I have just returned from an exciting day-long adventure over a remarkably bumpy, deeply rutted dirt road that took me, along with a group of visitors, to a district outside of Mbale. With the beautiful backdrop of the foothills and mountains that surround Mt. Elgon ( the 2’nd highest mountain on the continent?…‘the highest peak being 4321m… and said to have one of the largest surface areas of any extinct volcano in the world’ ) we drove by lowlands where rice is grown, glimpsing men and many women working with picks and hoes, some with babies wrapped to their backs, and through a few small towns where I could see numerous large rectangular ‘tarps’ layed out on the ground with rice drying on them in the hot sun.
After an hour or so, we pulled into a friend’s father’s compound where we were welcomed most warmly. We were quickly whipped back into the vehicle and began a tour of the local community with an emphasis on seeing the schools in the area.
Much like the system in Canada, I understand children start school here around the age of 5. There are 7 primary grades, followed by 6 high school grades. All schools seem to require the children to wear uniforms. Students from different schools in an area are easily identified by the color of tunic style dress the girls wear and shirt that the boys wear. As noted previously, girls are most often required to shave their heads to ‘minimize distraction’. The colors of the primary uniforms are particularly noteworthy, usually very bright, deep colors. I have found it a visually stunning sight to drive by a field and see hundreds of children running and playing, all wearing, say, vibrant purple!
The first school we visited was a high school. Upon arrival we met some of the instructors who teach various subjects including ‘english, math, agriculture, science and geography’. They appeared to be in a meeting or perhaps were on a break…when we found them they were sitting together outdoors in the shade of a large tree. Very gracious and welcoming, the principal toured us briefly around the school, past the science building that houses 3 rooms marked ‘biology’, ‘chemistry’ and ‘physics’ to a classroom that has ‘S3’ handwritten in chalk on the molding at the top of the door. I’m thinking this may mean ‘Secondary 3’ and likely is equivalent to ‘Grade 10’ in Canada.
Typical of most of the classrooms I saw today, this one is a room in a long, narrow, single storey building that houses maybe 4 or 5 classrooms, has barred windows without glass, some with shutters that can be closed, no electricity, shared benches and writing surfaces for the students, and a blackboard at the front. The floor is concrete, the unadorned walls: clay/soil bricks with mortar, the ceiling: wooden trusses with metal roofing.
When we entered, the students stood and welcomed us, seemingly quite shy and self-conscious, some a little bolder than others, making eye contact, smiling, waving little waves discreetly! A member of the teaching staff told me that the children were very happy to see us and said they wished they could have teachers that look like us!
We carried on to a primary school a short drive away. As we pulled into the large compound little blue and white signs, quite low to the short clipped green grass, caught my eye. Placed along pathways leading to the various one level buildings that contain the classrooms, each sign has a different message on it pertaining to HIV/AIDS.
‘Delay sex until adulthood’… ‘Stay a virgin’… ‘HIV/AIDS has no cure’… ‘Say no to gifts for sex’…Quite striking to see, one can hope that the signs are serving to protect and bring awareness to the young ones exposed to them daily.
Soon after parking and reading a few of the signs, my attention was drawn to the dark doorway of one of the classrooms where a few children were peeking their heads out to see, no doubt, who had just driven in. We were greeted by the principal and guided over to the classroom. Upon entering and taking a second for my eyes to adjust, I was completely amazed and very delighted to see a vast number of little children, all dressed in bright pink, sitting on the dirt ( not concrete ) floor, receiving a lesson from the teacher in the front of the room. The children, so gorgeous, were full of brightness, some beaming big smiles, some quite mesmerized with jaws dropped and mouths wide open! It was SO much fun to be there!
We toured around the grounds and visited a few different classes. At one point I was standing out side one of the windows looking in while others in our group stood in front of the class. As the others departed, several of the children looked over and began interacting with me at the window. We had smiles and waves and after some time I made an expression that said…’oh, I’d better get going and keep up with the group…’ which caused a huge uproar of joyous laughter from the children! At that exact moment, I distinctly felt the strong presence of my Mom…she loved, taught music and brought joy to thousands of children during her life!
What a wonderful moment to sense you Mom! How Blessed I am to feel you and Dad here with me, along with all the family and friends accompanying me in Spirit! Thank you!
Many Blessings to you All,
Ps…Fortunate I was to meet a few locals in the community we visited yesterday who I asked specifically about orphans and child headed households in the area. I was told that there are many and have been invited to come back to the community soon to meet with some of the children and learn more about the circumstances of their lives … Heartfelt thanks for keeping us all in your uplifting thoughts and prayers … xoxo C