When the Numbers Don’t Add Up

On our first day in Jinja we were joined by Ken Galyean, the founder of Call to Africa, and the rest of the team that had just flown in and were, themselves, trying to recover from the flight over. We were now 19 people strong, ready to go, do, and give however we could to best meet the needs presented to us.

During the drive to our first stop, Good Shepherd school, I was reacquainting myself to a culture and a landscape I had discovered during my earlier trip that is so different from the American culture and landscape I have known all my life. I was reminded of so many things I take for granted, things I am so familiar with that I feel, if I am honest, that I am entitled to them. Yes, my WiFi should always work and be super fast and my venti-sized lattes should always be hot and made just the way I like them and ready within the 4-9 minute as-promised window on the Starbucks app. And my roads should never have potholes and the house never get too hot or my car never be without refreshing and comfortable air-conditioning. What would I ever do without Amazon prime and its near-instant delivery to my doorstep of all the many items I want but do not really need? And my bank account should always have at least some money in it.

At a bare minimum, these are my necessities and entitlements. I am ashamed to say this is true more times than it is not. It is the culture I live in and often the attitude of many fellow citizens. It cannot be denied because just today I saw tell-tale signs of this on Facebook. If we’re being honest.

I just visited a school here in Uganda that is currently educating some 550 children. There have been 700 students here at one time. Education in Uganda is not free like it is in the primary years in America. So there are children that do not go to school simply because their parents cannot afford it. Their floors are dirt floors, they have no cars, they fetch water from the well down the road and carry it on their heads several times a day to do the washing that needs to be done. There is no electricity in their homes.

I can tell you one thing for certain; I would not be here typing on my Mac computer in Uganda beside the Nile River if I had never been to school. If I could not read or write or add up numbers so that I could discern how to live on a budget or start a business from scratch, I would not be living the life I am living. It is hard for me to grasp what it would be like to not read or write or understand how history has shaped my world or be able to figure out the missing variable in a simple equation so that I can find the solution to just about any problem. I am a business owner and an inventor. None of that would be my reality if I had never received an education. What is an education worth?

Well here in Jinja, Uganda at Good Shepherd school it is worth everything when you have nothing. It is the thing that will equip and empower a generation to build new things, and overcome government corruption, and put clean, running water in homes. It is priceless. And yet, for some it is still unattainable. Too many children cannot read or write or add up numbers.

At Good Shepherd school, approximately 50% of the 550 students have their tuition costs covered by their parents (roughly 275 students).

Another 25% (approximately 137 students) have a portion of their tuition costs covered by their parents.

And the remaining 25% (roughly 137) are unable to pay anything at all.

One of the sweet girls at Good Shepherd school.

The staff at Good Shepherd have gone without to make up for the lost tuition so these students could continue being educated. The meals for the children are minimized to smaller portions and become rice with beans when tuition cannot be paid. Stretching a schilling (or a dollar) has become an art so that children can receive a priceless education. But this cannot continue for long. Those who cannot afford will not get an education.

The cost for one single child to attend school is about $150 per semester. There are 3 semesters in their school year which makes the total for one child per year $450. Some of these children live in dormitories and eat every meal on campus, while some go home to their families after school each afternoon.

I spoke with Lillian, the burser (treasurer) of Good Shepherd school and learned of this incredible need for tuition costs to be covered for these 130-some children that will not receive an education unless someone steps up.

If you want to help change the future of one of these little ones, you can join me in this endeavor. If we all gave up a coffee for one day a week or even one day a month it really could change a life, because the numbers add up when we all pitch in just a little. After meeting literally hundreds of these children and spending some time in Uganda on two different occasions, I can attest to the incredible impact that this does make for a child, a family, and the future of a nation.

boys at Good Shepherd school
Some of the boys that need tuition covered so they can stay in school #changealife

This evening, before I finished this post, I had the pleasure of meeting with three young men who have a vision to work together on a large project using their skills with computers, websites, digital marketing, and ministry. We had a bit of a jam-session to talk about ways in which they can best make their vision come to life. It was exciting for me to see them become excited over the potential that lies ahead for them. And our meeting was a reminder to me, yet again, of the incredible value of an education.

