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5 Things We Will Never Forget About the First Solid Rock Graduation

By all accounts, the first graduation ceremony at Solid Rock Christian School surpassed expectations. The crowd that gathered was immense and dressed in their finest frocks.

Upon returning, two eyewitnesses of the ceremony– Mick Lebens, one of Zozu’s founding team, and Katy Griffin, a missions pastor from a church in California–recalled the aspects that were the most memorable to them.

Mick’s list first:

“There was so much to it, but if I had to name five things, here’s what stood out to me the most.

1. Pride– the graduates had immense pride. Not that pride that we’re taught to guard against, but that healthy pride where hard work was put into an opportunity and success was the result. Make no mistake, each and everyone of the 32 children gave credit where credit was due (to our Father above) but they all knew that they had succeeded in the opportunity that had been given to them.

2. Joy– I’m not sure if I have ever seen so much smiling in my life. The children were elated in a way that I think only comes after spending 10 hours a day in school 5 days a week and then at least half days on Saturdays and sometimes Sundays for the past two years. 

3. Contentment– there was Kampala peaceful contentment on the faces of the teachers that have worked tirelessly over that same time period to prepare these kids. They seemed to be content in a way that comes when you prepare not yourself but someone else to meet a challenge.

4. Hope– this was most prevalent on the faces of the many parents that joined the children when receiving their certificates and even more when they were saying their farewell as the children boarded the bus for the ride to Kampala. They seemed to be experiencing the hope that comes from an opportunity that likely had felt unattainable previously.

5. Giddiness– I don’t know how to say this other than when the kids were lining up to board the 36 person van to Kamapala they were utterly giddy. There were giggles, playful pushing, and wide-eyed wonder as they got on a bus like that many had never boarded, special chicken meal in hand, trunks packed to the brim as they ventured to the “big” city. It made the class photo a bit of a challenge but was a complete honor to witness”

Katy’s recollections were similar…

Oh it was such a blessing to be at this ceremony. Let’s see, 5 things I will never forget…

1. The look of joy and humility on the faces of each student as they received their diploma and backpack. It was profound that after all the work they had done to get to this point.

2. Watching the faces of the younger students as the P7 students walked up individually to receive a diploma. For the first time, they could look forward at what they themselves could achieve some day. I’ll never forget the hope and excitement they had in their eyes for their own future.

3. I’ll also never forget the parents. They were dressed in their best, which is a very important way of displaying their pride for their children and honoring what they had accomplished. Also, most of the children are raised by single mothers and don’t have a father figure in their life. I was amazed at the number of fathers who did show up and proudly celebrated with their student.

4. I was blessed to see that Elaine and Mick, the American founders of Zozu Project, have truly built deep relationships with these students. At one time they looked at these students and saw an overwhelming challenge, and now they have together come full circle to success.

5. Finally, I was struck by the enthusiasm and attentiveness of the Ugandan staff. Principal David and Social Worker Richard were energetically running around to make sure every detail was done with care and love. It was humbling to watch. “

Thank you to all of the support and prayers that so many of you gave to make this day happen! We hope you can get a taste of the joy that this day was full of 🙂


Days for Girls

Did you ever think about the fact that half of the world’s population is kept out of school for a few days each month? That’s the reality for many girls in developing countries on their period if they do not have access to supplies for managing it in a sanitary way. But that is not a problem for girls at Solid Rock anymore!

Rosemary and Katy giving the training with distributing the kits.

The Los Osos chapter of Days for Girls sewed 49 feminine hygiene kits which were taken on our last trip. Days for Girls chapters sew kits with menstrual supplies and partner with organizations that are connected to communities of women. Not only are supplies provided, there’s also educational material that comes along with it, broaching a topic often stigmatized. Katy and Rosemary had the privilege of distributing the kits and doing the education, and hearing Katy talk about it was hilarious:   

“It was just like in America! The girls were so giggly at first, but once the ice was broken and they realized they could ask questions, the questions just kept coming. It was like this was the first time they had been “allowed” to talk about this, and they really took advantage of it. I’ve been a part of very similar educational things here in the states, and the girls in Uganda asked the exact same questions. Also, there was a moment when a boy came to the door and just like here they all giggled, shushed whoever was talking, and told him emphatically to go away. No matter where you go, girls are just girls. It was a very bonding experience that even the female teachers got to be a part of.”

