This post is a little different. I want to introduce my cleaner – and friend – Makula.
Makula went to school in Uganda, up to O levels at S4 (16 years). She was unusual in that as a girl in a poor family, with 3 brothers, she would have been expected to leave school at the end of primary school, get married and go to work. In Uganda school costs money, and she would normally have gone to earn money as early as possible. But she was visibly a bright student, and her brothers said that they wished to leave school themselves, so the family agreed she should stay on.
She would have gone through to A levels, and hoped to go to university, but got pregnant, and that finished her education – at least for the time being. She put her literacy and numeracy to use by working for the cooperative that ran stalls in the market, collecting rent for them and keeping the books. She did this for 5 years, and then moved to work as a chambermaid in a hotel. Here she met a family who were impressed by her skills with children, and asked her to join them as an au pair. This didn’t work out, as they tried to impose very strict regulations and treated her as a servant, but she met up with another family for whom she worked for 8 years, travelling a lot in Europe.
That family went to the US and Makula could not follow with them, for visa reasons. She decided to stay in the UK, to save money. So she took cleaning jobs, with a 4am start to get to Sainsbury’s by 5am. Her money all went to her children’s education (she had two boys by now) – she made the choice not to sacrifice being with them in order to be able to pay for their education, and so did not see them for 9 years. They were looked after by their aunt, until she recently died. One son has now graduated from university – the first from anywhere on either side of the family to go to university. Makula reports this as a big achievement for her – it is what she wanted to bring about. The younger son has just done well at his O levels.
A few years ago Makula was exhausted with doing only cleaning work, and needed to move on. She took an NVQ1 in social care to get a job as a support worker, and added to that qualifications at NVQ levels 2 and 3, acquired on the job. She now works as an acting team leader in a residential home for people with physical difficulties, putting the patients to bed, washing them, toileting them, feeding them, giving them medication and making care plan reports. She works four 12-hour night shifts, on a two-nights-on two-nights-off basis; she continues with occasional daytime cleaning jobs on top of that to increase her income. She also does a regular 2-hour weekly stint running her Church’s crèche, with additional planning meetings.
Two years ago she started on OU Foundation Course on early childhood care. She passed the first module with excellent marks, and is now on a further module which involves 10 hours voluntary work a week in a nursery. She and I sit down every couple of weeks to go over her latest assignment. It’s wonderful to report that so far she has continued to score very well, in spite of all her other commitments.
Her ambition is to return to Uganda and manage a nursery school, near Kampala. The school already exists, in a building she has bought. But it operates at a basic level, and Makula’s aim is to return as a professional and make it a truly high quality place, for 120 children.
Makula’s career has been a blend: working both full-time and additionally part-time in order to earn enough money to pay for their education, but at the same time learning from the European thinking on education in order to do better in the Ugandan system: she is committed to finding and developing the strengths of all children, not only the brighter ones. She will be nearing 50 when she returns, after 20 years away. She has sacrificed the contact with her own boys, but will take on responsibility for many more children.
In what way does Makula relate to the Paula Principle? She has persisted, extraordinarily, with her learning after her early education was interrupted in a way that is still very familiar in countries such as Uganda. It’s a life of personal twists and major trade-offs. She has made her way into a position with some professional possibilities. But her real career moment, we hope, will come when her massive personal investment finally comes to fruition and she takes charge of her school.