Anyone that feels compelled to help with a child’s tuition can do so by giving directly to Call to Africa, a non-profit organization that can get the money directly to Good Shepherd school and into the right hands. Every single dollar of a donation or sponsorship for tuition except for the credit card transaction fee will go to Uganda for this specific purpose.

I am so incredibly thankful to have received an education. I am thankful I can read, write, and add up numbers. I cannot imagine a life any different.


PS. Check out the school for the little ones at Sangaalo that I wrote about on my last visit to Uganda here.


Fly Like Eddie

I can speak French, which is really no big deal since a lot of people speak French. But I learned this beautiful language from 2nd graders at a private school in Portland, OR and I’m guessing not too many people can say that. I am fluent in French kids games and 2nd grader jokes.

During my homeschool high school years I wanted to learn French. No one in my family spoke the language. Since this was in a day and age when we did not have computers in our homes and the internet was not yet invented, I was limited to borrowing cassette tape language courses from the local library and reading a Berlitz book. Basically I was learning French on my own and had no idea whether I was getting it right or not. Some people told me I’d never been able to master the language unless I took a French class. It was the only way. The only problem was that, since I was homeschooled, I was considered truant from school and, hence, unable to participate in any classes at the local schools.

When I was 16 years old, I saw an article in the Oregonian about the French-American International School (Ecole Francaise). My mother suggested that I write a letter to the directrice of the school, asking if there were any volunteer positions to be had. If I could be in the French environment on a daily basis it would help with my language learning endeavors. So I wrote the letter, sealed it in an envelope, and mailed it off with the hope that my offer to volunteer my time would be accepted.

A few weeks later, I received a reply offering me a job! The school needed a teacher’s assistant and wondered if I would be available to work Monday through Friday during normal school hours. Being homeschooled, this was an option. I could work during the day and do my studies at night. I could hardly believe my good fortune!

During the next school year I worked each week assisting Martine, the second grade teacher. All of the teachers and students were French – like actually from France. (So much better than being in a class of Americans trying to learn French from their American teacher!) The children’s parents had brought their families to the Portland area for mostly job-related reasons and wanted their kids to continue with their French schooling while in America. This was the student body of Ecole Francaise. So Monday through Friday, between he hours of 7:30-3:30, I packed up a lunch and headed off to work in Paris in Portland. It was wonderful. The kids were fantastic teachers of French. The other teachers were very patient with me as I learned the correct way to roll the R and cut off the N. Once I received the nicest compliment: a parent of one of the students told me I spoke English very well! Ha! I even fooled a native French speaker!

After that school year ended, I worked as a nanny for two precious little French girls living in Portland for the summer while their mother visited family and did some professional photography work. The following fall, I left for Europe with my friend Wayne, spending quite a bit of time in France as well as the French-speaking part of Switzerland. By that time, I was fairly fluent and could have conversations as well as accurately navigate Wayne and I around Europe with a bit of Franglais thrown in when visiting other Latin-based language parts of the world.

I often think back to those years, how a simple desire to do something turned into so much more. It taught me that really anything is possible. I had aimed too low initially when I asked for the volunteer position. I should have aimed higher. I’ve been reminded of this over the years with the building of the cat empire. A simple desire turned into something so huge, so beyond the scope of what was first imagined. Even things that others say are impossible

This past week my husband took me to a preview of “Eddie the Eagle,” a movie set to open at the end of February. The movie depicts the true story of Eddie Edwards, an Olympic ski jumper from Great Britain. When Eddie was a kid he dreamed of being an Olympian. Only Eddie was not athletic and Eddie had problems with his legs that caused him to have extended stays in the hospital and wear leg braces for much of his childhood. Still, though, despite all the impossibilities, Eddie was determined to be an Olympian. The movie shows Eddie’s amazing journey to the 1988 Olympics in Calgary. It is a truly remarkable story. Totally unbelievable really. Insane almost. Eddie was more determined that anyone else I’ve ever known. His story is so incredibly inspiring. I recommend that everyone go see “Eddie the Eagle” when it opens. Watch it twice and then #flylikeEddie.

This brings me around to #6 on my list of 10 things you probably didn’t know about me: I love to prove people wrong. It’s an amazing thing to do that which other people tell you can’t be done. It’s even better when the outcome helps people all over the world. Go see the movie….. you’ll see what I mean.