Under the Bus

We went to Seattle to see our shy, quiet little girl walk across the stage to receive her Masters’ degree in counseling.  The bold and beautiful woman she has become is a wonder to watch.  The transformation from her childhood to now is amazing and proof of what it means to be led by God each step of the way. She has grown and blossomed.  Each step has led to the next and the next, until now as she stands ready to walk others through their own steps in life. Proud doesn’t begin to cover my feelings.  I am in awe. It is my greatest sorrow and my greatest joy to watch my adult children struggle and wrestle through life and then land in their desired place.  The place where they feel they fit.  Parenting is not for the faint of heart, but on days where things come together and you see the fulfillment of some of your deepest heartfelt prayers it is a good, good day.

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In addition to the graduation, we had a whole week to vacation together. Almost. All but one of our kids was able to get off work and rearrange schedules to come celebrate.  Parents with young kids…enjoy the freedom you have to be together.  That goes away when your children become adults.  Getting 24 hours together at the holidays is my highest hope now.  Even knowing about this graduation 6 months out, we still couldn’t get them all there.  However, this is the closest we have come to a family vacation in 10 years.  More than one day all together was a celebration all on its own. I only wish Peter had been able to come, too. Hannah was an excellent tour guide, showing us all her favorite spots around Seattle.  Now that I have been three times, I feel like I am beginning to know the city a bit, and the surrounding mountains.

We went on a hike to Lake 22 in the Cascades.  It was only a 5-mile hike round trip, but it was a climb.  I took a million pictures, which do not do it justice…waterfalls all along the way. It was like Raven Cliffs meets Blood Mountain…times 10.  I don’t know why I continue to try to document nature…photos never show the true beauty…but I keep trying. My body did great until about half way up, when the nice kept trail turned into a billy-goat path full of rocks and boulders.  I have climbed these kinds of paths before, so I knew to take it slow on my ankles and knees. I knew to use my trekking poles and my husband’s shoulders for support.  On this trail, however, the rocks and boulders lasted for what felt like years. In actuality, it was probably maybe ¾ a mile. I slowed to a crawl, and have never felt like such an old lady before.  The combination of the climb and the rocks had me whining.  Fortunately, I was still on steroids from a nasty sinus infection, so my joints didn’t hurt too badly.  It was the fear of twisting my ankle or falling on my knee that caused my snail like pace.  My family was encouraging me, sweet people they are.  🙂 The young ones would go ahead and then stop to wait on me. Then they would give me a pep talk and move on again.  William kept saying, “Mom, you are doing it.  How many people do you know who would even attempt this?  Not many. You are going and you are doing it!”  Bill stayed by my side reminding me that a few years ago I was sitting in a chemo chair thinking I would never hike again.

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At the top, I did feel a sense of accomplishment, and the views of the lake and snow-covered mountains were worth it. We had our picnic and enjoyed the lovely rain free day. The trek down, took me even longer.  Those of you with knees that do not bend fully will understand why. At the bottom, my legs were mush.  I was overjoyed to sit in the car for an hour back to the city.

Because of my slow pace, we were running very late for a party at the Columbia Tower.  We had 5 minutes to get changed from our hiking clothes to our party clothes.  Fortunately, in Seattle everything, even swanky parties, are casual in dress.  It was a matter of taking off the muddy and sweaty clothing for something clean. We jumped back in the car and headed downtown.  After finding parking a block down, we made our way to the tower in a hurry to make our time. (They didn’t want everyone to be on the elevator at the same time, so they gave out specific staggered times.) By this time, my legs had set up and climbing the hill in my flip flops proved that my joints were going be sore for the next few days, from the hike.

We made it to the crosswalk right in front of the tower just as the little hand was counting down 5, 4, 3….we were almost at a run trying to make it across in the last 2 seconds before the light changed.  There were people at all four corners, some of them crossing, some of them standing waiting on their turn.  There was a bus revving getting ready for the light to change so it could deliver its passengers to the next stop. Cars were slowing to a stop on the cross street, as the ones already stopped on the main thoroughfare got ready to spring forward.  For a split second, everyone was at a standstill.  Except us.  We were running.  I was trailing behind, as usual, and since my legs were like bricks, it seemed as if I was in slow motion compared to the rest.

What I didn’t realize is the lines in the crosswalk were slightly raised…maybe an eighth of an inch. Not visibly raised, but enough to catch the toe of a flip flop of a woman who could not lift her legs because of hiking all day on rocks.  I felt the skin coming off of my left big toe, and it set into motion a most ungraceful chain of events which ended with me face down under a bus…close enough to feel the heat from the engine. I guess the noise my body made when hitting the ground was loud, because when I managed to look up everyone in the surrounding intersection was stopped and staring at me.  My tears came quickly, but more quickly came my desire to get out from in front of a bus ready to move, now that the light had changed. My family had turned back to assess the damage to the old woman lying in the street. Strangers were asking me if I was okay and what was hurt.  My headband was off, my shirt was askew, my instinct was to GET OUT FROM UNDER THE BUS. My brain was screaming it over and over.  My x-ray technologist son was trying to assess if I had any broken bones. I tried to jump up…I use that term loosely…and move out of the street.  The crowd who had gathered helped me get to the opposite corner, where a little girl looked on with big eyes full of concern.

