Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Of Chickens, Children, and Charity

13 July, 2011

I have begun singing hymns and praise songs during the 1 ½ to 2 hour bus ride to and from the school. It passes the time and sets the tone for the day. Others join in and sing along or make requests. It is uplifting to join our voices in praise of our Heavenly Father!

Today was a big day at the school. A meeting was held for the families and the community. A cow was purchased with some funds given in advance of our trip by several who wanted to provide food for the children. It was butchered at the school this morning and cooked in preparation. All the children, teachers, and meeting attendees were fed beef, beans, rice, and soda –nearly 800 people in all! Who knew that one cow could feed so many? Andrea spent the night at the school in the teacher’s quarters in anticipation of the early morning activities. Although she didn’t sleep well, she loved witnessing the preparations and being involved in the food preparation.

The teachers were busy with various things as well, and the electrical project required that some classes leave their classrooms and meet jointly, so Wendy and I filled in teaching some classes throughout the morning, often without a classroom teacher present. The children were well behaved and responsive, even without an interpreter. I had such a fun time teaching in the P2 classes especially. One student threw up in class so I had to leave to find help. In lieu of antimicrobial dust, they threw handfuls of dirt over it, and then swept it up –worked just as well, surprisingly.

All the activity must have ruffled the chickens' feathers as well. I did a double-take this morning as I passed the Head Teacher's office, and just had to take time to snap the picture at the top of this page!

The students had been instructed to bring a dish from home to use for lunch, so when it was time for them to be served they lined up with their dishes to get their food.

Although they were all excited about today’s offerings, it saddened me to realize that this meal is by far the exception. Most days the students don’t eat lunch at all. We hope to start up a regular food program but there are several issues to address –funding being one of them. We don’t want to start something we can’t continue.

The meeting began with the singing of three anthems –the Uganda National Anthem, the Welsh National Anthem, and our own “Star Spangled Banner.” Sarah addressed many issues with the parents, requesting their help and participation in assisting with their children’s education, health, and general welfare.

The main topic on the agenda was the announcement that we (Heart of God East Africa) are now partnering with EZRA in operating King’s Primary School. We have been working toward this day for over a year (perhaps you recall my trip to Wales that I blogged about in February) and we are all very excited about this! Our proposal to acquire enough land to build a secondary school was also presented, and those who would be involved in the land proposal were asked to meet further and discuss this possibility. The area currently has no secondary schools, and some KPS students have passed their exams. Without a school in the area, they most likely will not be able to further their education, due to the cost involved.

Bunambutye’s mayor addressed the group, praising both EZRA and Heart of God for the impact they have had in the community and in the lives of the families and children. He then said that he was considering becoming a Christian! When he finished speaking, Sarah encouraged him to do so, but added, “We hope you are serious, because we don’t take such things lightly!”

I quietly slipped out of the meeting before it ended in order to assist with clothing and school bag distribution to the students. Some of the other team members had sorted out shorts and dresses by sizes.

As they finished their meal, each class walked through the library to select the appropriate sized clothing.

The children were thrilled with their new clothing and school bags!

When the meeting ended we asked the mothers of infants and toddlers to remain behind, and we gave them clothing for their children, as well.

All in all, it was a wonderful day! It was such a blessing to share God's love with the students and their families through the clothing and other gifts contributed by so many friends back home. The joy and encouragement these people feel when they receive such gifts is indescribable. The day at the school ended with a soccer match, but unfortunately we had to leave before it ended.

When we were about halfway back to the hotel a rainbow stretched across the entire horizon and remained constant until sunset. I saw it as God’s signature of approval on the merging of Heart of God East Africa, EZRA, and King’s Primary School, and His promise for an even brighter future.

14 July, 2011
Today was our last day to work at the school as a team. In fact, it was our last ministry day. We will spend Friday debriefing, and most of the team will leave Saturday morning.

Some of the classes were combined again, so I decided to reread “Three Billy Goats Gruff” to both P1 classes. I then told them it is a Norwegian folk tale, and I showed them on an inflatable globe where Norway, Uganda, Wales, and the USA are. I then proceeded to talk about some differences between Uganda and Norway. The children seemed interested, but one of the teachers told me afterward that they were too young to understand about globes and other countries. I told her that I even use a globe in my preschool classes, and she would be surprised how much they understand!

