IN THE NOISE AND IN THE QUIET, WE FIND JOY

SCHOOL ACCOMPLISHMENTS

Since last we posted, there have been a plethora (Kelly says shout out to El Guapo) of exciting things happening at The Amazima School (TAS) and for us personally as we continue to serve in Uganda. We had our very first Science Fair at TAS and it could not have gone any better for the students and the staff who had the pleasure of attending. For the preliminary round, there was a night for all of us to walk around and see the very creative experiments the students selected. They worked in pairs so there were 36 stations for us to check out. For the adults, it was a lot of reliving high school science in one night. Even so, it was incredible to watch the enthusiasm and preparation that went into proving their hypotheses right or wrong. The top three pairs competed on the following Saturday night in front of the student body and staff with the winners being a pair of boys with a “moldy bread” experiment. The top three teams also presented their experiments to the parents and guardians at TAS Visitation Day. They were blown away by the whole idea of the science fair and very proud of their students….especially the ones whose students ended up with medals around their neck!

All of our school sports teams have improved greatly since TAS opening. Our girls’ teams got to do a lot of celebrating this term since it was the first wins for their basketball, net-ball and volleyball teams. The boy’s football (soccer) team had their first non-loss. The game was a draw, but we will take it. Our boys are tough players and working hard to compete against schools with more than 50 times the number of students. This school year is also our students first time to participate in team sports. We could not be more proud of their effort and attitude. Even the ones who do not participate are very supportive and cheering loudly on the sidelines. It’s definitely a team effort with only 24 boys and 48 girls at our school. The 2018 school year will bring 48 more boys and 24 more girls so we will be equally balanced and have more to participate in school wide activities.

The Amazima School is a Ugandan school, not an International school. Being a national school means we have to follow the very strict rules set forth by the Ministry of Education and Sports. In Term 2, schools compete in what is called Music, Dance and Drama or MDD for short. There are 16 events encompassing singing, dancing, poetry, speeches and many more. Our students only had a week to prepare for the events in which we decided they would participate and given that the other schools were 10-20 times our size, our 5th place finish was incredible! More importantly, our kids were (by far) the most humble and gracious of any school there. The judges and officials made an effort to tell our teachers how impressed they were with the students of TAS. Moments like these validate the approach we are taking to education and student life. We are all overwhelmed with the results God is allowing us to experience. 

The Amazima School Farm, which will be maintained by the students, has been prepared for planting! It will be managed using a method Amazima has been teaching the surrounding communities for many years called Farming God’s Way. Each student house (24 students) has a section of the farm they are preparing for planting (beans and maize) which will be done in Term 3. The video below talks about Farming God’s Way at Amazima Ministries.

Term 2 brought lots of excitement, fun and hard work but also some sorrow. Kelly and I have been strengthened, however, by the continued transformation and unity of both the staff and students through trials. Our campus was put to the test when two of our students lost their primary guardians to death during the term. We witnessed Ugandan and Western Family Mentors support them in those hard days here on campus and in their communities. On Sunday mornings this term, we studied the “Joy Letter” of Philippians. We all know that joy is possible in Christ regardless of our circumstances. Through God’s grace, they fully understand this promise and have embraced it in the face of extreme difficulty. The students were excited to go home over the break and share with their families and communities how they can have joy no matter their circumstances. 

CHAMPIONS

The Amazima School Staff participates in the Jinja Corporate League. Once a month (over 6 months) for entire Sunday afternoon, they competed in soccer, running and tug-o-war against other organizations in the district. THE AMAZIMA SCHOOL ARE THE CHAMPIONS of the Jinja Corporate League! It’s worth noting we were undefeated for the season in tug-o-war (23-0). For this we were awarded three goats, a trophy and a plaque. We even made the national news! Way to go TAS!!

REST AND RELAXATION

A local resort was running a special so we took a couple of days in the middle of Term 2 to get away. Twenty minutes away from the school is one of the most peaceful, beautiful places we have ever been…Wildwaters Lodge. The food was incredible (best we’ve has since being in Uganda) and the views breathtaking. I thought I was used to all the cricket and cicadas noises at night from living on the lake in the states. Well…I was wrong. The first night they were so loud I thought an emergency alarm was going off. After getting used to our new little friends it was a very enjoyable, needed get away. We sometimes don’t realize how tired or run down we are until we get away. In the quiet, we are able to stand back, reflect and appreciate what is happening in the lives of the students and staff.

