Watching the ASAH girls write letters to their sponsors and having them stand in line to read them aloud to me is one of the loveliest part of my routine when I visit our program in Moyo Uganda. The students polish these letters, sometimes rewriting several times and making and decorating envelopes for the letters. The ASAH staff used to write letters for the early primary students to copy, but I asked them to let the girls write what they’re able to do on their own – even if it’s a simple picture and a single word. Trees, flowers, and houses are favorites of the girls. This way, sponsors see their student’s skill improve over time. But most of my visits are far from routine as there is always much to do, and even with three or more weeks, there is never enough time to accomplish all I had intended, or perhaps all the staff hoped for me to complete. Still, you might enjoy knowing how a typical week goes for the ASAH girls and staff.
Monday thru Friday the girls are up at 6 am to dress, eat breakfast, and walk 10 or 15 minutes to school. They return for a hearty lunch from 1 to 2 pm. The first grade students remain home and have the afternoon to play, relax, and do homework. The older primary students (grades two through seven) return to school. Though classes ends at 4 pm, the girls stay an extra hour for tutoring. Ten of our students were in the top of their classes last year, but some had difficulty with the change in curriculum from South Sudan to Uganda, some girls had not been to school regularly in the past, and some had not been to school at all. All the girls suffered varying degrees of trauma fleeing the villages where they had been born. In their flight, most saw dead people along the road, some witnessed killings and other violence. Tutoring has resulted in improvement in the scores of all our girls. Two even skipped a grade. And, thankfully, wonderful Denise, a California woman trained in Christian trauma counseling, has been working with our girls on an group and an individual basis, discussing feelings and helping them give voice to their experiences.
When the girls return at 6 pm they shower and enjoy dinner from 6:30 to 7:30 pm. After dinner they sit in our study hall (pictured above) where they do homework or read for enjoyment from 8 pm to 10 every evening.
In addition to our guard (we have two – one on duty 24 hours for seven days at a time), our three cooks (schedules vary), and our cleaner (a couple days a week), we always have two staff on daily duty with the girls. Our two Matrons, Daruka and Theresa, our Education Manager, Leek Sam, and our Finance Manager, Thon, share these oversight responsibilities. They monitor the girls’ activities during their reading hours, help with homework, and address whatever comes up. Some random things might include bandaging wounds or taking sick kids to the clinic or giving them their medication. Imagine your own family and increase it to 36 (living on the compound) and then five others in secondary boarding schools for whom we have responsibility!
Saturdays means laundry and recreation from 8 am to 10 am: volleyball, badminton, basketball, soccer, and other traditional Sudanese games. After that, those who want may watch television from 11:00 to 12:30. Lunch is at 1 pm, and at 2 pm some students return to school for additional remedial teaching, returning at 6 pm. The matrons hold a weekly meeting Saturday evening with the girls at 7 pm. After dinner they may watch television or read from 8:00 pm -10:00 pm, our quiet hours.
Visitors add variety to our schedule. We have visitors from the US, and we have visitors from the community, such as the young Sudanese pastor who comes many Saturdays to sing and play guitar for our students.The girls are enthusiastic singers and dancers, and they enjoy all musical opportunities. (On counseling days, Denise starts all with music, and our girls play her collection of drums and other noise-making things).
Sunday, as many do here in the United States, our students go for prayers services from 8:00 am to 10:00 am. The services are long, but are comprised of at least as much music and performing as preaching. Sudanese prayer services are marked by joy and thankfulness. Our students attend a church. Much like the one in our area, the leaders have primarily Episcopalian/Presbyterian background.
After prayers, girls often practice sewing on the refurbished Singer treadle sewing machines from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm with the oversight of the matrons. After lunch, from 2 pm to 4 pm, staff leads our girls in discussing issues that have taken place in the week, both successes and problems, and they talk about responsibility and ways they can become good leaders in the future. All our staff encourage every ASAH student to embrace the freedom to talk and express themselves in front of visitors, at school, and to people they meet in public.
Finally, the long week approaches an end, and our girls enjoy games inside and outside the ASAH compound from 4:00 to 5:30, ready their uniforms for the next week of school, and crawl into their bunkbeds under their mosquito nets and sleep well until morning.
ASAH – we PROTECT, EDUCATE, and Empower – 45 orphaned students from South Sudan – check our website to learn more. We hope to add five more students in 2016.