An Update from Mick and Elaine: 4 Years Later…..

To all of our supporters, family, and friends who have been on this adventure with us,

As we look back to where we started, we are overwhelmed at the way this amazing Zozu story has unfolded over the last four years. It started with Templeton Presbyterian Church stepping out in faith to donate $39,000 to build Solid Rock Christian School in Arua, and over the years, we have seen countless other churches, organizations, companies, donors, and sponsors say “yes” to transforming the lives of children halfway across the globe. For us, it has been an unbelievable privilege to witness how God has woven the lives of so many here together with the lives of the vulnerable children of Arua.

Since the building of Solid Rock in 2015, this combined support has provided:

• A 2,100 square foot expansion of Solid Rock

• The establishment of a library, medical clinic, and computer lab on the school site

• The welcoming of 2 additional classes of students at Solid Rock with a total number of 300 students currently being served

• The provision of 18 full time Ugandan salaries

• The purchase of additional plots of land for the building of a preschool, playing fields, and future offices.

But what is even more exciting than these numbers is the transformed lives that we and pastor JP have seen–lives transformed from sickness to health, from hopelessness to confidence, and from desperation to ambition.

As we look back and celebrate the lives already transformed, we also look to the future with excitement. Encouraged by God’s incredible provision, both the US and the Ugandan teams have big dreams! We have been prayerfully considering the building of the preschool, further land acquisition and school expansion, the building of teacher housing, and how to best support our current students in their education as far as they are able, including through secondary school and university.

At the same time over here in America, our helper Chandler Smith, who had been managing all of our communication, left for the Peace Corp in January. Although we knew his time with us would be brief, we have missed him terribly. Recognizing how invaluable he had been in growing Zozu’s support, the board began to discuss the possibility of our first permanent hire. In the meantime, Elsie Soderberg, at the time a student at UCLA, traveled to Uganda and then in April took over from Chandler. It quickly became apparent that Elsie was heaven sent.

       Elsie studied Communications and Entrepreneurship at UCLA and Business and Intercultural Communication at the University of Westminster in London. At UCLA she was a captain of the Mock Trial team, and is a blogger and avid traveller. She worked for two and a half years for a faith-based startup nonprofit called Elevate Africa, and we love how she lives her life with the mindset of service to others. She is empathetic, courageous, creative and committed to community both locally and globally. Elsie is an adventurer!

After obtaining private donations to cover her salary for two years (ensuring that one hundred percentage of your donations will continue to go directly to Uganda), we are beyond excited to announce that Elsie will be our first permanent hire as Director of Communications and Marketing starting in August!  We cannot wait to see how God uses her time and talents to further bless the children of Arua.

We thank all of you so much for making what once seemed like impossible dreams a reality. It seems to us that from one little “yes” four years ago he has brought more fruit than we could have imagined. We cannot express our gratitude enough that you are a part of the story, and look forward to sharing the next chapter with you.


Elaine and Mick Lebens

A new school year brings hope

A new school year is in full swing at Solid Rock Christian School!

The first of three terms began just a few weeks ago, and there are many changes this year including new teachers, improved nutrition, and new resources for the students. Most exciting for the students? After working so hard last year, it was a dream come true to be registered into their new grades! As Principal Passie Kwagala reported, “another grade meant getting further away from their helpless situation. We thank you so much for making this happen. The community is back to dreaming and hoping that the future will be better.”

Solid Rock Christian School also welcomed 50 new first graders! This would not have been possible without the generosity of our sponsors and donors. We hope you enjoy the enthusiastic faces of these children, who had just received their new uniforms and now have the opportunity to thrive! Gratitude and blessings from Arua!


Our First Year in Review

Thank you for making Zozu Project’s first year amazing!   Below are highlights of what’s been accomplished since Zozu Project was launched just one year ago.  My hope is that you will see beyond the numbers, and get a sense of how your support is making an incredible difference in changing lives!


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 Thank you for again for joining us in our first year!  I am so incredibly grateful for your generosity and look forward to sharing with you the incredible things coming during our second year!


Zozu is now at Upscale Resale

Visit Upscale Resale Consignment Boutique in Templeton and support the women of Arua, Uganda!  Upscale Resale now carries jewelry featuring beads handmade by women in Arua, who gather in the late afternoon in front of Solid Rock Christian School to make these little gems.  Every bead is cut and then rolled by hand using recycled paper.

The earrings are being sold for only $12 a pair, and every purchase provides dignity to the women of Arua by giving them an opportunity to provide for their families.  Upscale Retail is a unique boutique offering brands not otherwise found in our local stores, so check out Upscale Resale and support the women of Arua!