By this time the adrenaline was shaking me pretty hard and it was difficult to tell what was hurting.  I was simply glad the traffic was moving again. I was no longer the center of attention of the busload of people staring out the windows to see what (or who) was holding up their route.  Passersby were still unsure if they needed to move on, or call 911.  I think the fact that William seemed to be knowledgeable medical personnel, and he was assessing me one body part at a time, convinced them that I was in good hands and they began to disperse and move along. The little girl told me how loud it was when she heard me fall and she was sorry I got hurt, as her mom waved her on. I wanted to move on too, to erase the embarrassment now flooding my cheeks, but William was having none of it.  Pain was beginning to break through the adrenaline rush, so I let him do his job.

My left knee had a knot it in and was bleeding, but I could bend it and put weight on it with no problem.  My right knee (the fake one) seemed fine, which led me to believe that somehow, I had twisted to protect it as I went down. Both hands were bleeding from scrapes and my right wrist was already swollen and bruised.  My right ribs were sore as well.  He checked my head for bumps and thankfully there were none.  Of course, the most damage was done to my pride, but that is something that cannot be helped in such circumstances.  His focus quickly became my wrist, as it looked the most damaged of all my injuries.  He had me move it in all different directions, move my fingers, and decided that for now, it seemed not to be broken.  We cleaned up my bleeding parts, and decided I was good to go to the party.  We arrived a bit past our allotted time, but were allowed an amazing ride in the newly renovated elevator.  I have never ridden in an elevator with a movie in it.  At the top, we had a 360-degree view from the highest point in the city.  It was amazing to say the least. I could even see the spot where I had fallen, and I wondered if I had been the entertainment for all those in the tower.  Hopefully, they were looking out at the view… and not under the bus.

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A Closed Door. An Open Book.

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I closed the door to my Aunt Betty’s home for the last time today.  Locked it up.  Said goodbye to the cherry tree she loved so much.  A few weeks ago, the grounds crew came and pruned the tree.  Melinda and I cried, and as our tears flowed, we were ready to go to battle for the beloved tree, but they didn’t take the whole tree down, just cut it back away from the roof. It was too soon.  Too fresh.  Too painful.  Today, two buildings down, the pressure washers were in high gear, getting the condos ready for a new coat of paint.  We are leaving all that to the new owner who came by to talk to the paint crew about what he wants them to do.  But now, after a few months of digging and sorting and trashing and giving stuff away, it is time to close the door. The essence of Betty doesn’t live there any longer.  Without her organ, instruments, music, magazines, newspapers, books it is a vacant empty place.  Somehow, that makes it sadder than when all her things were still there even though she wasn’t.

We have dispersed as much as possible to friends, family, and organizations.  I have one remaining meeting with the Atlanta Historical Society to look through some of her Olympic memorabilia and historical Atlanta stuff she had in her collection. The new owner said he would get rid of anything we left behind, so I left a few things that were iconic Betty items. Her organ shoes. Her 1960 bathing suit cover up made from a towel, that she still proudly wore at family summer gatherings. Many of the wall hangings, which she made herself were left in their places because it seemed like they should always be there, like they belonged to the dwelling place.  I am aware that these items are sentimental and it grieved me to leave them behind, knowing they will probably get tossed.  I just don’t have the space to keep every item, and I didn’t have it in me to be the one to throw them out.

As I left, I gazed at the front door that has belonged to her for 50 years, and I thought how appropriate it for it to get a fresh new color.  It would seem somehow disrespectful for it to still be Betty’s door with a different owner.  The new paint inside and out will revitalize the place and bring life to it again.  The cycle of life…seen in the paint crew simply doing their jobs in the summer sun.  The perspective gained looking through those windows will change.  The door will open and close to different viewpoints.  The inside and the outside will begin again to embrace the next generation. The Cherry tree will remain, pruned but very much alive, to provide beauty to those who come and go through the door…the door, I just locked and walked away from.

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However, the last load in my car gives me the feeling I am carrying Betty with me.  Boxes of old pictures with antique and unknown family members in them are overflowing.  Files of family history yet to be gone through.  And then there is the big family Bible, a treasured artifact passed on to my generation at Betty’s death. There is a linage and a history that cannot be ignored by my heart. An open book.  It sits upon my table calling me to come with my curious spirit and soak in the history of me.

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Within its pages, I see letters from family members, just sharing their daily activities back from the days when long distance phone calls were luxuries. There are beautiful Easter cards pressed in between pages.  Then there are some messages, older still, Western Union telegrams, “Arrived here ok. Stop. Stopping at Viking Hotel. Stop.” (And I have trouble getting my kids to text me!) There is an obituary that begins with “The death angel visited us again this week…” and another one that says “The Lord in his wisdom, love and goodness has seen fit to take from our midst another one of his children to join the heavenly family where there shall be no more separation.”

