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How YOU have Encouraged US

It’s time for another acknowledgment that we’re all going through a season the likes of which we have never experienced.

Even through the national emergencies of 9/11 and the Great Recession of 2008, we could still get together. We could still have our friends over for dinner, let a houseguest come to visit, or go to a coffee shop with a close friend. Now, when at the very least we want to give someone a hug, we can’t. 

In this time, we are so proud of you all who support Zozu Project. You are some of the most generous, hopeful, and helpful people we know. Here, we want to highlight some of the wonderful things you have been up to that we have taken note of: 

• We follow a bunch of you on Instagram and Facebook. You have posted so many posts of gratitude, joy, and creativity. One of our sponsors made a post of ten things she found joy in over the week. It made us smile and warmed our hearts in a powerful way. 

• We got an email from another sponsor highlighting a special matching campaign that we could get in on as an organization. It’s so cool that you’re thinking of the kids and asking the question “How can we help?” Seeing people take on a team mindset is motivating. 

• Your comments on the stories we share on Facebook and Instagram have been so encouraging. Every “🙏🏼” and “Good to know!” has mattered to us and reminded us that we are a team working together for good. 

 We have received a few emails that say you’re praying for the families in Arua. The edge-of-disaster feeling some of us are experiencing right now? That’s their everyday experience. On their behalf, thank you for lifting the children up. Now is a great time to get on the prayer newsletter. Email elsie@zozuproejct.org to sign up. 

As always we will keep you up-to-date with first-hand news as we receive it from the staff in Uganda. Things continue to change by the day. 

Thank you so much for sticking with us and the kids, financially, relationally, and in prayer. We’re so glad to be in this with you. You are such examples of joy in the midst of trial, generosity in the midst of scarcity, and hope in the midst of change. Thank you.  

The Zozu Team, 
Elsie, Elaine, and Mick


Our Favorite Fundraiser of the Year- By a 7th Grader!

Last month we got a surprise email from a young man. His name is Brandon, and for a 7th grade class project he was studying global literacy. They were learning about how learning the simple abilities of reading and writing can change someone’s life, and in his words “As part of our study, I want to help improve literacy in the world.”

Brandon had heard of Zozu Project through his church, Highlands, who has partnered with us for a number of years now. He wondered if students at Solid Rock Christian School could use books, pencils, pens, and paper to improve their literacy. If he raised money to provide those supplies, he asked, would the students be able to benefit? “Absolutely yes!” Elsie [our Director of Communications] emailed back.

So, Brandon put on his own fundraiser making jam in his family’s kitchen and selling it at school. It wasn’t fancy. All he needed was some glass jars, strawberries and sugar, and a folding table to put them on. Amazingly, by this small act of love, he raised enough for pens, paper, and English textbooks for an entire classroom!

This material outcome is a great blessing, but there’s more. Brandon is in 7th grade– the exact same age as the students who will benefit from his work. He realized that he could do something, didn’t need it to be big and glamorous, and wasn’t daunted by fear of failure. Maybe he’s teaching us- what standard do we think we need to meet before we can do something? Perhaps making jam in a home kitchen is just as loving as a fundraiser at a winery with hundreds. Perhaps more so. We’re inspired by Brandon to not look to the right or left to see if we’re “good enough”– just look at the need and decided what you can do about it. Then do it.


And They’re Off!

Just this weekend, we said farewell for the semester to the graduate class of 2019. They’re moving to Kampala to attend a quality Christian boarding school where they will be challenged by new experiences, grow academically and spiritually, and find out more of who God made them to be.

Most of these students are only 12 or 13, and this will be the first time they have ever lived outside of Arua! Last year, we talked to some of their parents. “Are you nervous at all, sending your child off? Do you want to keep them with you?” we asked. They all said no, that they were simply excited to see their children succeed and couldn’t be prouder. 

Our school director told us that the community is delighted to be sending off not just one, but two classes – both this year’s class of 2019 and last year’s class of 2018. With each new class, the hope of the community grows. Most children in the area around Solid Rock don’t expect to graduate from elementary school, let alone attend a good high school. However, as these older neighborhood friends receive an education, work hard, and get the chance to pursue their dreams, the younger children can see a new future for themselves.