I also read another story about a Ugandan family that receives a goat, Beatrice’s Goat. The same teacher mentioned above had a hard time translating, and even reading the story over my shoulder. The children were losing interest, so I began skimming through, leaving out some sections of the story. When I finished the teacher told me it was a very difficult story. This left me feeling sad, both for her and for the students. Again, it is a story that my preschoolers at home would understand and enjoy. On the other hand, these experiences have given me a much better feel for what some of the issues are facing both teachers and students in Uganda. It will greatly influence my planning of a teacher conference for next year.

Wendy began running a fever and feeling quite sick today, so she observed in the classroom I was in during the morning, and spent the rest of the day sleeping in the bus!

The students gathered under the giant tree (Baobab, I believe) just inside the front gate. Each class presented music, a skit, or a poem.

It was heartwarming and uplifting to hear their beautiful voices and see their smiles. Many of their songs are original, such as this one:

Because of the time spent with the children this week, individual personalities popped as they performed, and I found my heart swelling with love for these children. One student read a Bible passage from her Bible, the one she received from us on our first visit to King's Primary School in 2009.

I tried to smile and forget that this was farewell.

We passed out jump ropes and kites -an immediate hit.

We also filled bags with some personal items today -lotion, jewelry, ties, pens, pencils, soap, toothbrush, gum, etc., and gave one to each of the teachers. We heard many squeals of delight, just as we heard from the children yesterday!

Late in the afternoon many of us walked along Moroto Road into the community. We visited with several residents, friends and neighbors of the school. The benefits King’s Primary School has brought to the community has become apparent to all of us this week, and was reiterated as we spoke to the neighbors. Both Muslims and Christians live peacefully side by side, and both send children to the school. They are grateful for the gift of education and opportunity for a future that their children have received.

We met a man with 37 children and several wives. He has been generous to Mary in the past, and today offered her a chicken. She had to decline, since the hotel probably wouldn’t welcome it. We also met a bed builder, a family with eight children, whose house had burned down last week, and an old woman who is very sick and feeble. Arrangements will be made for her to see a doctor in Mbale.

The area is regularly plagued by both drought and torrential rains –either one or the other, it seems. There has been no food for many months, and two people in the village actually starved to death this week! The first harvest following the most recent drought is just beginning. Consequently, green tomatoes are being set out for sale –such is their desperation that they cannot even wait for them to ripen.

Besides weather related ills, the area has been hard hit by AIDS and ravaged by the Karamajong tribe.

John and I were able to finish up the First Aid/CPR class before leaving today. We felt good about this, and the participants were just as excited to receive their certificates as was the Smile Africa staff!

It was hard for us to leave the school today, knowing that it was the last day for the whole group to be there. John, Denise, and I plan to return, but it won’t be the same. An amazing amount of work has been accomplished this week, and the children and teachers have been blessed and encouraged. A library has been set up, teaching materials organized, showers are installed and functional, and the electrical work is well underway. We didn’t have nearly enough classroom time, as far as I’m concerned. Still, I feel that we learned a lot about the needs of both students and teachers here. Using what we have learned to improve education at King’s Primary School is a daunting and humbling task, but I am excited about the possibilities!

If you are reading these posts on Uganda, please tell me what surprises you, intrigues you, appalls you, delights you!

Also, be sure to check out our Heart of God East Africa website for more information and to find out how you can help provide food, clothing, and a better education for these precious children!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The King's Children

11 July, 2011

We traveled to King’s Primary School, arriving over two hours after we started –just in time for the morning break. The attendance roster for today looked like this:

The children assembled, and when I came up and began removing Eli (my eagle puppet) from his bag they all cheered! Eli had a flashlight in his heart, and we talked about darkness and light, ending with the verse, “I am the light of the world, he who follows me will never walk in darkness.” (John 8:12)

The kids cheered again when Andrea and Emily started singing “King of the Jungle” with them. They remembered!

I was able to read “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” to classes P1a and P1b, and “Itsy Bitsy Spider” to P2a.