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A letter from my grandmother that says, “Ossie is leaving today to pick cotton.  I sure will miss her, but she can make $1.25 a hundred and I sure don’t blame her. She will be back in about a month I suppose.”  There is more about canning green beans and melting peppermint candy to mix in with the ice cream to make it flavorful.  Those long-ago times, were so very different. These letters are like windows. There are poems, both handwritten and printed.  A fiftieth wedding anniversary napkin is pressed flat between the pages of 1 Cor. 13.  A faded purple ribbon with the words Our Mother in the center snipped from a funeral spray as a memento.  In the center of this enormous book is the family linage handwritten in the script of one of my ancestors.  It goes all the way back to the birth of my great, great, great grandparents in 1827.  Marriages are recorded, and each page has a list of all the children born.  My great grandmother is among them.

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Along with the Bible is a notebook full of letters that are brown with age.  Brittle and fragile, I must take great care to make out the lettering from back in the 1880s.  Some of the oldest pictures I have found in treasure hunt Betty left for us are in this notebook.  They are pictures of those listed in the family Bible, along with poetry between lovers, letters between sisters, and notes of parents to children.  One is a handwritten marriage invitation from November 8th 1887!

The faces on my dining room wall seem to almost smile I as peruse these family artifacts. After all, the poetry between lovers was written by some of them.  Their serious demeanors in the photos don’t give away these things, but their hearts are clear in their written words of love for one another.  What to do with them?  How to preserve them?  I do not know, but I plan to find out when I go to the Atlanta Historical Society.  While today was the time to close the door, it was also the day to open the book.

 

My Apologies

I owe my sons an apology.  Allow me to explain.  In the refugee camps, they have squatty potties. I will try to paint a picture, for those of you who have never travelled to a place with these kinds of potties. There is usually a building with a stall or two. In each stall is a hole in the ground, over which you squat in order to defecate.  In nice ones, there is a concrete floor with a place for your feet. For a westerner like me, this was a whole new adventure.

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First, there was the smell that greeted me way before I arrived. I switched to mouth breathing and left my nose out of it.  Otherwise, I might have had to use the hole for throwing up as well. I have learned this trick using porta-potties and state park bathrooms for years while hiking and camping. Who knew I was being prepared for this moment?  Then, I stepped into the oven…I mean stall.  It had a tin roof, which absorbs the heat of the sun making the tiny space 1,000 degrees. As soon as I was inside with the door latched, I saw I was sharing the space with a lizard and quite a few flies. I asked the lizard to please stay put while I took care of my business. I knew, if it climbed my leg or raced over my foot, my hosts might get a screaming-potty-dance like they had never seen before.

This being a nice latrine, there were places to put my feet. If I placed my feet there, and then squatted, I should be lined up to properly hit the correct spot…in theory.  I have peed in the woods a million times, so this should not have been hard, however, there were no trees to lean on so I found out my quads were not as strong as I thought. Not to mention, my undergarments were soaked with sweat, so getting them down and out of the way was quite a challenge.  Fortunately for me, the first day, I was wearing a skirt and not pants. Skirts can be pulled up and even tucked into your shirt so they don’t fall into the stream.  The second day, I wore pants and quickly realized that pulling them down so that they do not touch the floor, where there are puddles, while at the same time keeping them out of the way, was too much of a challenge for old lady quads.

Meanwhile, Mr. Lizard was moving slowly towards me, and I was trying to get properly lined up, while not forgetting to breathe through my mouth.  Our hosts knew there were westerners coming, so they were gracious enough to put toilet paper in one of the stalls. Fortunately for me, it was empty when I arrived so I didn’t have to use the Kleenex packet I brought with me. I got my TP before squatting, which proved to be a wise move on my part. I was anxious to complete my task before the lizard made his way to my feet.  Armed with my TP, holding my nose, skirt tucked up into the neck of my shirt, feet on the correct spots, I assumed the position and hovered over the hole.

Somehow, I missed. There was splatter happening.  My feet were the first to notice, and so they shifted away from the hole I was missing.  Still, not lined up properly with the new wider stance, the splatter was on the increase. I leaned more forward, and was able to make it to the desired spot…for a few seconds.  As my stream weakened, it no longer hit the same spot and so the splatter started again.  I now understood the puddle on the ground.  Sweat started to drip into my eyes, because holding a squat this long is what people in America pay trainers to help them do for exercise.  I think I heard what lizard laughter sounds like. Meanwhile, I was swaying in order to find the correct position to hit the hole.  I never realized how much I use sound to guide me, but in the tiny stall the sound was delayed as the liquid had a long way to fall.  Who knew I would need to know physics to pee properly?

