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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.   


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. 


Edwin

Like many of the children in his community, sleeping in a bed of his own is a luxury that Edwin can only dream of. Edwin is in the care of his 30 year old aunt, along with nine other children. His story is one of impossible circumstances, hard work, and hope.

Edwin next to the bed he shares with his brother.

When Edwin was born, his mother was very young. His father left the family and his mother, too poor to provide, left Edwin with his 25 year old aunt, out of desperation. He was two. His aunt scraped by for a number of years, barely feeding the growing household from her wages as a day cook at a nearby nursery school. However, now that the ten children she cares for are approaching school age, Edwin’s aunt faces a difficult reality. She can’t afford to send them to school. Without school they remain at home all day, carrying water and playing with empty soda bottles, never able to know more than the mud-brick life they had always known.

Edwin with his aunt (middle), and some of the children she cares for.

About the time that Edwin came to live with his aunt, Arua Community Church, the local partner church of Zozu Project, was established and growing right next door to Edwin’s home. When Solid Rock Christian School opened in 2015, Edwin’s next-door neighbors, Favour and Bridgett, began attending. As he approached school age, his aunt realized that there might be hope for him.

Because they live so close by and are attending church, the staff of Solid Rock knows Edwin and his aunt. They know that she has ten mouths to feed and that none of the children have been able to go to preschool. They know that if Edwin does join first grade he will be behind. But these things shouldn’t hold him back. Yes, he will come home to sparse meals and not enough room in the bedroom, but at school, he can get two meals, basic healthcare, and, more importantly, an education. You can help raise Edwin up and give him hope. Never having been to preschool, he’s got a tough foundation to build, but that’s all the more reason to act now. Thirty-five dollars a month for you; a lifetime for him. You can sponsor Edwin today.

 


Mock exam results are in– with good tidings!

This is a big year for Solid Rock Christian School. 2018 will mark the first year that the school will graduate a class! Last month, the P7s (7th graders, also known as the “candidate class”) sat for mock exams at a neighboring government school. This was very important since it was the first chance they had to take the full final exam in an exam-like setting. In Uganda, the federal government runs the education system pretty tightly. Each level of schooling ends with a federally-administered exam that has a significant impact on the student’s future options.

This current class is a special class in many ways. They’re the guinea pigs. Solid Rock has dedicated teachers, but these students only started their education here in 4th grade. In many ways, their foundation was the biggest challenge of all, through no fault of their own. Growing up in poverty is rough no matter how hard you try. When you have homework to do, but unless you go fetch the water a mile away your family doesn’t eat, well, it’s not a hard decision. So the teachers and administration said many prayers over this class of 33 when they sent them off to take the mock exams.

This month, results came back, and the Solid Rock Christian School students actually out-performed the school where they sat!* If you have been a part of the prayer team that has been praying for them, THANK YOU. Principal David sends his thanks to you as well. If you would like to be a part of the official prayer team for Zozu Project, email Elsie at elsie@zozuproject.org. Hope is high for the final exam in November. Though the big picture is positive, there are still a few low-scoring students that the teachers are more than determined than ever to help. Keep them in your prayers! There’s no mountain God cannot move to accomplish His good purposes for these students.

The Candidate Class- pictured here in February at the start of the school year.

*If you’re curious, the Ugandan grading system is divided into 5 “buckets,” simply put. The best you can do is a “1st grade,” which means you got 100% of your examination correct, or close to it. It’s equivalent to an A for us. Then you have a “2nd grade,” like a B, a “3rd grade,” like a C, or a “4th grade,” like a D. Anything below that is a fail, or for them a “not pass.” The majority of most local school’s students get 3rd grades. But the majority of Solid Rock students got a 2nd. And we even had a few 1sts!


But first, a Well

For all of you who have been following the progression of the teacher housing project, there’s been some news! Before beginning to build the structures themselves, a borehole well needs to be dug. It’s a long process, to find the correct location where the groundwater can be reached, but it has to be done first so that the buildings can be arranged around it.

Just last week, we received an email from Pastor John Paul, the leader on the ground, with the words “Thank you for your prayers. The teaches will now get free clean water. We were able to get the water, we praise the Lord for that.”

