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Cracking Open the Floodgates of Hope

The campus was bustling with parents, children, and staff bright and early in the morning last Monday. Moms and dads greeted each other from across the halls as they walked with their students of various grades into the classrooms. Teachers jogged from office to classroom, stopping to greet each other, parents, and students every ten feet. The principal himself strode around the field, here and there shaking a parent’s hand or patting a student on the head. Slowly first and then with more and more volume, the families came, all carrying some sort of school supply to contribute– a roll of toilet paper, a ream of printer stock, a broom or the like. Bit by bit, the campus slowly filled.

Most families were old hats who had been bringing their kids here for two years. Their kids eagerly ran ahead of their parents. The most noticeable ones were the assorted new moms with little ones in tow. They wandered around or stood pivoting in place searching for a classroom or teacher. Inevitably, they found this one corner of the far building, where a dozen moms with nervous-looking 6 and 7 year olds were lined up outside the classroom door, school supplies in hand, as the smiling first grade teacher unlocked the room. The little students had brand-new pen cases, and were wearing their best dress or shirt for their first day of class. Together, parents and children filed into the classroom, and it began to crowd up fast. Parents sat at the too-small desks squeezed in with their little ones and the teacher’s desk was crowded with people, all giving their names, and showing the school supplies they had brought to contribute to be checked off. It was a bustling, nervously energetic, and happy place to be.

moms hanging out after dropping off the kids.

However, as you look around you can’t escape the reality that this is no ordinary classroom. For these students, their best first-day of school outfit is a dirty t-shirt and the only pair of intact shorts they own. Many girls have dresses that are a size off, or maybe missing a shoulder. Almost all of them are going to wear the exact same thing the next day, and the next. No one has arrived in a minivan, let alone a car. Many have walked over a mile and bear the dust up their legs to show for it. For half these first-graders, this is their first time in a classroom. They have had no preschool to speak of, and their parents who hadn’t finished middle school themselves are unlikely to have prepared them at home. The arm muscles of many of the girls, still so young, look weathered from carrying water, charcoal, or a baby for hours on end. The have no toys, no backpacks, and no lunches. These families are not competing against anyone for status or reputation–they’re competing against their own circumstances just to get by another year.

Moms and kids outside the P1 (first grade) classroom.

Over the course of the week, I’ve been able to speak to many parents, most of whom have no idea why I’m here. If they speak English, they each have told me something interesting about where they come from and what this school means to them and their students. The mother of one of the new first graders said that her little boy was the one who convinced here to apply for this school. At just 6 years old he had heard about it from his friends and desperately wanted to go. One dad said that he was so thankful that his daughter had somewhere to go during the day where she wouldn’t be pursued by strange men and persuaded to marry. The conversation that sticks with me most is one that I had with the dad of a new student. I was outside the school gate as he picked up his son, his only child, and he made a point of walking up and shaking my hand. He told me that his son, Elvis, had been in preschool and had received low marks during his penultimate year. When Elvis heard that he was next to lowest in his class, he told his dad that he was going to work so hard that he would be fifth in his class by the end of the next year. The next year, Elvis finished sixth. The pride that shown from this father’s face as he told this story of his son was like a burst of sunshine. He said he was so proud that he had somewhere the would nourish and encourage his hardworking son. I told him that I worked for Zozu Project, the organization that supported Solid Rock Christian School, and he said “We are so excited to create this opportunity for our kids in this community. I am thankful for your help also. We are all of us working together for these children.” His enthusiasm reminded me of the ownership that this whole community has over this school, that they’re in this struggle of hard work to provide for their kids.

Elvis and his dad

This is a land of struggle. Mothers struggle against starvation, fathers struggle against unemployment, farmers struggle against draught, children struggle against diseases, and everyone struggles against abandonment and loneliness. Most of them own these struggles. They pray and they work and they fight hard, even though they don’t even have bootstraps to pull themselves up by. But as this father showed me, there is passionate faith here in this hot and dry place that one day it will be better. It’s like there is a heavy flood of hope stuck behind huge gates just waiting to be unleashed. Over the last two years, Solid Rock Christian School has cracked open the floodgates of hope. These parents are experiencing the first fruits. But there’s so much more to be let loose! There’s so many more children to sponsor, so many more jobs to create, so many more classrooms to build! Just this year we had to turn away over 80 students because we don’t have the physical or financial capacity. Let’s join with these hopeful, struggling families, for as Elvis’s dad said “we are all of us working together” for the streams of hope to flow in this dry land.


“Do the people where you come from know?”