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Finally, I got to the correct spot…just as I finished. Grateful, and dying to get out of the heat, completed my task and wiped my feet off with more TP.  I exited without a lizard incident. However, my skirt was still tucked into my shirt. Fortunately for me, the latrines are far from the main buildings, and I was able to recognize my error before anyone saw me.

All of this led me to write this apology to my sons. I had no idea hitting one spot was so difficult.  I know my equipment is different from yours, but getting it right involves much more than I realized. Please forgive this mama for being exasperated with you while you were learning to pee in the toilet.  Now I understand practice makes it better, but there are adjustments and variables each time you go, which I knew nothing about.  I get it now.  I offer my sincerest apology to you all.

Dear African Woman

Dear African Woman,

I first saw you as I stepped off the plane onto a dirt runway.  You were outside the airport walking along the road in your dress with intricate designs and colors.  Your baby was strapped to your back with a swath of cloth, and your younger child skipped along by your side.  Your feet were bare and you headed towards the market in the sweltering heat.  I wondered how far you had walked and how far you still had to go.

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I saw you again the next day on the way to the camp, this time with tree branches upon your head.  Your skirt swished with each step of your feet.  Your head was held high and the stack perfectly balanced. Your baby was sleeping upon your back. Dust blew into my window, as the car I was riding in passed you. I wondered how heavy was your load.  I wondered how you got it up there. I thought you were amazing.

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Our next encounter was also along the bumpy dirt road.  The sweat on your face shone in the sun, and you offered a smile as we passed, even as your feet continued their determined steps towards the borehole. There was a bucket of laundry on your head, and two children under your feet, carrying jerry cans. They waved to us like we were celebrities.  When we waved back, smiles inched up their faces until they were as bright as the sun. I wondered how you would carry two full jerry cans and your laundry back.  I watched you bend in half to scrub the clothes of your family.  I saw the soap and wondered how long it takes to rinse it out one bucket at a time.  I also wondered if your back hurts when you try to sleep at night.  I thought you were steadfast and unwavering.

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My window passed by you yet again, as you were stirring a pot over a fire with a large stick.  The fire and the sun seemed to be competing for who could create the most heat.  As you cooked for your family, your patterned dress protected your legs from the intensity of the flames.  Your head was wrapped in a colorful scarf. You left the fire briefly to collect more wood.  Bending down until you had arms full, I wondered how long it takes to cook food over a fire and how much wood you need to cook this way every day.  You added wood to the flames to increase the heat. Your dress was two shades of the same color due to the sweat running down your back. I thought you were beautiful.

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You came to the teacher conference, too… sitting along the back wall, so that you could listen between nursing your baby and chasing your little toddlers. You asked thoughtful questions.  You took notes.  You went in and out with your children, but still participated and stayed all day every day. Then you walked home.  I wondered how long it takes you to walk to work every day.  I wondered how you survive doing this job without pay or resources. I thought you were intelligent, and brave.

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I saw you speaking at the teacher conference in your red dress.  You stood tall and spoke with grace about important topics.  You cared about others and helped them learn new things.  Well educated, professional, kind, and passionate, you shared from your heart.  When you laughed the whole room laughed with you.  It was a musical sound; the sound of hope being imparted.  I wondered if you knew how much you are needed.  I wondered if you knew how much hope you carried to hopeless places. I thought you were important and powerful.

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Upon your head I saw crops, laundry, water, tree branches, and various other things.  Your shoulders were strong, and your posture was perfect.  Your arms carried heavy loads, and your legs carried you long distances. I wondered how you keep going to survive day after day.  I wondered if the heat bothers you as much as it does me.  I thought you were strong and resilient.

I come from a long line of strong women.  I was brought up to be respectful and responsible.  I was encouraged to stand up for myself and to be bold, but also gentle.  I knew compassion and caring for others was a gift.  Determination, perseverance, and diligence were core values of the women in my family.  There is an independent streak a mile long that runs in my veins.  I know what strong women look like.  I have met many I admire over my lifetime, but none as much as you.  My African sister, you are the strongest woman I know.

Yours truly,

An American Woman

An Overview

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The South Sudanese Refugee Teachers’ Conference was a success. There were approximately 35 teachers from four different schools.  From my view, there were some standout moments.  The first being the training on trauma.  These teachers were not aware they have lived through trauma.  They were not aware that their students have also lived through trauma. Nor were they aware of how it effects behavior and brain chemistry.  I believe just the knowledge delivered by Glen was empowering to them.  There was hope planted, and understanding that maybe some of what they are experiencing can begin to heal.

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The trauma training went hand in hand with the devotional time.  Reading the story of Joseph from the perspective of a refugee certainly opened my own eyes.  I believe the teachers also saw themselves in that story, as well as the need for forgiveness, in order to reconcile with their brothers in South Sudan. It was our starting place each morning and it set the foundation for the rest of the conference.  It must’ve resonated with them, because when the offer of forgiveness was given, 17 of them asked for it.  It was life changing for them.

