It’s funny. I’ve noticed that I update this blog when there is something big going on. Something that I want to express in a way that takes more space than the typical Facebook status update or tweet on Twitter.
When I last wrote, I had accepted a position with Operation Christmas Child (part of Samaritan’s Purse) and our family was preparing to move to Boone, NC. It’s so hard to believe that that was over 6 months ago now. We have made many new wonderful friends, while of course still missing the ones we left in New Bern. We have settled into a fantastic new church family. Nathaniel transitioned well to his new school-with just a few minor bumps in the beginning-and now loves it. He has successfully survived his first year of End of Grade testing and only has one more week left of third grade. (How is that even possible?!?!?) Travis is enjoying his work-from-home position and the flexibility that gives him in his schedule. I have had the incredible opportunity to travel to Philadelphia, Orange County, Atlanta, and Chicago for our Connect Conferences-experiences that were among some of the more stressful and exhausting work experiences I’ve ever had while at the same time being some of the most rewarding as I got to meet and work with our amazing field staff and unbelievably dedicated year-round Connect volunteers.
Again, I could describe so many things I have learned during the past six months, but I am going to focus on the next leg of this journey our family has been on….a “leg” that I honestly still can’t believe myself.
Tomorrow I leave for Uganda. Yes, as in Uganda in Africa. What an amazing opportunity I have been blessed with to travel with many fellow OCC staff and some of our leader volunteers to go and serve alongside our partners in Uganda. We will be helping to distribute OCC shoebox gifts with local churches, schools and other organizations while we are there as well as serving with another Samaritan’s Purse project. To say I am excited about this opportunity would be an understatment. This is a total “bucket list” thing for me.
For several reasons, our family decided not to pack a special shoe box gift for me to give to a particular child while I was in Uganda. Instead we decided to do a couple of things that I could share with many children. I have packed stickers, lots and lots of stickers-which are apparently very popular with kids over there. Nathaniel, Travis and I also made 200 friendship bracelets for me to take and share with children. Travis and Nathaniel will wear similar friendship bracelets for the week I’m gone.
As I have been preparing for this trip several staff have told me that, at some point, I might feel led to bring something else with me, and, if I felt that, I should do it. That I never know what a blessing that “something” might be to someone in Uganda.
Well, it happened today. I was out running a last few errands and I got to thinking about the places we would be distributing shoe boxes. Last I heard (yes, I know, I know….while on any kind of mission trip flexibility is key!) our team will be distributing shoeboxes at 4 churches and 2 schools. I got to thinking about some of the things I’ve learned about the education system in Uganda.
There is free public education, through primary school, in Uganda, but like in the US, parents must provide supplies and materials for their child to attend school. This is much more difficult to do for many, many parents in Uganda than it is for most parents in the US. Because of this, many children don’t attend school because their families simply cannot afford the materials, books, uniforms, etc. that are required. (Of course other factors affect school attendance, such as children suffering from common illnesses that we don’t have to worry about in the west, children having to travel long distances to get to school, children being kept at home to help care for siblings or other family members, etc. etc. etc.)
After thinking about the children, I then began thinking about the teachers who lead these children. I thought about the struggles I have faced as a teacher. Overcrowded classes. Not enough materials to accomplish what I want to during class time. Having to spend a lot of my own money to provide the type of learning experience I thought my students deserved. Students whose home life seemed to hinder rather than help their academic success.
Suddenly I felt almost guilty for ever complaining about these things. How small the problems I have faced as an educator must be compared to those faced by educators in a country like Uganda. Educators who I’m sure want the same things for their students that I wanted for mine, but who face mountains of obstacles compared to my little mole hills. I instantly knew what I wanted to do. Yes, I wanted to share with and bless the children that I would come in contact with, but I also wanted to bless my fellow teachers while I was there too.
So I put together “care packages” to give to the schools we will visit. Each package contains pencils, pens, erasers, pencil sharpeners, paper, stickers, chalk, math booklets, word card games, a dictionary, a jump rope, a frisbee, beach balls, and a small globe.
I know it’s not much, but I hope that it will, if nothing else, encourage the teachers in their work. I hope it will let them know that teachers in the US share their love and concern for the next generation and support them and pray for them as they face seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
So if you are a current, future, or former teacher, a homeschooling parent, an afterschool or summer caregiver, or a school volunteer, know that I can’t wait to not only love on some children in Uganda, but also love on some teachers there as well in your honor and on your behalf. I don’t pretend to understand the struggles that African nations face regarding health, poverty, education, or many other issues. I’m sure that my eyes will be opened to many things in the coming week and that I will return home with not only a different perspective on Uganda but also on my own life and my own country as well. I do firmly believe in the power of education however to lead to positive change in a society, and I’m happy I felt led to support the teachers I’ll meet in Uganda that are trying to foster that positive change in their own communities.