We are amazed by their teachers. They provide hope to the people around them, working in the community day in and day out. We are amazed by their sponsors. By giving up their own resources they make it possible for the children to go to school in the first place. And, of course, we are amazed by the children themselves. They own their education and have worked so hard to get here.

At the end of the day, we are simply humbled to be a part of God’s wonderful work through us all. If you haven’t joined us in the work, we invite you to sponsor a child today. If you have jumped into making a difference with us, thank you.


Surpassing Expectations

Three months ago in November, the candidate class at Solid Rock took their Primary Leaving Exam. This exam is standardized, administered by the government, determines their future, and is hard! Our students often come in with little educational foundation. Their parents usually aren’t able to help them study, as many of them can’t read. They don’t have older brothers or sisters who have done this before. They don’t have so much as a table at home to study at. Everything about their environment and upbringing is working against them.

So what do these students do with so many factors working against them? They work harder than we have ever seen a student work. Most importantly, their teachers come alongside. Staff and students come to school on Saturdays throughout the school year to run practice exams. The week of the exam, students sleep at school, joined by a few staff each night, so that they don’t have to walk the miles between school and home. They are encouraged to meet with teachers on breaks, do homework before leaving school, and work together to help each other study.

The class. A “funny face” picture.

The grading system used in Uganda is different but can be translated into our system of As, Bs, Cs, Ds, and Fs. Last year, the graduating class of 2018 surpassed expectations with a 100% pass rate. Those 32 students were Solid Rock’s first class, and they essentially started their education at fourth grade. When all students passed, the vast majority with Bs, everyone rejoiced! They performed the best in the county, were going to high school, and stood as an example of hope for the younger students.


Students with their diplomas and graduation gifts- a new blanket and backpack to take to boarding school!

This year was an improvement beyond our wildest expectations. From mostly Bs and a few Cs and Ds in 2018, this year’s class progressed to entierly As and Bs, with three students scoring A+s, and one appearing in the local paper! In Arua district at large, 2% of students passed this same exam with an A. At Solid Rock, 22% did. According to the school director, Solid Rock is “the talk of the subcounty.”


Ugandan culture prizes education– people follow the local school’s exam results like Americans follow their football teams. In a communal society like this one, people identify with the performance of their group (family, school, tribe, etc) more than their individual performance. So when a school does well, everyone in the vicinity rejoices. Right now, Arua is rejoicing! Because of Solid Rock’s students the whole community, from the graduates themselves to their siblings to their teachers to families that don’t even have students at the school but just live nearby, has reason to be proud.

In the lives of these families, this pride is of much greater value than the test scores themselves. After all, the core of their suffering does not lie in low test scores but in low self-esteem. An abiding belief that you are unloveable and un-useable wrecks havoc in the hearts of children. But a belief that you are valuable and worthy– now that’s life-changing, empowering, and chain-breaking. Test scores alone do not confer worth, but rather reveal the inherent worth that these children have always had but have never seen in themselves.

Thank you to sponsors, supporters, teachers, and families for making this possible. God is doing a great work in this community and in each of these children’s lives, and His plans will never fail. We are humbled to be a part of it, and so thankful for all of you who have come alongside these children. As the students and teachers say, “to God be the glory!”


2019 In Pictures- A Review

2019 was a year of blessing and growth for Solid Rock Christian School! Each year we are surprised anew by just how much God provides. This year, yet again, we have been blown away by the growth made possible by our sponsors, supporters, staff, and, of course, our God.

We spent some time collecting a few pictures, old and new, to show you the amazing blessings that the children are now receiving. 👇🏽


The Kitchen

What before was a corrugated, hazardous shack of open cooking fires is now a state-of-the-art facility. The cooks are no longer at such a health risk working in a smoky room, and there’s now enough cooking power to feed the 400+ people that eat on campus twice a day!