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Another standout for me, was the corporal punishment training.  Once the realization that trauma affects them, the teachers could see how hitting children with sticks, or punishing them in other physical ways, might add to the effects. I could see their wheels turning.  We had great discussion of specific instances and how they could handle it without hitting children. The facilitator did a marvelous job of explaining why a student might act in certain ways, and what can be done to look beyond behavior to hurts from their lives.

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The group work we did with teachers was also much needed.  Having 100 students or more in one classroom with one teacher is an intimidating situation for even a veteran teacher, but for a new teacher with no training, it is near impossible.  Learning strategies to make the students the center of instruction caused the teachers to think outside the box of traditional methods. Active vs. passive activities were discussed and practiced. One facilitator led role play groups, and it changed the way the teachers thought about their lessons. When we divided up into cooperative learning groups, so that everyone got to give input in some way, I could see the light bulbs go on.  They like the idea of rearranging the desks into a democratic U to put the students in closer proximity to the teacher, and to allow for more interaction between students, but how to do it with 100 students continues to be a challenge.  One teacher tried it and quickly said his students loved it, but that the spacing was an issue even with his 70 students.

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Another highlight from the conference was the discussion about curriculum.  The facilitators from Uganda hit on the topic several different times.  In the main session about how to use curriculum, it was discovered that many of the teachers didn’t have any.  Not only that, but those who did have it didn’t seem to know how to use it properly.  Therefore, many of the learning standards/objectives that are required to be taught in Uganda are not getting the instructional time they need.  The very real problems of being in a refugee environment were clear in this session.  The gaps where more teacher training is needed also were obvious.  It rang true that this project is an ongoing one, and will require numerous trainings to continue to progress forward.  The teachers are willing and able to come for more training.  They already asked for another conference in the end-of-conference surveys we collected.

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Faces lit up on the day we brought teacher resources to Hope Primary School.  They all loved the puppets, but they were especially popular with the teachers’ kids.  The math activities were well received, as were the reading books.  We laughed about how phonics are different in different versions of English.  We trained them on how to use what we brought. In addition, we gave them crayons, pens and pencils for their students, planning notebooks and teacher bags for themselves, and a set of curriculum for the school.  It was Christmas in May, and there were smiles all around.

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One of the stand out things about this conference to me, was the comradery between the facilitators.  We went into this training not knowing how to co-teach with strangers.  We had a schedule and topics, but we had never had the chance to talk through our plans and activities for each session or even meet some of the others presenting. The facilitator team turned out to be an international training force with years of experience in numerous careers and countries. It couldn’t have been more perfect.  Each person had their own contribution to make.  Each session had a place in the overall picture of the conference.  There were cultural norms we knew nothing about…but someone was there who knew exactly how to address those.  We had some strategies that they hadn’t seen before. The ebb and flow was smooth enough you might think God was involved. 😉   How do you teach with total strangers?  You don’t…you make them family and then everything else is easy.

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For our first refugee teachers’ conference, we did well.  It felt a bit like getting a four-year degree, in four days. So many things to teach and to learn as we barely scratched the surface of some of these topics.  What came out of the conference is the need for more in-depth training in several areas, as well as an ongoing presence in the camp to help the teachers make the shifts they want to make.  Please pray for our next training…that it would be clear when, and what the in-depth topic should be. Also pray for funding for more resources for the teachers, and that there would be someone to be there on a day to day basis to help them walk out what they are creating there.  Of the four schools represented, only one is a part of our Greater Hope Initiative.  Pray the others would see the value in partnership and join us for ongoing teacher support.

Night and Day

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The sweltering heat hung stagnant in the air. Except for the sometimes-oscillating fan, there was no relief. When the power was on, it was bearable.  When it was not, it was suffocating. My best bet was to lie as still as possible, to avoid increasing my heartrate by tossing and turning to find relief. The mosquito net around my bed fluttered as the fan sputtered to life in the night.  Stirring air was a welcome gift.  Turning on my side, light fell across my face through the open window. My friend the moon was just peeking over the tops of the palms into the garden below.  Full in her glorious white light, I couldn’t help but smile at her coming to call me.  I know the sweat I was sleeping in must have been glistening, but I arose to look her full in the face, resting my chin on the windowsill. The light of the sun shone in her reflection, and, as always, I prayed I can follow her example in order to be a reflection of His light.  Soon the light covered me fully, like a blanket.  As I returned to my pillow, the exhaustion of the past few days caught up with me. My breathing lengthened and deepened, until the light from the window went out completely.

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The birds unfamiliar, sang their songs to me.  The waves of a lake, as big as the sea, lapped upon the shore.  Palms waved their frons, as the birds jumped from tree to tree. A cow mooed, and a rooster crowed.  The temperature cooled as the sun sunk lower in the sky.  The strange trees and bushes reminded me I am far far from home, yet they cradled me in a hug that brought relaxation to my soul.  There is something about the beauty of this land that causes me to want to soak it in.  Her climate is harsh, and the land rough but striking. Her people are stunning.  They are strong and resilient. Nothing is easy. Complexity is the norm. My heart is glad at the same time it breaks. There are no simple answers, but on this day, at this shore, it is enough to know He’s got the whole world in his hands.

