Empowerment through Art
What a day! Over a thousand students attend Bungatira Primary School in Gulu, Uganda, a school with 1098 students and 19 teachers. Nineteen teachers for 1098 students! Math is not my strong suit but it's obvious that student: teacher ratio is CRAZY high. Fields of Dreams Uganda has provided the school with a social worker one day per week. FoDU’s social workers move between schools each day (5 schools each week) and service over 1000 students per school. I'm a school counselor and all of these numbers blow me away. My case load per week is less than 400 and the teacher student ratio is in my school is approximately 25 students per 1 teacher.
Today at Bungatira, I planned to do an art therapy activity with at least one classroom and I was excited and nervous. In many of the classrooms I've gone into I've been accompanied by Sharon, a woman who works for Fields of Dreams Uganda. She lives in Gulu and is a social worker (the one with 5000 kids per week). Sharon is an incredible woman who is kind and patient with me as she translates for me. Sharon has been teaching me her language and I have enjoyed learning about her life. I love working with her! She's sassy, funny, and extremely compassionate. I can't say enough about her.
Sharon was my partner on this expressive arts quest. There were about 42 girls participating in the classroom. I started by stating that the each of the girls has a big impact on the world and the world needs each of them. (Our overall theme or goal is to help students to understand that they are important in this would, that they matter). I then asked them to think about how they are special or unique and finally what gifts they bring to the world, to their families, to their schools, to their friends. We asked the girls to use the sharpies, donated by friends in the U.S., to draw their special gifts and portray in pictures how the world needs them. Brian and I both drew an example on the chalk board so that the girls had an idea of what we were talking about (they truly seemed bewildered at first... I asked them to pretend they were little children). Each of the girls chose their fabric square and 5 sharpie and began to work.
Upon completion I asked the girls to be courageous and confident and come to the front of the class to share their art piece. At least 10 girls were willing to share with the class. They stood in the front and proudly held up their art piece and stated loudly, "The world needs me because I am...." and they identified in their art pieces the reasons. They were proud and I was humbled!! Each girl had her picture taken and all of the girls took a picture together. All of the art pieces were collected and will be sewn together by a local woman to create a quilt-like art piece that will be hung in the school. The art piece will serve as a continual reminder that the world needs each of them, and the power of all of them joined together is big and bold and beautiful and most importantly powerful!!
When I walked away from that project and those girls, I realized that although there are many differences in the lives of the P7 girls in Gulu (most live in extreme poverty, cannot afford to pay their school fees, are expected to do a day's worth of chores and take care of other children before and after school), they are 7th grade girls, much like the 7th and 8th grade girls I work with in Springfield Missouri. It's been difficult to wrap my brain around the differences, especially with children's lives and school. I may wrestle with that indefinitely, but today I was able to see a similarity that was heartening. Teenage girls are shy, silly, sassy, confrontational, smart, creative, suspicious, and learning to be women in a world that is dominated by men. They are powerfully courageous and these girls are at the very least gaining confidence. I see the same in the girls at my school and I have the same hopes for them to be powerfully courageous and confident.
The last part of my day was spent hearing some of the same girls’ testimonials regarding their lives. The hardship and extreme poverty is hard for me to synthesize, but it is real and I will continue to work to come to some kind of understanding. The need is greater than anything I could have imagined. It gives me hope to watch the children joyfully interact, and talk with the Fields of Dreams national and regional staff and learn of their incredible stories of perseverance and courage.
I ended the day hearing an incredible story told to me by a staff member Florence as we were riding home from the primary school on her boda boda (motor bike). While at first holding on for dear life and then loosening my grip, Florence told me the story of her schooling and how her struggles were the same as the girls we'd heard testimony from. Florence shares her story with the girls so that they can gain strength from her and understand that it's possible to survive their experience and even thrive through all of the difficulties. Florence is an education advocate for Fields of Dreams and she is amazing!! I am so fortunate to be in the presence of these women, Sharon and Florence. They are inspirational to me and the children they impact are many and also fortunate. I go back to "Whew! What a beautiful day and what an amazing experience!" Apoyo matek! Translation: thank you very much! My first phrase that I can actually use!