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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.


To Raymond, from Mick, your sponsor

We met Raymond during our first trip to Uganda in 2013. He came across as a bit of a prankster to be honest, full of energy and always with that infectious smile. Our third trip was in 2015 and was to celebrate the opening of Solid Rock Christian School in February of that year. Joy and excitement abounded as 200 new children were starting their first year. That smile of Raymond’s that was so evident on our previous trips was absent during this visit. The reason, we learned, was that Raymond wasn’t going to be able to attend the school because he lacked a sponsor. As we had developed a relationship with Raymond, our family made the decision to sponsor him. I’ll never forget that moment where we had the privilege to express to him our intent. Tears filled our eyes as he sprinted off to tell the news to his parents. Those tears flowed even more freely when he arrived at school the next day to begin his first day at Solid Rock Christian School.

Raymond in the yellow collared shirt, sitting proudly beneath Mick.

We just returned from a trip to Uganda last week and once again our relationship with Raymond has dominated my thoughts. I no longer saw him as this mischievous prankster that I knew from our earliest trips. Nor did I see the forlorn version that I witnessed before he received a sponsorship. And I didn’t even see the unfiltered joyous Raymond that I enjoyed after he was notified that he could attend SRCS. This version was one of hope and confidence. It was one that read books with ease that he previously couldn’t have hoped to comprehend. It was one that confidently stated “I dream of becoming a pilot so I can care for my family”. It was a version that was just chosen “head boy” which is the Ugandan version of being chosen school president. He is seen as a leader and is looked up to by his classmates. He is a young man who is on his way to fulfilling his dreams.

I had the opportunity to chat with Raymond and look back on our relationship that has developed from that curious young boy joking with the missionary doctor. It has developed to a friendship that led him to look me in the eye and state, “I will always remember that day I was sponsored. It was my best day”. To have the privilege of being a part of someone’s “best” day is the most humbling of feelings. I say this not in a self serving way, as I too count this opportunity as one of my “best” days and an unending privilege. I say this instead as encouragement for those of you who may be considering sponsorship. It is a life changer and one that I now know profoundly effects both the child and the sponsor. I thank my friend Raymond for this honor. I look forward to the day he lands a plane with him at the controls. Go chase your dreams Raymond.


The Vision

Now that we’ve been in this for a few years, it’s about time we started to think bigger. Shana Reiss, a fabulous architect, has generously donated her experience to contribute to this vision of Solid Rock as it expands. Her artistry has put the dreams of our leaders, both here and in Uganda, into concrete goals. While there’s always potholes and bumps in the road when you’re working in the third world, we’re excited to have a road before us to begin walking down together.

Here’s the land as it currently looks. The buildings are the current classrooms.

With orientation picture:

 

 

What started as a vision for a primary school has, by necessity, grown. The church has become so big they now spill off their little concrete pad on a Sunday, so we include a larger church building. There are young children who walk by waiting to be old enough to go to first grade, so we add a preschool. The current students long to have sports and more space to play, so we add a football field. There’s a lot going on!

 

Right now, the preschool is underway, as you can see here:

Not only is your support and contributions building a preschool, you’re also providing work to local men who are in the construction business.

 

Not included here is the plan to add housing for teacher (a necessity for a rural school in Uganda. Teachers there see housing much like we see healthcare- as a basic employment benefit). Also, in the long-term, a secondary school. That would take a considerable amount of land purchasing and fund-raising, but with the blessing of God, and the work of us both in America and Uganda, nothing is impossible.

Thank you for supporting this journey.

If you would like to see how you can be part of the next step of the vision, outfitting the preschool, please check your options out here: Next Steps Giving Catalogue


Preschool Developments (with Commentary)

The land for the Solid Rock Preschool is being leveled and the foundation is being laid!

Much as the preschool itself is preparation for further education, the plot of earth just adjacent to the current school is now in preparation for a building. Here are the latest photos, (along with my tour-guide commentary)

 

“And here to your left, we have a lovely patch of level dirt. Take note that this is not the natural habitat for level dirt. This is typically the territory where the uneven dirt resides.”