GOOD FOR THE SOUL

We are now on break in between terms before heading into Term 3. The campus is very quiet, to say the least. Taking an evening stroll, I hear drums and brass instrument sounds in the distance. It’s a Friday night to be exact. I stop and close my eyes, feel the cool breeze and I imagine the sounds to be a band warming up for “Friday Night Lights.” At least in the states that’s what it would be. I’m not sure what the band is doing in the distance but it brings back many memories of football in the fall (in the south)…some of my favorite memories. I stood there and listened while watching a beautiful Ugandan sunset. God brings these little reminders of goodness all the time.

I had thought I wouldn’t smell fresh-cut grass for a while either. Most grass is cut here using a slasher (done by hand). Our campus (being as it is very large), however, is blessed to have a riding lawnmower so walking around smelling fresh-cut grass has become one of my favorite things. I don’t get home sick when I appreciate the small things God provides in the quiet.

One of the hardest things for us to leave back in the States was the dozens of students with whom we had built relationships over the last 14 years. We are so excited to report that one of them is living in Jinja for the next 9 months! We get to help Courtney (Flick) feel at home in Jinja while she fills our heart with “student love”. We have really enjoyed getting to show her great places to eat, introduce her to everyone we know and just hang out and watch movies.

INTRODUCTION/WEDDING

We had the honor and privilege of attending and being part of two of our dearest staff member’s (Derick & Ruthie) traditional introduction ceremony. Derick is one of the Ugandan Family Mentors on Kelly’s team and Ruthie is the Student Life Administrator (Kelly’s right hand). We got to dress in traditional Ugandan formal attire. I (Danlyn) wore a Mushanana and Kelly wore a Kanzu (see pictures below). It was fun to dress up and “do” my hair, which I hadn’t done in over 8 months. Luckily, how to use a curling wand came back from muscle memory. At the ceremony, the Amazima staff was present with groom’s side. We walked/danced in along with Derick’s family in-front of all of the other guest who had been seated for over an hour waiting for the groom to come and request the bride’s hand in marriage. We then sat in special seating with the groom’s family. There were lots of traditional speeches, presentations and dances. We helped present the “gifts” (dowry) to the bride’s family from the groom. This included many gift baskets with fruits and vegetables, 3 live chickens, tons of matoke (bananas) and a 132 pound bag of rice just to name a few. Kelly was selected to carry the giant bag of rice down a steep, rocky hill and in a dress that was too long. Quiet a site! There was a point of gift exchange where a group of us girls got to dance with a group of guys from Ruthie’s family. Totally spontaneous and so fun! The groom and bride’s family had their meal in a separate location from the rest of the guests to discuss the dowry. We assume all went well because after being there for around 3 hours, Ruthie was finally presented to everyone. And she looked stunning. She had four traditional Ugandan dress changes in the night (Kelly says $2 to Big Daddy Yum Yum). WOW! It was definitely a big party.

The next day Derick and Ruthie got married in the sweetest ceremony. I helped a team of amazing ladies transform the backyard of the Matron of Honor into a southern outdoor wedding. That was the bride’s wish. The day was perfect even though the celebration was shut down a little early with the worst storm I’ve experienced in Uganda to date.

CONSTRUCTION UPDATE

Phase 2A at the school is progressing with a speed we are not used to here. The Chapel, which will be “The Rock” of our campus, is scheduled to be completed early December but we’re hoping for a little sooner so we can enjoy it a little bit before the end of the school year. Included in this phase are eight new general classrooms and three large speciality classrooms… a science lab, fine arts room and a music room. All of these classrooms will be completed for the start of the 2018 school year in February. Phase 2B will involve additional dorms and Family Mentor housing since we will add 72 to our total number of students each year.

DARING TO HOPE

Kelly and I have both read Katie’s (our founder) newest book “Daring to Hope – Finding God’s Goodness in the Broken and Beautiful” We can honestly say if you loved her first book “Kisses From Katie” you will love this one just as much, if not more. If you have not read the first book you still have time before the new one comes out October 3rd. A bonus for The Amazima School…for every “Daring to Hope” book bought during the 1st week of its release, the publisher, Random House, is going to give the school a book of our choosing from their publishing house for our library. WIN WIN! You get a book! We get a book! Photo credits on the book cover to our very own Mackenzie Dalton 🙂

FINISHING STRONG

We start the 3rd and final term of the school year on September 18th. The stories from the villages about our students over this break are extremely positive so there is a lot of anticipation for the home visits scheduled for next week. The feedback from our parents and guardians is the most important measure for how effective is our approach.

