Every good story has a problem. This problem is one that Jack caught as a contagious virus that hasn’t left his system since Pastor Robert from Uganda spent the weekend in our home. We sat at the dinner table and talked about life in Uganda and the work of his church. The adults might not have even noticed nine-year old Jack perked upright in his chair absorbing all the information about life for children in the country where his sister was born. A place he, himself, will soon be visiting. While we talked about cultural tendencies Jack imagined clearly what life could be like for a child in Uganda. He could stand there in his imagination on their soil facing the problems they must overcome to receive something that he had always assumed every child everywhere got just for being born: school and learning. To discover how difficult it is for the people of Uganda to get their children educated was an earthquake in his thinking. It split wide open the naive assumptions and shone a light to the other side where children in this world really suffer, and it bothered him to no end.
In Uganda recently they’ve offered free public education but it looks like a hundred kids for one teacher with no resources. The students don’t have their own books and may not even have access to pencils or paper. It sounds to me like more time spent managing a crowd than teaching. No one wants their kid to learn in an environment like that. To go to private school in Uganda means there are many fees to pay that provide education, books, uniforms and food. In most cases school is boarding school so the kids go away to school while moms work to come up with the fees to send them there. It costs around $440 dollars to cover all the fees in one year to send one student. Let’s keep in mind this isn’t China where one child per family is allowed. This is Africa where they have many children in one family. When I met people when I was there last year they asked me, “You only have four children?” To them this seemed like so few, where as here in America I am considered to have a large family. So if we imagine how difficult it is to come up the funds for so many children to educate for a developing country we can imagine some of the children in the family do not get chosen to go to school.
In Uganda half of the population is under the age of fifteen. This is critical to remember when I think of the future of this country. If the children are not educated now the future of the country will suffer. One of my main objectives in raising teenagers has been to keep them busy or they will become a hazard to themselves and others in their boredom. Another thorn in the equation for the families struggling to educate children there is it is usually left for the mother’s to manage. In traditional marriages (not the Christian ones) the father leaves all the child rearing problems for the woman and these include feeding, clothing and educating the kids. The man will go to the drinking place and eat rich meat but will not consider bringing home some for his family. The woman must work the soil, grow food, sell it for other necessities and try to make a very little go a long way. It is very difficult to come up with the fees for school. Many Ugandan women make beads from rolled paper and then string these beads into necklaces to sell. They do this to help come up with the funds to educate their children. These women cry out to God for help in their prayers. They rely on Him entirely to make miracles in their lives happen because from where they sit and for what they can see there appears to be no way on earth to educate all of the children.
Uganda was a colony of England for a very long time and one of the benefits of this is that the value of an education has been deeply ingrained in the minds of the people. Every person there knows an education is the answer to rising out of the rubble. It is valued so highly by every person and yet remains in most cases out of reach because of the cost.
These ideas marinated in Jack’s young mind. As he thought about it he realized it’s not so difficult to come up with $440. It’s not an overwhelming amount of money for an American. So there he sat with his “can do” perspective on all things as he decided he could help kids there be able to go to school. I think it’s so interesting that he understood he couldn’t solve the whole problem but he could just do a little bit in his own corner of the world to make a difference. Some may think one small child couldn’t add a drop to a bucket but if you’ve ever had a mosquito in your bed then you know a small thing can cause quite an uproar.
So the day after he sold his first loaf of pumpkin bread Jack set his alarm to wake himself up fifteen minutes early before school. He nearly slid down the banister at 6:45am with bright eyes and high energy. He turned on he ovens and began to measure ingredients where puffs of flour billowed around him and pumpkin oozed out of cans. As he climbed the bus there were two loaves baking and filling our home with the aroma of bread. He waved good-bye and told me after school we will go sell more bread to more neighbors. I stood there and couldn’t hold back the emotion that lurched inside of me. It was not pride. It was a feeling like I needed to fall to my knees and thank God for the heart he placed in my son and for allowing me the pleasure of participating in the manifestations of the goodness of God pouring out of my own son. So, I fell to the ground prostrate, my head low in response to how big God is in a little child. I thanked him for using my son to answer the prayers of the mothers in Uganda.