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!

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