Richard, the social worker at Solid Rock, and I were going to visit the houses of two brand new P1 students: Fibi (pronounced like Phoebe) and Jackson. We walk through the hot, dusty bush to get to Fibi’s house first. I don’t think I can stress hot and dusty too much. The wind is gusty today, giving the whole arid place the feel of an impoverished western frontier town, but in Africa. It’s the kind of hot and dusty that makes your eyes dry and water at the same time. We approach Fibi’s house followed by the usual smattering of village kids curious to see what the white person is doing there.
As soon as they see us coming, members of the household pull out plastic deck chairs in bright blue for us. Plastic deck chairs in bright colors are a staple around here, ready to be pulled out at a moment’s notice from even the most meager of households. I have never met people with such a capacity for sitting with guests. These bright plastic chairs make any guest feel quite honored to be visiting.

Fibi and her sister outside their hut home.



Settling ourselves into these two bright blue thrones, Richard and I look around for Fibi. Her mom emerges from the hut and settles herself comfortably on the ground at our feet, as is the custom with respected guests and a limited number of chairs to go around. The assorted women of the household–whether they are sisters or aunts I can’t tell–sit under the eves of their grass-thatched hut to watch and listen. With respect, Richard begins to ask in Lugbara all about Fibi’s family and her household. Aside from the singular english words like “toilet” and “mattress,” I don’t understand a thing. As I’m trying to follow along from the questions on the questionnaire that Richard is holding, I see a small baby, just barely able to walk, emerge from the hut. She’s wearing a neatly made, slightly too-big bright orange dress. Toddling quickly yet clumsily towards her mother, she reaches out her hands and climbs into mom’s lap. Then, mother reaches under her shirt, takes her breast out by her hand, and the baby, with determined grip and thirsty lips begins to suckle. I’m so taken aback at this exposed moment of a completely natural thing that I hastily avert my eyes, but I don’t think the mother minds. It’s amazing how accustomed you get here to things that to us are totally out of the ordinary.         Richard asks to see where Fibi sleeps, so we walk into their hut. As all the houses are, it’s very dark, and as clean as dirt can be. Fibi sleeps behind a curtain that divides the hut in half, on a thatch mat next to her family. No mattress, no pillow. It’s a testament to the poverty here that I look at that and think “not bad.” Richard starts asking about Fibi’s medical history. Though she is but 5 years old, she’s had malaria and parasites. Fibi herself doesn’t smile or cast more than a glance at us. She sits on the ground looking at our feet. She looks sad, lonely. Nothing like her older sister, who has been at Solid Rock for two years and is all smiles and posing for the camera. I wonder if her sister also used to be sullen, and if Fibi too will come out of her shell and be happy at Solid Rock. Their mother is, by what I can tell, beyond thankful. She is so attentive to us, so welcoming to Richard, and eager to accept when he offers to pray for her and her family. I wonder at the fact that people who have so little, and rejoice at the mere chance to send their children to elementary school, can often have so much faith.

Bidding farewell to them, we walk about 100 yards up the road to Jackson’s house. We are greeted in a similarly respectful fashion, and bidden to sit on the one bench outside the door. Jackson’s sister runs up, topless, with some dirty leggings on, wrapping a soiled scarf around her bare chest. She looks at us, and goes inside. A little later, she emerges in a dress. Or, what once was a dress. This dress, in America, would have long ago been destined, not for the thrift store, but for the rubbish pile. The upper layer of the skirt is totally missing from the front and right side, and hanging on by a thread to the left. There is a long rip from the belly button to the back around the middle, so she ties a scarf to keep it up. There was once a white collar that is now the color of red, dusty dirt succumbed to by everything here that once was white. This is the most sorry excuse for a dress that I have ever seen anyone wear, and it was what she rushed hastily to put on when guests came.


The mother of Jackson turns to me and says something in Lugbara. Richard translates: “She is wondering if the people where you come from know what our life is like, how vulnerable we are?” With nothing else to say, I answer, camera in hand, “That is why I am here. To tell them.” As I write this now, I realize that I can’t sponsor all of these children. I can’t donate thousands to build their classrooms that will hopefully be in use long after we are gone. But just like Mick and Elaine a year ago said to me, “come and see,” I can take my camera and in a small way say to those I know “come and see.” $35 a month may not seem like much. But even if you never write a single letter, there is a mom and a child out there whose lives are impacted forever by that gift. The hope that Jackson’s mom has–he is the first child of hers to be sent to school– is palpable. Sometimes I look at these circumstances, and don’t see much hope. But thanks to Solid Rock and Zozu Project, she does, and that hope is worth everything in the world.

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