The fourth chapter of life: My neighbor, the centenarian, is about to move out

This past month was an emotional one at the house next door to ours. Our neighbor is 102 years old and she has lived in the home next to ours since she married about 80 or so years ago. She raised her children in the house, was a member of our neighborhood since it was established and all of the houses around hers were first built. And she soon may be leaving and it makes me sad.

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Fairly healthy and involved in more social outings than I (since I became a stay-at-home parent of two little ones), we  now see her about to take what appears to be a final transition. Unable to attend her weekly card games with friends and struggling to maintain her routine of attending Sunday service at her church, she has become a victim of chronic pain. I admire her adult-children, now in their 60s and 70s, for caring for her–mowing her lawn every two weeks and visiting two to three times a day for meals and other assistance. But, now they have decided it is time she leave her home. They feel her needs now require constant care and her activities would be best supervised at most times. So, they are left with some pretty arduous, emotional tasks like having her home assessed and placed on the market and finding the right kind of facility where she can live for the rest of her days. They are unsure of how much longer they will be able to hold her hand and enjoy conversation with her. The thought of this pretty much has me quite torn even now as I type this.

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Becoming elderly happens. For those of us who will be so lucky. There will come a day when plantar fasciitis and arthritis plague some of us (I am turning 42 this week and have, for six months, had the luck of experiencing plantar fasciitis and despise it for being so remedy-less). Our skin will age, grey hair will no longer be a fear but a reality, and we will unfortunately experience loss on many fronts. Last year I saw my husband lose his father and my best friend said a final, dreaded good-bye to her mother. Our children grow and life changes, yet as we get pulled into our 40s, our taste in music and clothes seems to stay the same. Thoughts like “I will NEVER stop listening to Top 40 pop music” shift to “What is this garbage?! THIS is NOT music…” I can’t help but think about painter Thomas Cole’s series of paintings entitled The Voyage of Life, which were painted in the mid-1800s and illustrate the stages of life from birth to death. Aging happens and none of us are immortal.

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Last month I saw an ambulance at my neighbor’s home a couple of times and last week realtors with their clipboards and pens in-hand could be seen walking around her yard. While I prepare myself for my final goodbye to her, I can’t help but wonder who our new neighbors will be and how they will settle into a house that has been hers for over half a century. Her pictures will come off the wall and her children will have some rough tasks ahead of them. I hope I can be there to comfort and assist them…that’s what good neighbors are for. And as for my neighbor’s next and final chapter of her life, I wish her well–as well as could be expected. Leaving one’s home and lifestyle cannot be easy and I imagine that many facilities where elderly go to be cared for and finish out their lives aren’t filled with much joy and happy days, which is why volunteering there is so important. Let them know they are not forgotten or any less valuable to our society as they once were.

A bit of wisdom that my neighbor shared with me a couple of years ago when I interviewed her upon turning 100 years old will forever be in my memory: Enjoy these years home with your babies. Looking back, it was those years for me that was the best time of my life. So, whenever I start to lose my cool or get cabin fever from being stuck inside with a 3-year-old and 4-year-old, I remember those words she spoke to me. A piece of my neighbor that will will be forever with me.

 

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Bounce, climb, play: Fantastic toys for infant to toddler-age children

A household does not need a ton of toys to be a fun, learning environment. This list would make a great gift guide. Just a few of these toys, which are typically well-made and long-lasting so passing them on is possible, provide lil’ ones with lots of fun at various stages of infancy and toddlerhood:

Baby-on-back: a small, square silkie or cloth (see: http://blog.intellidance.ca/blog/2-06-2011/scarves-floating-fun-ages-0-5 )

Baby-on-tummy: simple objects, wooden or with color, possibly mirrored (all baby-friendly items) can promote grasping and make tummy-time more enjoyable: http://theinspiredtreehouse.com/child-development-tummy-time/

Crawling: we got a rainbow tunnel that out toddlers still play with: http://www.educational-toy-guide.com/crawling-tunnels.html

