An Abbotsford educator recently left for Uganda, where she will teach former child soldiers and children who have been orphaned by war.
Amy Schmidt was already in Uganda last July for six weeks, working with the Lighthouse Primary School, a facility run by the Uganda Jesus Village. It is just outside of Kampala, the largest city in Uganda. Now she will return for a full semester, or four months.
Schmidt’s father had adventures in Africa, and she has made a personal study of the problems in African, and the strife in Uganda in particular.
Children in Northern Uganda are abducted into the Lord’s Resistance Army, a sectarian group which wants to replace the Ugandan government with a theocratic state. The LRA and its leader Joseph Kony have been accused of murder and atrocities against civilians. The LRA has been waging war in the country for 23 years. That, and a rampant AIDS epidemic, has left the country with 2.3 million orphans. Half of the population is under the age of 18.
Schmidt said the 200-or-so orphans at the Lighthouse Primary School have all been affected by war. Some have seen their entire villages relocated, some saw their parents or grandparents murdered, and many were forced to take up arms for the LRA.
Despite the tragedies they have suffered, Schmidt found the kids to be not so different from the children she teaches in the Abbotsford Public school system. They love to borrow an iPod and listen to music, which is a huge part of their culture, or ham it up for a photo.
“That’s what I was most surprised by – how much they reminded me of normal kids.”
During her first trip there, Schmidt made a music video with Lighthouse kids, and it was soon running on Ugandan television. It can be seen on Youtube by searching “Uganda Just Wanna Dance.” She said it has a simple message: “They should be able to just be kids, and dance and sing.”
She said the work of the Uganda Jesus Village brings hope to the situation. The job of the teachers at Lighthouse is to raise children to be future leaders.
“As a teacher, you always want to inspire,” said Schmidt. “But their story speaks for itself – no matter what has happened to you, don’t let it stop you from being what you are meant to be.”