Preparing for the arrival of new staff and students began the day after Christmas for Kelly and me. We made a good team as we cleaned, inventoried and stocked homes with setup items for staff who would arrive on January 12th. Having a working fan to keep cool and filtered water upon arrival are a few of the necessities for anyone moving here. I (Danlyn) became a pro at riding in the back of the tricycle and jumping out at every stop to drop-off and pick-up items. We did this for days/weeks until every last place was as good as it could possibly be. On the morning of January 12th, we (along with some of the Leadership Team) welcomed 11 new people from the states to our team (8 adults & 3 children). After basic introductions and small talk, Katie prayed over them, and for the impact they will have at The Amazima School. They then began the process of learning where and how to withdraw money in Uganda. It sounds easy until every ATM runs out of cash or won’t accept your card for some unknown reason, is broken or decides to eat your card that day. Which ones take Visa, Mastercard? Which ones have fees? Oh, the banking here. The upside is you do feel “rich” when you withdraw one million shillings. It just sounds nice. In reality, it’s only about USD 275. Most everything is paid for in cash here so we visit the ATM’s on a regular basis. After everyone got settled into their new homes on campus, there were several weeks of orientation (training for their specific roles, exploring Jinja town, Ugandan culture, etc.) and getting to know other staff members.
It is always great to have new friends and neighbors to fellowship with and such a blessing to have fresh energy on the team. It brings a renewed spirit to all of us. To watch the joy and wonder of all that is happening at Amzaima through new eyes is a treat.
Year Two at The Amazima School has brought us 72 more students which means we have doubled in size and more than doubled the number of classes. Why so many classes? Because our S1 (Senior 1 – like 7th grade) students have 14 subjects compared to our TY (Transition Year – before S1) students only having six subjects. What?? I don’t think I could have done 13 subjects in 7th grade. Double the teachers for all those classes. Double the house parents to mentor the students outside of the classroom hours. Double the food, the clubs, the small groups – you get the idea. We increased the number of sports and can now officially compete with other teams now that we have S1 classes and are in the official leagues. We have boys football (soccer), basketball and volleyball teams along with girls netball, basketball and volleyball teams. All for which the students had to go through “screening” (tryouts). There is no longer the opportunity to just “be on the team” this year.
Getting to know 72 new names is no easy task. What is so very helpful is all of the students have their name monogrammed on their uniforms. Of course, this has been delayed for the new students, so I am still floundering about and excited if I learn and remember a new student’s name. What has been very nice is my small group on Wednesday nights (student ministry night) has not changed. Myself along with Grace (one of the godliest Ugandan women I have met) lead eight S1 girls. Due to some changes, our group has only been together since 3rd term last year but we are finally starting to get a rhythm and connect. Grace still has to translate what I mean sometimes, whether I am speaking too Southern that night or I just say a word/phrase of which they do not know the meaning. If I see the “deer-in-headlights” look, then I look to Grace. Thank goodness for my friend Grace who is so important in leading our girls.
The first school term of 2018 has been busy with official visitors from The States. I (Danlyn) am responsible for arranging their trips, transportation, lodging, and agenda while they are here. With a great team helping, we hosted Amazima Stateside staff members, the Amazima Stateside Board of Directors, potential new hires to join us in Uganda this next year and a wonderful couple who served us tirelessly for a week….all in a span of 18 days. Although I certainly love to host others, it is much harder here than in the States (what isn’t). Even so, we have learned some tips and tricks to make it easier. I have my go-to people for everything, and I love this! I send multiple reminders to everyone involved, double/triple check all reservations, turn in meal orders ahead of time and most of all remain flexible. The agenda I scrutinize and labor over usually gets changed several times once people are here but that is okay. As long as people have a meaningful, fruitful visit that is all that matters.
REPORTS FROM THE VILLAGE
Having done student ministry for so many years before moving to Uganda, we have always been nervous about what would happen on “breaks” from school. Here, the anxiety is higher for us because of what almost all of our students face when they go back to challenging situations and extremely poor living conditions. As we have been sharing for the last year, our students are being transformed by the grace of God before our very eyes to a degree, and at a pace, we have never before seen. What would happen when they went home for seven weeks? I can honestly say the reality of what we are learning about our students is truly a miracle. We visited with the guardians of every returning student we have, and there was not a single negative report received. Not one!! Rather, every visit yielded another story of service, humility, joy, and/or gratitude. Friends, the primary village from where our kids come is being changed because of who our students are becoming. They are living and serving in such a way that reflects the love of Jesus, and it is quickly working in the lives of those around the village. Not a week goes by without hearing comments from Ugandans like “I have never seen Ugandan students act like this before.” We measure success by what we hear from the families of our students, and at this point, God is very graciously allowing us to experience greater results than any of us expected.