For Age 1 & Up

Ball pounder: https://www.bellalunatoys.com/products/plan-toys-hammer-balls

Object permanence box: http://montessoritraining.blogspot.com/2014/01/develop-object-permanence-montessori-infants-toddlers_22.html

For Age 2 & Up

Haba My First Ball Track: https://www.amazon.com/HABA-My-First-Ball-Track/dp/B0073XSVPI

Train tracks: http://thrivinghomeblog.com/2014/03/moms-favorite-toys-two-year-olds/

Playmobil 123  (I search eBay for used lots and prefer vintage items): http://www.themummyadventure.com/2014/03/playmobil-123.html

Le Toy Van farm (scored ours half-price open box via Amazon Warehouse Deals): https://www.hayneedle.com/product/letoyvanbarnyard.cfm

(check out: https://www.cottage-toys.co.uk/blog/ )

For Age 3-4

Galt spinning top: https://www.amazon.com/Galt-America-54220-Hand-Spinning/dp/B002HMURUW

Lakeshore Learning magnetic mazes: http://products.lakeshorelearning.com/search#w=magnetic%20color%20maze

Petit Collage puzzles: https://petitcollage.com/collections/games-puzzles (on Amazon)

Magnetic tiles: http://www.learnwithplayathome.com/2015/09/best-educational-toys-for-kids-magna.html

Furniture piece that encourage coordination, balance, and creativity, great for ages 1-3

Pikler Triangle (we had neighbors build ours and we paid them for lumber and hardware, perhaps a bit for their time, too): http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-make-a-collapsible-Pikler-Triangle-climbing/

Rock-a-boat steps: http://www.instructables.com/id/Childs-StepRocker-Boat/

Waldorf wooden play stands: https://elvesandangels.com/collections/playstands

Learning Tower (help out in the kitchen, this one is great if you have two toddlers together): http://www.littlepartners.com/the%20learning%20tower%20original

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Little Partners learning tower (we use it for two children)

Kindergarten-ready? No thanks. On neurodiversity and the decision to educate at home

In New York state, where I live, there are established benchmarks that stipulate what children should be doing at preschool level. Take a look. We all need our minds blown every now and then. As New Yorkers, many of us have the option to take advantage of universal pre-k, whereas some do not and have to pay hundreds a month to send their child(ren) to catholic pre-k or look into other options. I did this the first time around. I sent my first-born to “the best” preschool in my area, paid a monthly tuition, and although a catholic school, as an atheist mom, I didn’t hesitate after hearing “they’re not really THAT religious when it comes to lessons and activities.” Kindergarten is not required in New York state and children must be registered for school by their sixth birthday.
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Elementary School in Los Angeles, 1970
Some parents don’t think twice about sending their child(ren) to school. I know I didn’t ten years ago. Some register them at age four for public school in the district in which they reside. Some relocate so that they reside in a district that is deemed better and safer with greater scholastic and athletic opportunities. Some are lured in by the prestige and possibilities that private school has to offer. Some decide to redshirt. And then there are those who for various reasons decide to opt-out of school and learn at home. It could be religious parents who feel that public school isn’t religious enough, or atheist parents who feel that their public school is too religious (yes, this happens) or it could be a variety of other reasons, one of which may be that they have a child with autism or who is neurodiverse somehow someway.
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I present three views here—as public school teacher, as wife of someone with CAPD who went through public education, and as a parent of a child with autism who may likely homeschool unschool. With my first born, I worked 40 hours a work during daytime and had full time grad school during nighttime…I saw my child for an hour every weekday morning and then not again until bedtime. Weekends were all I had, wherein I balanced time for my child, time for school work and studying. Then, I landed my first teaching gig when that kiddo was 1.5 years old. Daycare, preschool, and then public school were the only path that was possible for me as I transitioned to single parent. There was nothing wrong with that. I am glad I can say that I was once a single mom, parent of an only child, who worked full-time and depended on daycare. But, now I have changed and my situation is different. I am now a stay-at-home parent of two kiddos under age five.

