Choose Wisely

I’ve been thinking a lot about value lately. Value and choices. When you live in a very small place, you have a lot of time to think. I have been constantly asking myself what I value.  Do the choices I make reflect my values or have I been corrupted and broken by this world?

During my recent trip to Kigali, Rwanda I had the amazing opportunity to see a beautiful, orderly, clean city. In fact, there were several times throughout my four days that I felt as though my body had been transported back to the States.

My intention in this post is not even to begin to unpack the politics of Rwanda and how they have developed themselves so quickly and efficiently over the past 19 years. To say that the history is complicated and that political tensions run deep is most definitely an understatement. However, if you ever plan on traveling to East Africa and you know anything about the history of colonial power in Rwanda and how it contributed in a serious way to the 1994 genocide, or even if you don’t, you have to visit the Kigali Memorial Center.

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I spent a few hours there.  I read everything and listened to the audio tour.  Studied every picture.  And I just stood, utterly amazed. The horrific violence that was inflicted upon the Tutsi and moderate Hutu people has made me sick to my stomach since I began to learn more about the genocide while I was in school myself. That numb, enraged feeling was certainly intensified. However, in a beautiful way, the museum curators were also able to capture the humanity of so many of the victims and heroes. It reminded me that tragedy is not just numbers, and people are so much more than statistics. It also reminded me that there are two ways to tell every story. And how you tell it shows what you value.

The news lately is horrendous. Shootings. Bombings. Chemical weapons. It is truly enough to make any sane person crazy. It might even be enough for some people to welcome “giving up and giving in” as an option. But, for many, hope still endures.

This world is selfish, broken, and filled with heinous crime. However, I’m telling you… people are not born that way.

People learn how to be selfish because they are not taught to share.  People are broken because the world has failed to value them and tell them that they matter, no matter how they might be flawed. Our communities have not educated children, teenagers, or adults on how to rebuild their lives. We simply mock and jeer them because it makes us feel better about our own path.

We haven’t given enough hugs.  We haven’t shown one another how to love by loving unconditionally.\

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And then there’s heinous crime. I’m not naive enough to say we should go around hugging criminals… but something brought them to that point. No one wakes up one day and just does something both terrible and tragic. There are warning signs. We are often just too self obsessed and “busy” to notice them.  Our society has failed.

Maybe part of the question is gun control. Maybe it’s background checks. But I’m still stuck on this whole concept of early education, true awareness and attention paid to mental illness (by both schools, government, and insurance companies), and the love and support systems established by a community.  We need to create communities that find value in things deserving of our love and affection.

Value. What do we value as individuals? Is it evident?

This week, Floyd Mayweather got paid $41 BILLION to fight. That amount of money, used correctly, could rebuild and empower a developing nation by educating and employing the people. And people watched. And bet. Won and lost and celebrated and beat their heads against tables over it. Teenagers all around the US (and probably elsewhere) stand in line for hours and shell out $180-$250 (or more) for the newest shoes to take photos of them and put it on Instagram. And then complain that they are broke. But it’s all about keeping up appearances, right?

We complain about everything, want everything, and then in the end… are we every truly satisfied?

Something most of the world’s people might agree on is that we value human life. But I think the majority of us don’t even respect it. We simply tolerate it. As long as it lives according to our rules and standards.

So what do we value? Truly and actually value? Is it money? Status? Jobs? Relationships? People?

I find it hard to believe that anyone actually values superficial things. In fact, I have so much love for and faith in humanity, so I refuse to believe it.  The truth is, however, that the majority of our decisions or the ways we choose to live our lives might tell another story.

Simply put, it’s time to choose to find value in the little things. The person next to you. Clean water. Smiles from strangers. The innocence of children. Family and friends. Health.  The fact that you have a job at all… and if not, the fact that you’re still alive and able to read this. On a computer or a phone… somewhere there’s electricity. Because you had an education.

And then it’s time to wake up and realize that we don’t deserve any of it.  We each need to be thankful and give back because we are all, each one of us, abundantly blessed. We shouldn’t be so obsessed with appearances that what we wear on our feet every day could feed and educate a family. But it’s our choice. We always have the choice.