And with that news and these pictures, the project constructing housing for teachers has commenced! Thank you so much to all who contributed to this project! Through you, many teachers and generations of students will be blessed. More pictures to follow as the project progresses.


The Finest Shoes in the World

This post was written by Mick Lebens. He and his wife, Elaine, are the founders of Zozu Project.  

“At the end of our trips to Uganda we have made it a habit of leaving things with our Ugandan friends. To be truthful they are usually things that I somewhat self-consciously admit no longer meet our first world standards. They may be an old pair of jeans or a well-worn shirt that would soon be donated or even discarded after our return home. These are always received by the recipient much like a young child in America gleefully opens gifts on Christmas morning. It is a humbling exchange, to say the least.

Two trips ago I was making my usual transfer of jeans and shirts when I told the recipient, one of our sponsored children Raymond, that I also had a pair of Keen shoes whose strap had pulled away from the sole making them useless in my eyes. He excitedly exclaimed with a gleam in his eye, “I will fix them, I am a cobbler!!” And with that the shoes, or what was left of them, exchanged hands.

During our next trip, I was spending time with Raymond when the long forgotten shoes came to my mind. I asked him what had ever come of them. Raymond, the cobbler, proudly stated that he had fixed them and given them to his father. He noted that he wore them nearly every day.

The Lebens with Raymond (in white collared shirt) and his father (far right)

Several months after we left we received news that Raymond’s father had died after an illness. Our hearts ached for him and his family and we longed for our next trip when we could love and support them in person. That time finally came during our most recent trip in late June of this year. In many ways it was our best trip (although I’m guilty of feeling that every time). This trip stood out, however, in that many of the children we have seen grow and mature for 4 years now. Especially with the older children like Raymond, the conversations are more complex and their dreams for the future now more possible. It was during one of those talks with Raymond that I brought up the shoes again. I asked him whatever became of the shoes and did he still have them. To my surprise he said he no longer had them but the reason why was even more startling. He told me “it is a custom in our community to bury someone when they die in their finest clothes. My father always cherished those shoes and they were his finest.” I had no words for Raymond and even if I did my tears prevented me from saying them. My discarded shoes, that if truth be known I had strongly considered tossing away as rubbish, in this community were received by Raymond’s dad as the finest of gifts. I haven’t quite worked out in my mind why some in this world we live in are given so much materially and why others struggle for the basic necessities. I have concluded, however, that this honor and privilege to be a part of someone’s opportunity is my life’s greatest gift. I thank all that have joined in this Zozu Project journey and reassure you that there are many stories such as this one of change and hope that are occurring on this little dot on the map in Uganda. Your sponsorship, your gifts, and yes even sometimes your shoes matter in these children’s lives.”

Mick Lebens, who wrote this post, is married to Elaine Lebens, and together they are the founders of Zozu Project.


Before and After – Solid Rock Christian Preschool is Open!

When you decide to get your hands messy serving the poor it’s just that– messy! You get in to address one need (in Zozu’s case the need for elementary education) and before you know it you discover so many pitfalls and holes around you that you realize your one shovel just isn’t enough. That was the case two years ago at Solid Rock. The 1st graders at Solid Rock were coming into class with a severly under-prepared, and the teachers were working overtime. While nothing was really going wrong, the impending risk of burn out was real.

So do you throw in the towel and only take the 1st graders who have already been to school?

No. You pray hard, and set to work building a preschool.

It’s with great joy that, three years after the opening of Solid Rock Christian School, Solid Rock Christian Preschool is officially open!

For some students, this is the first time someone has read to them from a storybook.

 

Isn’t it amazing that where there used to be nothing but dirt, there are now teachers teaching and students learning in a four-classroom building? The desks are still being built and the bookshelves have yet to be filled, but thanks to your generosity, that’s all happening as you read this. Well, actually people in Uganda are probably asleep while you read this, but you get my point.

 

Before…

…After.

 

 

If you gave to the preschool, you made this happen. You made a place for children who used to be wanderers to be students.

 

On behalf of them, thank you.

Want to spread the love? Share this post with your friends! I mean, maybe I’m biased, but I think this is pretty cool.

 

 

 

Want to spread even more love? Giving to the “Where needed most” fund helps cover the school fees for these little ones until they have permanent sponsors.

 

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