As I return home to news of the Red Sox winning the World Series, and the stock market reaching a new high, images of our weeks in Uganda still swirl in my head. Peter and I traveled to Kampala with our friend April Stone, as part of Clover Foundation, which was started by Salma Semakula, a wonderful Ugandan woman living in Massachusetts, with the help of Peter and April.
Clover is the only free day-care and preschool for children living in the slums of Kampala. It has a board in Uganda and in the US. Peter, April and Salma are on both boards. The Ugandan board includes lawyers, accountants and government officials who put in hours of their time each week and contribute for the costs of meals for the children served by the Clover Foundation.
Peter and April attended numerous meetings with schools, clinics and foundations who have similiar or complementary missions to that of Clover. They got some very good leads, at least one partnership, and a promise from MIT to be included in their Literacy Moonshot Project which supplies tablets to children in developing countries who then learn at their own pace.
While they were attending to business, I had the good fortune to be with the children at the school. As I enter through locked gates surrounded by brick walls, I see about forty children playing in the yard and I am greeted with hugs and smiles. They are happy in the two windowless classrooms and in the large tent constructed behind the home of board member and school director, Esther Makumbi. They are the lucky ones whose parents believed in Clover nine months ago, and were happy to send their children even though they weren't sure what was in store for them.
Esther takes us on a short walk to meet some of the mothers--the ones who are not selling fruit or charcoal or fish or scratching out a living in some other way, while their children are cared for at the Clover center. Some of them are at the water-spout waiting for the weak trickle to fill their jerry cans. Others are with children in front of their homes, cooking matoke (plantains) or rice over a charcoal fire in their room.
I learn that Nulu, one of Clover's 3-year olds, has just been badly burned by a cooking pot in her home. Although she has returned to school, her siblings are listless and without stimulation, hanging around the front of the house or on the hill where a few thin animals are grazing. A few mothers speak English and share with us how grateful they are that their child is safe during the day and fed and learning in school They say that sometimes the two meals of millet-porridge, rice and peas served at Clover and sometimes a treat of popcorn or fruit, are the only meals their children eat. They are grateful when Mondays come.
Back at the Clover center, I sort through the 150 pounds of learning tools, computers, toys and art supplies that we purchased and collected from our friends and neighbors in Concord and Carlisle. Esther and the two teachers, Mary and Millie were ecstatic! And it felt so good to see everything spread out on the floor ready to be used. Simple things such as colored paper, paints and markers are so appreciated.
With about ten of the children, on the porch in front of the house, I take out my grandchildrens' wooden train set. I give them each a piece of track and a train, and watch them go! Although they have never seen a train before, many of the children, especially the two oldest boys Rahif and Steven, easily figure out how to piece it together. They build bridges, which they also have never seen, and put little cans in the cargo cars. They are overjoyed and continuously ask me, each day I return, whether the trains can be brought out again.
On a different day, I blow some bubbles with the baby class of two and three-year olds. Like twins Esther and Solomon, they run and screech and cry "bubbles-more!" It was as if the magic of this simple combination of soap and water was the most thrilling thing these children ever saw. It broke my heart and made me happy at the same time.
The kids eat and sleep within inches of each other, gentle and kind to one another- no quibbling here. Grace, a smile so bright, she lights up a room, Rahima and Rahim, who are so eager to learn, say their new words over and over and show me how to count to one hundred. Solomon, who came to Clover four months ago without affect, weighing four kilos at two years old is now smiling, laughing and eating full plates of food. And Edinah, her hair plaited rather than shaved, gently grabs my very white upper arm gently swinging the loose skin from side-to-side, laughing, (though I am not).
These are the children whose lives Clover tends to positively change by teaching, feeding and caring for them and making certain that as they grow to be healthy and confident adults. Donors, grants and partnerships are important to be able to achieve this. It is a big challenge, but an exciting one. Stay tuned....