Parenting. A rich concept and word that provides the foundation for pretty much everything, encapsulates the generous love of God, forms our earliest and most powerful memories and human bonds, and not surprisingly also becomes the locus of our deep pain and failure. None of us receive or dispense perfect parenting, but we all relate across cultures and languages and time to the goal. At Christ School Bundibugyo, parents are our partners in blessing the youth of this place. They bring us their sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, grandchildren and neighbours, whom they have struggled to keep alive and growing, and entrust our staff and administration and the mission to care for them for four to six formative adolescent and young adult years. They want academic achievement that prepares their student for a sustainable future, and they want character development that solidifies their child's respect for the culture and the country and the earth. We want the same. Academic excellence and spiritual transformation. Together our hope is to enable these kids to become "servant leaders", the operative paradox of CSB. That means people with the capacity to lead and the heart to serve, people who invest in the good of Bundibugyo and the glory of God. People whose metric is not personal fame or wealth or honour or power, but "well done good and faithful servant" effective use of their gifts to bless all.
The parents depend on us to teach their children. And to provide spiritual truths, visible role models, safe dorms, clean bathing and latrine structures, sport and club opportunities, protection from harm, focus on what matters, social interaction, a healthy rhythm of fun and sleep and work. We depend upon parents to provide school fees that cover about half of the actual costs of running the school (and we depend upon donors for the rest). To keep the partnership strong, to provide accountability and community, we try to have an all-day parent event at least annually. Reports from the Head Teacher, the Director of Spiritual Life, the Director of Development, the Chairman of the PTA and the Chairman of the Board. Songs from a student choir. An introduction and greeting by each of our 25 academic staff and a handful of support staff too. A meal of course, massive pots of steaming hot matoke, rice, beef stew, beans, ground nut sauce, cabbage. Informal conversations and mingling, formal questions and answers.
Because of COVID shutting down schools for most of the 2020 and the 2021 academic years, we could not return to a "normal" school schedule until late January 2022. So as we began our third term of 2022 in September, we gathered all the parents for the first Parents' Day in three years on Friday.
The day was as rich as the word parenting with which I began this post. Exhausting, yes, 8-9 hours is a long time to host and listen and translate and interact. The parents' main concern was financial, that they were struggling to be able to pay 50% of their subsidised school fee amount at the beginning of the term, a policy we had enforced in order to afford food for their children and payroll for the staff. We are all squeezed by the government changing term length from 12 to 14 weeks, changing the curriculum which requires new texts and materials, and by the inflation in prices of all food and commodities due to the war in Ukraine and other global trends. We have not increased fees in spite of those factors, so we really don't have margin for non-payment. We listened to their woes; we tried to explain the pressures on the school too.
But in spite of all our struggles, the general mood was so hopeful. We reviewed performance on national exams and rejoiced that most of the district's Division One (top) students came from CSB, and almost all the students who qualified for national university scholarships were ours. We heard about class trips, extra effort to catch up from lost time, study camps during break times. Parents have noticed. This year we had 107 students in our S1 class meant for 60, and had to turn another hundred away. The low fees and the solid education translate into value, and our culture here (like most others) delights in a bargain. Our dorms are packed full. But the algebra of more kids, more staff, more meals, more needs, when fees are kept affordable but costs keep rising, becomes complex to solve. We live by faith, yet again.
As we prepared for this meeting, Scott put together a lovely slide show of the new chapel, the new perimeter fence, the renovated staff housing, the new classrooms, the growing staff, all the ways that the school has inexplicably been blessed even during a few of the most challenging years ever. He wanted parents to feel secure in God's love and our commitment . . . and yet to also want to invest their hard-wrought cash. It's hard to hold onto both. Peter, our new head teacher, ended his report with four prayer requests for parents, and that is a good ending here. We do our best, but our best is never going to get us through without prayer. Please join the parents in praying for 1. The upcoming month of national finishing exams for S4 (UCE, "O Level") and S6 (UACE, "A Level") graduating students , 2. The other four classes to study and behave in ways commensurate with promotion, 3. Financial provision for parents and donors in spite of inflation, and 4. "A good ending of the year". We seem to be on target for that!
PS. Sorry this blog has been silent for over a month . . . we traveled to the USA for a Serge meeting, saw both moms and all our kids, officiated a wedding and visited a few friends, did not repeat the bike accident disaster that I had before this same meeting last year (!) but had decent medical follow ups. We flew back to Uganda just over a week ago and have been back in Bundi for four days. It's been a lot of travel, time zones, people, interactions and we wanted to be present for family and for Serge leaders. But it's good to be back home in Bundibugyo! And if you're seeing Uganda in the news for Ebola, yes, there is a new epidemic but it's over a hundred miles away and so far the country is responding with their usual skill and zeal. We are fine here.