It was a whirlwind week, but an incredible one nonetheless! At the beginning of February our team of volunteers began to descend upon Uganda to be a part of designing a secondary school for Amazima Ministries. You can read more about Amazima and how our work fits into their ministry in my previous blog post.
We had an outstanding team – our group, which fluctuated up to 14 people, hailed from 7 different countries. This was cause for quite a stir when the Ugandan pastor of the church we attended noted that a group of “Americans” were visiting (blasphemy says the Australian!) but also set us up for lots of entertainment – we had fun one night belting out our national anthems and I knew the team was past introductions when they began to debate whose accent was the strangest. <grin> The volunteers carried a great range of experience in EMI projects (including 3 former interns and 3 volunteers with 18 combined trips between them!) and work back home which allowed us to accomplish a tremendous amount of work.
Our trip began with a site visit to the land where we met Amazima founder Katie Davis and their operations manager Brad Lang. Katie shared the history of Amazima and her own journey and how it grew from her moving to Uganda at age 19 to the program which now sponsors approximately 800 children in the Jinja areas. Helping with school fees and basic needs with personalized attention allows the children to grow and develop while remaining in their homes and in the care of their families. Now as they struggle with the discrepancy that there isn’t a solid secondary school in their area, they are forced to send their older children away to boarding schools in Kampala and Jinja. Thus the need for a quality secondary school close to the children’s homes.
As we talked about the 40 acre piece of land that will be the future site of the school, we were all struck by the beauty of the place. Katie said she had a hard time even picturing buildings there that wouldn’t detract from the land’s natural beauty (key design parameter for us). The key words, which became the theme for the week was peace and bounty (or plenty). We want to create a school that is a place of peace and which emphasizes the abundance of God’s provision and care.
One of the unique features of the trip was setting up a special brainstorming session with Amazima’s mentors. The mentors are Ugandan staff who oversee the child sponsorship program – working with the sponsored children and their families to provide personal contact, mentoring, and accountability – some truly remarkable people. Early in the design process, we invited the mentors to join us so that we could better understand the students’ preferences and framework for life and education so that the design would be relevant and appropriate. A long roll of trace paper wound back and forth as the architects began doodling with the mentors and it was amazing to witness the transformation as the early sheets were all written from one side (the architects) while increasingly the mentors became engaged in the process so that this became their school.
Our team went extremely hard during the week. The site/civil team dug holes in the ground on the site to determine the ground suitability for supporting buildings and for disposing of wastewater. They also investigated water supply and electrical options so that we knew how to properly design those systems. The architects took the initial survey and laid out zoning for the site, got buildings sized and located on the site and cranked out a bunch of floor plans. With the size of our team, we were able to design something like 9-10 buildings, put together in a solid Master Plan and create 3d renderings of most of these buildings to show how they will look and how the pieces will fit together.
Towards the end of the week, we took a break to join a group of Amazima’s secondary students for one of their times of worship and bible study. As one of the mentors spoke from Romans, it was so encouraging to hear the Word of God being taught by a Ugandan, to Ugandans in a way that was culturally relevant and theologically solid (unfortunately not that common). That the Amazima kids get this week after week was a good affirmation of the ministry. Although we all felt under the gun, it was special to have faces to put with the school we’ve been working on.
After 6 long days in Jinja, our team presented our work to the Amazima team for their comments and approval. It was a special night – the team presented well and everyone at Amazima was really happy with the design. Praise God for this approval that allows our team to move forward in confidence! Here are some pictures to give you a sense:
After the presentation, our team took advantage of the fact that we were at the source of the Nile river and stayed at a nearby retreat center for relaxation, reflection, and to spend some good team time together before we dispersed. As part of that time, we spent some extended time sharing about the things that God had put on their heart that week and ways that He was challenging them as they return back to their homes. Indeed, this was much more than a design trip – it was and was meant to be an opportunity to encounter God in a special way by being a part of His work here in our neck of the woods. It was beautiful to see God working in so many lives. Would you praise the Lord with us?
Now as our team is all spread out back to their homes, our Uganda side team (consisting of myself, another staff, and two interns) are responsible for taking the concepts developed during the week and compiling them into a publishable form. We will rely on our volunteers to support and guide us in our work, but the bulk of the task is ours as the volunteers return back to their various careers. Our goal is to have the Master Plan and all of the conceptual building designs completed by May. Would you pray with us that the Lord would empower our work in the next several months?