Meet Rebecca Nambalirwa. She lives with her mother and father and one sister in a mud-walled, one room house in Kawempe, one of the largest slums in Uganda. Both parents have work, but it is sporadic and pays very poorly. Rebecca’s mother also has to support two children from an earlier marriage. According to the teacher in her nursery school, Rebecca is very active in class and has a very friendly personality. She always goes up to people to say hello while exuding great confidence and warmth. Rebecca will be attending the Miracle Destiny School in Kampala, Uganda. Her fees will include breakfast and lunch and a snack at the school, so she will be fed as well. The school is a project of the Miracles Centre Kawempe Church, and was created to offer a good education to the children of Kawempe slum. The school gives each child individual attention by maintaining the number of students in each class at 25. The school also has bedding, so the younger children are given a siesta in the afternoon, before they go home at the end of the day.
It has been a long time since we have heard from Rebecca and we finally learned at least a part of the reason why. Her mother died in a horrible way, and she and her sister, as well as the entire community, were really traumatized. They have gone to live with their grandmother, and now Rebecca wants to move on in life. We are waiting to hear what she would like to do, and it will likely be something like taking beauty classes or another such vocation. We will support her as we are able.
Rebecca did not do well enough on her national exam to continue into high school. Our contacts Robert and Rose are working with her and her mother to try and figure out what she might like to do continuing on. They have suggested that perhaps she could be tested to see if she has dyslexia, since they notice that she has problems with spelling and reading, but not necessarily with understanding. If she is found to have dyslexia, she may be able to retake the exam with someone who can read the questions to her and write down her answers. Or perhaps she could even retake the year this way.
The other option is to have her attend some kind of vocational training, such as beauty school. Robert and Rose want both Rebecca and her mother to own this decision and to support it. We support whatever she would like to do, and we will continue to support her financially if we can.
Rebecca will move on to Primary 7, although her teacher actually suggested she repeat Primary 6. She is struggling a lot with school, and simply does not receive any help at home. Her mother works all the time to try and bring in a little money, and does not have any education herself. Our contacts think she will be OK moving into Primary 7 because they study longer hours every day, and even for some hours over the weekend. They believe this will help to qualify her for high school. We all feel it will be best for Rebecca to do the first 4 years of high school and then branch into a vocation with an O-level certificate. She is not suited for the university, but we hope to be able to help her find a vocation which can help her support her family and herself in the future.
Rebecca finished fifth grade and will move on to her second to the last year of primary school, but she is definitely struggling a lot. She simply doesn’t have the support at home, and tutoring doesn’t seem to help. We hope that she will persevere and do well, because the national exam to enter high school is not easy. She will be unable to continue on unless she is able to pass that exam. We are talking with our contacts there to see if there is any way we can help further. They tell us that Rebecca comprehends the material just fine, and orally answers very well. It’s just when she has to put it down on paper that she has trouble. We are very proud that she continues to try so hard, and her letter to us shows that she wants to continue making an effort. She says English is hard for her, but we think she does pretty well with it!
Our contacts tell us that Rebecca really shines when she is doing music, singing, or dance, so we are very happy she has that outlet.
Rebecca performed in the annual Christmas pageant at the end of the school year and our contacts Robert and Rose sent us some photos. We can’t believe how tall she is getting – she’s not a little girl any more!
We received some photos from the midyear field trip in school. Rebecca is still struggling somewhat at school, but our contacts there tell us that they are trying to work with her and her mother both, so see if they can get the family involved a little more. It’s hard, because Rebecca’s mother works very hard and doesn’t have a lot of time to help her daughters with their school. But she’s still trying, and growing, and seems to be having a lot of fun in school, so that’s a good thing!
Rebecca passed to Primary Four but her grades are very low, and she is definitely struggling. We have sent money for a tutor for her. Our contacts will find an older student who can help her, since she gets very little if any help at home. We hope this will give her some confidence and a better grasp of her schoolwork.
