How do you describe the impact of seeing the dream of a school translated into the reality of bricks and mortar, a sea of faces and of little bare feet? You can’t. It has to be experienced.
Our diverse team of ten, representing Raise the Roof Kids’ Choir were to be the first to visit St Stephen’s Primary School and Nursery- a place that brings fresh hope, and promise of a brighter future, and which was built with the £75,000 raised by Alyson Reid’s Ballymena choir.
Musalaba in the district of Gulu is set just 100km beneath the border of South Sudan. It is also the site of a church planted by some of the earliest missionaries in 1900. It means ‘the cross’ and, as one of the most impacted areas during the LRA’s activity, has known much suffering and sacrifice.
We were greeted with song but, although the words stated “we are happy,” the serious expressions of the 248 children revealed the mark of a turbulent history; affirming that, despite a bus load of equipment, our most valuable assets would be love and joy.
The t-shirts worn by the pupils of St Stephens proudly declare ‘Education is Light’; we decided it needed some colour too. A play parachute, bubbles, tunnels and playmats, and a brand new brightly coloured playground gave the children permission to be just that- children. Shrieks of surprise and delight carried across the cleared expanse and over the long grass into the nearby settlements. The youngest pupils, who normally leave at lunchtime, even refused to go home!
A new well at the site saves valuable hours that would have been spent trekking for water, and allows the children to attend school, free from the responsibilities of home. It also afforded us the opportunity to wash the toughened, dusty feet of each child and place shoes on them. To people who have felt forgotten for so long, this demonstration of love made real the verse on the well, describing its ‘living water.’
As the days passed, the singing took on a joyful sound and the smiles widened. A colourful mural, goalposts and a netball court, bible stories and colouring, games and singing…and dancing- the community around Musalaba know how to celebrate!
Something we really valued was connection with those who will be responsible for sustaining this new school, so a Community Celebration Day was a key part of our programme. Speeches were given from the staff at the school, and the local diocese. Alyson and the team were introduced, and she had the opportunity to share her vision for the school and explain the work of the choir, while a formidable group of women prepared food for 700. Formality quickly gave way to hilarity as African beats began to resonate from a hired sound system and the locals taught the ‘Muzungus’ some moves!
Leaving is never easy, but was softened when we looked at what we were leaving. Children who had experienced love; and now smiled, hugged, and waved. New friends made. New hope rising up.
We are so privileged to have been, and continue to be, instruments in God’s plan for Musalaba. The words on the back of the t-shirts we left for some of the staff are a simple yet challenging commission to any visiting team: ‘Rewrite the Story.’
Amy McClelland, Raise the Roof Team 2016