“Little by little, one travels far.”

I’ve been back on the ground in Uganda since 20 January 2014.  My fundraising and vacation time back in the States reached eight full weeks, and I was itching to get back to Gulu and get things moving for the new school year.

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Fundraising is draining.  While I felt alive and so excited about sharing the Educate for Change story with students from nursery through university, young adults, and various professionals in seven states around the country, it was exhausting.  Exhausting because there were days I would present for eight 45 minute periods in a row without a break; exhausting because I traveled for hours on end and thousands of miles across the country and back; exhausting because I know how hard it is to understand something you’ve never seen, and I simply had to do my best to share the story: the raw, true, inspiring story of our amazing community here in northern Uganda.

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I was so blessed to visit with many fantastic and motivated students and individuals who are working so diligently back in the States to raise funds for scholarships, who want to do what little they can to have an impact on someone they most likely will never meet.  But while my time at home was informative, clarifying, and humbling, it was most certainly not rejuvenating or a time for rest.

I’m running on adrenaline.

Since returning to Gulu twenty-three days ago, we’ve been busy. We have conducted parent meetings, group and individual scholar meetings, and home assessments with all of our returning (fifteen) GLOBAL scholars. We have accepted a new student into the program at S4 after a lengthy application and interview, rounding us out at sixteen current scholars.  This week, we have begun initial school check-ins to make certain everyone is back in school, in good health and condition, and are focusing on their studies to ensure high grades at mid-term.

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With all of this on our plate and day trips to Amuru, Pabbo, Luweero, and around the Gulu region, it honestly seems as though I was never gone for two months.  The cold and snow of the east coast is a distant memory.  I even forget that the Super Bowl already happened and that we’re in the midst of the 2014 Sochi Olympics. (Let’s be honest, I would have been way more excited about reading Super Bowl recaps if it had been a Seahawks vs. Patriots game).

With PLE results being delayed by the UNEB grading calendar and some technical issues, the beginning of the year for all students has been a bit stretched out.  I guessed that by now, all students would already have reported to school, but then again, T.I.U. (“This is Uganda”).

Our incoming S1 class just submitted their applications for scholarship and our programs yesterday by 5pm local time.  I’ve loved seeing the applicants come back to campus at Mother Teresa’s.  Some of them have returned and we’ve celebrated their results, others have been let down by the realities of high stakes testing and have had to be consoled and reassured that life doesn’t stop here and they should be proud of their performance.

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Being back at Mother Teresa’s also means I get to see all of the other students. My sign language is already improving and it’s been a blast to meet all of the new kids and also to see the rest that I have known for a while now.  In fact, when I look back on photos from the summer of 2012 when I first met them all, I’m shocked that they are so different.  Still beautiful and perfect, but stronger, taller, and more confident, for sure.  It’s been such an amazing time with them, and I look forward to many more years of watching them grow.

This morning begins our week of home assessment and interviews for the incoming S1 class. By 8am we began making phone calls to get directions to home and David (our lead mentor) is already off for two family interviews today in Pabbo.  Over the next seven days, we have to assess many factors that go into our acceptance process and interview all thirty-seven candidates for scholarship.  Some of this includes going through home assessments and parent/guardian interviews.  When it’s all said and done, we will send letters of acceptance before organizing admission to the various schools around the country, double check that all students have their uniforms and other school requirements, and have them report to their campus before the end of the month.

I’m exhausted just thinking about it all.  But do not worry: the ridiculous laughter and hot, constant sun keep me alert and ready to make some difficult decisions. I mean, when directions to home include “when you get to the tree, branch left, but be sure it’s not at the road that is deceiving,” how can you not help but laugh?  Little by little, we’re getting there.  And I’m so excited to see where this year takes us and share that with all of you.

A small note of congratulations and appreciation: We were so pleased with the efforts of all of the student applicants who sat for their PLE from Mother Teresa. Of the thirty-nine candidates, we had seven first grades, thirty second grades, and two third grades. This means that all of our students passed and that thirty-seven students qualify for a potential scholarship. This is SEVEN more than we were anticipating at the time of the Mock PLE and my fundraising trip. Impressive, to say the least. A special thanks to all of the wonderful students for reading so hard and the teaching and support staff at MT’s for their dedication and focus. These results are so strong for a school that has only been around since 2007.  If you don’t believe me, read this: http://www.monitor.co.ug/News/National/PLE–5-000-schools-register-no-candidate-in-first-grade/-/688334/2170218/-/y3pxjy/-/index.html

Much love from Gulu!

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