Think back to when you were a kid and it is just days before the new school year. Depending on what grade you’re moving into hinges the level of excitement but it’s safe to say each year had its giddy anticipation, and its fears.
New clothes, new shoes, the fresh smell of erasers, the mint condition of notebooks and folders, the pit in your stomach of nerves (the good kind) for new teachers, new friends, new everything. Some years there was even fear. Fear of making new friends, fear of the difficult curriculum, fear of the teachers and the rumors of how tough they can be.
When I look at my students this week that is exactly what I see going through their beating hearts and racing minds.
We took 7 students to their school interviews earlier this week. One student walked in with over-confidence (if you meet her you will giggle and know what I mean) and the rest were struck with nerves, chewing on
their my pens. Ahem.
I sat in on some of the interviews. They are tested with simple math and English to examine if they are ready to proceed into the next year, need to remain, or be demoted. I struggled as I watched the 10 year-olds not able to match the numerical numbers to their English word (EX: 8 to eight). I scratched my head as they couldn’t write “Ot” (house) or “Pii” (water) in their own language, words with 2-3 letters. All 7 students were demoted at least 1, if not 3, levels. And on the way back home their were giggles and elbow nudges in the car as the confident one was even demoted (We all giggled, you just gotta’ meet her, she is one strong character).
With the jokes aside, there seems to be a ghost, almost literally, haunting the educational system. In 2012 New Vision* reported the Ugandan primary school drop-out rate to be 71% with this eery feeling that the 71% are “ghost pupils”. Who are they? Where did the go? Students disappear, especially girls.
The journal also reported that 25% of girls in primary school drop-out because of pregnancy. That means 1 out of every 4 little girls doesn’t finish school because they are now mom.
Out of the 7 students we took to their interviews 1 is a boy and 6 are girls. All were demoted but to my eyes it was the girls who struggled most through their exams because, more than the boy, their schooling has been on and off.
Girls here really struggle with the cultural pressures of love, marriage, and maternity.
First, all the girls seem to think that finding a boy is where they will find their love, happiness, and peek purpose of life. One of our 14 year old girls has run away three times to a 26 year old “husband”, and this guy wasn’t even her first mature relationship. One of our 18 year old girls is pregnant and still repeating through her primary education.
One family told me to sponsor their younger daughter because, quote, “The older daughter is just going to go off, get pregnant, and drop-out. OR drop-out and get pregnant. Either way she is a waste of your money.”
Another family told me to enroll their 6 year old over their 14 year old because, “The older one has already tried. She keeps failing so there is no chance for her. She just needs to get married.”
All families had a preference to sponsor the boys, no matter what age, over their daughters.
There is this expectation that girls are going to drop out, get pregnant, and be married off before completing primary school. Therefore, what happens? Well, if you are a 10 year old girl growing up under those expectations then of course she is going to drop-out and search for love in all the wrongs places. You never gave her hope, you never fed her encouragement, and if you never believed in her how will she grow up believing in herself?
The boys struggle too. There is this “cool” vibe with the boys. Dress this way, talk this way, get a girlfriend with no strings attached, gamble, drink, smoke, be cool. So the boys find themselves in the wrong places too and their aspirations are so low and mild. Even when someone encourages them to strive they shrug it off because not caring is kind of cool, tough, and masculine.
These observations don’t account for every Ugandan child by any means but from the ones I’ve seen in our program in the rural area with village culture these attitudes dominate even among pre-teens.
The saying, “It takes a community to raise a child” is such a strong truth in this community. Because of this the Childero program has transformed into a ministry, and the ministry into family.
After months of bible club and our family pouring out into our children the students are walking with new spirits, transformed beliefs, and renewed attitudes.
The girl who was addicted to love affairs and tied to affection is now staying with her pastor, far away from the ex-husband, and is enrolling in school THIS Monday.
The girl with the baby has released the pressures from her village to give-up her chance at education. She’s gearing up for her studies and we see her giggly baby almost every week as, even the baby is part of our ministry family.
The 3 boys who had testimonies of being the bullies now claim to be full of love and are my favorite class clowns.
The demoted children take the set-back with positivity knowing they are going to master the skills.
Identity is fully brimmed, love is replaced in the right place, and belief in themselves rings throughout our days because they know the Father.
Join us in prayer as our students enroll in school this Monday, many who have not regularly attended school for years now. Pray for the girls under wrongful expectations of failure and shortcomings. Pray for the boys to find their cool their own way and to follow in the steps of their Father. Pray for our staff to keep loving, encouraging, and pursuing these brilliant kids. Pray for both our struggles and achievements to honor the One we are setting out to please.