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AS A TEACHER, I taught grades 8, 9, and advanced placement for eight years in a small school that was the hub of a pretty conservative, “traditional” rural-suburban, 96% white (according to state data record at that time) community. I had many students classified as 504 and with IEPs. I did not learn a great deal about how to accommodate students with exceptional needs (the preferred term we were taught to use) in grad school, so every time I came across something I had no clue about, I would do my own research on it and do my best to differentiate lessons to suit the individual student. I vividly remember having two students with autism and one student with Aspergers. And I occasionally saw a student with autism who was not mainstreamed who I never had experience teaching, but saw when speaking with his one-on-one aide every now and then. All students who turned assignments in on time and did well on tests. Two of the three grew up side-by-side with their peers, both ran track, mainstreamed, except for a period or two a day (this school ran 8-230 daily with 9 periods a day of 40 min or so) where they spent time in the “resource room” with 5 students total and 2 exceptional needs teachers. This is where one-on-one time occurred, individualized attention and teaching, etc. The student with Aspergers was new (moved) and not well-liked. The students, then high-schoolers, seemed to want to abstain from collaborative classwork and projects with him because he didn’t express enjoyment, or make or get jokes, and I remember he, too, disliked these team efforts where learning was self-directed. Despite my mission to educate, I always paid close attention to how all my students were treated and respected. As a kid, I was severely bullied, so I always stay tuned in to be sure all of my students were respecting each other and being respected. The student with autism who was not mainstreamed, I recall seeing him in a quiet, empty room with his aide, always on a computer using some graphic design program to design Disney cartoons. I remember his aide saying she struggled to get him to focus on assignments or whatever work was expected of him. He was never in a classroom with other students, but would visit the library and sometimes walk through the cafeteria. I assume he participated in gym. I remember noticing how his peers seemed to view him as not part of their class due to his being non-verbal and the little side-by-side time despite growing up with him. I remember how proud his family was at graduation. I sat through many IEP meetings and saw teachers be encouraged to be creative and willing to be flexible in planning lessons and teaching material. Some teachers were frustrated by this, usually stressed out because they had limited time to teach topics and state tests to prepare students for. I remember a few of the special ed teachers who came in my room as aides tell me they appreciated my willingness to ease up on demands or expectations…my genuine response was: whatever is best for the student and makes your job a little less stressful. I honestly cared more about students’ socioemotional well-being and allowing them to practice skills that reinforced time management and cooperation than academic achievement. But, other teachers argued that I could take more time and put forth more effort to individualize and “tweek” lessons, as I had no state test to worry about given my content area. So, as a teacher, I felt I personally did as much as I could to learn about each child and wanted to figure out how they learned best and adapt my lessons to how they learned best. At times, definitely challenging. I recall one year I had five exceptional needs students (none of whom were classified as students with autism) in a class of 18 students and one aide present to work with those five students every day for my class. Those particular five struggled to enjoy school on a daily basis. They enjoyed my class most given the content area according to the aide (“They love learning about world war” she said) and they loved being back in their resource room with her for five-on-one time. She would make them cocoa once a week and really worked hard to assist them in their learning journey.
AS A WIFE OF AN ADULT WITH CAPD (central auditory processing disorder) who went through public school mainstreamed with extra time allotted for tests, excused from foreign language requirement, and with some time in resource room with aides, my husband feels as though he succeeded. He enjoyed being on the school bowling team and I guess was pretty great at high scores He was bullied a bit, he said, and remembers the stigma of “going to resource room,” how it felt standing up to leave with tests for extra time and help. He graduated high school, went on to college, having tutors and taking half the course-load as most. He graduated with an AAS and then a BS, now holding a full-time career, owning a home, having a family, etc.
AS PARENT OF A CHILD WITH AUTISM, we may likely homeschool or unschool. I have been home with my about-to-turn-3-year old and just-turned-4-year-old since their births. Neither child expresses much interest in socializing with other kids…when at a playground, neither gravitates towards the herd of kids playing tag, but instead run and climb and play solo. I have a 13-year-old thriving in public school. Before the diagnosis, I just knew I had a super chatty toddler who loved to constantly play and run, explore, and ask 500 questions a day and a younger toddler whose only word was (and still is) “Mom.” I told my husband that I felt like these two would just not thrive in a classroom setting, sitting in chairs and having just 20 minutes of recess a day (which is often taken away as consequence for bad class behavior or falling behind on lessons).
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Running and playing. I told my husband that our kids deserve nothing but play until age 7 or 8 and learn along the way whatever it is that interests them. He asked me about returning to my career so we could once again have disposable income rather barely get by on our income now (less than half of what it was before our two sons were born)  and I responded that I just don’t know. Having a non-verbal child means, in my mind, that he is more vulnerable (one example being cases of sexual abuse in schools) and I feel since I am home with them, I know what their needs are. Already having been classified by our district and having an IEP, we chose not to enroll him in preschool despite the urgency of the committee who reviewed his assessment and constructed said IEP. I feel like I know how they learn best, each in their own particular way. Our 4-year-old enjoys intense, quick learning. He finds a cicada exoskeleton in the backyard, picks it up, runs at me asking for the microscope. We then observe, then he dismembers it, they we watch videos about it and go to a website where we can hear the various songs of cicadas. I doubt that come Kindergarten, he will want to sit in a chair and color a sheet about the different seasons or practice his ABCs. We almost had him assessed like his younger brother, but decided not to despite his mild sensory issues and what we suspect is possibly a gifted state of mind. Suddenly, having him assessed and possibly diagnosed went from a priority to something I know longer was interested in.
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I cannot say that our child with autism will learn to read or write. I cannot say that he will learn to dress himself. I cannot predict if and when he will potty train. Our approach as parents, which may not be exactly how others do it, is to let them be, accept them as they are, and allow them opportunity to direct themselves through play and learning while facilitating as much as we can so they enjoy life. Camping, fishing, hiking, hunting, swimming, painting, making music, playing soccer and hockey. Learning to do all of the things that they enjoy.

