This past weekend some members of the mission met with the local authorities to discuss a proposal from the mission for a preparatory school.
Over the past nine months or so, the mission has seriously discussed beginning a school, which would focus on literacy and scripture, for children before they go to the local public schools. The idea was instigated by the mission’s involvement in many local schools where we saw a pattern of common defects. Many teachers simply do not know how to teach. Couple this with the Ugandan style of rote memorization and many students come away singing the ABC’s, but unable to identify individual letters. The children learn to memorize without understanding. Since the written word is the foundational element of the curriculum, it has been surmised that teaching children to read will equip them to actually gain knowledge from the local educational system. The initial idea is continuing its evolution under the name Karamoja Educational Outreach (KEO).
The meeting this last weekend was intended to loop in the area’s authority figures and families, get their feedback and gauge their interest. In Karamoja, the local authorities include the village elders and a low level government bureaucrat entitled the Local Chairman (LC). We held the meeting on the location where we hope to start the school, a building on our clinic property build by another NGO.
The proceedings themselves began on a rather comical note. The LC entered the scene in tattered clothes and stitched rubber boots demanding for an agenda. Martha Wright, the future headmistress, quickly jotted down five items we wanted to cover. After reviewing the list, the first question posited by the LC and a few attendees was, what about lunch? It is typical in Karamoja for any meeting to be accompanied by food or beer provided for by whomever called the meeting. The fact that we met at 3 in the afternoon did not seem to dispel this expectation. After frustratingly refusing to provide lunch, we began with prayer. Item 1: Open in Prayer.
Item 2: Summarize the Project. Martha then gave a summary of our previous local involvement, what we hope to do with the new preparatory school and the benefits to everyone present. At this point, everyone was tracking.
Item 3: Introduce Personnel. The members of the mission that already have a defined role in the project stood up and introduced themselves. Martha will be managing the project. Erika Bulthuis and Emily Pihl will be teaching alongside bilingual locals who are yet to be found. Lastly, Leah Hopp will assist in teaching the children about health. Everyone was still tracking, except for the LC who decided it was necessary to interrupt in the middle to declare which item we were on.
Item 4: Discuss the Project. Now this is where we got hung up. One of the village elders asked a very applicable question, unknowingly leading to a rabbit trail. Where would the school be held? The subsequent discussion was then monopolized by the LC informing us of a certain committee that no one could remember who was in charge of the building, although the building is on mission property, we have the keys and have never heard from this committee before. We, unsurprisingly, began suspecting foul play. It was slightly disheartening that this man’s power grab prevented further discussion with the actual parents about their perspective on the proposed school. That being said, the parents’ responses completely dispelled that discouragement for me. After the various official speeches were made and we were asked to consult with the elusive committee three mothers spoke up. One suggested that the LC should be responsible for gathering the committee and planning the proposed meeting (rather than the missionaries); the second praised us for the very idea; and the third thanked us for all of our previous work with the local community’s children. Those responses in defense of the idea from their very local authorities spoke volumes.
Yet, the LC still uncomfortably held his authority by cutting off ongoing discussion and announcing, Item 5: Close in Prayer.