Faces can blur in crowds. When there are lots of eyes on you it is harder to see the individual ones. However Elizabeth stood out from the beginning. She was a bit older and obviously delighted to be in school. Not having the chance to attend even the “free” schools in Uganda she was now having a chance to learn. She wasn’t the only one. There were 50 to start with but she caught my attention from the very first. She didn’t know but I watched her. I watched her sit in front of a computer for the very first time. I watched her learn to read and to dance her traditional dances. I watched her become the girl prefect of the school as she had the highest scores. I watched as her body first grew healthy and then began to mature. Somehow she had become the embodiment of them all, at least all the girls. [Another time I'll introduce Juma, the prefect for the boys.] Aisha has been a special girl and had no knowledge of it.
This year has been a hard one for her. While her family was visiting grand parents in Kenya their belongings burned in a fire in Masese. When they left for their trip they stored their belongings in a locked, rented room as there was not even a door on their hut. Theft is rampant among desperate people so they thought this was a good plan to protect all their worldly belongings. No one knows how the fire started. Some say witchcraft but the more likely culprit would be a combination of wind and a cooking fire. All their meager property was destroyed. Totally unable to rebuild and replace, the parents left to live with family in Kenya. However they thought it best to leave two of their children behind requesting the Help School to watch over them. If they were taken to Kenya there would be no way for schooling. So Elizabeth and her younger brother became a ward of the school. Teacher Ben took her in but after an altercation with the mama of that house Elizabeth was shuffled to Irene’s and then onto Teacher Lydia’s which is where I found her this trip. Her grades dropped dramatically in this time but were back up since being at Lydia. She sleeps on the floor as do all the kids since there is no room at Lydia’s but she seems relatively happy there.
One day Elizabeth and 3 other girls approached me telling me they had started their periods. They needed pads and knickers. Lydia had them using tissue paper since there were no pads but they also had no underwear. Finding instant sympathy with our team visiting the school, panties and pads were bought that very day. However as they were given out Elizabeth and a friend missed out. Theirs were stored until the next day but before we could get them given out Elizabeth, encouraged by her friends, claimed I said she could come get them herself and took them. Well, as I saw it she had lied and stolen. Definitely behavior that needed to be addressed. Quite possibly I would have let a staff member handle this if it had been another student but since it was her I decided to confront her myself. In a group, including the friends who had encouraged her, Lydia, the school social worker and the Project Manager, I told her how special she was and had been since the beginning. I told her I loved her but my heart hurt to see her lie and steal. I asked her to trust me and not feel like she had to take matters into her own hands. I told her how disappointed I was in this behavior but that I have high hopes for her future. She cried big tears hiding her face behind a folder and asked me to forgive her. My mother’s heart melted. I went over and held her as she sobbed. I cried to think a young girl would need to steal to get sanitary pads and underwear! The bonding that passed between us may even have been visible! Her mother is far away and I have just told her I love her. She clings to me and I to her. I believe her life took a huge turn in those minutes. Life changing! I never stop being amazed at God’s plan to use me in this work. Showing His grace and forgiveness is easy when I think of all the grace and forgiveness He has given me.
The day I left she was waiting to be the last to say good bye. Her hug was tight and heartfelt, as was mine. I am already looking forward to our next trip to see her again. I want to see this girl graduate and change her world!
I left with provisions for her to be fed but I really wish I could bring her parents back to her! A micro business loan and some money to buy essentials to start their humble home would be so wonderful!