Letters from Uganda: Visiting the children and their schools

By Barbara Luke

Published: Thursday, March 10 2011 5:00 a.m. MST

Editor's note: Fourth in an eight-part series

From Steven Ssenyonjo's van, my husband, Larry, and I could see little figures running along the side of the path leading to Brain Trust School in Uganda.

"They are coming! They are coming," the children shouted, announcing our arrival.

As we turned into the schoolyard, we heard singing and saw children dancing and clapping.

After we parked the van under a large tree, Larry, Steven and I stood in front of the 300 children who attend the first through sixth grades at Brain Trust School. As I looked out at them, I thought, "They are so happy to see us even though they don't have a clue who we are."

As if prompted, Steven, who was standing behind me, leaned forward and said, "Sister Barbara, these children know who you are. Ddumba and several of the other children you sponsor through the Child2Youth Foundation attend this school. Whenever you write to them, they make sure everyone hears your words and sees your picture."

Feeling humbled, I looked out at the children and noticed the large red brick structure behind them. At first, I could not tell if it was falling down or still in the process of being built. There was no glass in the window frames, there were no doors in the doorways and the walls were jagged.

As I was silently questioning the building's structural integrity, Steven guided us forward and said we would be meeting with the children in the school's main hall. As we walked toward the hall, I focused my attention on searching for Ddumba, Ddiba, Doreen, Kennedy and Nanyonga - five of the eight children Larry and I sponsor. Once I found them, they followed me everywhere like little ducklings.

After our sponsored children and all the others had filed into the building, they began our meeting by first praying and then singing their national anthem and school song.

Next, a teacher introduced Steven, director of the Child2Youth Foundation. The children know Steven well. He is a high councilor in the very first, newly formed LDS stake in Uganda. He is known as a "man of God" who asked his LDS Church for the tank system that brings clean water to the schools and new bathrooms.

For many of these children, Steven is their father figure. His eyes are bright, his voice is soothing and he speaks to them with a tender spirit. All of the children at Brain Trust School listened intently as Steven shared a spiritual message and told them of Heavenly Father's love.

I was amazed by the feelings of reverence and joy I felt in that dark, crowded room as Steven spoke. The sun streamed through the broken roof, and the room — adorned with only a worn blackboard and a few wooden benches — seemed to be transformed into a cathedral. As I sat there, I felt God testify to me, "These are my precious children. You know them now. Serve them well."

After Steven finished his remarks and Larry and I had spoken, the children were eager to ask us questions. This was a common occurrence at all the Ugandan schools we visited, and most of the children asked about predictable topics, but a few stood out.

For example, one child asked about my hair. "Is it a wig? It is so smooth."

Others asked if we could sponsor them, so they could have books, uniforms and shoes.

I was prepared to answer most of their questions, but there was one I never anticipated: "Do you have a problem with children being beheaded and raped where you live?" one girl asked.

I turned to Steven. "Pardon me. Did I hear her correctly?"

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