Sunday, August 30, 2009

Adventures With Mark... Home Visits!

I have enjoyed a week at home with Sarah and the kids as the students at the school have a three week holiday term break. Every holiday the management team at the school makes it a priority to visit certain students that we know have an extremely difficult situation at home. Staff members are given the opportunity and encouraged to join us on the visits and the vehicle is always full as we visit students in and around Kampala. Let me take you on a brief visit with us to our most recent home visit and hopefully paint a little bit of a picture of the lives of the students we help. Please note that names have been changed to respect the privacy of the students we help and most importantly love.

Robin is a grade five student that has struggled academically since joining the African Children’s Choir. She has done an excellent job improving due to an increased effort and level of discipline. We begin our home visit at her home as there is no father and her mother is back in the village with some issues that have forced her to live with her auntie. Her auntie is a government teacher earning very little and has five other people in her house to feed and care for. She does her best to help Robin over the holidays. We are grateful for this, but visit to make sure that everything is going okay and offer some support as we leave in the form of a food parcel.

Our next stop is the home of a grade six boy (red shirt) who lives with his two siblings and mother. The father died in a car accident when Sam was not even one year old and since then the mother has faced the constant struggle to try and provide for these young ones. The house consists of two rooms and there is a pit latrine nearby. Our main concern during this visit is that last term the house where they were living caught fire and burnt down along with the few possessions they have. We wanted to see how they were functioning in their new house or more accurately ‘shack’ according to western standards (even by Ugandan standards too). I feel humbled by our food parcel as she knew we were coming and provided a very nice meal by Ugandan standards of liver, potatoes and tea. I can’t help but slip her a little money on my way out to make sure that her meal of love is covered as she continues to struggle with the other two children she has. But she has not given up hope and tries to make a living cooking local food at a very simple one room restaurant.

Our third stop is the home of a grade three student with the best smile ever (next to Seth and Jodie). She is so excited to see us that she can’t contain her excitement and begins to jump for joy. She lives with her mother, but once again there is no father. The mother is reluctant to take us to her home and when we arrive we understand. Her one room house is so small it barely fits the five of us who came to visit them. Needless to say we are excited and our food parcel is a nice encouraging touch for Lori and her mom who currently has no job.

We make another stop to see another one of our students and then head out into the country side to an area known as the Luwero triangle where many people died during the years of fighting in the 1980’s. I enjoy the visits out in the villages as there is space and some open areas compared to the overcrowding in the slum-like areas we find most of our kids. It is pineapple season and the turn-off of the main road into the village displays hills of fresh pineapples. Yes, the best pineapple in the whole country and so of course, we stop. Our math teacher negotiates and a pineapple is bought for every member of our team for a grand total of 5000 shillings. $2.50 Canadian for five fresh pineapples would be a great deal in a supermarket back home. Our first stop is Jeff’s home, a very sharp young boy who lives with his mother and three siblings. His mother works in a nearby shop and is very excited to see us. During our visit we learn that when Jeff is on holidays he wakes up early, cleans the simple house and prepares a simple breakfast for his siblings as his mother is already out working at a one room shop. His award certificates from the school are hung with pride and are about the only thing on the wall.

Once we leave we beat the upcoming rains to another nearby house of a grade four student and then I can’t resist a stop to see a former student who is now in high school. He never knew his mother or father and lives with his godly, but very elderly grandpa in a very run down house. Trevor is not there, but the grandpa is very excited to see us and welcomes us in. The rain has subsided, but water continues to leak in the holes in the dilapidated tin room. He offers to sit on the floor and gives us a simple wooden bench that three of us sit on but we insist that he keeps the reaming stool for himself. We chat and thank him for the excellent job he is doing with Trevor and encourage him not to give up. He tells us he is sick, can’t afford the medication and seeing nothing in the house we make sure he is given a food parcel and a little money to buy some medication. As I leave I think about the house being built for Trevor and his grandpa by former choir members who have come through the organization and I am excited to be able to contribute to this project. It is not a fancy house, but the door will lock and the roof will not leak. Regardless of how long or short God keeps us in Uganda, I make up my mind that before we go that house must be finished.

Our day consisted of visits to seven students and we had the opportunity to give a little bit of love in a practical way. We arrive back in Kampala six hours later, tired, but much more grateful for what God has given us than before we left.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Adventures With Seth... New Kitties!

Hey! We got some kitties!!!! One of them is for my Auntie Kristine who lives here in Africa in our town.. so we found that kitty for her and then there was a little sister of that kitty. Well, when I heard that there was another kitty I just snuggled the first kitty on my shoulder at her house where we got her and I wandered all over that place stroking her gently saying, ‘Don’t worry! We’re going to find your sister.’ Of course, mom and dad couldn’t say no to that so I think me and Jodie get to keep the sister one!

