONT worked under the umbrella of PCC until it became a registered charity (no. 1125948) in its own right.
From the outset PONT has identified local partners who are already doing good work. The aim has been to empower them to deliver more effectively, at the same time increasing capacity by training and setting in place monitoring systems to audit and improve governance. An important part of this has been to involve local government officials at the planning stage and also in the monitoring and certification of the voluntary workers, setting up a network between existing NGO's and integrating this network with local government. Care was taken not to impose an agenda, but to identify a consensus amongst partners on their priorities. Setting up any new structure or organisation, was to avoided by working through those already in existence and seen to be effective. The result was an inbuilt method to audit and assess the effectiveness of links and partnerships by comparing the results of autonomous organizations in terms of their ability to deliver agreed outcomes with equal amounts of funding. The key steps were to identify trustworthy individuals already doing a good job, and then to build a relationship with them, before jointly identifying worthwhile projects.
Progress through the years
As more and more professional people became involved the structure of PONT altered. A Board of Trustees were appointed. They appointed a Steering Committee representing and overseeing the numerous sub-committees that were responsible for developing projects within their own sphere of expertise. Some of the work of such committees is shown in Appendix 3
Education and School links
In the group that visited Mbale in 2004 were retired teachers. Due to the timing of the visit serving teachers were unable to travel. The educationalists involved were two recently retired teachers with over 75 years teaching experience between them (the authors of this report), a school Governor and a “gap-year” medical student. They met with Directors of Education, Head-teachers, teachers, pupils to discuss the Ugandan Education System, Nursery, Primary, and Secondary, Further and Higher Education facilities and opportunities. Visits were made to schools. Prior to the visit several schools in Pontypridd had asked for partner schools to be found for them to communicate with on a friendship basis with the possibility of developing curriculum links at a future date. A meeting was held with the Head-teachers of 8 Ugandan Schools with the educationalists to discuss the expectations of school links, and core principles for linking were agreed. Letters of introduction were exchanged, and the linking journeys started.
With preparations for the official launch of PONT in 2005 and knowing of schools in Mbale that wanted partners, some schools in RCT were asked if they would like partners to be found for them. By the end of 2005 there were 12 school partnerships.
It was felt that Education and School Link committees should be set up in both countries to support ,oversee, evaluate and sustain such links.
In 2006 School Partnerships started receiving grants from the British Council to sustain, maintain and take forward their partnerships. Individual schools were encouraged to apply for such grants, with PONT Education and school link officers available to advise, support and help when invited.
The first visit of teachers to their partner schools took place in February 2006. Three secondary schools had worked together on a British Council Global Schools Partnership Reciprocal Grant , as a cluster bid, and were successful. They travelled at the same time as a PONT Education visit. This meant that they had the support of the PONT network both here and in Mbale. They were able to visit Africa in the knowledge that there was back up in case of any problems, and were in close contact with “friends”. It also meant that they could be accompanied on their initial visit to their school. The team leaders from PONT visited Mbale schools, researched possibilities for partnerships and built bridges between Local government, NGO’s (non-Government organisations) and Educationalists
As a result of this first visit, the enthusiasm cascaded to other schools. The whole concept of PONT as a community linking facilitator gathered momentum. Schools felt that they were in a position to seek links and apply for grants because no longer would they be on their own but part of a wider network of experienced professionals. The role of Education and School Links became one of, awareness raising in schools through ESDGC, through presentations with the Educational Business partnership on Global Citizenship and World of work, as well as sustaining and supporting school links. As time progressed schools began to realise that having a school link was not an added extra to the life of the school but could become part of the School development plan and school curriculum.
By the end of 2007 there were over 30 school partnerships, by 2009 we had reached 50 school partnerships and by the end of 2011 it was over 60. Not all partnerships have been successful, neither have they all progressed at the same rate. Some partnerships are exemplary, some are making good progress, some are in need of TLC, and some are on a life support machine. There has been need to change some partners, and one or two have been removed from partnerships due to unforeseen circumstances (school closures, change of staff)
Reciprocal visits by PONT have taken place yearly.