Are We Together?

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I found out at the teachers’ conference that even when you speak the same language there can still be barriers.  Put two Californians, a Georgia peach, a Nigerian, several Ugandans, and a whole host of South Sudanese together and it is humorous to watch us all try to communicate…in English!  The vowel sounds are not the same, the blends are different, and if you are trying to teach some phonics skills there will be much frustration all around.  The phrasing is different as well, as is the syllabication. The speed of speech is also difficult to master, because we all need the others to slow down so we can comprehend each other. The best part of all of this, is the joy and laughter we share when trying everything but charades, to communicate.

 

The teaching strategies in most schools in this region are explain and repeat.  The teacher is in the front of the room and 100 children are in rows.  The teacher explains and then says repeat.  The children repeat verbatim.  “Girls repeat.”  “Boys repeat.” “All repeat.”  Then on to the next topic.  Part of the Greater Hope vision is to increase critical thinking skills and partner with teachers to make teaching more learner-centered.  To that end, the teachers conference included several sessions where we demonstrated active learning activities.  The teachers know no other way to teach than what they experienced as children.  Their request, and our goal, was to show them some ways to get the learners more engaged in the day to day lessons.  In our sessions, Karin and I, gave them numerous strategies such as, cooperative learning groups, think-pair-share, affinity groups, expert groups, role playing, guided discussion, open ended questions, and several others.  By the end of the week, they were moving into groups with relative ease.  The main thing is that they were hungry to learn these new ways.  How to do them with 100 students is the biggest challenge.

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One of the phrases they commonly use is “Are we together?” (Say it with your best British accent.) It replaces “Do you understand?” or in my case, “Do y’all get it?” The thing I love about their phrasing is, it is unity based.  It does not raise me above them as the one who knows, and they the ones who don’t.  It asks, are we of one mind?  Are we all thinking the same about what we are learning? It gives dignity to the learner, rather than taking it.  If we are NOT together in our thinking, it allows the learner a way to ask without shaming them.  I am not together with you in your thinking, because I think differently.  They explain their thinking, ask a question, and discussion follows.  I do not know if they use the phrase with their students, but in our conference, it brought about some pretty great conversations about the different topics…one of which was corporal punishment.

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The man leading the session on corporal punishment brought some revelation to them about how “caning” students can affect their view of learning.  I was wondering how the session would go, since it is common practice to beat students with sticks if they do not perform well on their classwork.  However, since we had already discussed trauma, they were all ears.  They do not want to contribute to the trauma of their students, but figuring out how to manage the behavior of 100 students alone is a daunting task.  We had made a list early in the week of their worst learning experiences as children and their best.  Almost all of the “worst” ones had to do with being beaten by a teacher or having to do physical labor for one. Teachers are to be feared and avoided. The question in the corporal punishment session became, “What kind of teacher do you want to become?  A “worst”or a “best” teacher?”  All of them want to be a “best.”

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Then the question. “Are we together?” Yes, in the idea of avoiding beating students.  But how to avoid it, how to make them behave is a different matter. Questions and specific behavior problems rolled off their tongues.  Then one man shared a story, which made everyone in the room stop and think.  When he was a boy, he lived a long way from his school.  It took him two hours to walk the distance.  His family needed him to help with the farming and did not see the value in getting an education.  He would get up early and do his plowing of the land before heading off to school.  He was late every day, and he was caned every day.  Yet, he kept coming late.  He cleaned the latrines.  And he kept coming late.  He did all the worst jobs at the school, and he kept coming late.  One teacher, finally asked him why he was coming late and found out the story.  Once it was recognized how motivated this boy was to get an education, despite hard circumstances and horrible punishments, he went from being a “problem” to being a top student.  Then he posed the question, and produced a powerful moment.

  “Are we together?”

Meet Anna

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Meet Anna. She is a 10-year-old girl from South Sudan. She and her siblings came to the camp 2 years ago with her mom.  She has never met her dad.   Anna is a poet. Her chances of having her voice heard here are slim to non-existent, but she writes anyway.  It is her way to process life.  You will see she has a gift.

Here is one of her poems.

My Mentor

They tried to blind me,

But you protected my sight.

You made my learning

More comfortable and bright.

Now with clear vision,

I am able to see my future

My hope is restored,

Where I thought it was no more.

To appreciate you better,

I’ll always keep in school,

For my future to be brighter,

Working hard not to remain a fool.

Uche!  Thank you dear pastor,

God bless your partners as well,

You are forever my mentor,

As I bid you farewell.

