Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Monday, June 18, 2012:

It was one of those things that simply must be experienced.  It’s full impact cannot be delivered through words or photographs or even completely and immediately assimilated.   Something this overwhelming stays with you and, while you want to share it's profound effects with everyone, to allow everyone to feel this... it is just not possible.   How can that be?  I can't explain it except to say...THIS is Mbiriizi.

Arriving at the school's entrance this morning we were greeted by almost 1,100 uniformed children and staff singing and clapping and dancing to celebrate Sylvia's return.  I know it had very little to do with me except that I was another mzungu accompanying her but I happily accepted the honor and thoroughly enjoyed the beginning of this ritual for Sylvia's return.   While Michelle, Becca and Doug have all been on this trip a number of times before, this was the first trip for both Joanna and for me.  They tried to explain what to expect today but, as I said, it just cannot be done.  You have to be there.


...and then from across the red dirt yard came Gloria.  Such a perfect name - all love and hope and human connection is embodied in this child.  She rushed to Michelle's arms where she was immediately enveloped with the urgency that comes from absence.  There is no denying the connection these two have as they whispered to each other, "I missed you so much!" and "I missed you, too!", with unhidden tears in their eyes and voices.  It was such a powerful and private moment that I almost felt as though no one else should witness it - a reuniting of a child with an adored and much-loved friend, an indescribable, primal comfort in the arms of one who offers unconditional love that every child deserves but many never experience.  Gloria is a very special young lady.  She has some physical challenges and has been adopted by Geofrey, the school's director, who added her to his family of four children.  Ronnie, our driver, knows Gloria well, too, and without hesitation, hugged and greeted her with his huge smile and hugs of acceptance.  While she is a student at the school and would be a part of the audience for our celebratory greeting, Gloria did not want to leave Michelle's side.  The feeling was undeniably mutual.

We proceeded into the inside assembly area for the official welcoming performance.  As we walked in, the children clapped and continued to sing and we were given seats in the front row to accept the praise and attention.   It was another overwhelming experience.  The outpouring of love and honor for Sylvia and our group was obvious in their welcoming speeches and gratitude for what Sylvia has done for them.  More singing and dancing were offered as they drew us onto the stage to dance and celebrate with them.  The energy level of these children was enviable and nonstop! 

There are 1,005 students at the Mbiriizi Advanced Primary School ranging in ages from 2 to @14 yr. olds. 240 orphans are permanent residents at the school and the rest come from the surrounding community. The town of Mbiriizi has grown tremendously since the inception of the school, creating an even larger community wanting to send their children for an education. Keep in mind that, other than the resident orphans, all of these children walk to school - all of them. It is not unusual for small children, ages 2 and up, to be seen walking to school alone, some along dirt roads within neighborhoods, but some alongside the main Kampala Road where large flatbed and delivery trucks, busses, cars, and boda-bodas are a constant threat. This walk can be anywhere from ¼ mile - 5 miles each way, and they come every day. This school is a haven for these children, a place where they are fed and nurtured and given a chance to improve their futures. It is a place where they are expected to do well, expected to study hard, and expected to be a positive force in their community. It is a place created by Sylvia where changes are taking place and a place where she is making a difference. It is a place where hope is ever-present.

After the morning performance, we walked to the school’s  newly purchased 7 acre cornfield picking up village children along the way.  They love having their picture taken and being shown the image and then insist upon more photos.  As soon as you’ve taken some pictures, the number of children surrounding you grows exponentially until you are feeling like the  Pied Piper.  A few of the older, more aggressive ones push their way into every picture, jumping in front of others and making “he-man” faces and poses.

These children are mostly school age and are not in school as their parents cannot afford the school fees which run @$5.00 per term, or $10.00 a year.  Give that some thought...  We may spend that much on a magazine that we toss away, leave that much for a tip after a casual meal out, or on 2 cups of  Starbucks.  $10.00 is fairly insignificant to most of us and, yet, too few ever think about that or feel compelled to reach out and try to alleviate the struggles of others.  There are people who have so little compared to what we take for granted and who work hard every day simply to survive.  Most of these people live very Spartan lives spending most of their time outside as their homes are tiny, dark one room dwellings or storage containers.  Most of the homes have no windows as glass is expensive and storage containers don‘t have windows and  some have no solid doors, but a simple piece of fabric.  The images of barefoot, dusty and ill-clad children with mega-watt smiles and soulful eyes will stay with me forever.

I will post more pictures in the village of Mbiriizi tomorrow.  Yet another walk that will not be forgotten.


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