Uganda (MNN) – Names are powerful. They shape an image or a stereotype.
They’re association can open or close doors, depending on what it means to a community.
For Mark and Stacy Luckey, two workers with Every Child Ministries, naming their work carried weight. Based on 1 Peter 5:7, “He cares for you affectionately, and cares about you watchfully”, they chose the name Afayo (ah-figh-yo) which means “He cares” in Lusoga, a Bantu dialect of southern Uganda.
Afayo uses village schools as an avenue for reaching out to communities with the love of Jesus. Through the school they can reach out not only to the teachers and students, but also to the church, the parents, the orphans, village leadership, and ultimately the entire community.
When they first arrived last fall, they took a look at the St. Paul Primary School in Naigobya and may have wondered if they’d made a mistake. Mark says, “Things were difficult. They had no resources. Education was not taking place to any high standard at all, and also, it was not a Christian-based education even though it was church-related.”
That’s putting it lightly. Their blog pictures document the state of the school. Chalkboards
that were broken or missing slate; a school house with partially open walls and a rusted tin roof; 55 students shared benches without desks; the pit latrine had a flat roof (keeping the odor in); a soccer field without goal posts and a ‘kitchen’ that was really a fire pit with no walls or roof. Those were the cosmetic issues.
For a school to be a school, it needs properly trained teachers and a curriculum. St. Paul’s was making do with what it had. First things, first, says Mark. “We’ve introduced teacher training, we started with curriculum development, developing a more Christian-centered biblical worldview type of curriculum that the school can use.” At the same time, “We were able to make some significant improvements structurally, like building toilets, building some classrooms, building a kitchen–things they didn’t have before.”
The community sat up and took notice. “By the next term, the beginning of 2013, the school had grown to 220 children.” The population of the school had quadrupled in a few short months…which actually presented new problems, but, laughs Mark, “Those are good problems to have.”
Amidst the student body was a growing number of children who had lost one or both parents. This problem hit at the heart of why the Luckeys found themselves in Uganda to begin with. “One of our goals all along has been to help the community provide education for orphans in the community. Those kids weren’t typically going to school, or at least, not going to school regularly because of financial issues.”
The goal for the orphans: keeping them in school. The average tuition for a year for one student at St. Paul is only about $35. That’s per year, not per month! But many children in the community cannot afford even this small amount. Orphans almost assuredly do not have the ability to pay! Mark explains, “We started offering a scholarship fund to allow orphans to attend the school. Now we have about 75 orphans, of the 220 kids in the school. We’re able to completely pay their tuition, their school fees so they can attend.” He goes on to say that they haven’t had time to start the next phase of this ministry to the orphans: homes. As he spoke of these students, he indicated some were staying with relatives or other host families in the community. However, a home for these kids will be the next logical step…and that means growth.
Growth means administration, and that’s yet another hurdle. Mark says they’re teaching a different mindset from the defeatist attitude they encountered when they first arrived. “We’re beginning to help them understand that they do have resources, that they CAN do it, and that with God’s help they can accomplish something as impossible as building new classrooms.”
There’s pride in ownership. There are biblical lessons too in stewardship, he adds. “I think, too, a lot of it is spiritual development work, because the first thing you realize is that ‘God has given us resources and now we have to do a good job of using those resources. So, what are they and how can we use them to effectively improve our community?’”
The name of the project, Afayo, serves as a constant reminder to the people that God cares about the Naigobya community in the wilds of Uganda.