Here is her year-end letter to us, and a photo of her dancing in the year-end concert. For her letter, we asked her to tell us something interesting that she learned about her country, tell us about her best friend, and about a hard time in her life and how she got through it.
At the middle of the year, Rebecca is still struggling in school, but she’s trying and she’s participating in activities, so we’re happy about that. She recently participated in a sports competition and was very proud to receive her certificate. We are hoping that with time and a little help, she will do better in her classes.
Early in the year, we sent a box of donated school supplies to the Miracle Destiny School, since they don’t have a lot of resources and can use all the supplies they can get, used or not. In June they received the box and waited to have a grand opening with Rebecca’s class. Robert and Rose sent us some pictures of the unveiling; apparently it was quite a major event and everyone had a lot of fun. We are so happy that these supplies could be used to their fullest with these kids, and a big thanks goes to our friend Chelle, who supplied most of this. Chelle is a former teacher from California, who wisely saved a lot of her old supplies until we sent out a message asking for whatever people had. Thanks, Chelle! It’s clear the kids love them all!
We received this wonderful photo of Rebecca on the slide during the mid-year field trip.
Rebecca participated in the end of the year concert with flying colors. She is getting so tall and grown up and we are very proud of her for trying hard and advancing to Third Grade!
Although Rebecca did pass her class, she is struggling somewhat, so we are going to see if we can talk to Robert and Rose and possibly hire Naume to be Rebecca’s tutor. This would help Rebecca learn from someone in her own school, and would help Naume use her education and earn a little money for her family.
We received some wonderful photos of Rebecca at the end of the term in April 2014, as well as her report card. Her grades aren’t especially high, but Robert and Rose, our contacts there, say that she is very happy to be in school and really wants to keep attending, so we’re very happy about that. She’s growing up so quickly!
Rebecca’s mid term report card arrived, along with a photo of her playing with a group of her classmates on a recent field trip. She did well in school, and the teacher praises her, saying only that sometimes she gets a little “playful” in class! On their recent field trip, Rebecca’s class went to an ice cream plant, a bakery and a fun park called “Freedom Park.” Clearly, they had a lot of fun there!
Christa went to Uganda in November to visit Naume and Rebecca, and meet Robert and Rose, our contacts there. Robert and Rose founded a church and a primary school in the division of Kawempe in Kampala. Kawempe is a low-income division of the city, which boasts 9,000 people per square kilometer. It’s crowded and noisy and filled with life and laughs and color. Roosters wake you in the morning, the roads are filled with deep ruts which only get deeper in the afternoon rains; women wearing fabulous colorful long dresses walk gracefully with heavy packages or loads of fruit balanced on their heads.
Robert and Rose Nabulere started Miracle Destiny School in 2008. They are now building a high school about 30 km outside of town which will open in February of 2015. The high school will also be a boarding school and have a vocational component for students who don’t go on with their studies, so they can learn things like beauty school, mechanics, etc. They also hope one day to build a university and medical clinic. These are people with a vision!
Rose told me the story of the primary school. In May of 2008 the property was just a open dirt field with a building on it. “A grazing ground for goats,” is how she put it. They rent it from a local woman. They paved the front, built all the infrastructure (stairs, wall, bathrooms, etc.) They rent a couple other buildings nearby for classrooms, and they built a couple new classrooms in back for the older children in lieu of paying rent. They built a kitchen, where Flavia makes breakfast and lunch for 300 every day. They have 25 staff, 12 of whom are teachers. The school teaches 290 students from nursery school (3 1/2 or so) up through 7th grade. After the seventh year of primary school, children take a national exam. If they pass the tests well, they can get into a good school. High school is four years and if they pass their exams, they can go to the last two years, making it six total. If they don’t pass their exams, they will not get into the last two years, and then cannot go to university after that. They can still do something like become a primary school teacher or go to vocational school. There are a huge number of students vying for very few spots, the further up the education ladder you go. There are approximately 500,000 primary school students in the country for perhaps 20,000 or 30,000 university spots.