The old kitchen

The Teacher’s Housing

Three short years ago, in 2017, a patch of land near the school was purchased with the intent of building quality housing for Solid Rock teachers on it. This year, it was finished! Ten teachers, both single and with families, now have water, electricity, and a home walking distance from work. Since nearly no one owns a car, such a gift is a life-changer.

The land, in 2017
Now 4 buildings just like this one house ten teachers total!
The opening day was joyous

The Soccer Field

There’s nothing more galvanizing than a sports team, and Solid Rock was eager to have it’s own. Thanks to the work of one of our founder’s sons, enough funds were raised to buy, level, and seed a soccer field! The whole community now turns out for matches.

The land, freshly purchased
A championship match! What this photo doesn’t show is the reams of spectators around the edges.

The Great Hall/ Church Building

At the beginning of 2019, there was one main space used for big gatherings of all sorts- the church on Sundays, the student chapel on Wednesdays, and community meetings throughout the week. It was a concrete slab covered by a tent that by January of 2019 had seen better days. Thanks mostly to local initiative and planning, they now have a massive hall to use on the daily!

The old multi-purpose tent. Imagine when it rains!
The new great hall- complete with walls, stage, and roof!

The STUDENTS

We saved the best for last. All of the developments above would be nothing if built for their own sake. It’s all for the children– to bless them, feed them, teach them and love them. The first photo below shows the whole student body as of 2018. Now, with preschool, primary, and secondary school, there are too many students to capture in one photo!

Student population, circa 2018
In 2019, we have the primary students…
… the preschool students…
… and the secondary students!

Thank you to all of the sponsors and supporters who have made this year a year of abundance for these children! We are prayerfully anticipating what God has for these children in 2020. Thank you for joining us.


Taking the Long View

Happy September! We hope your back to school transition has gone smoothly. Mick and I think that this season of expectation and looking forward is a good time to announce a new approach to gift-giving here at Zozu Project.

From the beginning, our heart has been to help the children we serve not by handing out everything they need but by empowering their families to provide for them. Over the years of learning from our Ugandan staff they have explained that one of the biggest challenges to self-sufficiency is that next to none of these families have savings. Over 95% of the families are outside the banking system. Most of the children are cared for by single women who quite literally have no safe place to put money should they come into a surplus. They desire to send their children to higher education, start a business, or make a family purchase beyond basic needs, but due to lack of funds, cultural practices, or lack of physical space, these families cannot save to make progress towards financial independence.  

The new system for keeping track of each child’s savings.

We spent months talking to our staff, and from now on, excepting special circumstances*, 50% of any gift that a sponsor gives directly to a child and their family will be spent on family needs that month, and 50% of the gift will be saved. This applies to one-time “child and family” gifts, not monthly sponsorships, and will happen by default.** However, sponsors, you are still welcome to have a say in how your gift is used! If you would like a gift to be spent in its entirety, you can indicate so in the comments section on the online giving form, or write “100% spend” in the memo line on the check you mail in. If you have concerns and would like your gifts to always be spent in their entirety, please get in touch with us at info@zozuproject.org. Elaine will happily get back to you.

We prayerfully believe that this will create more opportunities for self-empowerment, and we trust that the Lord will bless these savings. For example, a family could purchase building materials to construct a rental house, more land to increase their farming output, or a sewing machine to start a small business. We are very excited about the potential this unlocks to lift the whole family out of poverty through business opportunities and investments.  

Most of all, we hope this encourages you that your donations and gifts are being stewarded wisely. We consider it a great honor to be the stewards of the generosity of God’s family and don’t take it lightly. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to Elaine at elaine@zozuproject.org

Thank you so much,

Elaine and Mick

Can you imagine managing a household of this size with no savings?
No longer! Perhaps one day they will be able to send their children to high school…


* Some circumstances: if your gift is designated to a specific big-ticket item, like a mattress or bike, or the family does have an uncommon emergency at the time you give the gift. We would never withhold from a family in dire need. 