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I know that I was born with much.  God blessed me with a wonderful family and friends, fantastic education, and amazing opportunities.  But even though I KNOW these things, I have had my days (too many to count) when I’ve felt slighted because my life is not what the world tells me is “perfect.”  When I finally come down, away from the ignorant and selfish place where I feel like I deserve better, I remember that every good and perfect gift is from God (James 1:17) and to whom much is given, much is expected (Luke 12:48).

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I need to choose wisely.  Love and hate are right in front of me each day, no matter where I go.  I cannot let the world corrupt me.  I can choose to love or choose to take the easy path, walk away and pretend that I can have no influence.  William Wilberforce once said, “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”

My life and my values have been shaken, broken, and shaped by my 27 years on this earth.  I am not the same person I was in high school, in college, or even a year ago.  I hope that what I value is evident to the world.  But each day is an opportunity for me to step it up… to ask for the Grace to love more.

That is what I do here in Gulu. I love and support and hug. I encourage and empower and educate. Some days are difficult, but it’s stuff that matters. One day I pray that the children I work with (or have worked with in the past) will see the world with bright eyes and pure hearts and love just the same.

That’s how the world changes.

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Let It Be Enough

I’m trying to live by a new mantra these days: “Let whatever you do today be enough.” Work here simply doesn’t feel like work and it never follows a schedule. I love what I do… quite seriously. I love spending time with kids. I love writing. I love networking and forging new relationships. I love fighting for something I believe in. I love learning about methods of sustainable development. But all of it together is quite overwhelming… especially while adjusting to a work schedule that is on “African time.” Long term plans often leave me dissatisfied and impatient. So I’m learning better how to wait.

When there’s not many distractions and the power is out, I find myself doing a lot of “self study.” I find that I am terribly patient with others, but not often with myself or with my goals. I’ve begun to medicate with tea, sunsets, good music, and spending more time with friends. Now that I’m in town, I want to get to the school more often to just sit and play with the little ones. All in all, I’m trying to learn how to effectively balance my passion and my “life” and accept the reality that I will probably never complete a to-do list in 24 hours time. Especially if it’s raining.

Last week was “school visit week.”

We began our week last week traveling to Gulu High and Keyo to see Lubangakene and Mirriam. On Wednesday we traveled to the familiar Sacred Heart and Layibi College. The remainder of the week we prepared for our day trip to Luweero and worked on other projects. We learned much from the Head Teacher at Gulu High that we plan on writing into our programs. The work we have begun here is not as “easy” as it might appear on the surface. There’s a lot to balance and as I am learning, many similar programs have been unsuccessful, leaving students with no support other than financially. Unfortunately, many programs fail for this reason or because the means for their financial support is not sustainable. It also often develops a certain culture of entitlement amongst the students that we want to avoid. Simply, this cannot be the case with Educate for Change. Now begins the time for me to develop plans to ensure our fate.

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On Saturday,I traveled to Luweero to visit the kids from Pope John Paul II Academy.   And after a long day of the Post Bus, boda bodas, hitching a ride, and traveling the last 75km’s in a beer delivery truck, we made it back to Gulu with the most beautiful sunset out the passenger window.  Success.  Our scholars at PJPII are done on the 15th so I will see them back home shortly.  A few of them who live locally will even come visit Mother Teresa’s and perhaps tutor the P7’s!

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Of all the schools we have scholars attending, the most interesting to have visited is Pope John Paul II. It’s a new school so there is a lot to learn from them, especially as we plan to build a secondary school for Mother Teresa’s within the next five years. The school opened in February 2012 with S1 and a few S2’s. Now there are a little over 200 students on a small plot of land, 11km’s from the main road. It’s remote, beautiful, and so peaceful. Our scholars rave about a few things, but mainly how they are able to focus so far away from town. In addition, because they are no longer in Acholiland, their English language improving immensely. And that there is no bullying. That sounds like an A+ report from my end.

In the coming weeks the primary students are going home for a short holiday, leaving the P7’s behind to prepare for exams. I’m looking forward to this time with them so I can get to know them on a more personal level before we begin scholarship interviews. From what I see so far, this is a very special class. I’m hoping more of them will want to join their brothers and sisters in Luweero and maybe even get a few of them to apply to Restore Leadership Academy. More on that beautiful place and their amazing staff and students in the next week or so. Promise.