It was a long, slow process, with the teacher translating. Even though English is Uganda’s national language, most of the children and even some of the teachers don’t speak or understand it proficiently. None of the students are able to read the simple words in these books, however they enjoyed having their own books with pictures to look at, and they responded enthusiastically when I asked for picture clues. They also enjoyed the rhyme and repetition. We discussed many aspects of each story. I even gave a bridge illustration of the Gospel to the P1 classes. They are all absolutely convinced that trolls are real, despite my attempt to convince them otherwise!

The rest of the team worked so hard today! They hauled rock in wheelbarrows and lined the walkways with it.

John and Aaron assisted Kermit and Bryan with the electrical work, while Gideon, a Ugandan electrician who will resume the work after we leave, worked alongside them, installing the conduit and underground cable that will carry electricity to all the school buildings.

Andrea and Wendy both taught in the classrooms. Sylvia began teaching some of the older girls to sew so that they can repair uniforms.

The group interacted with the older students from 4:00 to 5:00, playing games and initiating discussions...

...while John and I began teaching 1st Aid to the teachers and board members, who were all enthusiastic about the class.

We returned late and were unable to clean up before we had our dinner at 7:30. Dinner was a buffet of spaghetti, rice, beef stew, tiny pieces of foul that Denise called “hummingbird wings,” and fruit. By the time we got finished it was late and we all still had to take showers and wash our clothes because we were very dirty. Traveling causes the dust to permeate our clothing, hair, ears, noses, etc.
It was such a good and rewarding day, however. I was re-energized for the week ahead.

12 July, 2011

We returned to King’s Primary School. We see such interesting and beautiful sights along the way.

Normally I wouldn't consider this a beautiful sight, but it was thrilling to see newly strung power lines along the road to the school. It may still take several months for power to actually flow through these lines, but the electrical work our team is beginning will eventually come to fruition!

Andrea and Wendy resumed their work in the classrooms. Others organized teacher resources and art supplies in cupboards (a much needed activity), and the electrical work continued as well. Sean and Bobby began installing a shower for the teachers who live at the school. There is now plumbing, although these showers will be crude. The only toilets are squatty-potties. One is reserved for the visitors (us),someone is taking extra care to keep it as clean as a squatty-potty can be.

I spent the day interviewing teachers -12 of them, to be exact. Four have just completed their probationary period, and we chose to retain three of them. The others were applying for two new positions. The school’s four Ugandan board members, along with Jan, Denise, Mary, Allwyn and I interviewed them about the teaching position, but only after Jan and Carole had interviewed them regarding their salvation and spiritual life. Unfortunately, the only photos I took were while we were eating!

It was a long day, and quite emotional, too. I learned so much about the lives of teachers in Uganda. Like most American teachers I know, they are passionate about what they do –they truly love teaching. They work hard for little pay, however, and in many cases some ended up not being paid at all in their former positions. Like most Ugandan primary schools, KPS students attend school from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Many of the teachers at KPS leave their spouse and children behind to live at the school. Some bring their families along, but the living quarters are small and the school so remote that transportation can become difficult and expensive.

The students grow produce that feeds the teachers, and they also draw water for the teachers at the end of the school day.

It was Allwyn's birthday, so in his honor Scott went to the village and hired someone to make about 50 chapatis (fried flatbread). We shared these among the team, all the teachers, and the teacher applicants.

At the end of the day all the interviewers met together and learned that we were in perfect agreement! We had all selected the same two applicants. Isn’t that just how the Holy Spirit works when He’s invited to participate? Amazing! Transportation was arranged for all the applicants, and they were told that they would each be notified the following day whether or not they were hired. Our board chairwoman gave them a very gracious speech about God’s will and direction for their lives, and told them we wish them all well.

We finished with the interviews late, so John and I weren’t able to continue the 1st Aid class tonight.

Once again we were late returning to the hotel. We encounter many cattle herds along the road as we return home in the evening.

It makes the trip longer, but interesting as well. The traveling makes for long days with no margin. Still, there is no place I would rather be than at the school, and nothing I would rather be doing!

Tomorrow will be an exciting day at the school -a day of revelations and celebrations.