Posted by: Errow | July 16, 2008

Looking On the Bright Side…

Contributed by Erin Reynolds

Last week we had a 4th of July dinner and invited some of the teachers over to dinner. One of the Cranes teachers came (Cranes is a school where we teach) and I think I may have mentioned in my last report that we sent him home with the left-overs from our dinner. His school has 323 orphans and never enough food, so he told us when he left that he was going to awaken the students as soon as he arrived (he left here at midnight) so they could eat. We sent him with two chocolate bars, about 2 cups of fruit salad, and about another four cups of whatever other food was left, all jumbled together in one Tupperware: Posho (a corn dish similar to grits), peas, potatoes, and rice.

On Friday he returned the Tupperware and told me that that food (which was from my perspective enough to feed one adult) had been divided between 60 students. I was amazed.

Food prices here have doubled since May due to world-wide food shortages – Uganda has plenty of food, but its neighboring countries do not so the farmers here are selling their crops to those neighboring countries for higher prices, making food scarcer here. This has made feeding all of the orphans every day extremely difficult for this school so they just do what they can.

On Wednesday I visited a member of Parliament who showed me the Ugandan constitution, and also the most recent educational acts. In Uganda, every person has a “Right to education”, so there is “free” mandatory primary education (roughly equivalent to our elementary schools.) The only problem is that the government only pays for the teachers’ salaries; they can’t pay to feed the kids or buy them uniforms (which all kids wear at school) for notebooks or pens. So a lot of parents take their kids to school but refuse to bring food with them (they complain that the government promised them that school would be free and they weren’t planning on paying for anything) so many kids even with parents go hungry.

Also, there used to be provisions to provide food and housing for orphans, but the society is so corrupt that as soon as the government offered that, those in administrative positions signed their OWN kids up for the food and housing meant for the orphans and no orphans were getting food or housing, so the government just gave up on that idea and now there’s nothing provided for the orphans, unless someone takes them in and personally pays for them.

To further complicate things, due to the recent surge in school burnings (one every other day, over the past two months) the government is shutting down schools that don’t have fire extinguishers in every room and other things that are next to impossible to obtain here (fire extinguishers are very expensive and rare; only well-off schools can afford them, and even then certainly not one in every room.) So the poorer schools that are actually helping the orphans are getting shut down, and the orphans are getting passed out onto the street, where child prostitution is common, abuse is rampant, and starvation is imminent. If the children live through that, their future isn’t too bright.

As happens it seems in every decaying civilization, the poorest, least-educated part of the population grows the fastest due to high pregnancy rates; then AIDS increases; more orphans are left on the streets . . . the cycle is perpetuated.

But there is a brighter side. At the Bweyogerere Muslim school where we teach, some of the teachers who have been taking our classes have created a plan to introduce the classics into their school’s curriculum, and have also written a proposal for funding to get a library at their school, full of the classics! In one of the Political Philosophy classes I’m teaching, the students have been studying the Declaration of Independence and thinking about what it would take to help move their society from bondage into liberty.

One of the teachers explained how for five years he’s been traveling to villages to pick up orphans and bring back to his school, but every time he picks a few more up, he leaves more behind, crying to be taken with him, begging not to be left on the streets. He said it breaks his heart every time he has to turn some away, and up until last year his plans included expanding his orphanage every year in hopes that he could help at least a few more orphans.

While short-term he still wants to do that, he has said that since taking the LEU classes he has realized that the root of the problems – corrupt government; poor laws; lack of leaders – will not change unless virtuous leaders get involved. Things are just getting worse because the roots of the problems aren’t being addressed. So he has decided that he’s going to get a liberal arts education and get involved in parliament; he’s going to start writing; he’s going to do everything he can so that he’s prepared to have long-term impact.

Another of the students after taking an LEU class this week said, “I need a DEGREE in this type of education! Is there any school that can help me get a leadership education?” Another teacher told about how after a test he had his entire school come up to the front of the room. He returned the papers of those who scored the highest first; and then those who scored next highest; and so on until he got to those students who scored less than 50%. Normally these students would be beaten and so they began to cry and protest. “But,” the teacher said, “we’ve been discussing how to inspire students, and so I did not beat them! Instead I talked with them one by one about their poor scores and made a plan about how to address each of their problems.”

Lives are changing one by one. Eyes are opening; hearts are expanding; light is entering. There’s a long, long way to go, but in the lives of our students real change is happening.

One last story. Last week in my community class I read a story about some people in a concentration camp and how one man gave his life to save the lives of some others’ in the camp; that one act changed the whole tenor of the camp – people started serving each other; a philosophy discussion group was started; kindness returned where brutality had reigned. I challenged each of the students to consider how they could help change the circumstances around them.

The next week I asked the students how the experiment had gone. One student was eager to share; he explained how he had decided that although he lives on a meager salary himself, he wanted to reach out and help someone in greater need. So he found a young man who had recently had to drop out of school because he was unable to pay school fees (secondary or high school education is not free; it’s actually pretty expensive) and so he talked to the boy and offered to cover the remainder of his school fees so that he can continue his education. This is quite a sacrifice, but will make a world of difference in this boy’s life because virtually no kind of reliable or adequate job is available to someone who doesn’t have at least a secondary education.

I could go on, but that’s what we’re seeing and experiencing. Thank you all again for your generous support in helping me get here, and THANK YOU for your donations for books! I wish you could all see the transformations happening here due to the education taking place, and thanks to your contributions.

Click Here To Invest In Ugandan Education

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