Raymond: Potential Almost Lost

Raymond! Talk about a little boy with a big personality!  Raymond was always in the middle of the action wearing his tattered “Mom’s Rock Star” shirt with the pink hearts.  He was inquisitive, always the first to catch on to a new activity, and had a mischievous streak that provided countless stories and laughs during our first trip two trips to Arua, Uganda in 2013 and 2014.  But on my most recent visit to Arua, I could immediately tell that something, sadly, had changed in Raymond.
Barely recognizable, the normally exuberant and energetic Raymond, sat dejected and hunched over in front of his home as we approached his village where we had been invited to meet the families of some of the Solid Rock Christian School students.  Amidst the joyful greetings from his extended family and neighbors, Raymond averted his gaze.
We later learned that although Raymond’s sister attends Solid Rock School, Raymond had been denied enrollment.  The sad reality was that there were more children than available spaces at Solid Rock.  Given it is often harder to find a sponsor for older children, an age limit of ten was set and Raymond was twelve.  Even after the school term had already started, Raymond continued to walk to the Solid Rock entrance asking through tears, “Can I PLEASE come to Solid Rock?  PLEASE!  I want to learn English!”

I will never forget the look on Raymond’s face that evening when we waved him down while crossing the street to tell him we would sponsor him and that he could start attending Solid Rock Christian School the very next day.  It took a few moments for the reality to sink in before his whole face lit up and he BOLTED down the middle of the road in his bare feet running towards home to tell his family!

The next day, Raymond was all smiles.  That life and fire that first exuded from him was BACK!  What a thrill it was to see him enthusiastically learning, singing praise songs, and playing with the other children!  Raymond approached my husband to ask our names.  Throughout the day, Raymond kept finding my husband to repeat them, each time sweetly smiling with the reassurance that he could remember and perfectly pronounce all five of our names.


I pray that our sponsorship continues to bless Raymond, but I am not convinced Raymond is the bigger recipient in this relationship.  What joy we now have in being able to give Raymond the opportunity to chase his dreams! Instead of lost potential, we now look forward to watching Raymond grow into the amazing person God has made him to be.

Solid Rock Christian School is Expanding!

We could not be more excited! Zozu recently broke ground on an expansion of Solid Rock Christian School, which willdouble the size of the current building. The expansion has already had a positive impact on the surrounding community as local laborers and suppliers are being paid fair wages for their work. Soon, the new rooms will be used to further empower the current Zozu students so that they may thrive and reach their full potential. The expansion will provide room for a sick bay, library, computer lab, offices and more. In addition, the new rooms will also provide space for future Zozu students!

IMG_1616It is hard to believe that just two short years ago the current sight of Solid Rock Christian School was just a plot of undeveloped land in rural northern Uganda. Today on that same plot of land rests a brand new two thousand square foot permanent school building, a brand new ten-stall permanent bathroom facility, and a kitchen which feeds over two hundred students a day.  But even more important than all these new physical structures at the Zozu Project are the hundreds of thriving KIDS! Kids that are clothed, fed, and attending school 8 hours a day!IMG_1614

This once barren plot of land now hosts hundreds of children receiving a formal education, food, community, protection, and consistency, allowing them to grow and thrive!  Zozu also supports a staff of seven full time educators, two cooks, and a full time nurse practitioner to serve the needs of each and every child at the school. Zozu has made such an impact, that the school is now attracted teams of volunteers from all around the globe who are wanting to partner with Zozu through short term mission trips to teach, encourage, serve, and help facilitate additional building projects at the site.

New construction is now under way on this sacred ground, bringing even more potential growth and hope to this community. The personal and material growth of Zozu over the past year has been nothing short of a miracle. We cannot express how deeply grateful we are to you, our donors and sponsors, who have made this all possible. We look forward to sharing  with you how God will use the new Solid Rock School expansion to continue to transform the lives of the children of Arua, Uganda.

Term 2 update

As Summer 2015 winds down, I have been reflecting on all that has been happening at Solid Rock Christian School and the Zozu Project in Arua, Uganda. Though the new milestones and success stories are too nuerous to detail, here are a few of the highlights and photos from term 2 to help you get a hands-on sense of all that has been happening at Solid Rock Christian School.

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Meet Passie Kwagala, Principal of Solid Rock Christian School, Arua, Uganda

When I first met Passie, I was immediately touched by her passion and dedication to the Solid Rock Christian School students.  Passie has inspired me, and I wish all of you could know this extraordinary woman and her generous heart!

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Sometimes joy is as simple as a sweater on a cold morning

Although Arua, Uganda is almost on the equator, the 4,000 foot elevation can make for chilly mornings. We were saddened that many Solid Rock students couldn’t afford sweaters, and would arrive at school shivering.

Due to the generous support of our donors, Zozu Project was able to provide new sweaters to all 200 students at Solid Rock Christian School. Principal Passie Kwagala reported,

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Uganda: Sponsoring Hope

Zozu Project has good friends who recently returned from an experience most of us could only dream about.  Christy and Barry Tonge took time away from their jobs, took their children out of school, and headed off for a half year world service venture through Central America, Asia and Africa.  One of their stops?  A Youth Camp in Uganda.  Christy experienced the power of sponsorship first hand through working with the most incredible group of young Ugandan men and women at their Youth Camp.

In her blog, Christy writes, “I never knew until now how MUCH being a Sponsor mattered….How much it matters because it can change the future of a child’s life, entirely….and how much it matters to the child or young person, on so many levels–physically and spiritually, and now I see the impact personally and emotionally.”

To learn more about the impact of sponsorship, the Tonge Service Adventure, and how Christy became a huge advocate for sponsorship, visit Christy’s blog at