Everyone had a good time (even the teachers in the back– they asked questions too!)

Thank you Days for Girls, Los Osos chapter! This was such a blessing for the Zozu girls. Not only are they empowered to keep going to school, they are empowered to be confident as the young women they are!


Off to the Big City!

The complete National Exam scores are out, and we are SO thrilled to announce that ALL of the students at Solid Rock have passed! 

Perhaps from where we sit in America, the weight of this doesn’t hit us as it should.

This is a region where, according to the most recent census data,

  • 89% of the adult population has never finished high school
  • 90% of the population is dependant on subsistence farming.
  • 25% of girls 18 or younger have had at least one child.
  • 17% of school-age children are not attending school.
  • 10% of those who manage to take the national exams don’t pass at all.

But for the children of Zozu Project, 100% are in school, 100% have passed, and they are 100% loved and valued for who they are.

Just last week, the 32 students loaded up on a bus for Kampala. For many of them, this will be their first time there. For many of them, they are the first in their family to even go to secondary school. It’s hard to overstate the excitement. After preparing for years, they now have the chance to take a bigger step than they ever have before. 

THANK YOU for fighting this uphill battle alongside these children! We can’t wait to see what the Lord has in store for them.

2 years ago, the beginning of 6th grade. Just starting to prepare for exams!
And now getting ready to go. Mom is so proud!
Backpacks that were a gift from many friends in the US.
Packing the trunk for the first semester. This is the first time that these students have ever packed to move, and almost everything they’re taking had to be purchased new. Thanks to their proud parents, friends, and donors, every trunk was filled.
Loading the bus!

More than We Ask or Imagine

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church…”

Ephesians 3:20-21

It was only a month ago that the Zozu staff in both the US and in Uganda were daily praying for the future of Solid Rock’s first graduating class. The question on everyone’s mind was– what will these students take as their next step after finishing at Solid Rock? While we were thoroughly researching secondary schools, preparing them for final exams, and networking with like-minded organizations, we all were asking for clarity and wisdom from the only One who knows the future. And we are thrilled to announce that an answer has been given that is beyond what we could have asked for or imagined.

All of the 32 students who have graduated from Solid Rock Christian School this year will have the opportunity to attend a single boarding school in Uganda’s capital city, Kampala. The school whose administration has decided to accept them is Maranatha High School, located on the shores of Lake Victoria just south of the hub of Kampala. With an incoming class size of only 65, for Maranatha to set aside half of their seats is extremely generous! This partnership came about through old connections between Pastor John Paul, Zozu’s founder in Uganda, and the leadership of Maranatha. As Elaine told us with tears in her eyes when she read the news in her inbox, we all realized that this chance for the students is a miracle.

Entry gate at Maranatha High School

When the question of what will happen to the students after they graduate Solid Rock has been raised over the years, there have been many subsequent potential complications. Would the cost of sponsorship raise significantly? How would the Zozu Project staff be able to keep in touch with the students if they were spread across the country? Most importantly, how could the spiritual foundation and the love that is so central to being a student at Solid Rock be continued? The staff on both sides of the ocean never wanted to hand the students off to a good-enough school and call our work finished. After years of investing in them not just as students but as budding leaders, assurance that they would continue to be not just taught but loved was paramount. All of these questions needed answers.

