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Monday, January 30, 2023

A tale of two Januaries

Twice a year, we put on our Area Director hats over our Team Leader hats and meet with the leadership of Serge. Lately that's been a mix of virtual, attached to another meeting, or in our Home Office, but this January we traveled to Philadelphia to meet where it all started. Grateful for a week of prayer and pondering our measurable specific objectives to go with our vision, mission, values, and strategies. Serge emphasises being field-led. It's inconvenient and expensive to get voices from all over the world to the table, but we're glad to practice what we preach about being an upside-down Kingdom of Jesus.

A paradox of celebration and sorrow was that we spent one of the evenings recognising the years of service Josiah and Barbara have invested in Serge. We actually joined at the same time in 1991, and for the last decade Josiah has been our Director of Mission. They will continue as senior advisors to our younger leaders, but step aside from that central role. 

A perk of January meetings . . . seeing some SNOW in West Virginia, and getting to spend a few days at our family farm in Sago on the way out. We also visited my mom and sister and family on the way in (photos in our mailchimp prayer letter last week). Since we boomeranged back, we've been using the term "cultural whiplash" to explain the paradox of this phase of our life . . . that it is amazing and beautiful that we can see our families and meet our leaders and touch base for a period of two weeks, but also jarring to move so quickly back and forth between worlds. On the way to the airport we stopped in to greet my Aunt Ann, big sister to my father, now 92, and tenderly cared for by my cousin Bruce who retired from the military and makes it possible for her to stay at home.
But that was only one January, and this year we lived through two. One in the USA and one in Uganda.

Back to Uganda by mid month, we hit the ground already feeling behind as this is the start of the school year, the financial year, the swirling issues of finalising budgets, contracts, tax payments, not to mention the 8-year legal case that unjustly canceled the ownership of our school farms. The last weeks have been non-stop with catching up with team and zooms with the area. . . . 

And friends. Praying for so many important issues in people we love, and rejoicing that the two young primary students whose lives and fees we've been involved in fostering passed their national exams with flying colours.  Back to our dear team too, and fellowship over pizza at our house.

Pat came for the week, and Martha Mixon who used to be a team leader in Nairobi and now works with Serge in the USA visited to support us all. She met with people as "member care", an important department in Serge designed to help us all thrive in our work. Then Saturday she led the women in an all-day retreat to meditate on the Psalms of Ascent and the Road to Emmaus story of encountering Jesus, knowing that is what we truly all need. 

As part of our retreat, we were instructed to find an object that demonstrates the "state of our souls". This was mine. A little coffee pot meant to pour out goodness for others, but a bit worn and beat up. We can't see how full or empty it is. And while it wants to pour blessing, the fires of life sometimes make it just boil over. It needs to be refreshed and filled again. Grateful for the prayers and love that send the Spirit for just that!

Sunday, January 29, 2023

A PLE primer: why the Uganda national exams matter, and Bundibugyo results

 On Friday, Uganda released the results of the Primary Leaving Examination (PLE). Uganda's school system has 7 grades of Primary School, P1 to P7, and then students sit for a national examination in four subjects: math, English, social studies, and science.  

  • About 830,000 students finish primary and sit for the PLE exam to qualify for secondary school.
  • 350,000 students were secondary finishers in 2022 (O level, "Uganda Certificate of Education" UCE, taken after Senior 1 to Senior 4, 4 years of general education in at least 8 subjects, approximately American grades 8-11) and 
  • a bit under 100,000 finished advanced secondary (A level, "Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education" UACE, taken after Senior 5 and 6, two years narrowed to 3-4 subjects, approximately American senior High School/junior college level). This qualifies them for Certificate, Diploma, or Degree programs in trade schools or Universities. 
At each level, the national exam determines the placement for the next level. PLE for moving from Primary 7 to Senior 1, UCE for moving from Senior 4 to 5, and UACE from Senior 6 to University (or trade school). PLE results come first so that we can start admission processes for Secondary; UCE and UACE results should be out in a couple weeks.

The entire system is actually in flux, with ongoing school assessments becoming part of the transcript, a greater emphasis on projects, experiments, critical thinking, breadth, rather than a heavily memorised set of facts on these national exams. But for the 60 years since the country gained independence, the system has still been heavily influenced on what the British Empire left here. Uganda values education highly. Having descendants, and enabling those descendants to survive, succeed, and honour you, I would say drives much of culture. So the three huge national exams (PLE, UCE, and UACE) are the measure of much of life, and their release is front page spreads and gets as much online chat fervor as football.  

Remember Uganda had the longest school shut down in the world for COVID, 2020 exams were delayed into 2021, and it wasn't until 2022 that we actually had a full normal school year (which is a calendar year pattern, typically 3 terms January to November with the longest break around Christmas). 

OK after that primer on the context, you can see that for an NGO that pours much of our development effort into a secondary school to improve life in this district, we are equally tuned into the PLE results. We will get our next Christ School S1 class from this pool of PLE takers; we will be measured as a school based on our students' UCE and UACE results. WE CARE about the spiritual and human development of our students, their humble embrace of service and truth. But that's harder to measure . . . and parents care about scores, so we do too. 

This year, 56% of students leaving Primary 7 in Bundibugyo scored in Division 1 or 2.  That is good news, and a huge change in 30 years.

We have gone from being the district at the bottom of the table (we were the dead last district in the country in PLE performance in the early 90's, which along with the unwritten language needing Bible Translation, drove our mission to choose Bundibugyo as a place to invest our work). Now we are in the top half of districts. We have two "grandson" type relationships with P7 students this year, the son of the late Dr. Jonah Kule and his wife Mellen, Jonah Junior who was born a few months after his dad died of Ebola. And the firstborn son of Ndiyezika Edison, a young orphaned kid we met almost as soon as we moved to Bundibugyo and informally fostered, who graduated from CSB and later married Juliet who taught there. Both Jonah Jr. and Arthur got excellent, top-grade scores. I am so proud of their work, and so thankful for all the ways our supporters have donated and prayed and enabled us to help this place, and these two. I have felt so amazed and gratified about them all weekend.

Our CSB Leadership team has already been meeting this week to prepare for the new school year, staff will report this week and students the following week. We hit the ground a week ago running into 2023 . . . (if you support us, you should have had a mailchimp from us this past Monday).

Jesus promises to make all things new, to end the tears and loss and death. We have a long way to go. But surely this is one sign of hope. Many of our CSB graduates have become primary school teachers over the last two decades. Nutrition has improved. We have had several missionaries who have focused in promoting literacy in primary schools. Slowly but surely, Bundibugyo is becoming a better place for children to be born and grow and learn. That makes so much of the hard parts worthwhile.

(a smattering of CSB photos below from the last year or so . . . will catch up blog on more of 2023 this week, so check back!)