 

 

 

“To your right, we have another patch of level dirt. Note the bricks in the corner, indicating that building is soon to come. Also note the tracks on the earth. Some wild tractor must have been tamed for the creation of this patch.”

 

 

 

 

“Ah, there it is! It seems a local tractor has been tamed for use in leveling this field. It’s species is uncertain, but it seems to be on the older side judging by the dirt-colored markings on its tires and shovel.”

 

 

 

 

“And here we have some strapping young men hard at work digging trenches. Not being a contractor, I cannot provide more context for the trenches.”

 

 

 

“In the distance, notice the current buildings of Solid Rock Christian Academy to the right, and the tarp under which the church gathers on the left.”

 

 

“It should be noted that the construction upon this field is commencing quite rapidly due to the hard work and efficiency of these workers. They are local men, experts in their craft, and certainly hard workers.”

Ok, that’s all I have for tour commentary, and we’re all out of pictures! If you have read this far, you can check out our catalogue of items to fill the preschool with here 

Thank you to those who have already decided to outfit our teachers and classrooms!


Gifts to Goats

Written by Richard Aguta, Family Liaison and Social Worker at Solid Rock Christian Academy

Zozu project has contributed much towards children’s holistic development in conjunction with Solid Rock Christian school; they have trained children with livelihood skills (entrepreneurship skills) where most sponsored children, after receiving gifts, prefer to buy goats with an intention of having many goats. In Arua, goats are highly demanded animals used for dowry and sold to educate students at school. Since goats are on demand, they expect to acquire personal needs.

Patricia and Fostin [pictured] are sisters from one family and Rosemary is from another family! They received gifts in form of money from their sponsors and chose to buy female goats that have already given birth to a young ones (kids). They said, their plan is to have many goats that shall be sold to meet their basic needs like smearing oil, clothes, food and sugar. They have enough space for grazing the goats and their brother is the one responsible for grazing them every day. They rear indigenous goats that often feed on local pasture since Arua is located in savannah grassland with green pasture best for grazing animals.

 

Many goats mean more money and basic needs can be met hence enhancing self-reliance.  Many children in Africa are suffering from dependency syndrome, Patricia, Fostin and Rosemary expect to be independent in few years to come, when their goats have increased in number.

Points of interest

• Proper use of gifts sent by sponsors

• Promoting independence through acquiring their own basic needs

• Appreciation from Patricia and Fostin

 

Zozu Project extends her sincere appreciation to the sponsors who offer support towards children of Arua community. Patricia and Fostin’s family cordially extends their appreciation to their sponsors for standing with their family in enhancing the social welfare of their children by providing support.

 

A note from us on the state-side: We are so proud of both the sponsors who supported these girls and the decision they made to buy a goat. This is what we see happen when it’s up to the families to decide what to do with a gift. They think innovative, they think long-term, and they think entrepreneurially. Moreover, Richard, a native Ugandan gets the dignity of celebrating with them as they work to be independent and enhance self-reliance. Praises to God for bringing us all together, sponsors, students, Richard, and you. If you sponsor a student, thank you so much. Should you wish to, you can send a gift to your child and their family here. If you don’t yet, consider sponsoring today! 


Meet Loyce: A story of hope and transformation

Meeting Loyce turned my life upside down. In August of 2013, I was working in a short term medical clinic in war torn  Arua, Uganda. Most of the people I saw had serious but treatable illnesses such as malaria and water born illnesses. I wasn’t thinking about the needless suffering and death that had been occurring before our trip, or that would occur after we left. I was feeling good about the people who were receiving medical care while we were there….

Then, I met 5 year old Loyce, also known as Lucy. She was suffering from severe malnutrition.  She was literally starving to death. Her mother, 21 year old Jesca, had 4 other children and a hopeless stare that haunts me to this day.

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