“Mama…Daddy…what’s heaven and Jesus all about?” On having “the talk” with your kids

For some parents, “the talk” involves semi-taboo conversation about the birds and the bees. Or for teens, condoms and back-seats. But, for us—an atheist household—“the talk” involves answering questions about where people go when they die, what a church is, etc. As Humanists, we teach our children to be kind, considerate, and caring. Boom. Done. Through hands-on lessons and seeing the acts of kindness and goodwill that we as parents demonstrate on any given day, we hope that our children learn about doing good and being good. No consequences presented, such as sin, and no acts of redemption, such as confession and prayers where forgiveness is begged for. We choose to abstain from passing on myths such as hell and heaven and live in the present and be mindful in the moment. But, eventually, the questions will come. Our children will somehow hear or learn about concepts such as god, holidays such as Easter, and practices such as prayer. And answers will be expected.

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I created this PowerPoint (above image) after having taught world history to ninth graders for eight years, and geared it towards young children ages 4 to 8. My philosophy is that as children are presented with customs and practices of a culture different than theirs, not only are they becoming educated, but also on the road to awareness and acceptance. So, this presentation can be viewed (best on laptop or PC) with your little one right on your lap, hitting the space bar for you to toggle through as you read and together discuss. Or, for older kids, they can facilitate and explore themselves.

I live in an area where majority of the population are middle-class, white, christians. There are about 15 churches within just a few miles of our home. And while we are raising our kids without religion, I do enjoy many of the opportunities and programs that exist at our local Unitarian Universalist church. Many atheists and agnostics opt out of church completely, but when it comes to a church that has had a transgender minister and is both LGBTQ-friendly and supports Black Lives Matter, I’d be lying if I said I am not a fan. Plus, their OWL program for teens is amazing and probably the most progressive around.

Being raised without god, whether atheist, agnostic, or humanist or someplace in-between, is becoming more common and accepted. The Scouts may offer a Humanist badge and some schools have Young Skeptics clubs. I recently had an experience where I was looking into archery lessons or youth clubs for my 13-year-old, however the only ones I could find were affiliated with Centershot, which prides themselves on connecting youth to the teachings and ways of Jesus. Complete opposite of what I would like to see my kids involved in.

