|Funded by Invisible Children|
The first school we visit is Keyo, a school that Carlie, one of the other teachers on our trip, had helped to fund. The campus is tidy with small signs around campus offering aphorisms for living like "Aspire to Inspire before you Expire."
The first full classroom of students has wide open windows; long narrow, wooden desks; chalkboards; and rows of kids in tidy uniforms. We stand at the front of the classroom as the head teacher explains that we are part of Invisible Children. Carlie is overcome with emotion as she introduces herself and her connection to Keyo.
|Carlie Frye greets Keyo Secondary School|
|Greeting students at Keyo|
In each of the classrooms we visit, the students are subdued under the eyes of their teachers, but when a few of us happen upon a roomful of kids waiting for their teacher, the teenagers are far more playful, the kids enjoying laughing with us, shaking our hands, and giggling about questions we ask about being sneaky when teachers are out of the room. A couple of girls sitting outside another classroom are happy to have us come take pictures which they thrill to see.
After visiting the classrooms, the administrators invite us to a staff meeting room. They tell us about the impact of the "sponsorship" programs at the school then serve us a meal of yellow bread, hard boiled eggs, and bananas. For drinks they offer us water and chilled sugary sodas: orange crush, colas, and a strong ginger ale called Stoney that we have all grown to love.
|Refreshments with Keyo faculty|
We enjoy the refreshment and songs from a group of scholarship students who introduce themselves and sing for us. When we ask what they hope to study in University, they nearly all say medicine or education. The students ask some frank questions about IC "sponsorship" and want to know why IC isn't fully funding their schooling, paying only the tuition costs and not funding things like uniforms, as they have done in the past.
When we leave campus and get back on the bus, Lauren Manning, our American Invisible Children staffer who lives and works in Gulu, takes time to explain how IC has evolved in recent years, including being more mindful about sustainable development, something that's dogged the organization since the Kony 2012 fallout of the past year and a half.
This perpetual re-examination and mindfulness is one of the many things I admire about the organization. It has never be stagnant or unresponsive to the most progressive ideas of sustainable development and impact in the region.
We need the community and the families to be invested in these kids too, Manning explains. So IC pays tuition, but the remainder of the fundraising for other costs must come from elsewhere. Students are also expected to maintain a high level of performance to keep their scholarships from year to year. These are financial strategies for IC but also, more importantly, strategies that IC hopes will encourage more local engagement in change and development.
|Jessica Goldman finds her school's name at Sacred Heart|
The second school we visit is girls boarding school called Sacred Heart. The campus is immaculate and lovely. As at Keyo, aphorisms about living well dot campus. "Stave off Evil."
Students at this school arrive the first day and are sequestered on campus for the duration of the school year, a strategy to keep them both safe and focused. A young woman in a well-tailored skirt suit greets us. Prescovia is an Invisible Children scholarship graduate and former Roadie who is now Academic Assistant to the Head Teacher.
|Girls at Sacred Heart watch us arrive|
Lilli Cairl, one of the girls on the trip, is thrilled to see Prescovia, the Roadie who visited her school in California when she was touring. These reunions continue throughout our trip as each of reconnect with Ugandans we'd met on Invisible Children tours.
|Lili Cairl reunites with Prescovia|
We visit a classroom where two of the girls demonstrate an Achioli dance. Three in our group, Carlie Frye, Kristin Pedley and Lisa Jayne, offer a few rounds of the Electric Slide in return.
Our final school visit is to the local Gulu high school, the largest of the three with over 1700 students. We are greeted by the Head Teacher, an older woman who will retire within the next year due to Uganda's retire by 60 rule. When I ask what she plans to do with her time after leaving the school and she tells me of a project to help rural kids become literate.
She leads us into a recently completed building that was funded by IC. The ground level is a room filled with new bookshelves and desks. Upstairs is an assembly hall with a stage that can seat 1000.
Outside in the courtyard hundreds of teenagers gather for announcements and a random assortment of broadcast music. I ask what percentage of kids in Gulu go to school. I am told the number is around 60%.
From that time on, every time I see a kid not in school, I think of that remaining 40%, left to sell cakes from street corners, if they are among the lucky few to get jobs. It's an important reminder of how much still needs to be done to help kids get to school.
After our tour, the Head Teacher invites us to see her office where we sign a guest book.
|A campus sign at Keyo Secondary School|