It is International Day of Education and I am drawn to all the campaigns for education across the world and particularly the education of girls. My thoughts and prayers have been concentrating on Saphara, an NGO concentrating on girls’ education in India. We in Fitzroy are proud that it is headed up by one of congregation Christine Burnett and that many of our Fitzers have been out there to help develop that work.
Mostly today though I am dreaming of a “playground” in Onialeku Primary School, on the outskirts of Arua in West Nile, north west Uganda. I am standing at the corner of a Church building watching and listening to the noise of 400 plus children. I love that sound. I love seeing them all running around. When we are there, they are usually running towards us and I hear them call out to me, “Ya Ya… Ya Ya,” my African name! They all have English ones after all, so I took an African one!
After I take in the wide screen, I start to focus my eyes a little more carefully and reasonably quickly I see Jacqueline and Rachel. When Jacqueline spots me her serious little face lights up in the brightest smile. Rachel on the other hand is so shy that her little head turns in to her shoulder and I have to joust a little humour with her before I see and hear the joy of her laughter.
This is the school that Fitzroy funded, tithing our new halls expansion. Fitzroy sponsor 60 pupils in Onialeku. Jacqueline and Rachel are the Stockmans' sponsor children. Over the last five years we have got to spend time with them and look forward to seeing them again in July. Our girls simply love those girls. It is more than a few pounds in a sponsorship programme.
Before Bishop Isaac had a dream of a school for his neighbourhood Rachel and Jacqueline had no chance of an education. Now, the whole neighbourhood does and though that is good news for all, it is particularly good news for girls. Girls are the ones least likely to go to school and girls are the least likely to keep coming to school. Our sponsorship will mean that parents are more encouraged to keep Rachel and Jacqueline in education.
That is an obvious help for Rachel and Jacqueline and the children like them. As UNICEF puts it, “Providing girls with an education helps break the cycle of poverty: educated women are less likely to marry early and against their will; less likely to die in childbirth; more likely to have healthy babies; and are more likely to send their children to school. When all children have access to a quality education rooted in human rights and gender equality, it creates a ripple effect of opportunity that influences generations to come.”
What I realised too was that this is not just about Rachel and Jacqueline but about Uganda. I have come to realise 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. Through education, we can change the future. Maybe a future President of Uganda is running around my favourite couple of acres of earth at Onialeku Primary School today!
So, I am proud of Jacqueline, Rachel, their parents, Pastor David, Principal Charles, Nursery School head Alice and the Onialeku school management committee. I am proud of Fields Of Life who have built well over 100 schools all over East Africa. I am proud of Fitzroy for partnering. On International Day Of The Girl, I am praying for all our Onialeku children, particularly the girls and most especially for Rachel and Jacqueline.