Here’s some recommended reads for parents:

Parenting Beyond Belief; Raising Freethinkers

Growing Up Godless

For kids:

There are seven houses on my street

Grandmother fish

What happens when we die?

Why don’t we go to church

Online resources for parents:

Parenting Without Belief

Parenting Beyond Belief on Facebook

Reasonable Doubts podcast (episode here is for parenting without belief)

The Friendly Atheist on Facebook

Atheist, Humanist, and Non-religious Parenting on Facebook

Atheist Parenting on Facebook

Mothers of Reason and Evidence on Facebook

Online resources for kids, teens:

Kids Without God

Teens and Humanism

The Cicada: Fun, easy insect lesson

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I was 40 years old when I learned about the Cicada. Our middle child, who was three at the time, discovered their exoskeletons all over our yard. Making their appearance every 2 to 17 years, we have spotted cicada exoskeletons and holes in the earth in our yard for three years in a row now. I knew nothing about these “true bugs” that belong to the order Hemiptera. So, while my kids learn all about cicadas during toddler-hood, here I am as a middle-aged adult figuring this out.

I am no Cicada expert, so my approach of self-directed learning resulted in pretty basic information, which is GREAT for kids. First off, this short clip courtesy of BBC introduces this true bug and also explains how other animals feast off of them (great way to introduce predator-prey cycle of life). Then, this time-lapse video showing the cicada molting should really capture kids’ interest. They leave their exoskeletons hanging around–our four-year-old found one attached to the underside of a 2×4 that was leaning against a tree. One summer, my husband and child collected a bucket full of exoskeletons from all around our yard. Our four-year-old asked to view one under the microscope this morning (which inspired this post), after which he dismembered it to see the hollow inside (and yes, now I have a dozen cicada pieces on my patio table).

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We then watched this video of a girl who catches a cicada in her yard, hears the loud shrill of the true bug, and finally places it on her finger and walks around with it.

And here is a great website that has an index that plays various cicada songs.

Lastly, this article here is fascinating, entitled The Cicada and George Washington. Definitely one to read and share on either your facebook or twitter page.

Cheers!

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Are you ready for forks? Acknowledging neurodiversity, letting go of typical expectations, and accepting that accommodation is key

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The road human beings travel from infancy to childhood to adolescence to adulthood is not a nicely paved, one-way road that travels from point A to point B to point C to point D free of all inclement weather and void of treacherous potholes. No matter how hard we try or wish it to be. It is more like a rocky, gravel road that has many forks that lead to who knows where with lots of chance cards along the way. And we, as parents and caregivers, aren’t really driving. We are at the wheel, but we can’t be certain of our destinations, no matter how wonderful and ideal they may seem.

As parents, we await all kinds of milestones. Some we may be naturally or personally eager for, others are listed on hand-outs given out by the pediatrician’s office. Expecting our kids to perform certain physical feats and ordinary tasks, whether it be walking, peddling a tricycle, transitioning from diapers to toilet, or something as simple as feeding oneself with a spoon. Expectations and milestones based on some imagnary scale seemingly designed just for neurotypical human beings. As parent of a child with autism, who happens to be my third child, I find myself following more of a wait-and-see approach. As if I am trucking along through parenthood always looking for that fork in the road and, once I get to it, wondering what way we’re headed next.