People of Purpose

This teachers’ conference had a theme of equipping and empowering, but I think more importantly, it imparted vision and purpose.  Living in a refugee camp is like living in limbo.  There is no telling when the return to your home will come.  It might be a few months, or not in your lifetime. Being a people who have had to flee more than once, many of whom have spent most of their lives in the camps, hopelessness is very common here.  They are an hour and a half car ride from the nearest town, but they don’t have cars. They walk, or ride bikes, or motorbikes if they are lucky. They feel trapped here and abandoned. Why try?  What’s the use of making an effort to do anything if it is doomed to fail?  Even survival is hard here.  Just getting food and water takes tremendous effort. Working beyond that, is overwhelming and pointless.  Many have lost their sense of purpose.

That is why Hope Primary School is such a special place.  It is a place where the people of South Sudan saw purpose.  One man thought they needed a school, so he started one, under a tree, by himself with no resources. Other refugees came alongside to help him.  Soon they had 600 or so kids to teach, still with no resources and no pay. I cannot imagine the gumption it takes to do such a thing.  I also cannot imagine how tiring it is to teach, in addition to having to survive yourself. Seeing the need, and attempting to meet it, only to find it nearly impossible to do the job.  That adds discouragement to the hopelessness, and morale plummets. What a hard, hard thing.

Our partnership with the school has helped to provide a roof overhead, and food for the lunch program, but as nice as those things may be, the teachers still feel like they are drowning. No books, no curriculum, no resources…it is like being plopped down in the middle of a field and told to teach.  The teachers’ conference has been a time to pour into them…to encourage them and to lift them up.  The majority of them have not had teacher training.  It blows my mind what they are doing, truly.  A major goal of this conference was to bring hope in a hopeless situation.  We wanted to encourage them that they are people of purpose, who have taken on the huge task of imparting that sense of purpose to children, in such a desperate environment.

In Uganda, each day of school is started with a devotional and a prayer.  It is an important part of the educational culture here. The motto is: First for God and country. In like fashion, our conference started with devotions every morning. Uche taught the story of Joseph, and related it to the refugees. Joseph knew what it was to be in a pit, to be hated by his brothers, to be in a foreign land, and to wonder if he would ever get back home. Yet, he still had dreams and still walked in an honorable way…even when he was falsely accused and put into prison. He forgave those who sold him into slavery, his very own brothers! Only God could give him the power to do that, and only God could use Joseph’s horrible experiences to save a nation. The teachers were encouraged to continue to dream and develop, even in the camps. Not to give up or just wait around, but to look around and see how they can contribute to the students they teach by raising up children who embrace peace, which starts with forgiveness. He gave the teachers a charge to look beyond their circumstances into the future and to know God will use this season for good as he did for Joseph.

Seventeen of the teachers decided in order to forgive their enemies, they must first receive forgiveness themselves.  There was a message given…love equals sacrifice, and how Jesus sacrificed because of his great love for us all. More holy moments were had when these 17 teachers, agreed to embrace forgiveness from God so they could pour it out on their enemies.  Walking it out will be a challenge, but one they are wanting to take in order to find peace.  It was a beautiful thing to witness.

We did eventually get to the educational part of the conference, and I took some notes in each of the sessions. There were three Ugandan nationals who head up the teacher training program in the region that came to share their wisdom and experience. The topics were professionalism and morale, teachers code of conduct, understanding primary curriculum, and a faith based approach to education. The hope filled statements I collected breathed purpose into what the teachers are doing here. It gave them a long-term viewpoint that the limbo they live in might just have a purpose for the next generation. It also gave them a desire to push through the hard things, to the important things.

  • “Teaching is nation building.” This statement is especially true in a refugee situation.  When they go back to their country, whether that is next week or years from now, the students they are teaching will be the leaders. What they receive now, in the camps, will determine how they will lead.
  • “You are teachers to the nations.” Again, teaching a refugee population who is displaced makes this true, because some of the people will choose not to wait and will move to other countries.  The students here will be the ones who will integrate into other places.
  • “You are agents of change.” These teachers desire peace to come to their country. They know it will require forgiveness among the tribes and that the kids will be the ones to bring unity back.  If they can teach peace and forgiveness to them, they could change a country who has been at war for 5 generations.
  • “Teaching is a calling, not a job.” If you are talented in the area of teaching, it is a gift from God. Teaching in such difficult circumstances can only be done with strength from Heaven.  It is a noble profession which is under appreciated, but highly necessary, in order for peace to come. God planted them here for such a time as this.
  • “Because we are; the nation is.”  Without teachers, there can be no nation. The teachers are the ones who develop the doctors, lawyers, leaders, engineers, who form any nation.
  • “No country is better than its teachers.” Encouragement to be a great teacher so the nation will be great.
  • “Another place is very far.” They can long for another place, but to be present where they are currently, is more helpful and more important to developing a future.
  • “We are orphan teachers. It is who we are.  We have to learn parenting, even though many of us do not have parents.  We have to use peace to teach, not war.”  This was spoken by a teacher in a discussion about disciplining students.  He sees the reality of his role, and the difficult but important task of learning peace in order to teach it.

We were all so taken with these teachers, and we were privileged to bring purpose and healing to them at a time when they needed encouragement. The conference covered many topics to begin the process of educating the educators, but none was more needed that the foundation of forgiveness. It is the thing on which everything else must be built to begin to heal the wounds of war.  Please pray that the seeds planted this week would grow and multiply in the community.