Hitting Bedrock

I’ve now been to visit Solid Rock Christian School four times, and each visit is different. There’s so much that happens, but every trip has its own flavor, so to speak, that binds it all together. I’ve found that as I go through each day of a visit, I begin to see patterns emerge in the interactions, conversations, and experiences unique to each visit. Now that I’m home, I can say that this trip was seasoned throughout with realness and thankfulness, and there’s one encounter stuck in my memory that displays both beautifully.

It’s good to have a guide.

One day, my travel companion Augustine and I were going to visit the homes of some of our sponsored students. Our first visit that day was to the home of Martha, a 1st grade student. It’s a humble home, set in the middle of a nondescript piece of land with no discernable organization between it and the other houses scattered throughout the “neighborhood.”

The first thing I noticed as we approached was that the dirt yard was immaculately swept in a 20 foot radius around the house. Hundreds of fine broom strokes made a shell-like pattern through the dust. I had never seen such well-kept dirt.

Before we rounded the corner from the back of the house to the front, a tall, thin woman came to greet us. She was dressed in her finest frock that appeared washed and pressed. There’s a special kind of fabric called kitenge (kee-ten-jay) that people purchase for the kinds of clothes that they might wear to weddings or funerals. You get the fabric at one place and then get the dress custom made with a seamstress. Such dresses are quite personal and special. This woman was wearing a dress made from bright green kitenge.

 

She walked to us with great energy, and I felt for some reason like I was excited to see her too. Her smile was so… happy. As she approached, she did something that I don’t recall having ever seen before. In front of me, she fell on her knees, her beautiful dress in the dirt. She took my hands. Speaking in English, she began by saying, “Thank you, thank you for coming.” I couldn’t take my eyes off her, not least because she was holding my hand. Swept yard, beautiful dress, abrupt kneeling, flowing speech… it was captivating. 

She stood up and took us into her home with her daughter, Martha. While her house consisted of nothing more than brick walls, some plastic floor mats and plastic chairs, she eagerly invited us in. She made her daughter, who had just come from school, change into the dress that they had purchased together the day before. It was a gift from Martha’s sponsor. As we conversed, she began to tell us about her life.

The mother’s name was Harriet, and she had grown up here in Arua. She and her husband married, had two children, and let Harriet’s parents moved in with them. At some point, her husband was offered work in South Sudan. It was the best he could do to provide for the household of six, so he went. There, sometime later, he died. Soon after, Harriet’s father also died. Deprived of father, husband, all reliable sources of income, and left with two children and an aging mother, Harriet told us in somewhat of an understatement that things were “very hard.” She looked to the ground. 

But then, she told us, Martha, her eldest, was sponsored. The joy of this fact was tangible. She could not stop saying “thank you ” to me. I did my best to say that it really wasn’t me, it was Martha’s sponsor and I was just the messenger, but it didn’t seem to make a difference. I asked if she would like a family photo to send back to the sponsor and she said of course. Changing her younger child change into a nicer dress, she posed them all outside of the home with enthusiasm. It was great fun.

The errand we had come for had been accomplished, but it felt wrong to leave. It felt like there was more to say. Stumbling through my words, I told Harriet about the school and what God was doing there and how humbling it was to be a part of it. I just wanted to linger around this woman and her story a little longer. Then I saw her face scrunch ever so slightly, and Harriet began to cry. I offered her a hug, not knowing what was wrong, but she said to me, “These are tears of thankfulness. I have been praying day and night for my children, and God has provided.” Once again, she fell on her knees, holding my hands, saying “thank you, God.” I didn’t know what I ought to do. The only thing that felt right was to kneel right down with her.

Kneeling in the finely swept dirt with a widow brimming with thankfulness, I felt, oddly enough, right at home. That moment had a “real” character to it– I don’t know how else to describe it. Who is so moved that they publicly fall to their knees? Don’t Bible people do that? That moment, it felt like I was living the New Testament, and it felt so real. It felt like hitting bedrock. It was as if the weeds and the sod of life had been peeled back, and here we were, Harriet and I, standing together on the true foundation. Or kneeling, as it were.

