It was not long after our last Capetownship trip in 2008 when my friend Alain Emerson shared a thought he’d been mulling over about how we should do things in terms of decades. He was challenging the short term, fidgety nature of the generation who stick at nothing for too long. For me the thought had another meaning. After 10 years of planning and taking Queen’s University PCI Chaplaincy Mission Teams to South Africa maybe it was time to move into a new decade of challenge. The World Cup in South Africa was making 2010 an impossible trip. In between I got a call to become minister of Fitzroy and the Capetownship decade had its ending.
The very last few days of Capetownship 2008 had me learning the importance of three words - Education, Education and Education. For some reason this was the year that the importance of education came through to me. In Cape Town the children on townships struggle to get a good education or find funds to go to College. I visited a school called LEAP where white teachers had voluntarily opted out of their white schools to teach township children.
In that very year when I was ending my Capetownship decade, a Bishop in northern Uganda was starting a school for the children in an area of Arua where the children had too far to walk to the nearest school. Around 2011 Bishop Isaac in Uganda and myself in Belfast connected with Fields Of Life.
We have now met and shook hands, brothers and partners in bringing education, education and education to Bishop Isaac’s school in Onialeku, Arua. As I have met with ministers, bishops, teachers and parents in Gulu and Arua, I have been humbled and inspired by their desire and determination to find a way to educate their children. In Belfast we go through the motions. Our child is three, so we get their name down for the best local Primary School.
Not in Uganda. If the local school is 6km away how is your 5 year old going to get there? So, if they cannot, what can we do? Could we start one, under that tree? Let us form a committee. Let us find an NGO that might help us develop it. Their love for their children and their hopefulness that they can achieve what seems impossible. My goodness it is an inspiration. Fields Of Life do an amazing job. Their own passion, vision and work to help poor communities in East Africa to fulfil their dreams is simply astounding to behold.
Fields Of Life do not go into the nice parts of the city. They want to develop where few others are developing. As well as a school they want to bring hope to the entire community where that school is. Onialeku is in the very north of Uganda. This is where war has ravaged the area. It is not as developed as Kampala or across the south. As we took two days on a bus to get here I wondered, is this worth it? Why did we not get a project nearer Kampala?
Then I asked why myself why the children in Arua should have less opportunity to an education than those where the Muzungo (white person) would find it more comfortable and less tiring. These children are loved by God as much as those who live closer. I am so delighted to be here and be part of Onialeku’s story, Arua’s story, Uganda’s story, Fields Of Life’s story, Fitzroy’s story and God’s story. All of those are now part of my story.
Yet, the stories I am praying about are the children’s stories. I have prayed with many children this week and I am praying that they will find their place in God’s story and that they will use this precious education to become contributors to their communities and country.
Another lesson I have learned on this trip is that education is not just for the benefit of the pupil but the pupil’s education is vital for a transformed community and nation. Uganda needs teachers, doctors, lawyers, business leaders and so many other things. By education, education and education we can change the future. Maybe a future President of Uganda was standing in front of me this week! As the Fields Of Life slogan says, let us keep “changing lives, transforming communities and building hope.”