Out of Africa: Abbotsford educator returns from Uganda

The problem of orphaned children Uganda faces are well known, as civil war and rampant AIDs have decimated the country.

Abbotsford educator Amy Schmidt with high school students from Uganda.

Abbotsford educator Amy Schmidt with high school students from Uganda.

The people of Uganda love their cellular phones, but wash their clothes by hand. They kids prefer modern hip hop music and posting “gansta” photos of themselves on Facebook, but a teen caught stealing faces death by stoning.

Such is the crossroads between ancient and modern where the war-torn nation finds itself, explains Abbotsford teacher Amy Schmidt. She is just back from four months teaching for Uganda Jesus Village at the Lighthouse School, near the capital of Kampala in the southeast of the country.

The problem of orphaned children Uganda faces are well known, as civil war and rampant AIDs have decimated the country. About half of the nation’s population is now under 15 years of age, so the need for educators and people who can help mold the country’s future leaders is obvious.

For four months Schmidt worked with some 60 kids at the Lighthouse School, who range in age from 10 to 21. There were just three supervisors, so she had a busy time, whether it was teaching, making sure the boys chopped firewood to cook dinner, or doing recreational activities. They loved creating art, or surfing the internet on Schmidt’s laptop – using Facebook to reconnect with people who had been through Jesus Village.

The country is lush and green and beautiful.

But electrical service is off-and-on.

When it rains – deluges that make B.C.’s West Coast rains look like mere mist – the roads turn to mud. Clothes get filthy, making all the hand washing more drudgery.

Plumbing is generally hit and miss.

The kids mostly live on beans and a maize porridge known as posho. When there’s a birthday celebration, and they get soda and cake, it is truly a treat.

Schmidt loves the spirit of the people, but when a boy from the school was caught committing an act of petty larceny, he faced the traditional vigilante justice – being stoned to death. He escaped and hid at the school, but not without warnings of what his fate would be if the aggrieved got their hands on him.

And the poverty is acute. There is no way all the children would be fed without foreign aid. Uganda Jesus Village pays $200 per term for 12 students who have graduated to high school, at a nearby boarding school which starts in Grade 8. There are three terms in a school year, and with most Ugandans earning less than $100 per month, these kids would be unlikely to further their education past Grade 7 without Uganda Jesus Village.

She said the Lighthouse School has faced closure, and relies on volunteers to keep it going.

In need of a stable income, the school is looking at using farmland that they presently use to grow some of their own food – maize and beans, to instead plant ginger, which could be sold for a more lucrative price.

“I would be excited if it was more self-sustaining,” she said.

Aid workers can experience frustration, and Schmidt said it is important not to be too driven by one’s own agenda.

“If you just go to love and serve, you’re going to be fine.”

Her church in Abbotsford, The River, donated about $3,800 for the school, and she made a presentation to the congregation recently, to let them know how far the staff at Lighthouse School was able to stretch their dollars.

“I was pretty happy about what we were able to achieve,” she said. “That went a long way.”

Schmidt has been personally sponsoring a Ugandan boy for about five years, giving $41 per month to support him, and she was able to see him in person for the first time.

“It was really cool to meet him. He was so shy, but he took my hand and led me around.”

She is back in Canada, substitute teaching in her hometown Abbotsford, but expects she will be going back to Africa.

“I love it – it’s like my adventure zone,” she said. “When I’m over there, I just embrace the culture.

“But it’s nice to come back. I’m just really thankful for what I have here.”