Back in early 2018 we got to work researching options on the ground. Staff from both the US and Uganda visited secondary schools across the country, from secular public schools to private Christain schools, and from internationally supported schools to locally established schools. We looked at test scores, student life, costs of admission. We talked to current students, teachers, and administrators. And after all of that, here’s what Elsie, our communications director, had to say about Maranatha, the last school visited:

“Out of all the campuses we have visited, the students here are among the happiest and most energetic. Perhaps there’s something to the beautiful location right on the waterfront or the thrill of being in the city, but I think it’s the strong community of active faith here. We attended a chapel with the student body, and it seemed to me that the staff and student leaders were pursuing a family-like community. They don’t have the latest science lab technology or the most robust computer program, but the liveliness here is almost palpable. A family that encourages and supports each other– that’s what I saw.”

Shores of Lake Victoria, where Maranatha High School is located.

As a partner, Maranatha provides many practical blessings. The school is connected to a health clinic supported by the same umbrella NGO (Africa Renewal Ministries), so medical care is covered in the cost of tuition. Because of his connections, Pastor JP and the other Zozu staff can easily visit to keep up-to-date on how the children are doing. Perhaps one of the most significant perks is that the whole class of 32 will be together. Moving out of the village will be no small transition for them, but they will have each other. They are beyond excited. When we asked them two years ago if they would rather go to school in Arua and live at home, or go to a boarding school in Kampala, the answer was nearly unanimous– boarding school was what they wanted. They mentioned that they wanted time after school to do homework instead of the many home chores that come with living in poverty. They want to experience fully-stocked libraries, after-hours access to their teachers, and well-lit bedrooms with running water nearby. Having grown up in a mud-hut community where there is no two-story building for miles around and where many students who attend the local schools don’t graduate, they have over the last three years begun to hope for more. Leaving the rural slums that they have grown up in is an opportunity that these 32 children would only have been able to dream about three years ago.

However, the ultimate goal has always been to encourage the students not to abandon their home community, but to serve it. To that end, Zozu staff are already organizing parent visitation days where moms and dads from Arua can see their children in school. There will be term breaks where they will return to their families multiple times a year. And the Solid Rock staff whom the students already know and love are planning to visit “all the time.” We know that there are many additional questions in the months to come that need still to be answered, but the biggest question has been answered beyond our expectations. You have made amazing things possible in these students lives, and the fruit of your generosity and commitment to them is beginning to show. Stay tuned.

Aaannnddd… they’re off!

Benson

The hardest decision that Benson’s mother ever made was to keep him. She could have had an abortion. Everyone expected her to. But she wouldn’t do it.

Benson Obeta’s mother is a victim of rape. His very name, “Obeta,” means “temptation” in the tribal language of his mother’s clan. His father is a rich man, a businessman as his mother says, but he and Benson, now 7, have never met.

The decision to keep Benson changed his mother’s life. She now has a mouth to feed and a child to raise. She is working harder as a market vendor, selling spare crops. But from the first day of his life, Benson and his mother have suffered a lot. They sleep on the floor, with no mattress or bed to call their own. She is hopeless for her son as she struggles to feed him, let alone provide for his schooling. Daily she wonders, “what was his future to be?”

Benson doesn’t deserve to grow up in poverty, no matter where he came from. He doesn’t need to be shunned, exiled, or denied education because of his family situation. He needs a real family of teachers and fellow students that will love him. You can welcome him into that family today by sponsoring Benson. Thirty-five dollars a month for you, a lifetime for him. You help give Benson the family he needs today.

Sponsor Benson

 


Josephine

Stories of stable families in the Euwata village are few and far between. Josephine Edomasia is one of the lucky ones. Having both a father and mother still alive and living together, she has a real home to return to at the end of the day. But their story is a special one.

Josephine and her mother, who loves her dearly.

Her mother and father both came from the rural village communities, the children of subsistence farmers. By prayer and hard work, her father managed to put himself through school and became a teacher. Though poor himself, Josephine’s father knew that his life was in God’s hands and decided to give his career back to the children in the communities where he grew up. When Josephine was a baby, they moved into a small home like the one her parents were raised in, and her father started a job as a teacher at the brand-new Solid Rock Christian School. However, the Lord had more in store for Josephine and her family. 