Our students have excitedly continued in the Buddy Program with Ekisa Ministries. This is definitely one of their favorite activities and easily one of the most important programs we have for our students. Some of our students even chose to spend their own time and money and go to Ekisa on the school break to hang out with their buddies. WOW!! It is impossible to adequately describe how big of a deal this is in Uganda. For secondary students to legitimately want to care for and serve mentally and physically challenged students is literally unheard of.
Amazima had the great privilege of hosting Ekisa’s Night To Shine (Tim Tebow’s foundation) in February. Again, WOW!!! What an incredible night this was. The Ekisa children felt like the royalty that God made them be. They were all kings and queens of the prom. Our students were there to cheer on their buddy’s as they made their way down the red carpet. Everyone danced the night way, ate great food, and the girls had their hair, makeup and nails done. There was face painting and of course flowers for all.
To catch a glimpse of this special night, watch below.
The Amazima School has been operating legally for over a year as a Ugandan school. For a school to be “officially” open, however, a government official has to “open” the school and with that comes a big day of celebrating. We had hundreds of community members, students, staff, friends and government officials there to celebrate with us the dream Katie had so many years ago which has now come to reality. To help prepare for the day, I was on the Grand Opening Committee, and my team was in charge of food and decor which is, of course, right up my alley. It was with great joy, I put on my party coordinator hat and planned away. I will say, however, being an event planner here is a little more challenging. Vendors don’t seem to be as detailed oriented as I am (or at all actually). I fought the battles worth fighting and let the others work themselves out. All-in-all the day was an enormous success. Yes, the food was delicious and the decor beautiful (we hired it all, don’t be too impressed) but we know for sure that Amazima is making an impact on the Ugandan community and government. Our S1 students sang the Ugandan and National Anthems so impressively. The students served the food with a joyful and humble attitude. They are growing into such servant leaders.
Kelly and Benard (Scholarship Program Manager) emceed the big day. Kelly got to practice his Luganda in front of lots of locals but utimately decided it was best to stick to English. They did a fabulous job, kept us laughing, informed and most importantly – they kept the day moving along. There were many activities to fit into the day. What a lot of us thought would be boring turned out to be some of the best moments of the day – the various speeches.
Anytime there is a grand opening event, government officials from all levels are invited and as such, expected to give a speech. Most of the time, they show up whenever they want, give their speech and leave – especially the chief guest. Our chief guest was the Minister of High Education who is the senior most official thereof in all of Uganda. He was sent by the First Lady to represent the Presidential family who was unable to attend due to illness. When he arrived, his “people” informed us he would stay for just one hour. That, however, was before he watched our students in action singing the national anthem and heard speeches by the Inspector of Education, Katie, and a student (Rizan) selected to represent all the members of The Amazima School. He was so moved by everything he saw and heard that he told our Country Director, “I have never seen such students in all of Uganda; I will be staying for the entire program.” When it came time for his speech, he approached the podium with his prepared remarks in a stack of papers ready to go. 100% of the time at these events the government speeches are political, nationalistic and self-serving. It’s actually the only reason they come! This time, however, was different. The Honorable Minister stepped to the microphone and told the audience he would not be giving his speech today because “there is nothing left to say.” He went on to talk about how The Amazima School is a treasure for all of Uganda and how amazed he was at the commitment to help these students move the country forward. A few of our more political staff members said it was the first time they had ever heard of a governmental official abandoning their speech!
Katie’s Grand Opening speech brought us all to tears. To hear some of it, watch below.
All of us are beginning to accept that we are part of something huge. God is going to change this country through a generation of changed students, and we get to play a small part with a front row seat. The joy of this place overwhelms our difficulties, and God is graciously directing our actions and decisions toward what is clearly an ordained vision for his children in Uganda.
Thank you for your prayers and support!