Graduating P7 students at their ceremony.

Today I needed to borrow some stencils from Teacher Viola, so I ducked into her classroom to grab them off her desk.  I tried to be subtle, I tried to be quick, but it was to no avail.  Up stood all 47 children, and chorused: “YOU ARE WELCOME TEACHER RUTH.  THIS IS P3,” followed by a clapclapclap clapclapclap CLAP!  Then they stood smiling widely at me until I told them to sit down.  47 pairs of eyes followed me across the room, and 47 pairs of ears listened intently as I apologetically asked Viola for the stencils.  This happens every time I visit a classroom.  Sometimes when I’m just walking by a classroom I hear the whispers starting: “visitor, visitor coming.”  They are seriously on the edge of their seats, poised for my arrival.  If I spend time reading to a class, the children usually continue to clap until I’m well out the door, or sing the “Thank you teacher” song.  Sometimes I feel like a tool as I awkwardly back out muttering “stop, stop, you’re welcome, it’s fine.”  Other times I embrace it, with a big movie star wave.    


Girls sitting outside the guest house.

I’ve only been a teacher for two years, and maybe not in the best circumstances, but I have never experienced any thing like the tidal wave of good nature that hits any visitor to Arlington Academy of Hope.  The children are thrilled to be there.  The volunteers have been interviewing some of the kids to fill out profiles for their sponsors, and we’re beginning to get a picture of their daily lives.  For many kids it’s at least an hour’s walk to the school.  They have to be there at 7:30am, so that means they’re leaving their houses in the dark.  School goes until 4:30pm, and when they get home they’re grazing cattle, fetching water and preparing food.  Once darkness hits, game over.  Many don’t have electricity in their homes, and even if they did we are currently heading into day 5 without power in the region.  Sometimes their school uniform is the only complete outfit they own.  Sometimes their parents have sold off the family animals to afford the school fees.  Sometimes they are the only child out of eight who is actually attending school. 

 It’s a strange feeling.  I am aware of all these things, but I don’t feel sorry for the kids.  This is largely because they don’t feel sorry for themselves.  The school is a joyful place.  Ugandan teaching methods use a lot of chanting and repetition.  These kids go at it with gusto.  There is always at least one class singing.  In the weekly assemblies a line of older kids leads the school in prayer.  A teacher and a few kids bang the drums, the kids sing and dance and praise the lord.  I really have no idea what they’re saying, but it’s beautiful.  Three hundred sweet little voices echo on the hillside.  It’s early morning, they’re all in their red and white checked uniforms, the sun hits the leafy mountains behind them . . .

 I have been known to cry at JC Penny commercials, so this situation is pretty much lethal to me.


Boys prepare for a performance at a neighboring village

I am still not sure what impact I am going to have here.  I have a million ideas and a lot of time, but I sometimes end the day wondering what I’ve actually accomplished.  I’m a ‘to-do’ list kind of gal, and sometimes my lists are woefully short of checks.  It’s disconcerting.  But the other day I was reading aloud to P4, and we came across the word “glared.”  I explained what glared means, and then I showed them a glare, then we all practiced glaring at each other, and then we all started laughing.  Later they sang the “Thank you teacher” song.  That kind of blew the to-do list out of the water.