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Education: A Weapon That Will Change the World

Everywhere I look in Gulu, I find hardworking women. I have also encountered determined and diligent men, don’t get me wrong. In fact, many of my closest friends in this beautiful region are some of them. They do exist, even though it would be rather simple to stereotype them otherwise. What is utterly remarkable, however, are the amount of women I see working from dawn to late in the evening. These powerful and beautiful ladies line the streets and markets, balancing children, jerrycans, and gnuts in a manner worthy of a slot in a Vegas variety show. In many senses of the word, they run this town. But they need to be educated. All people need to be educated.

When I first began to teach Social Justice at Serra, I was amazed by what I learned in order to teach my students. I had always been intrigued by justice; however, I was not well versed on the issues. I had no stats or stories in my back-pocket ready to drop at a moments notice. As the months passed, I became impassioned by social justice. My desire to be a life long learner inspired me to get informed. Now years later, I am certain that the struggle for justice is what wakes me up in the morning. That and seeing and talking with my amazing kids. You know us teachers, we have many children, and by now I have nearly a thousand. My kiddos in LA, Gulu, or as they grow into adults (yikes) and travel and live across the world and continue to pursue their dreams. For the students in LA who I have been beyond blessed to not only teach but love, I know that it has been through education that their worlds were unlocked. In school, they were exposed to the realities of our world and perhaps the path that was best for them. And now they are out there doing it. They are making our world a more beautiful, just, and peaceful place. I’m often so proud of them that I’m moved to tears.

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That same dream for a successful, happy future for all students is what brought me to Uganda. I’m determined to provide what little I can to make sure that my beautiful children here in Sub-Saharan Africa are empowered and exposed to the same rights my kids 9,000 miles away possess and enjoy. But that goal is a little bit trickier here. There are way more hurdles and bumps in the road I’m walking these days.

Education in Uganda is an interesting issue to tackle. Statistics are there, and I’ve done some research but numbers never tell the whole story. For now it’s the little I have.

UNICEF reports that while 92% of primary age children in Uganda enroll in primary level 1, only 32% of these students will finish primary level 7. And of the 32% of children who sit for their P7 exams, only 17% will attend secondary school. Astonishing.

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Around the world, eduction is viewed through many lenses. I think what we can all agree on is that education, good education, is powerful. It is so powerful in fact, some people don’t want it. There are governments who fear the educated, because they are the ones who will challenge corruption. There are men who fear educated women, because they won’t be submissive. These are the truths we need to shatter.

On the other hand, there are families who fear education because of the cost. They know that education is the key, but in many cases, funding school for their sometimes 13 children is next to impossible.

Investing in sustainable education is our mission. Not only will education unlock possibilities and dreams, but it fights poverty and empowers communities. Through education, people are able to remove the blinders the world places over their eyes. The educated and empowered begin to be returned to themselves and see what they are truly made of. Let me tell you: pride and confidence can do wonders for a socially just and peaceful world.

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Around the world 75 million primary school aged children are not in school.  More than half of these children are girls and 75% of them live in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.  Why?  The simple answer is money.  However, when it comes to the girl, it’s a bit deeper.  Many families lack the desire to send their girls to school because they are needed to do the housework, they tend to drop out, and they are expected to get married young and raise their own family.  Another reality in much of the world is that families fear sending their young girls far off on their own to the closest school due to risk of rape, defilement, and trafficking.  The issues run deep and are not easy to eradicate.  But they can be.  There is hope.  “One of the most effective ways to fight poverty and bolster poor communities is through investing in education, particularly that of girls.” (Half the Sky)

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In order to combat these issues, education is essential. Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.” I would argue that deep down, everyone knows this. But until all families and governments are on board, we are counting on individuals to support our mission and to demand education and justice for all.

The beautiful thing about the children who I’ve encountered in Uganda is that they are so hungry for education. They want to be in school. I have P5-P7 students coming every day asking if I can help them find some research on the internet to answer their deepest questions about the colonization of Africa, the benefits of debeaking chickens, and the process of pollination. It’s a very different experience for me compared to schooling and the indifference of many of my students in the past. So I beg you, help us feed their desire. We have 15 GLOBAL Scholars currently reading for exams to finish their second term of S1 and several P7’s preparing for their exams and applying for scholarships to attend secondary school. Education here is not free but a small investment in these children will change their world.