Greater Hope

People ask me all the time if my work in Uganda is part of my job.  The answer to that question is complex and hard to explain.  I work at AIM (Adventures in Missions) in Parent Ministry, which entails helping and supplying resources for parents, as their adult children travel around the world doing mission work with the World Race.  I go on Parent Vision Trips, where the parents meet up with their Racers for a week on the field to do mission work.  When I go on those trips, they are part of my job and paid for by AIM.

However, the South Sudanese Refugee Project in Uganda is a different.  It is a ministry that partners with AIM and other organizations to minister to the South Sudanese refugees.  The project is the vision of one man who has been a missionary from Nigeria to South Sudan for years.  His name is Uche.  He moved his ministry to Uganda when the war broke out and it became too dangerous to continue to work in South Sudan.  He is the one who coordinates all things on the ground here in Uganda when I come.  He knows the local customs and the culture, as well as contacts here that can help the project go forward in the refugee camps. He is in the process of building a base here in Arua for teams to stay at when they come to help in the camps.

AIM has put together a team of people to partner with Uche in his vision for the South Sudanese people.  There are several people on the team who have different specialties.  Mine is education.  While the overall vision includes many initiatives, the first one moving forward is the Greater Hope Schools Initiative. GHS partners with refugee schools who are interested in becoming a Greater Hope School.  The teachers’ training conference I am at now is with our first partner, Hope Primary School, who asked to become a Greater Hope School.

All of that explanation is to say…no, the work I am doing in Uganda is not part of my job.  But anyone who knows me at all can tell you that I am pretty passionate about education, especially for kids who are at risk.  I collaboratively develop programs and systems to meet the needs of students, so this project got my heart pumping and my brain stirring, because it combines all the things I have done in my 20-year educational career into one.  I do not get paid to take these trips.  I raise funds for them.  I do not get paid while I am here.  I do not get paid for the supplies I bring to the schools. I donate my time and expertise.  No one on the South Sudanese Project team gets paid.  We want any money donated to go to meet the needs of the people of South Sudan.

There is a fifteen-page document about the Greater Hope Schools Initiative.  The first day of our teacher conference we asked the teachers of the four schools represented (Only one school is a GHS, the others are considering it.) to do some cooperative learning, a new concept for them. They divided into groups and looked over sections of the Greater Hope Document, discussed them and gave us their feedback. A key of this initiative is for the refugees to take the lead in determining what is needed and what is not, so it is a working document.  I will spare you all fifteen pages. (If you are interested in a copy, I can send you one. 🙂 ) Here is an excerpt from the document which explains the Initiative.

What is the Greater Hope Schools Initiative?

The Greater Hope Schools Initiative is an educational model for delivering instruction, designed specifically for schools within a refugee camp environment.  Greater Hope Schools (GHS) is a nonprofit which equips teachers in a holistic approach to meeting the refugee children’s needs through education and discipleship.  In a refugee camp, we realize the needs are different than in a regular school setting.  Most children are coming to school out of traumatic situations, sometimes hungry, sometimes without their most basic needs met learning academically will not be effective until safety and some of these core needs are addressed.  Therefore, we use Maslow’s hierarchy of Needs as a model and recognize the more basic physical needs must be addressed before addressing the higher-level needs of belonging and personal development.

 What is the Greater Hope School Approach?

Our pedagogy takes a child-centered approach rather than a teacher based lecture model.  We look at the needs of refugee children in some of the poorest areas of the globe.  They may not have parents, access to education, or even enough food.  They make lack access to water or basic nutrition, and safety is a daily concern.  Yet, they are valuable and deserve the chance to get an education which will open opportunities for the in the future.  How to offer such an education in the challenging setting of a refugee camp is the design the Greater Hope School Initiative addresses.  Using a collaborative approach, the teachers, parents and community work together to make the school the best possible within the circumstances.

GHS works to develop partner schools which do not ignore the reality of their students’ lives.  Recognizing their reality, be it poverty, trauma, or displacement is key in building a school which can meet the varying needs of its students.  These schools embody cooperative, active and participatory learning.  They seek to ensure student growth not only in academic areas but I social, emotional, physical, and spiritual areas as well.  GHS does an overall assessment of the student population and an appreciative inquiry with the teachers and school leaders within the community.  The results help the team to better understand the issues specific to this community and to design a plan along with them to serve their people.  They use the resources available to meet the needs in creative ways, beginning in the community and also using partners around the world to help fund and carry out initiatives set by the school.

One of the aspects of the GHS Initiative is ongoing teacher training.  This conference has put a spotlight on the need to regularly engage with teachers to help develop them.  They want more.  It is their desire to continue learning how to best meet the needs of their very specialized learners.  I will share more on this in blogs to come, but for now please partner with us in prayer for our way forward on how we can fund trainings like the one we just did, twice a year.