We’re a family here at Educate for Change. And like with any family, it’s always special when we get to visit home.
Living so far away is not easy, but I’ll save the sappy lists of the people and things I miss for another day. Indeed, many minutes throughout my weeks are spent longing for familiar things, the feeling of being welcomed, and the comfort of sharing words and coffee with a loved one. It is because of these feelings that I am always excited when my schedule allows me to attend home visits.
Home visits here are a BIG deal. And I mean big. The hospitality of the families involved in our program is unparalleled. In fact, the hospitality of nearly every Ugandan I’ve had the privilege to meet ranks quite highly. No matter who you are or where you come from, individuals and families open their doors and offer whatever they have on their table or wandering around their compound. (Yes, we get a lot of chickens as gifts). It’s one of the most evident ways that the country of Uganda is community centered more so than it is individualistic. It challenges me to consider my own generosity. And each time I travel home, I learn more and more about the GLOBAL Scholars and the place they come from.
When I travel to visit our Scholars and their families, it is undeniable that I am better able to assess our students. To understand their motivation and consider why being granted access to a secondary education is quite honestly life changing has opened my eyes over the past few years to many realities I used to be blind to given my upbringing and exposure to education. When I go home, I see the pride in the eyes of the students’ families, even sometimes from members who were not necessarily ecstatic about them attending school in the first place. Indeed, as we continue to encourage education, real change is happening. (We would love to applaud the amazing teachers, mentors, and family support for these changes, in addition to other stakeholders within the community here in Uganda. You rock).
- Girls who were expected to stay home after primary school and get married or start their own families are studying and performing well. Their families who may have initially been unsupportive of their attendance in secondary school are starting to come around and be the encouragement they need to be successful.
- Students who were shy and withdrawn are gaining confidence and exuding pride. They know how to talk and present themselves well; they know how to articulate their goals and the benefits to their hard work; they know where they come from and they are motivated to make a change in their community.
- Our students have a renewed sense of responsibility at their homes. In certain situations, their home environments are quite difficult; however, they return with renewed spirits and aim to assist in whatever ways they can on their holidays. They rebuild thatched roof huts that have been burned down or destroyed, they work in the garden, sell mats, slash the compound, and they do whatever they can while studying their books, to better help their families and raise what little money they can for various things they need or transport money. They give back in whatever way they know how, and it’s remarkable.
The majority of our students are from out of town, which means that we need to cover quite the distance when we meet them from home throughout the year. The terrain is rough and tough and depending on the amount of rain we’ve had, the roads are quite interesting (to say the least). Adjumani is close to the South Sudan border and one of our boys is from deeper in Amuru than I ever imagined existed. Though this makes scheduling and travel difficult, working with students from such a broad part of the country allows us to better understand many aspects of our work in Uganda and will help us to eventually transform more than just the Gulu region.
The few days I was able to go on the road with David were long. Some days we traveled far to see only one student, and other days we had eight home visits stacked on top of one another. There was no shortage of mango juice, soda, biscuits, and goat. While my stomach rumbled and tumbled, I kept thinking about how blessed I was to share in a meal with our families. They are amazing to offer us everything they can to make us feel appreciated, loved, and welcomed. I get so excited to see how their homes have changed since the last time I visited and watch their siblings and neighbors grow like weeds. Indeed, I am always impressed with what our students do from home: many build their own huts and even in one case, I was pleased to see that a Scholar constructed built-in shelves and a seat so that his family would have less things to purchase in the market. Creativity really has no limit for these kids.
At home visits, I am able to evaluate the family situation and certain issues we’ve ‘heard about’ from a first-hand perspective. This one-on-one, intimate attention allows us to follow up on any and all complications the family or student may be experiencing. Health issues, land wrangles, and deaths in the family are constant topics of conversation and issues putting stress on the Scholars and their families.
Going home also allows us to better understand family dynamics, witness emotional distress the students might be facing due to specific situations, and better guide them through these scenarios alongside their parents or guardians. In addition, we have learned a lot about the individual communities our students come from and difficulties that are being faced from their land. One issue I have been shocked to learn about is that in a few families, the stress of having their child home is difficult to carry because of the neighbors! In fact, there are a few villages that are reportedly so “jealous” that students have been granted scholarships that our families and/or students fear for their safety. It is not uncommon for the threat of attack or poisoning to be there. Despite this threat, it is our task to encourage structure that might help the student avoid problems while allowing him the time at home that is so crucial for personal development.
Blogging, social media, research, grant searching, communicating to our donors, and programming from here take up the majority of my time. However, feeling the heartbeat of my community and the families and students of Educate for Change is crucial to keep me going. It’s imperative that we constantly assess and evaluate our projects and even take them in new directions, depending on what we find from school and home. Our ever-evolving mission is completely dependent on those we serve. Each one of our students is so amazingly special in their unique, individual ways and we are more committed each and every day to do whatever we can to ensure their success in every aspect of their young lives.
We are so proud to know that as this community continues to grow here in Uganda, so does our community of support at home in the USA. Thank you to all of our donors and advocates, we would be unable to do this work without you.
If you are interested in sponsoring a scholarship for one of our GLOBAL Scholars, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Generous individuals, classrooms, schools, groups of friends, Rotary clubs, and businesses are currently supporting seventeen of our forty Scholars. In addition, we have a select group of committed individuals who are constantly giving when they can. We are so blessed to receive your support. Truly, no amount is too small. So if you’ve been itching to give back in a small way to make a big change, we would love to welcome you to the family, too!