Several years ago I asked a Ugandan father why people in Uganda tended to have so many children. (The average number of kids per family was 8 at the time.) He told me: “Children are assets. When you are this poor, you will take any help you can get.”
The same year, our team tried to construct a playground for the children of the area to have a safe place to play. While we thought it was a great idea, it wasn’t met with the kind of enthusiasm that would make a project successful. The parents told us they didn’t actually need a playground, that the children were fine “playing with the rocks.” We dropped our plans, humbling and frustrating as it was, because we knew the futility of introducing something that wasn't believed in by the people of the area.
For some time, we did little more for the children of the area but bathe them, trim their nails, inspect and treat their wounds, and make sure they had clothes that fit. As we did, we also taught their parents the Bible--including God’s concern for every human being, including children, to have abundant life.
That Word took root, and has given birth to new desires within parents, for a brighter future for their children. We now receive quite different requests from them, like: “Can you please teach us how to teach our children God’s Word, in a way that is simple and can be understood easily?” “Can you send a chapter book that my middle school daughter would enjoy?”
On this trip, we took the opportunity to give some ideas and demonstrations of ways that parents and adults in the community could invest into the younger generation. It has been wonderful to watch.
During their school holiday (which stretches the duration of our trip), the children tend to their household chores every morning – helping their parents with the every day cooking, cleaning or laundry. Then it’s off to Bible class. The kids have been attending a 2-hour Bible class everyday where they are covering the 10 Commandments. They aren’t just sitting in a “speak and repeat” educational time they are used to in their school classes. They are given the opportunity to participate in interactive stories and make a craft to decorate their home with God’s Word.
They play fun ‘get up and move’ games that help enforce values like being a child of God or what it really means to love your neighbor, even as a child. They are given small breaks or recess and then it’s back to the classroom where they can earn points for a special prize. This week their prize in a movie night on our land with a special homemade popcorn snack. Their prize last week? Their very own dance class facilitated by Laura Young, an East Africa team member. Laura meets with the children everyday for one hour. When they see her get out her speakers they come running with joy. They are working together to complete a dance and perform it at our very own talent show case. It’s wonderful to see the kids working together to accomplish a goal. They feel good about themselves and are excited to practice the moves at home and show their parents what they learned.
Preventative health care is another educational priority for our team. Healthcare starts young. In an environment where infectious diseases are an everyday occurrence, the simple pre-dinner hand wash can save a life. The kids are having a great time learning about how to take care of their bodies AND their environment. As I type they are marching around our property chanting about picking up trash and keeping the ground clean. I also heard one of the kids from the family I’m staying with wash his hands for 30 seconds while singing the hand washing song we taught them.
I could go on and on. From science tutoring sessions with one of the secondary students to giving guitar, bass and piano lessons so the students at our post secondary Institute can have a worship band--we are making an impact. We are giving children and youth an outlet to learn their gifts and interests. We are giving them a chance to learn something that we were given so easily, yet they would have never received.
I believe the best gift we have to offer is ourselves. The Scriptures say that if we have the world’s goods but don’t share with someone in need, then we don’t love God. We are trying to love God by giving ourselves and what we have to offer. It’s doesn’t take a ton of money – just some creativity and a lot of love.
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