G.O.D. Int’l began an official partnership with St. John’s Primary School in July 2014. At the time, St. John’s was considered the worst school in the district, and arguably, in the nation. But St. John’s school shared a border with our land plot in Uganda, so we determined to “love our neighbor as ourselves,” and do something about the dire situation of the then 325+ students. After a formal meeting with the St. John’s school board, and a presentation by Gregg Garner, President of G.O.D. Int’l, concerning what possibilities would exist through a partnership with G.O.D. Int’l, the Education Superintendent for the Wakiso District of Uganda gave authority to our organization over hiring, scheduling, curriculum development, teacher training, and school improvements.
Immediately, G.O.D. tripled the teaching staff, repaired faulty water catchment systems, and brought two key teachers who were already working at a nearby school district, Lawrence and Josephine (G.O.D. cooperatives) into leadership positions at the school. Gregg Garner, also headmaster of the Academy for G.O.D. in Nashville, TN, re-formatted the school’s daily schedule, organized teachers, and offered training to the teachers and administrative staff.
Our investment and development strategy is to focus on empowering individuals over merely improving the structures. So, while we have offered continual structural help (like building walls between classrooms, installing hand washing stations, and clearing the grounds), the development of the staff is our true feat. In addition to dozens of administrative and educational seminars, we have trained teachers in CPR and other primary health care responses, empowering them to be the first responders to the consistent medical concerns their students face.
In December of 2015, we offered Camp Skillz: Uganda, an after school extra-curricular camp offering sports, drama, health teachings and character lessons. In addition, we facilitated feedings of the then 350 children in attendance, getting a glimpse of what it would take to initiate a lunch program at the school. Also in December of 2015, we began The Trade, an alternative store that accepts items that the rural villagers have on hand (eggs, chickens, carrots or onions) in exchange for school supplies, shoes, or uniforms. This trade-credit system has been accepted with great enthusiasm from the parents at St. John’s who are able to pay for necessary school items they previously went without.
In Fall of 2016, we began the first St. John’s garden plot, in an effort to grow produce to supplement a nutrient-lacking lunch only available to paying children. The garden plot was gifted to us through a nearby church, and we happily provided four jobs to farmers who are learning innovative methods while at the same time growing food for the school.
In May of 2017, the headmaster of St. John’s told Cameron Kagay, lead manager of G.O.D. East Africa, that the Ugandan officials had been consistently impressed by St. John’s, so much so that they didn’t think the school needed any more help from the government. Though we disagreed, we took it as a sign of improvements marked by national experts in the field. The particular thing they mentioned was that any time they visited, teachers were present in the classroom, working efficiently and in an organized matter. According to the Global Corruption Report put out by Transparency International, Uganda has the second highest teacher truancy rate in the world, so getting teachers to consistently report for duty (when they are often in so much need themselves) is a miracle in itself.
Several generous teams and donors have given school supplies and shoes to St. John’s. In fact, we replenish their supply of notebooks, pencils and classroom supplies every semester. Teachers are routinely trained by our teachers who serve as instructors from the Academy for G.O.D., via long distance communications and a few visits by the U.S. team of teachers every year. School enrollment has now gone up to 400 as local parents are witnessing the benefits of putting their children in the previously unwanted school.
While there is still a ways to go in our work with St. John’s, we are very grateful for the work that God has allowed us to do, and celebrate what he’s done in just 3 short years. We have hope for even greater improvements as we allow him to work through us, use our resources the best we can, and trust that he can make St. John’s a thriving school in one of the poorest areas of Uganda.