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You can donate today!  No amount is too small.

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There’s Hope

When I got my tattoo in February, I was a stern believer in hope. “Dwell in hope” on my wrist serves as a daily reminder — not only of my faith in the goodness of God and people around the world, but of the miraculous situations I’ve encountered and beautiful people and experiences that makeup my life and memories. I’ve seen some amazing things in 27 years. Miracles, some might even say, have happened seemingly right before my eyes. I’ve also been so blessed to be born into a fantastic family, have a solid group of friends, and unbelievable support system at every turn. But sitting here today amidst the hustle and bustle of Gulu town, I can easily say that my faith and hope in God and in the world is stronger than ever before.

Life in Gulu is not easy for most people. But life isn’t easy for the majority of the world’s population. The difference, it seems, is that despite the daily struggle for survival for some of my students, some of their families, or people I greet on the street, there is always hope. That same hope is lacking in America and in much of the western world. The passion for education and change in this beautiful country is mesmerizing. If I can be of some help and provide an opportunity for those who are desperately seeking a chance at a future they deserve, I will be able to breathe a little bit easier. But truth be told, I will never rest.

My dream may be huge and some people even believe, inconceivable, in Uganda. Educating as many youth as possible. Justice for the deaf and disabled. Equality for and empowerment of girls and women. Building a secondary school. Running a literacy and feeding program for street kids. “What’s the point? It’s too much. Where will you even begin?” I’ve heard it all; the doubters are many. But I am certain that this is my purpose. Each day, even despite frustrations, failures, and wrong turns, there is always hope and promise. Even if it is just in the innocent smile of a child.

We all have purpose. Where you are born should not determine whether you are able to live and achieve whatever that purpose may be. However, currently in our world there is a ridiculously strong presence of injustice. Our current population seem to react to injustice with even more violence and cruelty, as if that will help any situation. Gandhi told us, “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.” And that’s what I see today, nations of blind men trying to lead us into the future. It will never work.

So I beg you: choose peace. Choose hope. It is so real.

We currently have 15 students on partial or full academic scholarships throughout the country and another 30 or so who will be sitting for exams and applying to our scholarships for February. These children are not only the future for their families and for Uganda, but for the world. Whatever you can do, say, or sacrifice to help give them that gift, I ask you to consider doing so.

You all give me hope every single day and for that, thank you. From the bottom of my heart.

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My Language Is Love

I speak very few words of Luo and I know about five signs in Ugandan Sign Language. I’m really trying. I may not be able to perfectly communicate with all the children at school or people I may meet deep in a village. But I promise you, they know I love them.

I love people, deeply. I seem to trust everyone and that’s not always a good thing. But at Mass yesterday, I was reminded that love is our absolute calling from God. We must love our neighbors as ourselves. And I’m working very hard at that.

The news of the George Zimmerman acquittal hit me hard and made me (continue) to question our American justice system. I am mortified by how the whole situation played out. But at the same time, I think about the 70 people killed in Chicago a few weeks ago and other violence our cities see every single day. I think about being here, caught between a beauty I cannot quite describe and also intense poverty and need. We need to realize that when we are speaking about justice— it should be justice for all.

We are all neighbors. The color of our skin is irrelevant aside from a beautiful gift God gave us that allowed us all to be precious and uniquely special and gorgeous. We certainly cannot all understand one another, whether that be due to cultural differences or language barriers. But love is a silent weapon which when used appropriately, eradicates the need to speak and creates a certain peace that is so desperately needed in our world.

This morning, I was already shattered before 8am, but I suppose that’s typical. I was pouring my tea and I heard the loudest, most desperate cry. As I walked around the compound trying to find the source of the noise, I spotted a nursery boy crouched over in pain, tears pouring out of his eyes, right beyond the gate. All he could “say” to me was a point in the direction of a few older deaf boys. Those ‘stubborn‘ ones who always seem to be getting themselves in trouble. I tried to ask him what was wrong but he just kept screaming. So I did what anyone would do… I got down on my knees, I wiped his face clean, and I gave him a hug. As he stopped crying, I held his hand and walked him towards the sitting room, hoping Sister would be able to get to the bottom of the chaos. As I brought the boy to her, I said, “Sister, can you ask him what’s wrong? He’s nursery so I don’t think he knows enough English to explain.” And that’s when I learned he is deaf as well. She even tried to sign to him, but he’s in the class for students who do not yet know how to sign. Right now he’s learning how to communicate for the first time.

