STRICTLY FOR SANDI

I am 20 years old girl who have dropped out of school in 2006 due to pregnancy.  Chased away by my relatives who were taking care of me and I have stayed with my grandmother for three (3) years.

In 2010, God has taken me back to school but the worse thing I am thinking which will also made me dropt out of school again is that I can not afford to pay 20 (twenty) thousand shillings for the school fees since last term and every time am upset thinking about my child I have left at home they usually sleep under the tree covering themselves with a carpet during rain season.

Let me end here the more I talk the more my tears roll.

What advice can you give me?

From

Fiona (which has been changed)

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

I was handed a letter after a long Friday of teaching 3 IPR/Life skills classes to Senior 1, 2, and 3.  As I sat in the teachers “lounge” reading this, I thought how interesting Fiona’s timing was to open herself about her predicament.  Since that day’s class was about decision making and consequences, how great would it be to help guide Fiona through her own big decision?  Rather than group work with a hypothetical situation, this one was real and she seemed troubled enough to seek advice.

A couple of my initial concerns were that (1)  Fiona saw me as the white foreigner with all the answers and as (2) an endless money bag that will build a hut for her grandmother and pay the 20,000 shillings for school fees.  Well, I don’t have all the answers or endless money bags, but I can help facilitate making a good decision by being supportive and asking thought provoking question.

  I’m a tough love, no handouts, take responsibility for your own life and figure things out type of person.  I refuse to contribute to the continuation of dependency on foreigners and severe helplessness that it has caused.  I am here to help people to the best of my capacity which might not always be exactly how they expect given their stereotypes and preconceived ideas.  And now to break the stereotypes…

Initially, I wrote Fiona a letter in return.  First, I thanked her for trusting me and asking for advice.  In this culture, adult figures are seen almost as higher beings that should be feared.  I can’t rule out the fact that my being white didn’t play a factor, but at least it was relevant to that day’s class subject and she seemed truly distressed.  I told her how she was a good mother for being concerned for her baby and grandmother.  There was no simple solution and this must be thought out well.

In class, the students were introduced to steps in making a good decision.  These included:

1.      Stop and don’t rush into a decision

2.      Pray and Take some “time out” to think.

3.      What is the problem?

4.      What decision must be made?

5.      What do trusted friends and family say?

6.      What does the Bible say about this?

7.      What are related family/personal values?

8.      What normally happens in your culture?

9.      What are all of your options/choices? 

10.  What are the good and the bad results that could happen depending on each choice?

11.  How will each choice impact other people?

12.  Is there a choice that stands out as the best?

13.  Which choice will you decide to take?

14.  Make the leap!  Make a decision!

15.  What actions must you make to complete your decision?

16.  GO!  You must trust God but you must also take action and do your part.

17.  Own your choice and take responsibility for your action.

During that day’s class, we went over how important it was to not rush into a decision, to take some time out to think and to pray.  From Fiona’s letter, her first reaction seemed to be to drop out to take care of things back in the village.  Thankfully she didn’t.  Maybe she said a prayer earlier that week and that day’s lesson was God’s way of helping guide her into action.  Some people think that we can stop after praying and everything will work out.  Well, it mainly doesn’t work that way.  Prayer without action is useless.  True, there are exceptions where something huge happens and the person had only prayed, but for the other 99.8% of us, we have to put into action the knowledge and skills that God has given us. 

He gave us a mind to think, he gave us a heart with desires, he gave us a mouth to speak to those we use our feet to walk to.  I personally believe saying “It’s in God’s hands so everything will work out” without actually doing something seems like the lazy mans way of not taking responsibility for their own life.  In some cases we must have blind faith but there is no need to be ignorant or naïve in the capabilities God has given us.  Getting across that we must put actions behind our prayers is seriously hard to convey here.

The next step we went over in class was to define the problem. With Fiona, there are a couple of problems- she is considering dropping out of school because of an inability to pay school fees and she is emotionally upset because housing and care for her child is inadequate. 

Sometimes, we don’t even really know what we are trying to decide between.  We might think the problem is one thing when actually that is just an effect of the root problem.  The complexity of layers can be overwhelming which increases quick irrational responses.  Thankfully, Fiona hasn’t decided to drop out because of either problem.

When it comes to money for school fees, Fiona’s family could be extremely poor to the extent that 20,000 shillings, or $10 USD, is out of their reach OR the fact of the matter is that a lot of families don’t prioritize what they spend their money on.  Parents will say they can’t pay yet they are sitting with a beer in hand and putting airtime in their phones.  I’ve never seen an NGO proposal budget line for beer or airtime, but I have seen budget lines for school fees and supplies, huts for the elderly and vulnerable people, and necessity items which help people.  A way of thought is why spend your own money on school fees when you know there is some sort of white angel out there that will pay them for you? 

I’m resistant to handing over money to anyone for school fees or the like.  Awhile back, a couple of young waitresses that I’ve become friends with gave the request for school fees.  Me, I see them as working girls that if they really want to go back to school, they will save and go when ready.  A couple of Western friends, well, didn’t see it this way.  They happily gave the girls enough money for school fees at the end of their stay here and the girls were super excited.  These two girls seemed legit in their need and the Westerners saw it as an investment into their education.  The girls left for school when 2nd term began… only to return a week and a half later to work at the restaurant again.  Where did the school fee money go?  Who knows.  Sometimes, I think the true problem is the lack of desire to want something bad enough to work for it.  Priorities. 

When it comes to Fiona’s baby, there are a few things to consider.  One, children are allowed to live with their mothers at PGA up to the age of 2 and her child is 3.  PGA does accept older children to stay on a case by case basis though.  Two, it is hard for me to imagine an African relational community ostracizing others and making them sleep outside under trees- especially during rainy season. 

Things don’t quite add up here with Fiona’s story.  In the letter, it says Fiona stayed with her grandmother but when I talked to her 4 days later, she said her baby was with her Sudanese by origin mother who moved to Uganda to be with her soldier father who passed away when Fiona was 1 years old.  Depending on the acceptance of Fiona’s father’s family, life for her mother could be difficult.  Without knowing in depth about Fiona’s family, it’s hard to know enough about the situation to understand why the family isn’t taking care of them.  That aside, there are still things that can be done to help both parties.

In the letter, I pointed out a few key questions for Fiona to ask herself and also trusted friends and family.  I suggested a couple of staff at school that she could talk to who would know the correct procedure to handle the situations.  I reassured her that no one had ever gotten expelled for not being able to pay school fees.  Half of the students at Pader Girls Academy are mothers of small children and the school is designed to help.  I drew up a pros/cons list where she could write an outline that would help her physically see that she isn’t bound to one choice.  I let her know I hadn’t spoken to anyone specifically about her situation and that I believed that she would make a wise decision to act upon.  I finished by saying I was proud of her for taking the leap back into education and wanting to support her family to the best of her ability.

When I talked with Fiona about the letter some days later, she still seemed timid and scared about the situation.  She did seem a bit more hopeful though.  She was comforted about the school fees issue but still worried about her child.  I asked if she had spoken to the Senior 1 head teacher, and Fiona replied shaking her head saying she was too fearful.  She agreed that I should talk to her first and then Fiona and I would go together to speak to her. 

Fiona’s problems haven’t been resolved quite yet, but they are on their way.  Originally, maybe she thought I would feel sorry for her and give her money for school fees and build her a hut.  By supporting her, helping her see other options, and believing in her, I hope she has gained far more than a quick solution from the foreigner.  I hope that she has gained decision making skills, confidence, and the ability to take an active role in what happens in her life.

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