Thank you for all the support and prayers!

 

ROUTINES ARE MEANT TO BE BROKEN

EASTER

We tend to get into somewhat of a routine until a happy interruption comes along. This can be a national holiday, visitors or a last-minute dinner invitation. Although the schedule and programs for what ended up being the best week at The Amazima School (so far) had certainly been planned, no one could ever have predicted how it would have been received emotionally by the students and staff. This was Easter week…a time of renewing. For our students and many of our Ugandan staff, it was also a time of learning and understanding that one cannot “lose” their salvation or undo the finished work of the cross. The freedom and excitement in the student’s eyes when they “got” this truth was incredible. They were encouraged in Bible class to discuss and ask questions surrounding this topic all week which led to deeper conversations. On Thursday night (Maundy Thursday) the students, their House Parents and Ugandan partners (our family teams) enjoyed a special family meal together on the veranda of each of their homes. Afterwards, the last supper was explained and then the family teams, along with many of the school staff and administrators, washed each of the students’ feet. To witness the moment when the students collectively comprehended what was happening was both overwhelming and powerful in a way we have never experienced. You could feel the Spirit working. If you ever get to be a part of a feet washing ceremony, do it! Afterwards, all the students (every single one) walked in complete silence (without us telling them) to our Night of Worship. On Good Friday, the students and the staff watched Passion of The Christ. If you’ve seen the movie, you know how hard it is to watch no matter if it’s your first or tenth time. It was a very emotional night.

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Kelly explaining the “Last Supper” to the students of The Esther House.

VISITORS

Visitors are a very welcome treat and taste of home! The past couple of months we have been blessed with lots of visitors. We are getting spoiled. First, Kelly brought Emily and Jeffrey Hardy back with him from his trip to the states. He tried to tell me to go to bed and they would see me in the morning since they would get in from the airport around 1:30 am. Ummm…that would never happen. I couldn’t sleep knowing a piece of home is a few hours away. What a joy to greet visitors! When they first arrived we literally had to make ourselves go to bed. It’s so fun playing tour guide and showing everyone our campus home, Jinja town and all the best places to eat of course. 🙂 While the Hardy’s were here, we, along with several other house parents and their personal children had the opportunity to visit the village home of one our dear friends. Kori and I helped to prepare and cook food. We spent most of the time shooing away chickens from the corn on the fire but we did learn how to successfully peel matooke (green banana that tastes like a potato). Mackenzie, Emily and Sidney sang and played games with all of the local children. We all got a tour of the beautiful gardens where so many different fruits and vegetables grow.  We picked lots of fresh avocado to bring home. Kelly, Jeffrey, Zach, Jason and Jackson all helped local men build a chicken coop using large sticks and mud. It was a great day being welcomed by new friends, learning new ways to do things and sharing a meal all together. The next day was an extra special treat. Jeffrey helped lead Sunday morning worship. What a great weekend!

 

To just be able to sit on the couch and hang out with friends from home…oh what a joy!! Next, we had the pleasure of doing this with Kristie McCollister for two weeks. We were the ultimate tourists. We all went on our first safari including a Rhino Trek, a visit to Murchison Falls (the actual Falls – incredible), and a five-hour game drive through Murchison National Park seeing so many elephants, giraffe, kob, bushbucks, hartebeests, waterbucks, buffalo, antelope and baboons. We saw one python who was a couple of days into digesting a very large kill and also a few lions from a safe distance. We cruised up and down The Nile River to the base of Murchison Falls seeing hippos, warthogs (Pumbas), lots of different birds, giraffe and elephants going for a cool drink. We ended our adventure with a four-seater plane ride back to Jinja.