As I sat with the boy next to me, my heart shattered. I gave him a piece of bread and the rest of my bottled water and just watched him. Beautiful, precious, unique. I couldn’t imagine feeling hurt like he was and unable to explain what happened. It made me mad but at the same time, I knew that eventually he would be apart of a rich culture of deaf students at the school and hopefully in a new Uganda by the time he reaches adulthood. One that provides opportunities for the deaf and disabled and does not keep them from school or condemn them to a life of labor without much choice. Justice — allowing equal opportunity and treatment for them; allowing them to dream big dreams and create for themselves a future they can be proud of and enjoy to the fullest.

The news this morning was particularly depressing. George Zimmerman. Protests and riots all over America. Chaos in Egypt, turmoil raging in Syria. Congolese refugees flooding to western Uganda with no food, water, or shelter. If I focused on this all day, I would have been a ridiculous mess. So I did what I could. I wiped the tears I had been hiding, walked my boy to morning assembly and sent him off with a big hug and smile— after I washed his face clean. I greeted all of the beautiful students. And I drove off to visit our scholarship kids at Layibi, Gulu High, and Keyo to tell them how proud I am of them and check on their fees and grades.

None of us can do much. But we must do what we can every single day. Our society needs to wake up. We need to realize that there are more pressing issues than the ones we joke about as “First World Problems.” We need to demand justice ALL the time, and not just when it is popular. I beg everyone… to just start caring about people. It is truly simple. Solidarity is a means to world peace, but it must start with each one of us truly engaging with those around us and within our means. Until then, I’ll keep spreading love everywhere I go and hope that sooner or later, it will be enough.

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Introducing…

Our new Program Coordinator and Development Director, Kristine Aber Sullivan, will be starting work full-time in Uganda and the US beginning June 23, 2013. Kristine, one of the co-founders of Educate For Change is excited to be working hands on with Sister Hellen Lamunu, Director of Mother Teresa Nursery & Primary School, to further our mission of providing continuous educational opportunities for the most vulnerable children in Northern Uganda. Kristine will be living and working in Gulu.

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Keyo Secondary School

by Guest Author, Beth Kruziki with TEX & Meomore, LLC

I am a teacher. I am also an artist, teaching art and collaborating with secondary students is utterly satisfying. I own a small design and photography business in Eugene, Oregon called, Meomore. (www.meomore.com) Finally, I am a Mother. I nurture, care, and adore educating my son and students.

In 2012, I was accepted with Invisible Children to venture to Gulu, Uganda to be a participant with the 2012 Teacher Exchange Program and furnishing the beginnings of sustainable education in the war-torn country. I was elated. This was a dream come true – not only for me, but also my Mom who at one point in time had wanted to teach in Africa as well. I was determined to take the Pentax my Mother handed down to me, my own personal, artistic ambitions, and capture my viewpoint of Uganda. Below are my photos, capturing my film/digital creativity, education, community, and a personal dream, while teaching at Keyo Secondary for six weeks.

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Owned by Beth Kruziki

Keyo Secondary was several kilometers outside Gulu. The boda ride there was beautiful and breath-taking. I always arrived about thirty minutes before school began, checked in the staff room, and planned my day accordingly.

I worked with three secondary teachers and taught those matching subjects – Economics, Art and English. I worked mainly with the S2 and S3 classes. Art was spectacular to teach – project oriented and creative. I enjoyed collaborating with the instructor and students. I also met some students after school for the Girl’s Empowerment Club – they taught me how to make paper beads. Next, I taught basic grammar in English. I had students work in groups and make presentations. The teamwork between teacher and students was fun and enjoyable. Economics was business focused. Those students were advanced, learning at a university level. The courses at Keyo were aimed at students moving onto university; the classes are challenging, but great.

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Owned by Beth Kruziki

While teaching at Keyo, I met and befriended both male and female students. I played games, talked with them during lunch, and conversed about my life in the U.S. I made close friends with both teachers and students. Keyo is great, and I loved being there. My heart remains there due to close relationships I formed. The students and staff value each other, and consider themselves close to God and one another. Keyo Secondary is like a family.

