Friday, February 22, 2013

Julius and our Vocation work, part 1

Last week, Julius wrote about a piggery being set up as an income-generating project in one of our partner communities.  This week, we thought we'd share with you a little more of Julius's story, and the work he does as our Vocational Associate. 

Julius teaching a business class. 

Being from Uganda, and a recipient of FOM’s work when he was younger, Julius believes that helping children starts by helping those who care for them; their parents, grandparents, neighbors, and/or guardians.  When the caretaker is empowered, the results show in his/her family.
In Uganda, as well as most African nations, there is a significant problem.  Statistically speaking, 51% of children in Uganda are considered a vulnerable child or an orphan.  This accounts for over 10 million children!  A vulnerable child is defined as a child who is living in a situation that is exposing him/her to significant physical, mental, or emotional harm.  An orphan is defined as a child who has lost one or both parents. 
Life for vulnerable children and orphans is hard.  They have all dealt with loss of some kind, whether due to illness, death, abandonment, or another traumatic event.  When a child in Africa loses a caretaker, the cultural expectation is that their extended family or neighbors take them in.  However, in a place where most families are struggling significantly, taking in another child means less resources and care for the entire household.  In families without both parents, the stress on the family can be unbearable.
Julius knows about this stress.   When Julius was twelve years old his mom died of HIV/AIDS. Since his father had passed the year before, he was left with the responsibility of taking care of his younger sister and brother.  Within a short time, hardship forced them into eating from trash bins, sleeping on the streets, and doing hard labor in order to make enough money to survive.  Julius struggled to get money, not only for food, but for school fees.  It was hard, and he missed many classes and exams.  While on the streets, he ran into an uncle who took them to his place.  This seemingly good fortune tragically turned unfortunate, as his uncle sold their property, treated them like house slaves and left them with nothing.  Soon, they went back on the streets to escape this unhealthy situation. 

Begging does not suit a boy of fourteen, so Julius got a job as a houseboy/groundskeeper for two years.  During this time, he used his salary to pay for his siblings’ school fees while he worked.  Life seemed decent until one fateful night when the compound was attacked by robbers.  Sadly, Julius’ boss was killed.  This turn of events forced Julius and his siblings back on the street.  He no longer had a salary that would cover his school fees and his former boss’s widow had threatened him.  Those days were so difficult that his younger brother nearly died from the harsh weather and hunger. 

Difficult days continued until the day Julius ran into one of his dad’s old friends.  He told this man of their situation and this man invited them to his modest home.  He was running an organization, treated them like his own kids and provided all their needs on a very small income.  Julius says of this time, “This is where I experienced God’s love and care.”  Because of their respect and obedience to him, they won a special place in this man’s heart. 

FOM came to know Julius in 2006, when we began to work with a local organization called The AIDS Orphans Support Trust (TAOST). TAOST was helping Julius and his siblings with some of their basic needs.  Julius spoke with Michelle (FOM’s Executive Director) during a visit to the community school.  He told her his story and Michelle was touched.  She began helping Julius and his siblings.  Julius says, “Since then, Michelle and her family have created a big transformation in my life through supporting our education until I finished my Business Administration Course (Accounting Major) at University.”
In 2011, FOM hired Julius to work with women and men who want a better life for themselves and their children. This is something Julius' own parents would have wanted as well.  Julius has gone from a boy struggling on the streets to a man with a passion for business and one who wants to help his own community.   Julius is someone who understands what it means to overcome obstacles.  He understands the value of education and has an incredible gift for teaching.  Julius connects easily and readily with others and is someone we trust to run our Vocational Development program. 
So, what does Julius’s work look like?  How does he help FOM help his community?  Next week, we will go into detail about Julius's role with Fount of come back for Part 2!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Field Report...Progress on Proposed Piggery

Look at all those pigs!!!!

Fount has been working with the village, Lwanda, to set up a piggery in their community.  The proposal is that its income would support their community school, as well as the individuals who invest their time and energy into the business. 

On December 16, Fount of Mercy, in partnership with Care and Share ministries, organized a piggery workshop in Lwanda village.  Ibirye, a local veterinarian, was hired to conduct the 3 hour training.  There was a large turn out for this event.

The purpose of the workshop was to equip the people with knowledge and basic skills for raising pigs for commercial purposes. The facilitator delivered the information to everyone who attended, and they appreciated the skills implanted in them very much.

The following topics were discussed:

  • Piggery Management Systems:  How pigs on a small or large scale are raised from birth until they are sold.

  • Selection of good pig breeds for commercial business and all the different kinds of good breeds.

  • Medication and feeding

  • Layout of the piggery house and all the necessary needs to build a pig pen.

  • Diseases and their symptoms, plus their control measures.

After such a successful workshop, and thanks to a generous donor, Care and Share Ministries will establish a piggery farm as a side project to support their Nursery school. The project will bring a big development and transformation in the lives of the people involved, as well as the school.

The project will bring in large profits, thus more money will come in from selling the piglets.  These profits will go to support the school, and help guarantee its sustainability, overseen by a committee.

A BIG THANK YOU to Fount of Mercy, and our generous donors, for their sincere generosity and great work towards empowering the communities with basic skills that is causing a great transformation in the lives of Ugandan people.

---written by Julius Wamimbi, Fount's Vocational Associate

Friday, February 8, 2013

Francis and Community Schools...our Education work, Part 2.

In our last post, we introduced you to Francis, our Education program director.  We started by explaining the need for Community Schools in Uganda, as well as the limitations Community Schools have.  We'd like to go further in explaining how our Education program works specifically within these community schools, and Francis' part in that.

Students during recess.  Photo by Michelle Johnston.

