Remember growing up, how school was free? Yeah, me too. I also remember getting my books loaned out to me and being able to participate in many free after-school activities, like sports, music, art, and dance, not to mention all of the great classes just automatically included in my FREE educational curriculum.
Well, thanks to my FREE K-12 education in the United States, I was able to find my greatest talent as a musician, my strongest voice as a knowledgable, aware, and educated citizen, and a chance at a university degree that helped to further my awareness about the world and bring me to the great continent of Africa. What my FREE education didn't prepare me for, was the reality of what a population denied a free education looks like...
In Uganda, education is supposed to be free up until 7th grade. "Supposed to be" is the key here. What that means is that the government passed a law suggesting free education back in 1997, but doesn't get involved in monitoring the lawfulness of those meant to uphold that right. So when I landed on Ugandan soil on May 22nd of this year, ready for a planned 12 weeks of work in maternal and child health in the rural villages, I didn't realize I would also be working in the areas of education as well.
What I saw was entire villages of families who didn't speak English (the official language of Uganda, and the language that almost all health care and government documents are written in), who couldn't read or write, didn't understand basic math, and were unable to access the supposed social programs that were meant to alleviate poverty in the area because they were address to those who could afford education. Afford education? But I thought it was free? Right... Free until the government forgets to pay the teachers, who then become desperate for money to feed their own families, and start charging their students fees to study, turning them away if they don't pay, and embezzling the small funds that do get paid out to the schools. Why don't the parents of those children say something? Why don't they write to their local members of parliament to let them know about the corruption and bribery that is denying their children the right to a free education? Well, it's kind of hard to write to your federal government when you don't know how to write, don't know the language, can't afford the pen and paper, and don't even know the basics of government, citizenship, and advocacy.
It's oppression at its finest, and I've been witnessing it here everyday since May. When I'd work in the health centers and see mothers coming in, in the throws of labor, asking them their age and getting "14" as a response, I'd wonder, why? Then I find out they were unable to finish school due to fees, so had to get married instead to survive. When I'd see mothers and fathers bring their children in suffering malnutrition, a 5 year old the size of a one year old with a belly too big to wrap his arms around, his black hair turned red, his skin hanging off his bones, they'd tell me they didn't know. They didn't know that there were feeding options other than maize and rice. That family planning existed. They don't know how to read. The only reason they were even here in the health center in the first place was thanks to an NGO who sent out village health team members to actually go out and FIND those who needed health care and bring them to the hospitals for free. Otherwise, they would have stayed at home and just hoped their son would get better on his own. Then there were the children who were sent home from school, expelled because they were considered "incompetent" by the teachers, saying they were unable to learn anything and so shouldn't be allowed to stay in school and bring the rest of the 125-kid per teacher classes down... But 15 minutes with that child, just me, my ukulele, a reused plastic bucket as a drum, and he'd be making music with me, singing songs, learning English...
All of these people were denied education due to costs or ignorance.
All of these people are unable to play a part in their own country's development, because their own country doesn't want them to.
All of these people suffer because of that.
So when my flight back to America was supposed to take me home on August 22nd, I didn't go to the airport. I didn't pack my bags. Instead, I called my parents, told them that I can't come back yet, that I am needed here, and started working with a Ugandan-run organization in the Kabalagala slum of Kampala that offers free education to needy children all over the country, traditional african music and dance classes, a safe place to stay, food and water, and a family to be apart of. They are small -- they haven't had a lot of outside help and their funding sources are sparse, but they are strong-willed and have big dreams... Most importantly, they believe in educating their own people. They believe in the power of knowledge. They believe in the power of culture, participation, and friendship. Finally, they believe in music. They understand that the arts can bring out a part of a child that was never seen before, that might be the key to helping them succeed. They support that talent. They nurture that talent. They encourage, and they provide.
As somebody who also benefitted from the arts in school (I hated high school and was failing half my classes before being enrolled in an amazing school for music, Interlochen Arts Academy), and also as a true Michigander, proud of my state’s claim to fame in the Great Lakes, I feel drawn to this initiative, this cause in another Great Lake region of Africa.
I will be here until late December, working everyday with the music and dance academy and the families whose lives I’ve been apart of since May in the rural villages of Iganga District in Eastern Uganda. The money I am raising money for is not to support me. I have been lucky enough to find a host family here in Uganda that provides me with accommodation, transport, and food. Instead, the money I am asking for will go to supporting my children -- hundreds of them -- and their dreams and aspirations. They need a lot of help. As a student myself, all I can offer them is my knowledge, advice, and access to the rest of my friends and family in America, so it’s really going to be all of YOU who make a difference in their lives! I will just be the vehicle by which you make your contributions :)
Things that your money will provide:
Costumes for all of the dance and music students so that they can perform
New instruments to start being able to teach lessons to a larger group
Water bottles to be able to provide the students with fresh, clean water while training
Mosquito nets to help keep the students healthy and in school more often
Shoes to protect their feet from the most common injury I see in the villages... abscesses resulting from cutting themselves on the rough terrain
I’m also interested in collection donations of actual THINGS! Things like dance outfits (leotards, dance shoes, tights) because so many of the girls who are dancing have nothing appropriate to wear. Things like backpacks or sports bags to carry their school supplies and keep their costumes and uniforms clean when they travel to and from their homes to the center to train. Things like books -- dictionaries, children’s books, coloring books, etc. They need all they can get in the form of education and creativity! Also, finally, bras... Sports bras, full-coverage bras, training bras... Anything to make all of the young girls I work with feel like young girls. Not like strippers (there seems to be a surplus of lacy pushup bras for sale in the street markets here!).
Donations of actual items can be sent to:
Mawanga Lane, Buziga
P.O. Box 4143
Pictures will be posted as often as possible of all the great things your donations will provide, and if there is anything in particular you would like your money to go to, please, just ask! I will guarantee your money goes to where you want it, pictures for proof included!
I thank you all for your support and look forward to the change we will bring together! Even if it’s one child at a time, it’s one child who deserves a chance, and one child who will get a chance...
Love & Music,
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