Hope for the Future: Kindergarten Graduates in Uganda

In some parts of the world, like in the US, registering your child for kindergarten is truly an emotional step. Your baby is a baby no more. Their educational journey has begun. Countless tears are shed in anticipation of the great change in developmental status.

But, Mom and Dad’s emotions aside, thanks to public schools, beginning and then graduating from kindergarten is a natural first step for five and six year old children in the US. Parents don’t worry that there won’t be a building or what’s most critical–an opportunity for their child’s learning to flourish.

The same is not true for early learners in Northern Uganda.

In designated settlements without early learning centers, kids simply stay at home until primary school begins in the 1st grade.

Yet, thanks to the generous child sponsors of Feed the Children back in 2013, all of this changed for a group of very excited and eager kindergarteners. The Sunrise Early Childhood Development Center opened its doors near Gulu, Uganda.

Starting small, a group of four qualified teachers and three support staff welcomed 23 preschoolers. At preschool, the kids learn the alphabet (A to Z) and counting. They also begin to learn colors, different types of animals, greetings (morning/evening greetings) and social skills like naming family members. Each child receives a hot meal each day provided by generous Feed the Children donors. Feed the Children has also installed physical equipment on site and provided school uniforms.

What is most remarkable about Sunrise is that it’s the only early childhood center in Twonokun, a village with over 1000 households. The kids who come to Sunrise are the lucky few.

Now, Sunrise hosts 124 children, many of whom now receive three meals a day from our staff–getting vital nutrients needed for their growth and development.

Sunrise hosted it first ever kindergarten graduation on November 28th of last year. (In Uganda, the school term ends for Christmas holidays late in November). It was a happy day indeed and lives on as a day for rejoicing!

With clear skies above, and the atmosphere bright and cheerful inside; children lined up for the festivities. A total of 30 children participated in this first graduation ceremony at Twonokun Village.

As part of the program, the graduates recited facts they’d learned and shared songs and dances with their adoring parents and caregivers, who gathered to watch the festivities.

sunrise ECDC parentsIn speeches, the local leadership voiced their support towards the continued growth of the Center. The parent representative exclaimed “Thank you so much Feed the Children for making sure our kids are fed at school!”

One Feed the Children staffer observed of the mood of the children on their special day: “Their faces were visibly excited. It was a happy day to rejoice in the voices of the children and their hope!”

Following a beautiful ceremony of dance and skits and crowned with a football (soccer) tournament that was arranged by the youth of Twonokun; community members entertained parents.

The day concluded with the official dedication of the school. The centre also serves as a day care centre for other families which means that children of less than 3 years also have access to porridge and a lunch meal!

We are thankful that we can participate in the joy of making moments like these happen in Uganda. We know that as they study hard, even with the challenges, that their future is bright. Congratulations, graduates!

Feed the Children: Feed Futures by Feeding Minds

Malia loves books. While her reading level doesn’t match her age or grade, she digs in with gusto to any book she can get her hands on. When she is actually in class, her teacher can always count on her to curl up with a book any chance she gets.

Malia, her brother, two sisters, and mom are what her school considers to be homeless. The Los Angeles Unified School District’s Homeless Education Program describes the challenges faced by students like her in a letter they wrote to us recently: “High mobility, precarious living conditions, and poverty have an enormous impact on the educational success of our students.”IMG_6090

Malia doesn’t get to attend school every day like the other kids because her address keeps changing, on the days that she actually has an address. Catching the bus to school is nearly impossible. She misses many days of school because it’s just so difficult to get there.

Malia has her days, just like any child, in which she doesn’t want to do the work required of her. But most days, she’d rather be in school. Days outside of class are long, boring, and hungry. The school is cool in summer, warm in winter, and dry in the rain. The bathrooms have hot water, the lights stay on, and she gets to eat a good breakfast and lunch. And it has a library with books she can read for free. Even on a bad day, she has to admit that being at school beats being cooped up inside a car or wandering downtown trying not to attract unwanted attention.

In February, a Feed the Children truck rolled into Malia’s town and unloaded boxes full of backpacks, books, school supplies, hygiene items, and snacks at the school. Staff in the Homeless Education Program began calling students immediately, thrilled to surprise them with brand new backpacks and school supplies.

Malia remembers the day clearly. She had actually made it to class that morning, and the lunch had been a favorite. After the final bell rang, her social worker found her wandering toward the exit, a few papers and a tattered math book thrown into a plastic grocery sack.

“Malia, I have something for you.”

She followed the woman into an office where a beautiful brand-new purple backpack sat on the desk, its girth giving away that it held more than air and some packing paper.

“Open it up!”

Malia unzipped the bag (the zipper worked!) and breathed in the scent of new: crayons, colored and #2 pencils, pencil sharpener, erasers, a notebook, folder, pencil pouch, scissors. Two new books to read. TWO! A re-sealable bag with soap, shampoo, comb, toothbrush, and toothpaste. Another smaller bag with granola bars and dried fruit. She couldn’t remember ever having her own brand-new school supplies.

“This is nice. Thank you!”

She tucked the grocery sack and math book into her new backpack, poked her arms through the straps, and walked out of school just like a regular kid. First order of business – find somewhere to curl up with her new books.

***

At Feed the Children, we do just that. We feed children.


But if you’re like many of us, you may be asking yourself, “What do backpacks have to do with feeding? And what happens when the children you feed get hungry again? Is it enough to feed a child today? 

We say, “NO.”

Food for today is essential. People don’t function well when they are hungry, and children struggle to learn when their stomach is growling.

But unless we address the root causes of hunger, we aren’t changing anything.  Children and their families need the skills, education, and resources to provide for themselves and improve both their present and their future.

That’s why we feed futures by feeding minds. Going to school is one of the best ways to help people rise above the cycle of hunger.

But for children without a permanent home, going to and finishing school can seem like an insurmountable challenge. It’s all the more difficult when the adults in their lives can’t provide food on a regular basis, let alone purchase school supplies.

Every year, 1.6 million American children go to sleep without a home of their own. Imagine what their day is like when they wake.

So Feed the Children helps students stay in school by providing them with backpacks full of school supplies and personal care items. Since the launch of our H.E.L.P. (Homeless Education and Literacy Program), we’ve distributed over 700,000 backpacks to children in all 50 states who are homeless.

If feeding children in body and mind gets you jazzed, we’d love to have your help.

You can donate a backpack for a child who is homeless in the U.S.IMG_7445

Or, a Backpack Build event is a fun way for your group or organization to provide hands-on help for at-risk children right in your own community. For far less than retail cost, you can have brand-new backpacks and school supplies delivered to your door. Then gather your group, load up those packs together, and deliver them to local children in need! Contact us for more information.