Even given the fact that our volunteers and Board members pay their own way, our annual trip requires a great deal of resources in planning and traveling time. Understandably, most of the other groups that sponsor students in these schools don’t visit the students and schools regularly. But being here this week, I am forcibly reminded of why we do.
We arrive at each school with carefully organized packets of question are forms, profiles, cameras and gifts for schools in the form of school supplies (this year each school receives a box of pens and a colorful poster of the periodic table of elements). We meet with our students as a group and one on one, and we find out how the school is working well for them, if they are facing additional challenges we might help with, and what kind of challenges, ambitions and successes shape their lives this year. We answer questions- about GTL, about the US, and about our own lives and interests. I laugh along with a girl who teases me for my lack of skill as a soccer striker (I play defense) and Richard blares music from his iPad in the other corner of the classroom where he is showing another girl pictures of his beehive at home. When we have met with every girl for as long as she needs, we gather to hear Harriet tell them her story of coming from a village in Uganda to becoming the Board member of a US nonprofit with a Masters degree from Boston College.
Our students tell me how they tutor kids still hoping for a chance back on their home villages and how they dream of going to Universities in the US, England, Germany and Nairobi. They will study to be lawyers , judges, surgeons and politicians, they say, and they will come back to Africa to make things better for the poor people in their country. Like all of us in any country, they want less disease, less hunger and more justice.
When the young women have gone back to class, we are served tea and local fruit or lunch with the principal and a Deputy or favorite teacher, and we talk about the challenges of always needing more textbooks and of keeping the poorest girls in school. In reality those of us at GTL US do the easy work. Here in Central region, the schools see girls each year whose bus ride and uniform are paid for by a village collection because she would not otherwise be able to even report to the school into which she has earned her spot otherwise. Teachers tell how they will periodically donate from their own small wages or agree to go without lunch for a week to pay the fees for a girl who is in danger of being sent home. Even students will pass a collection to keep one of their classmates in school.
One of our principals boasts that they have not sent home a single student in 4 years, an almost impossible accomplishment for these underfunded schools. In all of this, we bear in mind that maintaining our small group of students, with tuitions paid in full up front, is both essential to some of these schools but also the easiest part of an epic battle for the future being waged every day by the students, teachers and principals here.