All on their own

Written by co-founder Laura Anderson

They did it, all on their own. Some have no parents to encourage them or nag them, some have parents who never went to school and cannot read or write, some are the main caretakers in their family at the age of 14; but what they all have in common is that they want an education and they are willing to work hard to make it happen. Eleven of the first P7 class of students from Mother Teresa’s Primary School are headed off to secondary school this week because they want to learn and are willing to make bricks, string beads, work in the fields and yes, ask for financial help, to make their dreams come true. Congratulations to them all, it is an honor to have a small part in their lives.

Cultural and Normal

Written by Co-Founder Laura Anderson
 
It is interesting to be a teacher in the era of globalization. In many respects we do live in a global village. We all eat, sleep, love, learn, have families, listen to music, enjoy friends, work, play, and try to get through each day the best we can. In other ways, we live very different lives. This was most recently brought to my attention because my eighteen year old daughter, who is spending the year in Senegal, just came face to face with the kind of violence, that while not uncommon here- is condemned- but in Senegal is culturally accepted.  Her host mom beat her host sister so violently that the daughter lost some of her hair and had a broom broken over her head; all because she had not cooked Emma’s dinner yet.  There are many cultures that accept violence towards each other as normal. Kristine referred to some in her recent blog post about Malala, and the women around the world documented in Half the Sky. As teachers in Uganda, we had to stand by while children were caned. You might wonder why we stood by, why could we not just step in front of the teacher with the cane and stop them. As teachers in America we are federally mandated to report suspected child abuse. It is our job to help kids, not just to learn, but to show them how important each and every one of them is, what their potential is, and to believe in them – sometimes when no one else does.

            Change does not happen because we wish it, or pray for it, or donate a room full of computers to a school with no electricity. Change happens because we set an example, we educate, and we work within the cultural norms to make a personal connection with other human beings on the planet in the hope that we can learn from each other.

            Educate for Change is taking a small group of students to Uganda this summer to make that connection. Simple human to human contact is how we will truly become the change we want to see in the world. 

Building a Future

The following post was written by  Co-Founder, Kristine Sullivan:
I have been so inspired since I stepped foot on African soil on June 11, 2012.  Now it’s been a little over four months since my life changed forever.  I often think about what consumed my thoughts before I left for Uganda.  It was good stuff, no doubt.  I was passionate about my job, my family, my life.  But God had different plans for me.
It would be easy for me to try to forget my time in Gulu if I just remembered with my head; however, each day I have remembered with my heart.  It aches every moment that I’m not there… but now I must build.  I mustn’t build because I simply want to.  No, I must build because it’s a requirement.
In Kisses from Katie, a story about a girl I feel so connected to even though I’ve never met her, Katie writes:

“Why do I have so much?  And why have I always had so much?  Why do my family and friends have so much?  And do they even know that far, far away from the luxuries of the western world, a little songbird of a girl is fighting for her life?  The roles could have so easily been reversed.

I knew God wanted me to care for the poor, I had been doing it as best I could for a long time and it had become almost all I did with my life… It happened so naturally, I was simply caring for those around me out of an overflow of love… I had never thought I was doing anything different or unusual, just simple what He had asked.  But… I realized that what I was doing was not simply my choice— it was a requirement.  I wanted to give even more!  I wanted to do more for the people who needed help and I wanted others to rise up and do the same.  I didn’t want to simply care for these people, I wanted to advocate for them.  I wanted to raise more awareness for these voiceless, unseen children.  I was exploding with a new enthusiasm not just to care for the orphaned and needy children but to encourage and help others do the same.

I knew we couldn’t all just pack up and move to Uganda, but I so desired to make a way for others to help, to care for these children, to do what Jesus requires.  I wanted to tell them all about what I had seen and experienced so they too would know.”

I don’t know what God has in store for my life exactly, and I’m not sure what my next move should be.  However, I know that I am more passionate about this impending journey than I have ever been before.  So I know I have to build.  Build what?  A school, yes.  A future for myself, of course.  But more importantly than that, I need to build up children who have been ignored, mistreated, forgotten, and unloved.  I need to give them what they deserve so that they can build for themselves a future of peace, hope, love, and passion.
To help them build that future, donate today at http://www.educateforchange.us!