The story of how I got involved with a South Sudanese refugee camp in Uganda is an interesting one. I have been asked about it enough times I thought it might be a good idea to write it down. Sometime in the fall of last year, a question popped in my head demanding an answer. I ignored the question for a good while. It was in reference to the plans for establishing long term bases and church planting in foreign countries that AIM (Adventures in Missions) is currently undertaking. The question was, ‘Is there an educational component to the development of these bases?’ I am a part time employee in the Parent Ministry department, not the Long-Term Missions department, so I wasn’t sure why I needed to ask this question so badly, but it would not leave my head, so I went to Seth Barnes (the founder of AIM) to ask it.
“As a matter of fact…we do have an educational component to our South Sudan Refugee Project,” he said.
“What is the South Sudan Refugee Project?” I asked.
He proceeded to tell me about the conflict in Sudan and how his dear friend Uche had contacted him about helping in the refugee camps in Uganda. Uche has been a missionary to South Sudan for years. The project to come along side what Uche is doing there, already had a team of people working to help refugees in many areas of need. Seth sent me two documents, one had an overview of an expansive plan to address needs of water, medical care, shelter, food, as well as emotional and spiritual needs.
The other document was a plan to develop an educational model, called the Greater Hope Schools Initiative, that will be used in refugee camps to start schools which address the specialized needs of children who have endured enormous trauma. The overview document included an empowerment program in which students work on projects around the school to create ownership. A student lunch program to meet their physical needs was to be developed. It included a child-centered teaching approach which focuses on real life problem solving and critical thinking skills. It addressed the emotional needs of children who have experienced trauma. It had a discipleship program built into it. It included a community component which involves parents in every aspect of the school.
As I read that document, everything I have done in my 20-year career as an educator was included. My heart began to beat faster and my mind was spinning with ideas of ways to put some meat on the bones of this document. I felt the need to talk to the educator on the team about the school portion of the project, only there was no educator. What? No educator? How can you build an educational model without an educator? And so, I became the educator on the team, and began to design a chit system (point system) to have students do jobs/projects around the school.
Meanwhile, in Uganda, there was a man who escaped South Sudan’s war and saw the need to start a school in the refugee camp. Alfred is an educator who has a passion to see the children of his country educated to be the leaders of the future. A group of refugee parents led the way, and they started Hope Primary School. It started under a tree, with Alfred teaching all the students. Soon there were more teachers and more students. The group came together, each family bringing a tree to be a post of what would become the classrooms of the school. Alfred and Uche came together and a vision for Hope Primary School to become the first of the Greater Hope Schools was born. Hope Primary School is a pilot school for the Greater Hope Schools Initiative, which is only a small piece of the overall South Sudan Refugee Project. There are many moving pieces in this project on many levels, but the school is the part I felt most drawn to.
I felt compelled to go to Uganda. I wanted to meet Uche and Alfred to hear more of their vision. I wanted to see the teachers I was designing things for, and hear their hearts. I have been a teacher who is told what to do from someone who has not been in my classroom. I did not want that to be the case here. I needed to stick my toe in the water and see if this project was as much of a fit for my skills as it appeared. The only problem was that it costs quite a bit to go to Africa. Every penny we bring in goes to pay bills, so I talked to God about it. I told him if he wanted me to go, at this time, he would have to make it clear and provide the money. My first seed money came in when a friend of mine won a contest and felt led to send the prize money to me. I got three other unexpected checks in the mail as well. Next, some work I had done years ago resurfaced, and it was clear I had never been paid for it, nor had I finished it. With the back pay, and the pay for the completion of it, I had what I needed to purchase my ticket. Hannah found me a great price on a ticket, which went up ten minutes after I purchased mine.
There was another team going in at the same time as me, to do some filming to bring some awareness to the plight of the refugees and to spotlight the project. Another team was there to live and serve in a children’s home for orphans in the camp, called Dreamland. Others were also going in to train people to work with trauma victims. It seemed to be perfect timing for me to go. God had done what I had asked, which meant I needed to follow through with my decision to go. Let me say, I have not traveled internationally until the past couple of years, and I have never done it by myself. I am always with someone who knows more than me, and I follow along like a chick follows its mother. The idea that I would have to fly nearly 24 hours, with a lay-over in which I would leave the airport in Qatar, and find an Air Bnb, was scary to me. To get back to the airport in time for my flight was scary for me. To spend a night in Entebbe on my own, and handle switching money, as well as paying for things with the money I didn’t understand, and then to fly in a small plane to a dirt airfield was scary to me too…but I knew I had to do it. I got encouragement from many people to go for it. Hannah promised me I could do it, and I believed her.
I went. By myself. I didn’t get lost or miss my plane. Honestly, I felt quite accomplished when I arrived back home that I made it intact, with all my belongings. While I was on the ground in Uganda, the people I met, were as inspirational in person as they were from a distance. I met men who fled their country and brought 135 orphans with them. I met pastors and missionaries and teachers. I got to meet the government officials who are over the camp from the Office of the Prime Minister. I met the Bishop of the Church of Uganda who we are working under while we are there. I had a wonderful meeting with the Minister of Education and her team to discuss the Greater Hope Schools Initiative. I had an opportunity to train the teachers and develop next steps for their plan for the school. I got to dance and play with orphans, and meet students who see the need for education. My trip confirmed what I thought to be true, I have something to offer to this project. Therefore, you will be hearing more from me about the crisis in South Sudan and the needs of the refugees. I have been invited back to train more teachers in May, so pray if that is supposed to happen God would provide. I am still tutoring and working in Parent Ministry. This new project isn’t a paying one, but it is a heart one. Thanks for all your words of encouragement to me as I take these crazy steps I feel led to take. Here’s to living fully!!