World statistics inform us we are wealthy if:
1. We can choose what we want to eat and eat 3 meals a day.
2. We can go to the doctor if we are ill.
3. We can turn off the light when we go to bed at night.
Here I am in Uganda, where none of the above is typical for any Ugandan resident. I am here to visit the St. Ursula Special Needs School, where we are working in an attempt to change attitudes and change lives.
St. Ursula’s is appropriately named a “Special” School. We arrive by mutato which is actually a 1980 VW Van still traveling the roads despite a mileage ticker that no longer ticks! We are instantly greeted by 6 strapping young Ugandan teens with broad smiles and hearty hugs.
They welcome us as if we are their closest cousins come for a long awaited visit. Though their grins evidence dental deficiencies and their physical handicaps affect their gait, they seek no sympathy as they have long overcome the need for such. They accept who they are and embrace others, including their peers, their teachers and these new visitors as smoothly as well practiced hosts.
To reach the school we saunter downhill. Our 6 greeters escort us past the “kitchen” where lunch is being prepared. From our perspective, we would describe it as a makeshift wood shed. Here the school cook has a large pot simmering over a charcoal fire on the ground. She is stirring the beans and rice and that will feed the 75 students and staff of the school. It is their one guaranteed, hearty meal of the day. After lunch you will see many of the same 6 greeters with some others washing the dishes in a simple plastic washbasin and drying them for the next day’s use. They proudly complete this work, receiving frequent compliments for their success. Because the washbasins simply set on the ground, all the students are bent in half completing their chore in the hot mid-day sun.
First we meet the school administrator. I cannot say enough about Sister Lucy and her joyful and infectious attitude. She knows each of the students and staff, but immediately welcomes us into her “family”. “Wow” and “welcome” are her signature words. We get a quick tour and are invited to drift in and out of any classes to observe and interact and quickly get our bearings. This will be our home for the next 4 weeks.
On Wednesdays, the entire school participates in Physical Education outdoors on the soccer field. They revel in games of long ago, with joyful chanting and predictable movements. Tug of War, parachute play, ball relays. Even the teachers join in the fun and the students delight in the camaraderie that evolves. It reminds me of some of the simple pleasures we enjoyed in my youth.
This school is an oasis in an otherwise strenuous lifestyle. 47 percent of SubSaharan children do not even attend school. Special needs children are often abandoned by their families. Although the Ugandan people are peaceful, welcoming, and kind, the reality of survival on less than $10 per day is relentless. Most do not even have a flashlight to use to walk home in the dark hours of the night.
I hope that many who read this will be moved by these details and contribute toward keeping the St. Ursula Special Needs School vibrant. Those of us who have so much and have come to expect our conveniences perhaps can help those who deserve the chance for simple human dignity.