I really like the kitties so much! I hold them all the time and tell them what to do and play fun games with them. Dad thinks that the kitties should be afraid of me because I sometimes even carry them upside down and maybe sometimes I squeeze too hard. But they usually don’t run away from me… we’re buds!

Me and Jodie are buds too. Especially when we ride in the car. We start talking to each other and laughing at each other and shouting. She doesn’t always do what I tell her. We have to work on that. But you know what? I kind of like that. She’s lots of fun and likes to do stuff with me. I gotta go! Bye! Love, Seth

Adventures With Jodie... Growing Up Fast!

I’m growing up! And everyone says I’m so cute! I suppose I am. I’ll tell you the new stuff I’m doing.

I can say ‘da-da’ (I think my dad is my favorite person. Except when I need food)…. ‘Boda’ (that’s our little bikes that we race around on)… ‘oh-no’ (that’s what I say when I throw one of my toys)… ‘uh-oh’ (that’s what I say when I throw my toys again or when I fall down) … ‘no’ (that’s what I say even when I mean yes because I can’t say yes and I like to say no!)… ‘no-no’ (that’s what I say when I do something naughty or when Seth is bossing me).

And by the way, Seth likes to boss me. But it doesn’t work on me! I yell at him loud and then if he tries to take my stuff usually I hit him. And sometimes I take his stuff too. I don’t mind being bossy. But mom says I’m so adorable! And I have a tender heart she says. I get my feelings hurt easily and sometimes I can’t forgive people very much.

I really wish I could spend time with my grandmas. I love snuggles and giggles and kisses. And I love story books. (So my grandpas can read to me when I see them the next time!) I will try to come soon! I just have to save up for a airplane ticket. I have to go now and crawl everywhere and pull up on stuff. Good bye! Jodie

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Mark… Where are they now?!

Being so far away from many of our friends and family back home we often feel like we are out of the loop. Yes, even with simple things like movies and who is the next big music group. However we can relate with many of you who have been experiencing the constant heat. Currently Kampala is the driest it has been for a very long time (since the 1970s) and even the locals are starting to tell us they can’t remember a time when it was this dry.

However, the biggest thing we wonder is how and what our friends and family are up to. The thought was that you may feel the same about our family and even the students that leave our school. I know I often think about them and wonder how they are doing academically, behaviorally and spiritually… Well even if you are not wondering let me tell you.

Our story begins last year with some of our grade seven students. Last year our discipline committee found ourselves very challenged….in particular with a couple of students. With a constant effort and a measured level of discipline we continued to push forward and work with these children. As the year came to an end they were excited to be heading home on holidays. But soon the realization of a long holiday set in. Not so much food, not much to do and quite a bit of boredom. Tears were shed by many children as they said their goodbyes to fellow classmates, students, staff and even those tough discipline committee members of which I was the head of.

Christmas holidays passed and seven of 30 grade seven members were placed together in a secondary school. Here at Music for Life we started another year, welcomed another choir who had returned from touring in the west and got to work. To my surprise and joy one of those difficult students from last year showed up at my office one day and greeted me with a big hug. Yes, I remember the mean things this student had written in a diary about me and others who, were only trying to help her and correct her out of love with good intentions. As we chatted I was shocked to hear that she was one of the top student in her stream along with the six other students from our school (same grade but different classes). I was shocked as she stated who was first and followed through to number seven and how ‘we are the best and the rest begin after us’. All of the students had positions of leadership and were involved in leading praise and worship on Sunday mornings for the school. She made it clear that she had made many mistakes and deserved the firmness that was shown her during her time at our school. My heart jumped for joy as she continued to speak highly of how we had created a strong foundation for her academically and work-wise to be the best in her new school. Spiritually they had also been given what they needed to not just survive, but lead others at their new school. And they have been a testimony to much older students. We are thankful for the direction of these seven and many others year after year who move into secondary school and make us, the staff, the school and the organization proud. Thank you Ruth, Florence, Penny, Isaac, Dorothy, Susan and Gorret for your superb effort and dedication…We love you all still very much…

Well, I thought about going to the school for part of the afternoon and trying to get a picture of the above seven, but I decided that I would include a few pictures of my own children. Yes, these students leave and I always feel like they are in a way my own and I am sad to see them go, but very excited. Before I know it Seth and Jodie will be long gone from home and while they are here I am going to give it all I can just like I try at school. I am proud to be the headmaster of these seven and even more excited to be a dad to my two wonderful little ones. Take care everyone and let’s give all we have in whatever we do in the name of our Lord and Savior.