When Francis begins working with a Community School, he starts by inviting school leadership members to attend a “Creating a School Management Committee” Seminar. Together, they learn how to establish, motivate and encourage community participation in the school. Getting the community to “own” their children’s school is vital if the school is going to last. When community members are not invested in the success of their Community School, the burden of its growth and stability falls on the shoulders of the CBO/NGO leader. This pressure is too much for one person, and they often give up or fail. Simply put, involving the community in the management of the school always leads to greater stability and sustainability for that school.

Once a workshop has finished, Francis then collaborates with the community school’s leadership to actually establish a School Management Committee. Once formed, this committee will help make all of the decisions and will work towards the growth and long-lasting stability of the school. Workshop participants are also invited to continue meeting as peer mentors, and to compete for a small School Management Committee grant. This grant can be used to make improvements or start projects, which will benefit the school.
Francis also brings together the educators of these schools to participate in Learning Achievement Projects. During these projects, whose themes are curriculum, literacy, and health education, Francis works with teachers to incorporate the government’s standard curriculum, literacy, and health education into their own school’s learning framework. Francis teaches workshops, arranges peer mentorship’s, and does site visits to evaluate and help guide a school’s work. He also arranges professional development opportunities for teachers. His passion for literacy is evident in his interactions with teachers. ”I hope to create a culture for reading which does not currently exist,” says Francis.
Francis was working in a Community School from 2008 till he began with FOM in 2011. He will attest, as a former headmaster who could not depend on his salary from month to month, that the primary reason these schools fail is financial instability. Being in the poorest communities, and depending on the parents for everything from the teachers’ salaries to basic supplies like books and chalk, it goes without saying that these schools have a difficult time paying for even the most basic needs. When written materials are lacking, teachers rely on the rote method of teaching where children verbally memorize information. This allows classrooms with limited resources to continue, but does not ensure that actual learning is taking place. This, combined with teachers who lack qualifications or financial motivation, means that the children’s education is sub-par.
Francis still sees firsthand the limitations these schools have. His son, Ceasar, attends a community high school. “These schools generally teach children to memorize rather than internalize knowledge. The children are [also] not encouraged to practice literacy, so the children mostly read the subjects to pass the exams, and nothing else. But, to me, the benefits are that they have a Christian foundation, and they are cheaper.”
In order to encourage financial stability, schools can also be offered the chance to apply for a small Learning Achievement Grant. These grants can be used to fund one-time assets for the school's learning achievement such as curriculum, teaching resources, or supplies. Or, they can be used to create income-generating projects, such as a piggery or a small shop, which will then go towards improving the school. Francis works closely with the community groups to decide on these projects, plan them, implement them, and then follow up with them throughout the duration of the project. 
Despite the challenge of limited resources, Community Schools are successful and very much needed to fill a gap in the present education system. But, they need help from people like Francis…people who have a passion for education and have worked and struggled to use that passion in their community. By ensuring these Community Schools receive community support, quality training, and some small grants, Francis is helping them become long lasting, and continue to benefit the most marginalized and needy children in Uganda.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Francis and our Education work, part 1.

Last week, we shared with you a field report, written by Francis Emolu, one of our amazing Ugandan program associates.  We thought that this week we'd share with you a little more about him...and his work for Fount of Mercy.  This is part 1 of what our Education program does in Uganda. 

Ugandan student working hard.  Photo by Rebecca Cippola
Francis knows what it is like to struggle to get an education, as well as for his very life…sometimes those struggles happened simultaneously. 
Coming from a village called Olumai, Francis started at a teacher’s college in 1984, during a time of great upheaval in Uganda.  In 1985, Museveni, Uganda’s current president, overtook power with his army. The ensuing violence reached the college, forcing Francis to run to safety.  Lacking transportation, he had to walk 70 km (46 miles) to his home.  He switched to a new teacher’s college in 1986, but again, civil war broke out.  There were many raids and violent attacks, leading to several people at the college being killed.  Francis remembers jumping over dead bodies to reach his classes!  Knowing that pursuing education would open up possibilities in his life, Francis refused to give up.  He persevered and completed his courses in 1987. 
Francis is not alone in his belief that education is the way out of poverty.  Just like every other parent in Uganda, not to mention around the world, Francis and his wife want the best for their three children.  Learning from his own struggle to get an education, Francis would like to see his kids attend University and study science.  “I want to see [them] grow into good, morally upright Christians who live healthy, peaceful, successful lives.”   He knows that completing an education is the first, vital step to their success. 
Unfortunately, in Uganda, the poorest and most marginalized families struggle immensely to get a basic education for their children.
Francis taught in Ugandan government schools for ten years. He knows more than anyone that even though the Ugandan government provides “universal” education for elementary aged children, in reality, schools are far from free.  Parents must provide uniforms, shoes, books, and other supplies for their children to enroll in school.  This is unattainable for many families, leaving them to make difficult choices about which of their children to send to school…if any. 
Can you imagine making that decision?  Choosing which child you will offer a better future for, and which you will not? 
For this reason, often a local Community Based Organization or Non-Governmental Organization (CBO/NGO) will create a small Community School.  There are several benefits to creating a Community School.  The school is close to the children’s homes.  Community Schools can also provide schooling without the prohibitive costs of required uniforms, shoes, and high fees.  But, the disadvantages are numerous also.  They often end up with unqualified and untrained teachers, lack basic supplies such as books and chalk, and don’t receive Uganda’s Ministry of Education’s new curriculum.  This curriculum is student-centered, discourages corporal punishment and places a heavy emphasis on bilingual education and literacy across core subjects. 
In 2011, Francis was hired by FOM, after completing a diploma course in Education. It was clear that he possessed a passion for more about our Education program in our next post.