As it would turn out, the home where Josephine lives is owned by a very old woman, to whom they pay rent every month. However, this woman has leprosy. Over the years that Josephine has lived here, the leprosy has eaten away her landlady’s hands and feet until only stumps are left where fingers and toes used to be. Every day when she goes home, Josephine helps to feed and wash this friendly, grateful, grey-haired woman. 

Josephine somehow smiles at everything, and can even make her old landlady who has leprosy smile sometimes.

With a true heart of Ugandan hospitality, Josephine’s family has fully taken this woman under their wing. They feed her, clothe her, and as she can no longer walk or use her hands to work, they have taken care of her medical expenses. This family is selfless, prayerful, and generous. But when it came time for Josephine to go to primary school, they faced a choice between taking care of their landlady who had become family to them or sending their daughter to school. Her mother and father approached Solid Rock, asking for sponsorship. Josephine is bright, has much potential, and comes from a faithful family. You can sponsor Josephine today– $35 a month for you will become a lifetime of blessing for her, her parents, and everyone they serve too. Sponsor Josephine today.   


An Open Letter from Principal David

Receive warm greetings from the management, staff, parents and pupils of Solid Rock Christian School! Ever since you decided to be part of this ministry, we have seen tremendous changes in the lives of our children. We are so grateful because your generous support has not only helped keep the children at school, but also restored their hope for the future through education, health care, and meals among others.

David Portrait

I was born in the southern part of Uganda in a polygamous family. My father was uneducated, had 14 children from four different wives, and had no permanent job. Because of this, he could not raise enough money to take us to school. At the age of five my parents divorced, and I started living with my jobless mother. I started fetching water and washing clothes for the neighbors to support my mother and raise money for my school fees throughout primary, secondary, and university. Eventually, both my parents died of AIDS. I stand as the hope for the family, and I know this is because I managed to acquire an education. Because of this, I always feel a lot of untold pain whenever I see children failing to acquire at least basic education due to different obstacles. This pain and my own experience compelled me to leave my home area and join Solid Rock and Zozu Project, a team willing to use meager resources to restore hope among the less privileged children. 

Emmanuel James Opokrwoth, for example, is a 12 year old boy in primary five [5th grade] at Solid Rock Christian School. He lost his father when he was six years old. He is now living with his mother, who is jobless, and four younger siblings in a grass thatched house. They don’t have land to grow crops for food, so his mother sells goods in a local market where she can occasionally earn 2000 shillings (less than a dollar) per day. 

Emmanuel James

Emmanuel goes by his last name, Opokrwoth, which means “Praise God” and he is a lucky boy in the family. Because of sponsorship, he is sure of education, a school uniform, shoes, medication, books and daily meals at school. He is always sure of buying new clothes at the end of the year when his sponsor sends him a Christmas gift. Emmanuel’s future is becoming brighter every time he receives support from his sponsor. He has two years to complete primary education. He is speaking English well and he is a member of the Debating Club of the school. He is among the best football [soccer] players and last year he, with his team, managed to earn the school their first trophy. He is also a prefect in charge of pupils’ security. Who would have discovered all these special gifts and talents from this boy if he was not sponsored? 

Yes, the mother and the siblings are living in a poor state right now, at times sleeping with empty stomachs, but they don’t feel the pains they used to, and always have smiling faces because of Emmanuel. He is always promising them a better house and meals as soon as he finishes his studies. His self esteem is growing every day! His life is gradually changing and the hope of the whole family is now in this bright boy who is dreaming of becoming a pilot. He is proudly moving towards his goal. I am very sure nothing can stop this young boy from achieving his dream if supported.