As I reflect on it now, perhaps this falling-on-knees thankfulness really is our ever-present foundation. Most of life is transient– houses, jobs, cars, hobbies, food, children, marriages. One day, I will not be fit to go on an airplane to do visits like this one. One day, Harriet’s children will be all grown up and school for them will not be on her mind. One day I will not live in a big house with real floors and she will not live in a mud house with no floors. But at the end of it all, one day we will both have the chance to fall on our knees before God. Will we express our thankfulness? I know Harriet will. She has practice. Her heart will be overflowing because she knows that she has nothing to present to God. She knows that everything she has was His to begin with. When it’s all gone she will not despair, but rejoice. It makes me think of some words of the Apostle Peter in a new light:

“According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again into a living hope… to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.”

“… now, for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith– more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire– may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

2 Peter 1:2,4,6,7

Harriet and her children.

We said farewell and went back to the car. It didn’t strike me in the moment, but as I thought about it day after day I realized how remarkable Harriet’s thankfulness is. Deep down, I want opportunities to express thankfulness as deeply and sincerely as she did. I hope one day Harriet and I can kneel together in heaven. We’ll be laughing and praising God for all of our earthly life that is now over and for all of the eternal life before us. Because that’s the bedrock. That’s what is going to last.

Driving through the villages. The children often walk miles to get to school.

KFC in Uganda, and other memories

Our return trip to Arua and Solid Rock Christian School brought us one unexpected joy after another. These photos capture some of these highlights of the precious time that we spent with our special brothers and sisters in Christ from Arua:

On the first portion of the trip, we had the pleasur of taking a KFC lunch to the secondary school students. Yes, they do have KFC in Uganda.

The students at Maranatha Secondary School receiving their lunch. It was a treat.

Once in Arua, the days were varied and full. We interacted with the families through home visits, spent time in the classroom witnessing the great teaching, saw progress in the facilities (new kitchen and faculty housing), and reestablished relationships with the terrific staff.  

Visiting the family of Emmanuel, one of our sponsored students, for the second time.
It is most evident that the sponsorships and other donations through the Zozu Project are so gratefully received by these wonderful people.

As part of the seventeen member team, we were privileged to represent Saint John’s Lutheran Church in Arroyo Grande along with our retired pastor Randy Ouimette and his wife Patty. 

We made a special attempt to connect with all the students sponsored by members and committees affiliated with Saint John’s and our other dear friends and relatives.
The church had sponsored a book drive and thanks to the brawn of the seven teens on our team we were able to deliver over 250 new and donated books for the library that we had toted from home.
The teaching staff was most appreciative of the in service training offered by Sandy and Patty

We gave a lot, but that wasn’t what it felt like most of the time. Above all we received the gift of love and joy that came from the students in response to our being there. It was a fulfilling and most blessed visit.


Witnesses

Remembrances & Highlights of our Solid Rock Christian School Trip June, 2019 Pastor Randy and Patty Ouimette

We were so blessed to be a part of the 16 person team (8 adults & 8 youth) that experienced the ‘miracle’ of Solid Rock Christian School. As Principal David said, their goal is ‘the transformation of our nation” through educating these children’s heart, soul, body, and mind. The present enrollment is 419 students in Pre-School through P-7, all this in 6 years!

We witnessed children happy to be at school (7AM – 5PM or later; the Pre-School dismisses at 1:00 pm) five days a week, with many coming Saturdays and Sundays, as well.
Many children walk an hour or more just to get to school, and their first meal of the day is the 10 AM bowl of porridge. Their second meal of cassava, beans and silverfish is in the afternoon, filled with protein. The school even provides a medical clinic for the students and their families. Everyday the nurse, Rosemary, provides diagnoses, medicine and help for malaria and other ailments.

Group photo with the staff and our team.

We also witnessed teachers and staff who are dedicated, enthusiastic, and faith filled. They put in long hours daily and many are there seven days a week! On Saturday we viewed the P-7 class taking one of many practice exams for the big national testing in November. Sunday morning they were part of Arua Community Church, leading worship music and children’s Sunday School classes. Later in the day we watched the P-7 teacher giving his students extra help in preparation for this coming November’s national examination.

