In the heart of the savannah, at the center of the school, we gathered on the cool cement floor of the Lalela hut.  This hut is in the middle of the Hope North Secondary and Vocational School campus in Northern Uganda.  The school was founded during the bloody civil war by the incomparable humanitarian, Okello Kelo Sam.  It is a rescue and safe-haven for children.  I’ve been travelling there with my Niteo Africa teams almost every year since 2013.

This year our trip would be different.

This year, we sat with the school leaders and spent the whole day in literacy leadership training.  We shared our hearts for reading directly with the student leaders (prefects) and their teachers. I asked for equal boys and girls to attend our training and the wise headmaster chose the younger ones, who had the capacity to invest for longer.  The books we originally gave to the centre were sparse and in disarray, but, we forged ahead.  Our facilitator, Mrs. Jamie Henderson, author of the literacy training, began with humility…

In our first hour together, we read the Niteo Literacy Manifesto.  In small groups, the students began working on illustrating the most important words or phrases from the manifesto.

We thought the activity was about reading, literacy, and books.

But, the next moments were as filled with glory and beauty as the Ugandan sunset…

The children wrote and drew.  They designed and coloured.  Their teachers did too.  It unfolded slowly.  And then they spoke.  With timid voices, laced with generational  trauma from war and poverty, they heralded the biggest ideas about the purposes of reading, really the purposes of life:

“Inclusion.”

“Connection.”

“Transformation.”

“Liberation.”

They pulled their ideas from the manifesto.  We didn’t have to tell them or teach them or try to convince them.  They knew what matters most.  They named it with the voices of the vulnerable and oppressed.  But, they definitely knew what they were dreaming about.

“Someone who cannot move and live a normal life because he is pinned under a boulder has more time to think about his hopes than someone who is not trapped in this way….the salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the power to reflect, in human modesty, and in human possibility.”  ~Václav Havel

What matters most is universal.  You can find it deep in your heart.  It is the same cry for us all.

We were only there to whisper, “It’s in the books.”

For the sake of the children,

Karine