Visitation Day: Welcome to the Family!

The following post was written by our Director of Programs, Kristine Sullivan.

Visitation Day in Uganda is a big deal. It is the one day per term that student’s look forward to almost as much as they look forward to the last day of exams. Knowing full well that most of our students’ will not have visitors for various reasons, we try our best to get to their respective schools to show them support, guidance, encouragement, and love. And when we can’t, it breaks our hearts.

We have forty-one students at twelve different schools in five different districts. Many Visitation Days are at the same time, but somehow we try to get to each one over the course of a few terms. Luckily, this term I was blessed to be able to visit four separate schools on their Visitation Days.

I get to experience many things on VD. They are essentially parent-teacher conferences, Open House, and a time to check in with the students all wrapped into one. Because of this, there’s certainly some joy, some frustrations, and some soda and snacks: a welcome break from water, posho, and beans all the time.

A few weeks ago on my way back from Kampala, I stopped in Luweero to visit seventeen of our GLOBAL Scholars for a few hours at Pope John Paul II. I first met with the Senior 2 students who were receiving marks for their beginning of term exams. I was happy to see improvement across the board; however, as any parent or guardian would do, I spoke sternly to the students, reminding them of the importance of preparing for exams with seriousness and focus. Thankfully, I was able to meet with the students’ English teacher, as all of them had their lowest marks in that subject. I immediately began to brainstorm how I could tackle this issue head on and gave them some tips for English exams before we parted ways.  (Over this first holiday from school, I have been planning a workshop with our student’s for general study skills and various subject-specific tips for success)!

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After I sent the Senior 2 students off to enjoy their Sunday, I met with several Senior 1 students. All eleven of our GLOBAL Scholars sat with me along with five other students from Gulu who apparently wanted to join in on the family fun. You see, a family is not just blood relation.  In fact, family to me is “a group experience of love and support.”  So, the more the merrier.

In Luweero, we sit in a circle and celebrate successes and talk about the struggles of being so far away from home.  Luweero is very different than Gulu.  It is located in central Uganda, about one hour north of Kampala, the capital.  The people in Luweero are from the Buganda tribe and speak Luganda.  I’m telling you, Luganda and Acholi are no where near the same.  The sounds, the way the words roll of the tongue… you could be on opposite sides of the world, really.

Aside from the difference in the local language, the students tell me how they are sick of matooke (boiled, smashed plantains and formed into plops of mystery) and wish they could have posho all the time like at Mother Teresa’s. I laugh. I never thought they would miss the food at Mother Teresa’s.  They will return to Gulu in about ten days.  I know they cannot wait and most of their families have let us in on the surprise that they’ll have a slaughtered chicken waiting for them.  Delicious.

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The next weekend I had the opportunity to attend three schools in one day., St. Mary’s Lacor and Graceland Girl’s School. At Graceland we have one GLOBAL Scholar who adores school visitors. Anena Ketty Gloria spotted  me from roughly 500m away and came sprinting towards us as though she had not seen us in years. After quick embraces and her reassurance that indeed, secondary school was getting easier, we got to sit and learn about how she had adjusted much more since our last visit. She told us she started running Track and Field and was making many friends while becoming more comfortable with all fourteen subjects. No, you read that right. Fourteen. After only about an hour, we were off for St. Joseph’s College Layibi; even though the time was short, the timing was just right.

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Here at Educate for Change, we consider ourselves a family. In a family, there is give and take.  Sacrifice and service.  Love and compassion.  We all have our various strengths and weaknesses and it is our desire to lead each member of the family to his or her fullest potential.

All of our students, their families, and our staff come together very often at school visits, home visits, and on holidays. We believe that in order to raise a community of educated, focused, committed, and contributing members of society we need to include all stakeholders in open and honest communication and programming. This means that our job does not stop with the student’s and paying their school fees. We want to continue to work alongside the students, their parents or guardians, their teachers, mentors, role models in the community, local politicians, and every one and anyone else. You name it. We want to exhaust our resources to ensure that change happens. And soon.

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As we near the end of Term 1, we’ve started to brainstorm new ways Educate for Change will be moving forward. We want to make certain that the joy and familial love we all feel when we gather with our students on Visitation Day and when we travel to see our families deep in the villages endures for many years. We want to continue to embrace more students, often the forgotten or unseen of the community whether it is due to their distant home location, lack of resources, or physical and mental differences that are not yet well understood within many communities here in Uganda. Until that day, I promise you to keep working tirelessly because I firmly believe that if we are to “give light…people will find the way.”

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Much love from Gulu.

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