Thursday, June 07, 2007

Africa Once Again

Dear Friends and Family,

It is hard to believe, but I am not sure what to write, Normally, as you know, I send long journals with funny stories and lots of detail. As I mentioned earlier, the airline flights were a mess. It seems every flight was cancelled, late, or overbooked. Five of our bags didn't make it to Kampala with us. As of today, we are still short three.

One neat happening on the plane. As we stopped, the flight attendant came over the intercom and said: "To the Librarians of Love - we hope you have a fruitful and blessed trip. You are truly a miracle."

We have worked from early morning until late at night - starting the day we arrived, stopping only at times to go into classrooms to share, laugh, sing, and visit with the students.

As usual, the computer at Herb and Ellen's is really, really, really slow. I brought a group to the Internet Cafe tonight. I am on the second computer - the first didn't work. The generator is working, so hopefully I can type.

Monday, as soon as we arrived we went to Bat Valley School - 1,500 students. The kids were all outside waiting for us doing African dances, singing, playing bongo drums, shouting, jumping, waving, totally excited. After a greeting, we immediately went to work. We had great lumber - but it was so thick the guys had to turn it over to finish sawing through it.

Our group met the first night and shared these thoughts:

It was amazing how we as a team worked to complete the libraries, and had fun doing it ...
The politeness of the staff and students was amazing.
Students are curious and can't wait to read.
The teachers used all of our empty boxes to make signs. They used the pencil boxes too for math lessons.

At Namungoona school the kids lined up outside when we arrived (450 students). There were so many kids without shoes and huge holes in their clothes, we were all a bit sad. They were playing soccer with a little rubber ball and mud bricks for goals. Dave sat under a tree and read "Sam I Am" circled by a huge crowd of children. Donita started playing Chinese jump rope with some girls, and the other ladies and students joined in. Several of the Kansas group are outstanding soccer players - not as good as the students - but good. :)

At the end of the day, about 25 kids were in the library sitting on the floor reading books with our team. I spent the day in tears. In one classroom a teacher ask me how he can make students work when they haven't had any food. He said it is a huge problem at the school. When I asked how much lunch was, he said about the equivalent of $5.00. I was surprised - but then he said it was $5.00 for lunches for the three-month term and that most of the kids can't afford it.

Mengo Secondary already had bookshelves, so we just had to sort the books. That may sound easy, but try sorting approximately 16,000 books in three days at four libraries and putting them in correct Dewey Decimal order. It is a major happening. The 2300 students at Mengo have never checked out books. They do have some terribly old books in the back of the library. The teacher assigns a book; the librarian retrieves it and then writes the students name down so he/she can take the book for one day. The Headmaster asked, "How can you let go of something that is so precious?" So, any books they have are collecting dust, as they are so valuable. They have promised to work with us, and I will set up a check-out system after the group returns to the U.S., as well as meet with several classes.

We arrived at Mary Kevin's Orphan School late in the evening. The library is in a boxcar with no electricity. We used the generator to light the room. However, the mosquitoes were everywhere. This is a smaller school with 350 students. In forty-five minutes, we put together a library of about 1,600 books. The group was like a giant, well-oiled machine, as this was our fourth library in three days. We did take time to visit the dormitories. We thought they couldn't be any poorer than those at Namungoona, but there aren't words to express the "sights" at this school. Beautiful children without parents in the poorest of conditions.

Today at Bat Valley with all 1,500 students watching, our team took on the schools two soccer teams. It was hilarious. Our group gave all they were worth, but there wasn't much hope. I wish I could send you a playback. You would have loved it! The kids alternated between cheering for the USA and then Uganda! At the end, I looked out and Gene Richards was leading this huge group of children as they ran around the field holding their arms in the air and doing crazy steps and chants. Then there was Dave doing a flip in the air!

Last night as we finished up the fourth library, we talked and were all totally in tears. It has been the most amazing, awesome, fantastic experience. The libraries are absolutely beautiful. We have provided curtains and plastic flooring, and decorated the walls, adding final touches. I can't even put into words how grateful the teachers and students are. One teacher told me she thought she was just going to have to cry because of the wonderful library we had provided for them. Many of the students couldn't tell us what a library actually is. They have never been in one.

We had our first grand opening today at Mengo Secondary. It was impressive. They even planted a tree to honor the USA because of their donation to Uganda.

I forgot to mention that at Bat Valley, they went to the website and found the donors names for last year. They then labeled each of their classroom doors with a donor's name, whether it was an individual, company, civic organization, or church. It is quite a sight.

To sum up, this has truly been a 'God' trip. We came to Uganda with people from three states, who have worked together as if we had done this type of work as a unit many times before. Everyone has constantly cheerfully pitched in to help, whether it has been when working, sharing with the students, or having fun on the playground. The love they have shared with these wonderful children is priceless. I would say they will come back changed - but the change has already happened and the 'new' compassion is shining through bright and clear.

I am down to six minutes and I need to collect the other group at a nearby Internet Cafe.

Tomorrow we have two grand openings. Saturday we are off to the Archbishop's orphanage and then on to Mbale to visit Wilber and Sarah, plus spend time at the library we created last year.

Three minutes ... My love and best to each of you. I'm sorry I don't have more time.


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