Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Jinja is for Lovers

Today's blog is coming straight from the fingertips of your gentle giant, Tommy. (Quick side story: while walking to the soccer pitch today, an older gentleman passed us and said, in English, "You are very large! How are you doing?" It truly is great to be the biggest man in the village.)

Day 3 at TAOST brought loud noises, smiling faces, and new experiences for all. We started the morning off by singing some old favorites with the entire school, including "This Little Light of Mine" and "Lean on Me". The kids love getting into the motions, and have seemed to quickly overlook some of the team's tonal deficiencies (Mandy and Zazie notwithstanding). The high energy produced from the singing led straight into some great lessons.

The team working with the youngest group -- Zazie, Seth, Jess, and myself -- have really been focusing hard on basic English vocabulary. Today we played "charades", having one kid come to the front and act out a word we have learned during the week, while the other kids attempted to guess what was being acted out. They really loved this game, and we loved hearing the (often off-the-wall) guesses. I recommend this as a great party game for any of you parents who have planned nightly shindigs while the little one is away (like we didn't know). The book we read was "Wheels on the Bus" which, as always, was a huge hit. This just confirms what we all already suspected: "Wheels on the Bus" is the greatest piece of American literature ever produced. So move over "War and Peace", and stop complaining "Sense and Sensibility" (that was a book too, right?). We also read the day's bible story, the story of Jonas and the Whale. The little ones had the story translated to them and loved talking about fish and the ocean.

The team working with the middle group -- Cregan, Bianca, James, and Amber -- kept their group energized about Jonah and the Whale by playing a rousing game of "leapfrog". Though I must confess that I was too enthralled with the little ones to fully grasp the connection (though I have no doubt it was there). As always, their group had constant noise and participation from all. (Side note: I don't want to sound like I'm complaining, but man, they are LOUD. And I mean all of them, leaders included. They really get into everything they are doing over there. It is quite impressive.)

The oldest group, held down by Mandy, Joe, Jenna and Max, really had their group enthralled with the children's bible. Mandy told a great story about the older kids asking her to read them a bible story that they had yet to hear. They really want to learn more about the Bible and this is exciting for the whole team. I can speak from my own experience when I say that I have been extremely impressed with the way that the oldest kids interact with the leaders, as well as the younger students at TAOST. They really have been a group that we have relied on to help bridge language barriers (their English is slightly better than the rest of the school), as well as to keep the younger children (somewhat) behaved and orderly. It is a credit to the staff at TAOST that all of the children are being raised in a disciplined, nurturing environment. While the facilities and the resources are sorely lacking, TAOST is on par with any Western school when it comes to the care and love that the staff exhibits. Seeing this over the last few days has solidified for many of us how imperative it is that we are able to do things, like this missions trip, to help equip this school, these teachers, and especially these kids with the resources and know-how that they have lacked. We hope that this is something we can continue to do, even when are time in Uganda has come to an end.

Lunchtime brought an all new experience for the members of the YG team. The Headmistress from TAOST treated us to a local Jackfruit. I will attempt to give you an image of what this is, but if my description is lacking (likely), feel free to google it. A Jackfruit is a giant yellow melon-type fruit that grows on trees. It is slightly larger than a pumpkin (how it stays on the tree is a mystery to me...which ryhmes, but I digress...) We were given half of a Jackfruit (or a "hackfruit", as I called it), which was enough to satisfy the entire 14 member team. The outside is much like a pineapple (though, as I learned through Seth's efforts, does not come even close to feeling good as a back-scratcher) and the inside contains several sectioned-off "pods" (our term). In each pod is a GIANT seed that, to be honest, looked sorta creepy, so they were used to throw at people. After de-creepy-seeding, you were left with a rubbery orange piece of fruit that was shaped like one of those pads you put on pencils so that your hand doesn't rub against the wood (think back to K Mart back-to-school shopping when the charges were in second grade, post-Ticonderoga). The actual fruit tasted like a banana and a grapefruit mixed together, with a rubbery texture. That was probably WAY more information than you guys could ever want about the Jackfruit, but I typed it and you read it. So here we are.

