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.
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.
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.
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.