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Kristie was a big help in us getting ready for Second Term. It was great having a partner to help check off my “to-do” lists. It was definitely a special time having her here. The students were on break for three weeks so it got really quiet around campus. The same day we had to say good-bye to Kristie we welcomed the students back for Second Term. With their arrival, the wonderful sounds of students singing, playing games on porches and simple conversations returned. Routine was on its way back in. But first another break in the routine…

We had another set of sweet visitors who set aside time from their own ministry to come and love on us for a couple of days. Scott and Addie Bowen and their precious children were another great taste of home. We visited and ate well while they were here. It’s just as great getting to catch up with their “growing” kids. That’s the hard part of being so far away from family and friends. Missing out on the everyday lives and the growing up of our nieces, nephew and so many others who are like nieces, nephews and grandkids. And not to mention all of the weddings and babies. Just know I would be at all of the showers (and hosting some) and weddings if I was there 🙂

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Overlooking The Nile River with The Bowen’s

MILESTONES

Kelly and I celebrated TWENTY YEARS of marriage on May 31st. We went out to a great dinner and will get away for a weekend soon to celebrate. We looked at each other and both said we couldn’t believe it has been 20 YEARS. Seems like yesterday we were with our first group of high school students at InsideOut which was over 13 years ago. Who knew that a simple “yes” was going to lead to doing life together in Uganda. Crazy!

I got my Ugandan Driver’s License and have driven to town. I never thought I would drive here but “never-say-never” I guess. Defensive driving at its best! I will continue to practice with Kelly in the car and soon I will be off on my own. I will regain some of the independence I have missed.

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My first drive into town behind the wheel and these cuties were brave enough to join us!

The Amazima School is now officially licensed as a Ugandan Secondary School. This was a long, hard process but definitely worth it! A huge and important victory for the school. From the beginning we were committed, as an organization, to being a National school…not an International School. The only way to challenge the system that is failing with the children of Uganda is to fight from within and show the Government there is a better way. International schools are great and serve a wonderful purpose in giving students an opportunity to receive a top-notch education but because they operate outside of the purvey of the Ministry of Education, their performance has no impact on education (as a whole) on Uganda.

HOME VISITS

The biggest gauge of how we are doing in accomplishing our mission at The Amazima School came in the form of our end-of-break visits to the families and guardians of our students. It’s in these moments where we find out if our kids are humble or spoiled, growing or pretending, learning facts or applying knowledge, etc. Universally, the guardians of our students were overwhelmed with the change they saw in their children. Most importantly, there was not a single report of a student acting out or being lazy. These reports have validated (to this point) our philosophy and serve as a great encouragement moving forward.

We are already preparing for the 2018 school year. Kelly has recruited and hired four new sets of house parents that will move here in January. The school is doubling in size so our family team staff will need to do so as well. We are busy communicating, training and getting them ready for their transition to Uganda. Please be in prayer with us for these new additions to our team as they are raising support, saying goodbyes, getting vaccines, paperwork and deciding what’s important enough to bring. All of those are long processes with many emotions involved.

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The Family Team (minus Simon) having a fun Team Day after completing First Term.

Because of the time change and the utter insanity of our schedule, we don’t do a great job of keeping in touch with people (we will get better!). So, we are very grateful for the phone calls, texts, emails and every other way our friends make an effort to support and encourage us from thousands of miles away. If that’s you, then THANK YOU!

Until next time…

TOMORROW IS THE DAY!

NEW STAFF

Since our last update, there have been so many new things happening with us and Amazima, hence our delay in updating the blog. Sorry!

img_0783At the first of the year, we finally got the long awaited container full of items for the school, the staff homes, the dorm rooms and the students. It was all hands on deck to get what was necessary unloaded and delivered to the new staff homes just in time for their arrival less than 36 hours later. The new Western staff and their families (18 people total) were welcomed to their new homes at The Amazima School and they immediately jumped into the process of getting everything set up. They were a great infusion of fresh energy. We spent
the first week of their arrival orienting them to Jinja including where to buy groceries and everyday supplies (it requires many different stores and the local market), the best places to eat, and how to manageimg_0755-2 “airtime” & internet here (very different from the states). We took a trip to Kampala (our big city) to get the things hard to find in Jinja. My favorite part about going to Kampala is lunch at Pizza Hut. I (Danlyn) rarely ate Pizza Hut in the states, but somehow it seems like the right thing to do here 🙂 And it tastes EXACTLY like it does in the states which is very rare. Nothing like a little taste of home, even if it’s not the healthiest. I choose to believe the kale smoothies I get from The Deli (in Jinja) cancels out my Pizza Hut treats 🙂

The month of January brought lots of training for all of us staff. We learned about the history of Amazima, the mission, philosophy & vision of The Amazima School, Ugandan Culture, World Views, healthcare for us and our students, a basic Luganda language lesson and even a “cooking from scratch” session.

