Don't Forget Us...
Pastor Isaiah’s story
All week we had driven round dusty tracks to remote village schools. Pastor Isaiah was always at the front of the bus, always smiling. He was one of a group of church pastors working together to help this forgotten community.
At each school the children had been eagerly awaiting our arrival and rushed out to greet us, shouting excitedly. At each school we were shown into the headmaster’s office. Horrified we learnt the harsh facts: children arrive at school around 7.30am, returning around 5.30pm, often walking 3 miles daily. That is a day, every day without food or water. No water for drinking and no water for sanitation. There are no wells in the school grounds. There are no significant resources: each class has one textbook, per subject per class. The classes were overcrowded; up to 180 per cramped classroom.
On the last day we arrived at Pastor Isaiah’s church school. It was the only school with a well; it is a good school. Because it is a good school it is so popular children sit outside – there is no room in the classroom. The school is crowded because it teaches English which is discouraged by the government. (English is the official language of Uganda).
That Sunday we were at his church.
Afterwards we had lunch, cramped in a tiny school office. It had just a table and a tiny cardboard box in the corner with all the school’s books. His story unfolded. Did he have a family? Yes, 17 children but 9 ‘were in the ground’. Had we heard what I thought he had just said? Yes. 9 of his children had died from malaria which is pervasive in this region where there is no medication and nets are too expensive.
We sat on the grass outside enjoying the sun. We looked at a small piece of land – for sale for just a small sum with which he could increase the church but this was way outside his reach. He had already sold all his cows – his livelihood – and his car – his transport to reach villagers in his church over a wide area and he was not a young man – to provide the village with its only medicine. Some vitamins for undernourished expectant mothers, some malarial treatment, a few antibiotics and aspirin. However there was no fridge, essential for some of the medication and no -one to dispense the medication. But without his sacrifice there was no healthcare in this area. Out of the little he had, he had provided all there was. And he was justly proud of this small cabinet.
On the last day, still with us and still smiling we said goodbye.
‘Don’t forget us,’ he said.
‘How could we?’ I replied, ‘You’re too difficult to forget.’