Sarah… A helping hand or should we say foot!

Man, it’s been a busy summer! My days are a combination of mundane diaper changing and joy-filled fun times with my kids. Life with kids is ‘life abundant’!!! I really love it. But I do find I crash into bed every night exhausted and often have to pray for God to help me gracefully through the last several hours of the day.

There have been a few bouts of sickness these past months because it’s so dry here. The dust billows up and is full of all sorts of yummy stuff for everyone to pass around. Sneezing is nearly as contagious as yawning right now….. no kidding! But we’re all healthy right now and enjoying that!

Just last week I had a challenging experience I want to share with you. We were walking home with the kids from an evening play time at the club where we’re members (there are no public parks… only membership clubs or pay-as-you-go play areas). We came upon our three neighbor boys whom we frequently see fetching water and playing on the road. We’ve known that they have a mother and father who both work but it is obvious they are not going to school and are very ill-kept. My friend and I have discussed many times if there’s anything to be done and have felt it is best to stay uninvolved.

But this time it was obvious that I needed to get involved. The middle boy (age 7) was hobbling a bit trying to carry his jerry can of water. Our road is far from merciful so I thought maybe he had just stepped on a rock. When I greeted him I saw his right foot was severely injured. It was a burn on the top of his foot the size of the palm of my hand and it had obviously not been tended to. It was black, cracked, bleeding, seeping fluids, and (sorry, this is terrible) was starting to smell of rot. I immediately asked some Ugandans I knew nearby if his parents would be angry if we took him to the hospital. I have never known exactly where they live and know that they are usually not home. The neighbors assured me that any help would be appreciated and that I should take him. (It is strange but people here take a very ‘it takes a whole village’ approach to childcare so I didn’t bat an eyelash and carried him home with the permission of only the neighbors. I was very careful not to come into contact with his wound or blood from it). It turns out he had stepped into a pile of burning garbage while playing soccer with his brother a week previously and had had no medical attention.

To make a long story short, my friend and I spent till midnight at the hospital that night and many hours since trying to make sure he gets good care (definitely not to be assumed… for example…. We admitted him to the hospital that night only to find him the next morning sitting on a bench outside the children’s ward with his mother… that is where they had spent the night). All care of patients (besides medical) must be provided by the family so we have been bringing food and things like a flask for tea and blanket … this family is very poor.

The story of his mother is one I was curious about because to tell you the truth, most of me just wanted to slap her when she came to the hospital. How can your son be that miserable with a life threatening injury and you just let him suffer when there is medical care readily available here? I’ve seen these children (3 boys ages 8,7, and 1 year) spend their days on the street and carry water cans up the road every day instead of being in school and being cared for. And I know both parents have jobs so why in creation are the kids not seeing the money? It just seemed like this was one more aspect of neglect… at a whole different level. This injury could very easily have killed the boy and it is simply a miracle that he didn’t have infection or tetanus after a week of filth and dirt in a serious wound. And, may I add…. Simple medical attention is not expensive here. Anyway… I feel sad for her… she is 22 (do the math)…. Has a shiftless husband who works but brings nothing home… apparently he has a few ladies on the side….and her only family is a father living several hours away who is dying of cancer at the moment. They are obviously Muslim which is evident by the names of their children. Her whole posture is defeated, depressed, and almost completely disconnected. It’s as if she gave up a long time ago and she is simply existing. Please pray for her and their whole family. Her name is Judith. ( I wish I had pictures but I may try to get some for next month with an update.)

As it is now the boy needs skin grafts and a week in the hospital minimum. We and our neighbors are paying for it and have no idea how it’s going to turn out at this point. But I am just praying that God leads us in the weeks to come in how to stay involved.. at what level. We can’t fix the shiftless father, we can’t bring the kids into our home and take on their full care, we can’t convince the mother to ditch the deadbeat and get help (although I might try that). Please pray with us about it. I’ll give you an update next month. I need to sign off so there’s room for some pictures. The kids will write next month. We love you all! Sarah

I Love The Rain

‘I woke up early and was so excited because it was raining. So I got all my rain stuff on and played outside with the water hose in the rain!’

Teeter Totter With Jodie

‘Me and daddy playing teeter totter. I really like my dad! Sometimes when I know he’s leaving for work I cry. When he comes home then I wiggle and kick until I jump onto daddy and he gives me a hug!’

Giant Cucumber For Seth

‘Look at this giant cucumber from our patch!!!! I ate that thing like I was a rabbit because it was the best tasting cucumber ever!’

I am A Big Girl Now

‘Look at me! I grab onto everything and pull myself up. I am very busy and often don’t have time to eat… I’m hungry but after 3 bites I see something fun to do and off I go!’