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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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.

Owned by Beth Kruziki

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!  

This is not just Malala’s War

The following post was written by Co-Founder, Kristine Sullivan
Americans like giving to a cause.  It makes us feel good… like we’ve done our due diligence.  But not enough people know what they’re giving to and why it truly matters.   On our site you have the ability to read our mission statement, watch a video, and read some stories about the kids… but what else are you doing?  Don’t stop there.
This past week, PBS showed the documentary Half the Sky.  I told some of my friends and family that they should tune in and what I learned quickly when discussing the film with them was that most people in our society are clueless to the majority of the world’s obstacles.  As Westerners, we like to associate low literacy rates and high instances of poverty, disease, and premature death with the idea that “that’s just what happens in (fill in name of developing nation here).”  It’s easy to do that because it requires no action or struggle for justice on our end.  I was this way.  I’m so glad I am not anymore.
While I still have lots of learning to do, it has become a passion of mine to see the world with new eyes and I go to bed at night wondering how justice can be achieved for the world’s forgotten and marginalized.  I strive to teach my students at our little school in Gardena, CA to engage with the world in this way, but most of them just get fired up for a few weeks and then go on with their lives.  I hope one day they will find it within themselves to realize that they have a voice and that they should use that voice, just like Malala did this past week.
I first read her story on Wednesday morning in The New Yorker.  I’m always inspired by what people, young and old, male and female, do around the world to advance the cause of education; however, Malala’s story is different.  What makes it different is not only her unrelenting spirit to fight for justice, a spirit this world could use more of, most certainly, but also the attention that the Taliban militants gave her and her cause.  This attention led to an organized attack on Malala as they targeted her school bus, asked for her by name, and shot her in the head and neck.
In 2009, Abdul Hai Kakkar, a reporter for BBC approached Ziauddin Yousafzai, a Pakistani school director, to ask for a report from a female teacher about life under the Swat Taliban.  Under Maulana Fazlullah, the leader of the Taliban militants, TV, music, and girls’ education was banned.  While no teacher would do the report, Malala Yousafzai, the school director’s seventh grade daughter, readily agreed.  Year’s later she said in an interview with a Pakistani television network that “Even if they (Taliban) come to kill me, I will tell them what they are trying to do is wrong, that education is our basic right.”  Constant threats to Malala did not stop as she continued to fight for justice and education.  She still fights today as she continues to fight for her life.
Malala’s story simply points to the idea that education matters.  As a teacher, I can certainly say without a doubt, that most people in our Western world seem to misunderstand this idea.  Many Westerners view education as an expectation or a right of passage rather than as ahuman right.  In many cities and states our schools are failing, our teacher’s lose their jobs as other’s are expected to do the work of three people, and very little support, respect, and attention is given to the role of the educator.  Several Western students want good grades handed to them without hard work and would rather skip school or homework to focus on their social status or athletic ranking.  Entitlement is a scary thing.  But despite how different the issues of education are within our own country and for Malala, one student in Peshawar said it best: “This is not just Malala’s war.  It is a war between two ideologies, between the light of education and darkness.”
For our student’s in Uganda, the fight for education is different.  It’s financial.  The war in the North has left the responsibility of the country to the children.  In fact, Uganda has the lowest median age in the world with 50% of the population under 15 years old.  In order to create opportunities for this beautiful country I fell in love with, the children need to be educated and it’s not free.  The issue of poverty is cyclical and as parents struggle to make enough money for food and simple shelter, they are unable to pay for school fees and the students must leave school, thus continuing the cycle of poverty.  For the children who have been orphaned or abandoned, the story is similar.  This is not rocket science.
Certainly there are children all over the world in need of an education and I am only one person; however, with enough love and passion, we can make a change.  It all begins with looking outside of ourselves and seeing the world’s people for who they truly are: our brothers and sisters.  Solidarity and compassion can do a lot for us, I promise.
In preparation for my trip this past summer, I read Bob Goff’s book Love Does.  One of my favorite passages points to the fact that we cannot make any difference in the world by being observers alone.  We must get involved by learning, loving, and doing:
“I want to pick a fight because I want someone else’s suffering to matter more to me. I want to slug it out where I can make a meaningful difference. God says He wants us to battle injustice, to look out for orphans and widows, to give sacrificially. And anyone who gets distracted with the minutiae of this point or that opinion is tagging out of the real skirmish. God wants us to get some skin in the game and to help make a tangible difference. I can’t make a real need matter to me by listening to the story, visiting the website, collecting information, or wearing a bracelet about it. I need to pick the fight myself, to call it out… Then, most important of all, I need to run barefoot toward it. But I want to go barefoot because it’s holy ground; I want to be running because time is short and none of us has as much runway as we think we do; and I want it to be a fight because that’s where we can make a difference. That’s what love does.”
So don’t just read Malala’s story.  Don’t just visit our site.  Get out there and educate yourself and those around you about the world… every part of it.  I always tell my 10th graders that the number one cause of immense poverty in this world is the false belief that it’s always going to exist and the assumption that an individual cannot do anything about it.  I’m here to tell you if that’s something you believe, I know you to be wrong.  Educate a child, allow people to find hope and beauty in themselves, and eventually you’ll see that you were wrong too.

Love Until it Hurts

Mother Teresa said it best: “I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.”

Upon our return from Gulu, Laura, Josh, and I knew that we wanted to do more. We needed to do more. The summer flew by and we loved a lot of people along the way. The Acholi are so resilient, so peaceful; but they’ve experienced so much pain. Even still, the people of Gulu and its surrounding villages embraced us with more than their arms, but their hearts. Their hearts had been broken and mended thousands of times before, but they gave us the whole thing. We became apart of their family. And family takes care of each other. So we had to act.

We are so excited to bring you a piece of northern Uganda through our organization: Educate for Change. Throughout our time spent in schools through Invisible Children’s Teacher Exchange, we experienced first hand the necessity, but difficulty, of funding education in Uganda.  Without

universal secondary education, something we often take for granted in the United States, students are more likely to dropout of school than they are to complete their studies. The most vulnerable children, those who have been orphaned, abandoned, or who are suffering under extreme poverty, are significantly less likely to attend school at all. The kids we played with in the villages and at Mother Teresa’s Primary School and Orphanage are those children. Their amazing intelligence, wit, leadership, and energy will not fund their school fees. Their heart, faith, and resilience will not purchase their uniforms and supplies. So we had to act.

Moments really are much bigger than we realize. Looking back on it now, the moment I stepped foot onto Mother Teresa’s compound and in the minutes it took to follow Stella and Wilfred through the mud to Layibi village, I was changed. I was humbled by what Sister Hellen’s already doing with 250 kids in her care at the center and how one family can support so many beautiful children in the quaint, immaculate village. My unspoken fear of being inadequate does not matter. Being sad simply won’t help at all. I simply have to learn how to love until it hurts. That’s what we’re doing. We hope you will take the time to learn about our cause, read about our beautiful children halfway across the globe, and do what you can to support us. Share our stories, pictures, and videos. Try it with me and just love until it hurts.