Let me also share this with you. Last month I visited a game park, not very far from Solid Rock. It’s called Murchison Falls National Game Park and I had some lessons of my own there. Elephants are one of the animals in the park, and they always walk and live in groups of five or more. They were created to be social animals. However, there are some elephants that live alone in isolation. The game rangers told us to be very careful if we found one of the elephants moving alone. He said that isolated elephants are wounded ones, and they are very dangerous to people, fellow elephants, and other animals. They have no physical wounds, but their hearts are wounded. They get isolated by others from their groups because of old age, diseases, and after defeat in their fights. Therefore, they feel less important. The ranger explained that such elephants want to prove their worth by being destructive and dangerous whenever they get an opportunity. 

Elephant

When we asked what can be done for such elephants to restore them to their groups, he informed us that it’s impossible at that stage. There is nothing they need in life but to wait for their death.

This was my lesson: Most of the children in our communities are wounded children. Their wounds are a result of extreme poverty, ignorance, family neglect, or diseases. When these children grow up, like wounded elephants, it becomes hard for them to change. From my observation, if not helped, such people become dangerous, not only to their families but also to the world. They at times become unruly, heartless, and corrupt, and even when such people are caught and tried, it is always hard to change them. But now, there is hope. We can come to their rescue when they are still young and when their hearts can easily be healed and changed .

I really commend your generosity in supporting this ministry. We are seeing wounded hearts healing. The would-be isolated kids feel the warmth of love from you. Ignorance, poverty, disease, and hunger are no longer the major determinants of these children’s future, but love is! Your involvement in this ministry has gradually restored children and community members back to their social human nature. Any gift sent to support the sponsored children is embraced with love and goes directly to their aid in form of school fees, feeding, treatment, scholastic materials, furniture, text books, and many other necessities.

I request your continuous support. Every year many children come crying for help at the school.  Every day many children fall sick, and every hour they seek something to eat at school. We can take care of them if you decide to offer more of what you can for this noble cause. If we come together with all the resources we are called to give, this will be possible. The future of many of these children is in our hands. 

May God Bless You, 

David Ssemuvubi

Principal, Solid Rock Christian School 


Daniel and Freeda

Three years ago, Daniel and Freeda’s life changed forever. They came home to find their father dead from a traffic accident. They were 4 and 5 years old, respectively. He had been riding his motorcycle home and collided with a UN Vehicle. He was killed instantly.

Everyone knows the roads in Arua are dangerous. The ever-present threat of being hit by a motorcycle or car is just something that you live with and feel powerless over, like falling sick from malaria or going hungry when your crops don’t grow. That is what poverty is– powerlessness. 

When their father never returned from the hospital that day, Daniel and Freeda’s mother, Bafia, had no choice but to pull her children out of school and put them to work in the small family farm. Daniel and Freeda’s mother talks soberly of those days, saying that they were “very hard.” With six children to care for and an aging mother, “very hard’ is putting it lightly.

Daniel and Freeda with their mom on the far left, grandma on the far right, and older sisters in the middle. The family sorghum field is in the background.

Daniel and Freeda’s mother worked the small plot of family land to grow sorghum to eat. When she could get work, she dug in other people’s land with a hoe, or, if one was not supplied to her, with her hands. They spent a lot of time with their grandmother, and as the preschool years came and went, they never attended school. 

But then Daniel and Freeda’s mom started bringing them to church. They would walk 2 miles in the morning to make it for prayers, worship, and Sunday school for the kids. Through this community she learned of Solid Rock Christian School, and the Zozu Project sponsorship program. Without hesitation, Daniel and Freeda became eligible for sponsorship. As of this writing, they’re 6 and 8 years old, respectively. 

These two still live in a home where they sleep on a mat on hard concrete every night. They still haven’t attended preschool, and they still don’t have a father. However, sponsorship can bring hope back into their family. You can help fill up the full measure of their hope by sponsoring Daniel and Freeda today. It’s $70 a month for you, but it’s a lifetime for this brother and sister. Change their lives today. 

 

Daniel and Freeda, on the patch of ground that they sleep on at night.

Freeda and Daniel with their grandmother and auntie in the back.


