On Monday nights, as the sun begins to set on the town of Wobulenzi, street children begin to congregate around the small school house that Align Ministries purchased for Donela, a school named for Don and Elaine Herr, who manage Align Ministries from the United States. The children come quickly, and their laughter can be heard echoing throughout the schoolhouse as they congregate around the school’s swing set and merry go round. Several young girls come carrying their younger siblings, strapped to their backs with clothes tied in a knot on their stomachs. Some of the children hang back, clinging to the chain link fence surrounding the school yard. They smile, watching, but afraid to come near. School teachers beckon to them, starting games of tag and hide and go seek with children that are used to being beat by their parents on a regular basis.
Afterward, the children are called into the school building, where they are taught songs and dances, and new games to play. A teacher tells them about Jesus, and they listen, playing with ribbon, or loose threads on their clothing, as they learn about a God who loves them, and cares about their sickness and poverty.
Wobulenzi is the second of three Donela schools in Uganda’s Luwero district. Bombo Pentecostal church began the schools in partnership with Align Ministries, in effort to reach the most impoverished and underprivileged children in the towns of Bombo, Kakooge and Wobulenzi. Many of the children at the school are on sponsorships through Life With Hope, a ministry reaching children affected by, or infected with, AIDS. Others have been brought to the school in exchange for manual labor, or donations from their parents’ harvesting of Casava roots or Maize.
At Donela, children are provided with two substantial meals a day, for many of them the only food they get throughout the week. Teachers here are taught to use the rewards system to train their students, a unique anomaly in a country where most teachers beat their students on a regular basis.
Millie Ojera said she remembers having regular scars and bruises from school, as a young girl.
“You were beaten for every mark that was wrong,” Millie said. “So if you got a seventy, you were struck thirty times. Even if you got ninety nine, you were beat once. You were beaten all the time, and each teacher tucked a stick away to pull out and beat you whenever they wanted to.”
When Millie helped to begin the Donela schools through the church that her husband pastors, she took special care to make sure that the children attending would never be beaten.
“It has been hard to re-train the teachers, they are so accustomed to physical punishment,” Millie said. “But they are learning.”
Wobulenzi is the smallest of the Donela schools. Oscillating between 11 and 14 children, the school takes its place beside Bombo, which has 250 children, and Kakooge, which has 92.
While the Donela schools are providing education to children that could not otherwise afford it, they are also providing meals for children that would otherwise go hungry, and giving jobs to teachers that would otherwise find themselves without opportunity. Lastly, the schools provide a way for the churches in their communities to reach out to the families of needy children, and provide a safe place for them to play, grow and hear about a God who cares about their need, and wants to help them find new life – both physically, and spiritually.