After lunch we returned to the soccer pitch. Dave and Mandy have described for you the games we play (though we added kickball today in my effort to introduce every game that kids on college campuses play: kickball, whiffle ball, and frisbee....hackey-sack is tomorrow). I'd like to take a second to talk about the two other interesting parts of our afternoon: the walk and the newbies. The walk from TAOST to the soccer field takes us out of the village and up a large road. It's roughly a 20 minute walk (considering the little legs that are following us). This has been a great opportunity for all of us to really get to know some of the kids. Rarely is their a leader without (at least) 2 kids holding their hands, and we've been able to learn a lot about each others lives outside of school. Edgerine, for example, lives with his aunt and his two sisters. He loves to play whiffle ball and is absolutely fascinated with the animals that hang about the village. His best friend is Anthony (side note: Anthony is the child Dave referenced earlier when saying the Yankees needed to be in Jinja. I'm going to hold him for the Cubs, but that's simply due to my own preference, and not the fact that I don't want him pigeon-holed as a DH just because he hasn't learned the finer points of fielding a grounder yet...give him time).

The second point I wanted to mention about the field is the "newbies". Many of the team members have mentioned the difficulty they've had dealing with the fact that we really only have supplies for the students of TAOST, and not the hundreds of other children in the village who we have had to turn away (this has really been a struggle for our team members). However, when we are at the field, there is room, and time, for any and all kids that want to come. We have literally dealt with triple the number of kids, if not more, that we work with in the mornings. This has allowed us to share love with more kids, and to see more smiling faces. The availability of this field really was a blessing from God, and one which we are truly thankful for.

I must now be off to join the team for dinner, but we will try and give you more updates as the week progresses.

The Chronicles of the Sr. High Youth Team of Redeemer Presbyterian Church NYC on their trip to TAOST school of Jinja, Uganda, in conjunction with Fount of Mercy.

Day Two of Our Five Days

Hello friends and family! Day two of our five day adventure at TOAST has ended and I (Mandy) am the guest blogger for today. The students sent us off in the van with smiles and the simple phrase "tomorrow" which then led to Cregan breaking out in the Sound of Music version of "Tomorrow." Although the students didn't understand they laughed and waved anyway. This happy and carefree attitude is shared by all the students. Many of us commented last night while sharing the highs and lows of the day that the students exude love. They run up to us fighting to hold a hand or in some cases multiple younger students will grasp a finger. You cannot help but hug, pick up, or hold these children.

Today started out with everyone making it to breakfast on time. In fact, Joe was up an hour early (after the front desk attendant gave him the wrong time). Once at the school we broke up into the same three age groups as yesterday. Tommy, Zazie, Jess, and Seth worked with the younger students who were all around 4 years old. Cregan, Amber, Jess, and Bianca taught the middle age group. Max, Joe, Jenna, and myself taught the oldest group which ranged in age from 10 to 12 years old. After teaching, reading, and playing ESL games, each group then read a Bible Story and made a corresponding arts and craft. So far the arts and craft has been the biggest hit. Yesterday's Bible Story was Noah's Ark so the students made animal masks of their favorite animal. Several of the students in our group started drawing cobras however the cobras became pretty original once the students noticed the feathers we brought along for the craft. Today the Bible Study was Jesus Feeds the 5000. We made necklaces out of clay. The students were able to paint and decorate the necklace with whatever they wished. The common pendants had a hearts, cross, or ichythus fish.

Tommy and his skit crew - Zazie, Seth, Bianca, and Amber - performed a simple play to demonstrate that Christ's love is free.

The students left the facility (which by the way is located in an old stable) to eat lunch while we cleaned up, prepared for the afternoon session, and ate our own lunch. We walked to the nearby soccer (I mean football) field for the games. We played footbal, duck duck hen (the students liked this better than the goose version), whiffleball, and a Uganda game called something that I can't pronounce much less spell but it means "shake your bones." The students seemed to get a particular laugh from watching both Seth and Zazie shake.

As the whiffleball and soccer game continued Jenna, Zazie, Lori, and I ended up sitting with some of the older students. They entertained us with songs we all knew like "Swing Low" and "This Little Light of Mine" then taught us some of new songs as well. The girls then went on the teach us some Lugandan words (the common language spoken here). I think they mainly enjoyed laughing at us as we butchered the words.