Jackson

When I walked into Jackson Agamile’s home, one of the first things I noticed was the severe lack of space. This family of seven have a concrete-floored sitting room with a dilapidated couch and two chairs, and a bedroom with no bed. I asked Jackson to show me where he sleeps. He pointed to the couch. The whole living room is the “bedroom” of the five children. Jackson and his older brother share the couch, while the three youngest sleep together on a mat on the concrete. For all of his 8 years, this has been Jackson’s everyday experience–half a broken couch at night to lay his head on.

Jackson on the couch he sleeps on with his brother.

Jackson’s mom has no education beyond some elementary school, and his father digs for work on other farms. Sometimes he is given tools, sometimes he has to use his hands. They are taking care of their own five children and one other child, of a relative, that has been left in their care. Jackson is one of the older children in the household and he has grown up carrying water, washing clothes, and playing with whatever he and his siblings could find– sometimes an empty soda bottle, sometimes an old rubber tire. The age to begin preschool has come and gone, and Jackson’s mother and father still have no way to pay the school fees, let alone buy supplies. Jackson’s mother noticed that he was becoming restless and aggressive with other children in the neighborhood. He was starting to bully the other children. As he gets older, she desperately wants him to go to school. With no education and a violent temper, Jackson is heading down a well-traveled road in their village that leads to unemployment, alcoholism, and abuse.

Jackson’s family lives very near to Arua Community Church, the partner church of Zozu Project. When Jackson was getting old enough for 1st grade, he started going to Sunday school, and then Saturday Awana programs. His family has heard about Solid Rock Christian School, where students like him who have not attended preschool and whose families have no money for school fees, can receive an education. After visiting the home, our staff said “he needs a sponsor.” You can give him a chance at a real career, and most importantly welcome him into a community that will love him for who he is. You can support the education of Jackson, as he grows into who God made him to be. Thirty-five dollars a month for you; a lifetime of hope for Jackson. Sponsor Jackson today.

Jackson using a stick in the dirt to show how he practices writing his name.


Hilda – Update: SPONSORED

Unlike the vast majority of children that come to Zozu Project seeking sponsorship, Hilda hasn’t always lived in the impoverished northern district of Arua. She once lived in Kampala, the capital city. Hilda’s story is one of dashed hopes, abandonment, and disorientation. 

Hilda is one of the few children who has lived outside the village and has known a life outside of poverty.

Hilda’s family was from Arua, but when her parents were married, they were able to move to the city, Kampala. Kampala is where many families dream of moving to find work to escape the backbreaking toil and meager wages found in Arua. For Hilda, life was good. She was in school, she was taken care of, and she was performing well. As her grandmother relates this part of Hilda’s story to me, she makes special mention of the fact that Hilda was ranked 6th out of 52 in her Preschool class. Smart Hilda, who wants to be a lawyer, had so much potential and nothing to stop her. But such fortuitous circumstances weren’t to last.  

When she was about to finish 1st grade, Hilda’s mother decided to divorce her father for another man. In the process of the split, it was decided that neither mom nor dad could (or would) take Hilda. She was moved away from the city by bus one day and left in rural Arua with her aging grandmother in a mud hut. All she had known was security and hope, and now she was next to abandoned. She was 10 years old. 

Hilda’s grandmother, who takes care of 5 children

Hilda’s grandmother has a heart for the five children she takes care of, but now that she’s older, providing for them is a nearly impossible challenge. She earns a living by working for hire in other people’s gardens, and after buying food and clothing for the family, there’s not nearly enough to send all five of them to school. Unable to buy supplies for all, she has to choose which one of the five to send to school at a time. But you can provide for Hilda.  

She has so much potential, and through no fault of her own, she was thrust into circumstances that make it impossible for that potential to be reached. You can open the doors for Hilda and be the miracle that she needs. There is a lively spirit in her that cannot be abashed, no matter what. 

$35 a month for you, a lifetime for her. Help give Hilda the education she needs, today. 

There are many other children like Hilda who are also in need. Please consider reading about them and sponsoring one today. 

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