There are government schools in Uganda, and they are free, but uniforms and supplies still cost, and the classes can have as many as 120 students in each one. Because of this it is easy for kids to drop out and teachers and parents won’t know. Robert and Rose wanted a school that had small classes and gave more personal attention to the students. They have turned away at least 100 students because of their class size limits, until they can get more space, money, teachers and supplies.
In 2007, Robert and Rose borrowed money to go to the UK for two months for a training in Christian education—how to run a school, administration, etc. He met a man who agreed to come to Uganda to tell his story at Robert’s and Rose’s church. The man decided to help and his church back in England raised the funds for the first two years. Now, the kids’ tuitions help pay for the school costs, plus they collect donations. About a third of the kids are sponsored and they are always looking for more sponsors.
All the uniforms are made by Timothy, a young man who studied fashion design at a vocational school in Kampala. The uniforms consist of grey-blue shorts and cream shirt for all boys, grey-blue jumper and cream shirt for girls in lower levels, and grey-blue skirt and cream shirt for older girls. On Tuesdays all children wear their sports uniform: bright orange tee shirt and light blue sports shorts. This allows the parents to wash the daily uniforms.
Flavia and Joan do the cooking. Everyone in the school helps out with chores when it is needed, including helping out with teaching.
In the first term, the school has Sports Day. During the second term the classes all do field trips, and at the end of the year, the whole school puts on a concert, with each class performing a different dance, song, or skit.
Although they had been running a church since 2005, Robert and Rose bought the church land in 2012, so they can have their own space. The church is a huge open space made of corrugated metal with a pole frame. There is a raised stage and a cement floor. They run two services on Sunday. Robert is a passionate speaker; he transforms from calm and mellow in his everyday life to decisive, fiery and powerful. He conducts his services in English and Luganda, switching back and forth, with a translator doing the same thing following along. There is a lot of dancing and singing, lots of amens. Everyone is very gracious. They welcomed me, asked me how I was liking Uganda and the greeting for me was “welcome,” and “praise God.”
Rebecca and her mother Jane (also known as Mama Rebecca) and her older sister Loy live very close to the school. Their two-room house is tiny and dark, with no windows. When it rains, which is often, Jane cooks inside. The roof leaks horribly, and there is not a lot of room for studying. But Loy and Rebecca are happy, and work hard in school, and Jane is absolutely lovely. She sells “greens” (a common vegetable) on the street, and with that raises her tow daughters. There is no father around at all. Visitors are immediately made to feel welcome, and whatever Jane has in the way of food she offers.
Rebecca is adorable, with a killer smile. Like most of the children I met, she starts out shy and then comes around and starts talking. I brought her a pad of paper and a box of colored pencils. I don’t think she’s ever owned so many colors at once; her face lit up like a lightbulb and she immediately set about to drawing.
Rebecca at the Year-End School Concert
Rebecca’s Primary One class did a couple of different performances, and although she’s hard to see in most of the videos I took, she’s out there, bouncing around! She’s fourth from the front in the line of kids with white shirts in the first video, and way in the back on the left side of the group in the second.
Although Rebecca is not in this performance, it seemed too good to pass up. This is the nursery school kids doing a dance that they clearly were enjoying!
Rebecca’s grades this year were not as good as in past years; her position fell quite a bit. But we have confidence that she’ll improve in the coming year. She’s a bright girl, and her mother is very supportive of her studying.
Rebecca’s year-end letter to us is pretty sweet. We have started asking the girls to answer a set of questions in their letters, instead of just thanking us, and so here is her first attempt at answering our questions. I told her she could work on plating my hair when I come back to visit!
Rebecca’s school took a very special field trip for the day to visit many places near the city. They got to have treats they don’t normally have, and see things that they never would see if they weren’t in school.
End of the 2012 School Year
Rebecca performed in a dance and singing concert at the school for the end of the year. We also received a wonderful note from her along with her grade report. She has been promoted to the top of the class! We are so happy for her – congratulations, Rebecca!