For example, I am waiting to see if my soon-to-be three-year-old will ever speak. I have accepted that there is a chance he may never. I need to be prepared for that possibility and ready to accept it. He got on big brother’s tricycle two nights ago for the first time and I spent 15 minutes showing him how to peddle; he seemed happy to try, but then lost interest. And that’s okay. He has begun lining things up, but thus far it has been food rather than toys. I walked in to the living room the other day and noticed 6 pieces of Cracklin Oat Bran cereal perfectly lined up on our coffee table, each piece touching the one before it and the one after it, as if it was a cereal train. Yesterday I almost sat on a handful of raisins perfectly lined up on the couch. And today, my son grew instantly frustrated by the fact that when eating strawberry frosted mini-wheats, each piece of cereal would not stay on the spoon as he turned the spoon upside-down everytime to take a bite. No matter how many times I showed him that if he held the spoon a certain way to take a bite, he’d have success taking a bite every time, he insisted on turning the spoon over…dropping the piece of cereal and growing more and more frustrated. So, the solution was a small fork. And for each piece of cereal, I’d stick the fork into it and hand it to him to hold any way that he wanted and have success at making each piece get into his mouth.

Quick solutions and instant problem-solving are what I have been working on as a parent since learning that one of my children has autism. And maintaining patience, which is not always easy. And with this, I have realized that while milestones are indicators that a child is developing at an expected (neurotypical) rate, they aren’t standard and one-size-fits-all. When I see parents and caregivers post questions about when will their child wean or use the potty or hold a pencil correctly, I just want to reply “Most likely eventually and when ready.” Let them lead, I often remind myself. And sometimes their lead takes them to a place we really don’t desire, such as when my two younger ones refused again and again to sit in high chairs for meals. This pretty much diverted future trips to diners for family breakfasts with toddler and baby and meant lots of food stains on our furniture and carpets. Our solution wasn’t to enforce the use of high chairs, but to accept their disgust for being restrained in high chairs and invest in a good steam cleaner for our carpet and covers for our couch (which we bought with money we made when selling our two barely-used high chairs).

I spent six years in college, invested $100,000 through loans, got three degrees—one of which was a masters in adolescent education—and taught eight years in a classroom. I expected all of my students to pay attention, do their assignments well and turned in on-time, and to enjoy learning about history. I did my best to make the experience enjoyable. But, now, as I have been delving deeper into the stay-at-home realm and de-schooling myself in a sense, I realize now how unfair the practice of setting standard expectations is. And how much better our schools would be—public, private, and parochial—if students were allowed to learn in ways that were fine-tuned to their own personal styles and valued for creativity; inspired to make, do, and learn individually rather than collectively; and asked to demonstrate skill or knowledge in ways other than standardized testing.

As I grow as a parent and customize my parenting to suit my children’s needs, I feel more ready for forks.

Small gestures of generosity matter: Giving just a little to Ugandan children

Talking about the various types of crises that plague countries on the African continent and the necessary role that both humanitarian efforts and volunteers play are topics of conversation that likely occurred more frequently in my household than others here in America. My mother lived in West Africa for a few years when she was a teen and the experience she had while living there had a great impression on her and she reflected on that quite a bit in my childhood. Sure, she was considered by many to be an “army brat” and she attended a privileged boarding school with other students who were also white Americans and some Europeans. I vividly remember watching aid efforts approved by President Reagan on the nightly news, which is a memory lots of us who were kids in the 80s probably share. Starving, dying children in Ethiopia was a concern of mine, even though I was just five years old. Why is this happening? Why isn’t President Reagan doing more? What can I do to help? I asked my parents if we could go shopping and send some food over, but they explained why we could not do just that. Instead, my mother encouraged me to write a letter to President Reagan, urging him to do more. So, I wrote my letter–likely with crayon–and stuffed it into a big envelope, licked the stamp, and mailed it off. I bet when the day comes where I am going through old boxes of belongings in my parents’ attic, a letter addressed to me with a date of 1981 and a gold, embossed seal from the President of the United States will turn up. I doubt my letter made a difference, but what my family did this morning just might.

A few days ago, I saw a few posts in a Facebook group that I am a member of, a couple of men in Uganda sharing news about a children’s school they work at, advocate for, and support. I saw the photos of Ugandan children, smiling as they held up objects that had made…evidence of lessons they are learning as they develop critical-thinking skills. Then, I went on, liking some memes and commenting on some posts. And then I went to bed.