We're all looking forward to Day 3!

The Chronicles of the Sr. High Youth Team of Redeemer Presbyterian Church NYC on their trip to TAOST school of Jinja, Uganda, in conjunction with Fount of Mercy.

From Jinja with Love

Hi everybody.

David here, blogging after our first day at the TAOST school in Jinja, more on that in a minute.

Travels went fairly smooth - the team only lost one bag on their way through Dubai to Entebbe, which we're still hoping will show up soon. Highlights of the very long flight included a game where people were not allowed to say any words using the letter "s." A flight attendant asked Joe about the team and what they were going to do, which he tried to answer sans "s" - to the enjoyment of everyone.

I wasn't able to meet up with the team as Air Tanzania decided to cancel my flight from Kilimanjaro to Entebbe without bothering to tell me, so while the team spent their first night in Jinja, I flew to Dar Es Salaam and then Entebbe on Sunday, where I caught a ride to Jinja. The team, meanwhile, attended a local church service that they enjoyed very much and then got all (let's hope) of their curios shopping out of the way in Jinja on Sunday afternoon.

Last night we all went to dinner with the wonderful Lori Acton, our main point of contact with Fount Of Mercy, the organization that works with TAOST here. Lori's been taking good care of us with all of our spread out arrivals and so forth. Also with us was Julius Wamimbi, one of the older students at the school (19 years old) who has been helping us get the hang of things. Julius says he hasn't played football (soccer) in 4 years now but he made us all look pretty terrible today on the field.

After a nice dinner at a pizza place called 2 Friends, we returned to the hotel to unpack all the luggage packed for the school, organize the supplies, and repack into bags for the week's activities. After a devotion from Cregan, we hit the sack and all met early the next morning for breakfast at 8:30.

Just kidding! Only a few of us were there, certain unnamed individuals needed specialized wake-up calls, and might not have had time for breakfast...

And then we were off in our matatu (taxi van) with Lori and Julius on our way to Day 1 at the school.

Upon arriving we met with the teachers and headmistress for the school, and once all the kids were finally sitting down and somewhat quieted, we did formal introductions of first the teachers and the older students at the school like Julius, and then our group as well. Then it was time for VBS! The groups were split up into youngest, middle, and oldest, and the teams had different reading programs and games to teach each group about reading in English.

After the first stories, we then moved on to our Bible story for the day - Noah and his trusty sailing yacht, and this story culminated in a general focus on the animals he took with him, which was a convenient transition to craft time: Animal Masks!

After crafts it was time for lunch - the children leave the school and we had our sandwiches, and in the afternoon we all walked to the local soccer pitch (field) where we split up for football, duck-duck-goose, wiffle ball (somebody tell the Yankees scouts that they need to start checking out the youngsters of Jinja), and various other games. Cregan was called late in the soccer game for intentionally handling a ball that was clearly going in for a goal. The referee (yours truly) set up the penalty kick but unfortunately the shirts team could not convert, although the game ended in a 7-6 win for them anyway.

The teachers and students at the school have been incredibly welcoming and friendly, and we're all excited about spending the rest of the week together, which is already going much too fast.

After the afternoon games, it was back to the hotel, where the popular vote was for swimming. Cregan of course was the dissenting vote for golf, and I would have joined him had it not been raining here - I generally try to avoid holding metal sticks in the air during thunderstorms. Tommy might have been talked into a game by Cregan, and Mandy looked pretty tired as she hasn't been feeling too good.

Amber is on her way from the Entebbe airport where she arrived today and was met by Lori, and will hopefully join us for dinner as a complete team. Joe, Max, Seth, James, Zazie, Jenna, Bianca, and Jess are all here, healthy, and accounted for (although we're trying to keep the peanuts away from Joe, and everyone's been advised not to bite any mosquitoes). Mandy wanted to swim in the Nile river, which our hotel is on the banks of, just before it empties into Lake Victoria. She decided not to after learning that Hippos are the most dangerous animal in Africa and are known to live in the river. The swimming pool at the hotel will have to do.

The Chronicles of the Sr. High Youth Team of Redeemer Presbyterian Church NYC on their trip to TAOST school of Jinja, Uganda, in conjunction with Fount of Mercy.