In 2007 PONT Education ran an Educational Work shop in Mbale addressed by Jane Davidson former Education Minister at Welsh Assembly Government whilst Minister for Sustainable development. The workshop looked at ways of supporting education in its widest sense. Teachers from Mbale who had visited here on British Council Reciprocal grants in 2006 spoke of their experiences in a role play presentation. The Local Government Leader said “The best way out of poverty is through Education”
A follow up visit by Phil & Kath Rickards took place early in 2008 when an Education Conference of Mbale dignitaries, Directors of education, School inspectors, Head teachers of all Partner schools, when the Guest speaker was Jane Hutt, Minister of Education Welsh Assembly Government.
This conference saw the Mbale-PONT Education committee which had been set up to work in parallel with PONT Education Committee taking a major role in planning for the future.
At the request of the PONT Environment committee Partner schools were encouraged to take weather readings and comment on unusual weather to monitor climate change. Some schools and their partners were asked if they would compile green maps of their environment.
In 2008 PONT was awarded 2 United Nations Gold Star awards (the first in the world for both work in Health and work with children) See Appendix
With the help and advice from our counterparts in Mbale Three Primary Co-ordinating centres (Primary School teachers resources centres)one serving each of the Mbale Manafwa and Bududa regions and the Secondary Teachers Resource centres were identified. These were then equipped with a grant from PONT Education for additional resources which were available for all PONT schools to borrow. The funding for this purpose had come from a sponsored climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro
Schools, youth and children’s groups, raised money at Christmastime 2008 to provide saplings for the schools and communities in Mbale to plant. The initiative had come from a member of the Mbale PONT Education committee who was head of a school in which trees had been planted to enable fruit to be available for the children in the future
A series of yearly visits by PONT Education have helped facilitate visits between schools in both communities.
Representatives of all partnership schools in Mbale have met with directors of Education, inspectors and advisory staff regularly to formulate action plans. Representatives of the schools in RCT meet regularly as part of PONT Education links. Both Education committees hold annual AGM,s
In 2009 major strides forward were made. There was such a wave of enthusiasm generated as a result of reports from those who had visited Mbale and cascading back their experiences. This resulted in a large number of practicing teachers visiting their partner schools. Some self-funded, some went on British Council Grants, and some on Professional Development Grants. PONT Education Committee members met with their Mbale counterparts to plan together for the future.
University of Glamorgan staff and students had previously visited Mbale on field trips. One of the projects that they were planning involve planting experimental plots to provide a practical example of how crop yields can be vastly increased by using local traditional techniques. They felt that the best place for the plots would be in school and had funding to work in 5 schools. They had approached the PONT Education committee to suggest 5 partner school links so that the schools involved could compare and contrast methods of growing crops. Working with the local ESDGC committee and school advisor we identified a shortlist of our schools with suitable “gardens” During the above mentioned meeting in Mbale the shortlist was discussed and the 5 partnership schools identified. Each of the 5 Mbale Schools was visited, the project explained and the invitations to take part issued. The party leaders visited the Bungokho Rural Development Centre and they agreed to visit the chosen schools to assess suitability of the chosen plots and oversee the project. During July of 2009 teachers from two of the Mbale schools in the project were visiting on British Council grants and were able to report progress to both PONT Education and the University of Glamorgan
2 PONT schools and their partners in Mbale took part in a pilot project “Roots for Success” arranged by the Welsh Assembly Government and as teachers from one of the two schools were over in 2009 they were able to meet the coordinator of this project to advise her before her visit to Mbale
One of our secondary schools took pupils to Mbale and visited their partner school. To facilitate this visit, pupils raised their own money.
British Council Wales held a Seminar Workshop for PONT schools on “effective partnerships” and applying for Global School Partnership Grants. This led to more visits in 2010
The PONT –Mbale 2009 AGM was postponed until February 2010 so that PONT Education representatives could be present to give advice. PONT Education had obtained a grant of £3000 from Good Gifts Catalogue for Text books and exercise books for schools which were distributed at this AGM. This also coincided with visits to partner schools by RCT teachers and so they were able to be present in their partner school and help with the distribution of books from PONT
During this visit we met a representative of Africa Education Trust who has subsequently worked with PONT to set up libraries in a few schools and have given PONT Education advice on how to organize such a project. Teachers here felt that World Book Day 2011 would be an opportunity for our school to donate books to children in Mbale so that they could read for pleasure and at the same time encourage our children to write about the books they were sending.