Then, yesterday morning, I remembered the posts and photos about the Ugandan children and went back to just see what types of items they are in need of. “Balls, pencils, pens, and clothing…” were some suggestions that Bwambale Robert gave me. He is one of the men I am in contact with at Kasese Humanist School.

Bwambale Robert

Simple needs, I thought to myself. And then it occurred to me…these children, a certain percentage of whom may be orphans, don’t have enough balls to play with. The thought literally brought tears to my eyes. As a former teacher and parent of little ones who spend all hours of practically everyday immersed in free play, I couldn’t imagine Ugandan children in need of balls. So, I drove to Wegmans and discovered a sale on balls, some of which were really cool neon rainbow-colored, and I bought 8 balls (4 kick, 2 volley, 2 soccer) for $39. A small gesture of generosity.

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My husband deflated the balls, I packaged them up as small as I could and he drove to post office to mail them. $83 in shipping fees. WOW. But, in the grand scheme of things, a worthy move considering we have so much and these children have so little. And it’s not like my household is upper-middle class and has an ample, consistent income…we live in a very modest, small home on a pretty meager income. We are a typical “paycheck to paycheck” household who may never afford the American tradition of traveling to Disney World that so many do. But, somehow I revamped our budget to make room for this and am glad I did. I contacted one of the men who work there and shared this photo with him, letting him know our package has shipped. And he snapped a photo of a few of the students with smiles on their faces after hearing that many balls were on their way.

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Students at Kasese Humanist School in Uganda, photo taken 9 July 2018

I did a little research on Uganda and learned more about the impact schools have on the lives of children and the community there. And I learned more about the Kasese Humanist School:

Achievements in the last 7 years include educating children over the years; growing over the years and moving from a rented property to their own property in three different locations in Uganda; providing job opportunities to Ugandans as teachers & non teaching staffs, builders, carpenters, farm workers, drivers, etc.; initiating women emancipation campaigns by emphasizing female child education and self help projects; lobbying for child sponsors, donors to help the school (more than 250 children over the years have studied under the child sponsorship scheme); running an orphanage hostel in Muhokya where a small number of orphans are fed, sheltered and educated and educating almost 100 orphans for free at the Bizoha School in Muhokya; engaging learners to learn practical skills in computers, tailoring, carpentry, knitting and gardening; and managing to put up the Bizoha Humanist Center, which is a building that serves different roles, such as a Hostel for guests, shops, library and offices for Kasese United Humanist Association & Women group. Such an admirable and remarkable feat! They do face challenges though, since Humanism isn’t exactly an extremely popular concept on the African continent (although it is a growing and appreciated philosophy). Some parents struggle to satisfy students’ school fees and paying staff salaries can be difficult. Schools need fencing and equipping them with electricity, smooth cemented floors, and water storage tanks can be a challenge. So, while packages containing balls, pens, pencils, and clothing are needed and appreciated, cash donations really help the most. Plus, one fact I was unaware of is that the school must pay a tax on items shipped to them. So, rather than ship thirty shirts, it is more wise to donate the cash and then those who run the school can take the cash to a local second-hand store and buy clothing for the students, avoiding the tax. Lastly, rumors tend to circulate every now and then, tarnishing the image of the schools, such as the claim that some think that every time photographs of the children are taken that they are then given to spirits in exchange for money, or that because the school supports humanism that those there are anti-religion and are going to hell. Humanist schools are also accused of training homosexuals simply because they support the premise that homosexuals have a right to live and not be segregated against.

But, despite challenges, there are 10 key values that they’ve put into practice, derived from a certain book Rational World for Global Ethics by a Canadian writer Rodrique Tremblay and they are…

DIGNITY, RESPECT, SHARING, NO DOMINATION, NO SUPERSTITION, CONSERVATION, NO WAR, DEMOCRACY, EDUCATION

You can learn more here as well as reach out to Bwambale Robert on Facebook if you wish to extend some kind of small gesture like we did, or something more. You can also give via the Brighter Brains website https://www.brighterbrains.biz/schools then choose any item equivalent to the donation. This op-ed is a great one to read and share.