We then witnessed the excellent working relationship of Solid Rock in Uganda and Zozu Project in USA. We were invited to sit in on a meeting with Pastor John Paul (the School Director), Susan (the Bookkeeper), and Mick and Elaine. Sound procedures are in place so that all our donated funds are used in a deliberate, thoughtful, and budgeted way. Director John Paul and Mick were meeting to discuss the strategic plans for future expansion, and we came away very confident that our donations to Zozu Project are being maximized at Solid Rock.

We witnessed with great surprise the ‘tent’ site replaced by a larger red metal building that was constructed just weeks before our arrival. This was built to government education specifications so that the national examination may be given here. This is also the congregation’s worship space and the all-school gathering and worship space. Then we also got to witness the third section of teacher housing being built, complete with a water well. When completed, fifteen teachers can be housed just 5 minutes from the campus.

The four of us from Saint John’s were blessed to bring letters and gifts from many of our 30 sponsor families. We also selected and brought over 300 children’s books to start a beginning readers library and for teacher resource use. Patty and Sandy Lebens met with the Principal and conducted an inservice training for the teachers. All sixteen of us assisted the students in writing thank you letters to their sponsors, and through this exercise we saw the sacred relationship of our American sponsors and these very appreciative and needful students. Pastor JP asked me to give the Sunday and Wednesday sermon messages, which was at first unnerving, but in the end a real blessing and honor.

Finally, we witnessed the reality of rural Uganda and the subsistence farming life. As we made home visits we realized that none of these children could be at Solid Rock without a sponsor or the support of Zozu Project. The families are very thankful, the children are very thankful, the teachers and leaders are very thankful, and we say, ‘To God be the glory’!


A Shout-out to our Sister Charity!

One of the most fascinating but sometimes disheartening things about fighting to end poverty is that there is no way to isolate the problem. At Zozu Project, we put resources towards educating children. Preschoolers and elementary schoolers are an incredibly vulnerable group. It is a privilege to provide education, meals, and healthcare to the youngest members of society who are the foundation of the next generation. But there are plenty of children who are already past elementary age. What about the other most vulnerable group– young women?

This is the battle of a girl in poverty. The weightiest weapon the culture wields against you is low expectations. You are expected to drop out of school after elementary. You are expected to lose your virginity before 15. You’re expected to capitulate before the men and to not speak up in your own defense. And as soon as you have children, school is out of the picture. Your family pressures you to marry so that they can get the bride price, feed the other children, and have one less person on their hands.

Girls are not taught that they can say no. They are not taught that they have an inherent value that is equal to a man’s. Yet in the community of Arua there are girls who are saying no and who want to fight for themselves.

In 2015 our friends started Taproot Charities to equip those fighters. They provide young women who have graduated elementary school but who cannot afford secondary school with the education and community they need to thrive.

Alone, we cannot solve all the problems of poverty, but perhaps working together we can. Through Taproot, people sponsor young girls on the cusp of womanhood so that they can attend secondary school. This is the crucial turning point where girls either keep going in their education and maintain their dignity and independence, or are pressured to marry to find security. With sponsorship, the girls are able to pursue their dreams.

Elizabeth grew up watching her older sister have children at 15. She decided that she was going to fight for something different. She was one of the first to be sponsored through Taproot, and now is fully employed making the uniforms for all of the Solid Rock students!

It has been so cool to see how God has woven Taproot and Zozu together. Girls who have been sponsored through Taproot now work for Zozu Project and Solid Rock Christian School! Our seamstress who sews the uniforms, one of our nurses, a primary school teacher, and a preschool teacher have all come through Taproot. They have finished their education and returned to serve the community they came from. It’s a beautiful thing.

At Zozu we don’t believe that there is a limited pool of resources that we need to fight for. We love what Taproot is doing, and we want them to help women succeed! Check out the work that Taproot does here, and look into sponsoring a girl today.

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