In March 2010 a catastrophic landslip in the Bududa region saw one of the PONT partner schools being used as a camp for those whose homes and livelihoods were destroyed. PONT set up a “disaster” appeal which was fully supported by all sections of the community. Some schools felt the need to support this appeal
A working party (lead by the ESDGC advisor for RCT and Caerphilly) consisting of teachers that visited Mbale in 2010 produced Resource Material for use at Key Stage 1 and 2 in ALL schools in the area based on PONT visits to Mbale. A photo exhibition of “Life in Mbale” at the Pontypridd Museum contained photos from teachers’ visits which were later used in the resource pack
A retired teachers section of the education committee was set up.
More teachers from Mbale visited their partner schools in June courtesy of British Council Grants
Teachers and pupils visited Mbale in October 2010 on British Council Grants.
On her retirement, a head teacher of a PONT partnership school, volunteered to serve Mbale PONT. She was appointed as the Education and School links co-ordinator.
In November 2010 a survey designed by PONT Education was carried out in the Mbale Schools by Mbale –PONT Education committee to research “Access, Attendance and Achievement” and ways to improve these in preparation for Comic Relief grant bid jointly with the Orphans and Vulnerable Children’s committee.
Zebby from the OVC committee in Mbale visited in February 2011 to help with bid and was able to visit a number of schools, sharing expertise and raising awareness of life in Mbale. She also visited community groups
UKOWLA sought our advice on piloting a series of “School Linking and Community Partnerships” seminars to be held throughout the UK. The seminar for Wales was held in ESIS (Nantgarw) made up entirely of PONT Schools with most of the input from PONT Education. UKOWLA were very impressed with the help they received, and the calibre of the participants. Mind you it was Dewi (the school doll) with the help of Becky Millar (Cwmlai) who stole the show with their presentation.
UKOWLA used PONT teachers as presenters in some of their other seminars.
Teachers and pupils from Mbale visited their partner schools in March and May
Once again PONT Education Committee was represented at the Mbale PONT AGM during a PONT Executive visit in May to further discuss the Comic Relief and other bids. A memorandum of Understanding was finalised between both Education Committees. During this visit it was possible to meet staff at the British Council Uganda in Kampala and discussed the possibility of applying for a British Council Global Schools Partnership Local Authority Grant.
On our return, and further discussions with British Council Wales and our counterparts in Mbale and the Director of Education for Mbale we applied for the grant. We were successful. The Director led an Education delegation of three, accompanied by another teacher on a PONT grant (to learn more about school libraries) here in December.
During their visit they took part with representatives of the 10 partner schools here in a British Council Seminar/Workshop, and not only visited all ten schools but four others as well. They met local dignitaries, the Director of Education for RCT, The schools support, advisory and inspection service, attended community functions as well as meeting with PONT Education and school links committee, PONT, teachers, governors and others. The enthusiasm generated by their visit surpassed all expectations
By the end of 2011 there were 65 school partnership links.
PONT Education is constantly evaluating the progress of school partnerships, as is Mbale-PONT Education. PONT Education Liaison Officers continue to give EBP presentations in Comprehensive schools, and with help from retired primary school head teachers give presentations in Primary Schools.
All PONT Schools are visited regularly to give help, support, and encouragement
Guidelines for partner schools are available.
All schools receive minutes of Education Committee Meetings
Schools are encouraged to communicate regularly with their partner school and are informed when groups are visiting and able to deliver correspondence
Schools are being encouraged to working together to share good practice.
At present PONT Education is working closely with the British Council Uganda, The Mbale Local Authority, The Director of Education for Mbale, Mbale PONT on a project to provide an IT Hub at the Education Offices in Mbale, to train teachers and pupils and members of the community in IT. The proposed hub would also enable better and quicker communication between partner schools and a more efficient way of sharing resources etc.
This is just a snap shot that has happened in six years.
“from little acorns oak trees grow”
Phil & Kath Rickards