In the dozen years that the Orthodox Presbyterian Church has been ministering in South Karamoja, one of the glaring needs of the people has been education. Throughout Uganda, interest in education has continued to grow, but in Karamoja most of the public schools are poorly supervised and staffed. Students may sit through years of "teaching" in a language they barely understand and not even learn to read. As a result, many families don't even bother to send their children to school—except to get free food when it is offered. Since they themselves are not educated, the families are not always sure whether what the schools provide is worth having their children away from home and not contributing to the family by herding animals, caring for children, gathering firewood, or working in the fields.
At the same time, the OP mission's Bible studies have been filled with eager children for years, children who listen with utter fascination to the stories of Creation and the Flood, Abraham and Moses, the great things God has done for his people, and, of course, the life and work of Jesus. We have hoped the village Bible studies would touch the hearts of these children and their families, but over the years we've noticed that often different children attend each week. Giving our Karimojong neighbors the Gospel message consistently will always be difficult. We have wondered, how can we make a greater impact in the lives of these people?
The OPC started a primary school in Mbale during the 1990s, but that was in an area with a number of established churches and relatively educated congregations. Our mission has been reluctant to establish another major institution like a school and perhaps overstep our role by doing for the Karimojong what their own people should do themselves. Instead, we've offered weeklong in-school programs at our local primary schools and visited schools on a regular basis to encourage teachers and students in basic literacy and, of course, to teach the Bible. It seemed clear to us that helping children be prepared in these areas would be a huge boost to their education, even in the weak public schools.
However, our neighbor children never have a story read to them at home, or even see a book in their house, or hear Scripture read. Here in Karamoja, only 5-12 percent of adults read in any language, and most have only a passing knowledge of a few bits of Scripture. When we presented our idea of a preschool to members of the community, our Karimojong neighbor parents enthusiastically welcomed it, even though we're not offering free food! We even had a building available right on the OP Clinic compound.
We hope to prepare children to enter the public schools already having a solid basis in literacy and numeracy in their native language, as well as some familiarity with English. Most importantly, we want them to develop an attitude of respect toward their education and all aspects of their life. which honors the Lord. We also hope to support the public schools in our vicinity through regular visits, modeling teaching techniques, and continuing to develop Karimojong language instruction materials.
This past summer we had Bible and science programs in our nearby primary schools in Nakaale and Alamacar, as well as weeks of follow-up classes in basic Karimojong literacy, English, and Bible. The headmasters and teachers were very enthusiastic about our visiting each week. We hope that our instruction will help teachers to learn better techniques for improving students' reading in both languages, as well as their knowledge of Scripture.
In July and August, OP missionary Martha Wright met regularly with head teacher Tete George and ten teachers in training for the preschool. We hope that although some of these teachers have very little education themselves, they will develop literacy and teaching skills through working alongside our more experienced Karimojong and American teachers. Dr. Wright acts as principal, classroom teacher, and materials developer. In addition, we are delighted to have missionary associate Erika Bulthuis, a certified California elementary teacher, now in her fourth year of service in Karamoja, and first-year missionary associate Taryn Dieckmann from New York, who also is a certified elementary teacher. We are always looking for other eager volunteers for future work.