NEW HOUSE

We said good-bye to The Providence Guest House and all of the sweet Ugandans who took such great care of us. We miss all of our friends there but are so grateful to be in our own home at The Amazima School campus. We have a constant breeze, an amazing view and a place we can make our own. I love finally getting to organize our stuff and decorate a little.

Cooking and cleaning are probably two of the biggest adjustments to living in our new place since those tasks were done for us (mainly) at the guest house at which we were staying for the last 3 months. Everything just takes longer than we’re used to so we have to plan ahead. We have to make sure we wash the clothes/linens in time for them to have margin to air dry that day. There are some good local restaurants and hopefully some mac-n-cheese in our cabinet when we forget to thaw something out or don’t have the hour(s) to prepare dinner. Because there’s no running to Kroger/Publix if you need something quickly, The Deli (one of my favorite places) sells frozen lasagnas (the only pre-made food here) so we usually eat that once a week. I recently tried to make brownies for the first time. Our oven doesn’t have temperature control and instead, just a high to low knob. Let’s just say we had the tops of brownies with vanilla ice-cream for dessert 🙂 At first I looked at it as a fail because the brownies didn’t turn out perfectly but a friend reminded me that I ended up with edible chocolate so it was a “win.” I am slowly leaving my perfectionism behind (very slowly, with God’s help).

Andrea (one our students here working with Ekisa Ministries) usually spends Saturday nights with us. Sundays we all go to church at The Amazima School and then back up to our house for grilled cheese, tomato and bacon sandwiches. YUM! We love having a piece of home here (selfishly) but most importantly she is having an amazing experience.

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Overlooking The Nile River at one of our favorite spots to eat…Fork & Paddle

NEW DOG

The best part of our new house is our dog (Muggle). She is a dog who has lived on the school property for the past 16 months. She wasn’t doing too well physically, so we had the dog whisperer of Jinja (our friend Kendra) take her to the vet where she had surgery to be spayed and infection was removed from body. I’m happy to report she is happy, healthy and has taken over our house. Kelly has spoiled her rotten. No surprise there 🙂 She walks/runs around campus like she owns the place. She expects everyone to greet her and pet her and goes from home-to-home for visits. The staff kids on campus just love her and drop by our house for play dates all the time. Hopefully the students arriving will feel the same way.

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Muggle

NEW STUDENTS

What has been in the planning stages for a few years now is becoming a reality on Monday (2/13). The first set of students for The Amazima School are arriving!!! What an exciting day it will be! We hear there are students counting down the hours to be here and I know the staff is just as eager to welcome them. We have all been busy bee’s getting everything in order for their arrival. Kelly and I have been spent lots of days going into town to buy last minute supplies. If only there was a WalMart or Target to run into. Nope…it usually takes going to several different stores to find the 5 items on your list. But I’m sure this just goes along with what God has been teaching me about PATIENCE. Everything here just takes longer, takes more steps than you think it should and in a lot of cases has to be redone (because someone didn’t do it right the 1st time).  People are on Africa time (which means showing up anywhere from 30 minutes -4 hours late). I’ve learned it’s not about how many items I cross off my list in a day as long as I’m putting in my best effort and stopping to have community with the people in my daily path. This is a daily struggle for me as I’m a list girl 🙂

Tomorrow will be a busy day as students along with their parent(s)/guardian(s) arrive, get checked-in, learn the school grounds and how the school operates. Meeting family mentors, family mentor partners, teachers and staff will be happening throughout the day as well. The parent(s)/guardian(s) will depart after lunch and the students will begin to get settled in their home away from home. There will be a big welcome dinner with a special menu in the evening. Classes will begin the following day. READY! SET! GO!

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The sign on the road is up. Everyone will be able to find us now!

We definitely feel all of the love, support and prayers from home! Thank you all for helping make tomorrow and the future of The Amazima School a reality. Continue to pray from the hearts of our students, the family mentors & family mentor partners starting to do life with the students tomorrow, the teachers educating the students in a way that is new to them and for all of us that will be a part of these precious young lives.