Sharing the latest news about Hope and Resurrection Secondary

Suzanne Hicks and Panda speaking about Hope and Resurrection Secondary
I am excerpting some of the latest Hope for Humanity newsletter. There
is good news to tell.
Please read Suzanne Hicks first-person account
written from South Sudan where she is visiting as Executive Director of
Hope for Humanity to support the school’s re-opening after the tragic loss of two of its teachers in May.

From Suzanne:

Hope and Resurrection Secondary School will open it doors again in
just a week to continue caring for the academic, spiritual, and
emotional development of the future leaders of South Sudan because of your faithful partnerships with us. Thank you for your “extra” and “extraordinary” outreach to this mission during this tragedy.  It is because of the “extra” that we will be able to continue this work.


I arrived safely in the township of Rumbek on Friday, June 21 after three days of traveling and fell into the arms of our South Sudanese friends.
Their smiling faces were a comfort to a weary soul, and joy filled my
heart as we embraced once again.  In spite of my attempt to keep my visit quiet until the arrangements could be made for our Uganda teachers to join HRSS’s Principal Anthony Wal, Administrator Awut Agok, and me;
students from HRSS saw me as soon as I arrived in Rumbek and
immediately wanted to know when the school would reopen. 

My Facebook Messenger began to fill with messages and Awut’s phone began to ring as students sought to inquire and confirm that I was here.


Suzanne continues to share a conversation with a primary student
named Panda, and the conversation testifies to what Hope and
Resurrection Secondary means to the people from the communities

that it serves:

Panda comes and sits near me, but not too close.  She is waiting for an invitation She then gets very serious with me and while looking down as if something is very wrong, she tells me that she and the other primary school students have been very worried. They want to know why their teachers at
HRSS (Hope and Resurrection Secondary have gone before they were able
to come to the school.

Awut explains to me that it isn’t just HRSS students that have been concerned that the school would not reopen, but the whole township of Rumbek is
concerned including the young children.  HRSS is a very rare gem in this area.  Every child’s dream is to one day be a student there.  They work hard
on their primary school lessons in hopes that they can one day attend
HRSS. 

My arrival serves as a sign of hope that not all is lost in-spite-of the great loss we are feeling at the passing of our beloved teachers, Charles and Willis.
 
http://hopeforhumanityinc.org
Hope for Humanity, Inc., P.O. Box 29117, Richmond, VA 23242

Sad but not defeated

I write with the shocking news that on May 26, Charles Kule Mitsagharu and Willis Binsiima, Ugandan math teachers at Hope and Resurrection Secondary in South Sudan were shot and killed as they were traveling between Rumbek and the school.  This violent act was a case of mistaken identity. The men who committed the murders were seeking two men from Kenya as an act of revenge.  Headmaster Anthony Madang Wal was traveling with them, but his life was spared.  It occurred far from Hope and Resurrection Secondary and was not related to the school in any way. The deaths of two good and loyal teachers in such a violent way have caused pain, anger, and grief on both sides of the world.

Upon hearing of the news, some students considered going into the bush to find the men who had murdered their teachers.  Fortunately, they didn’t do that.  Instead, they marched from Atiaba to Rumbek, a distance of thirty miles.  They carried signs, and when they got to Rumbek, they went to government offices to demand justice.  They were met on the road by priests and staff members of the Catholic Diocese of Rumbek.  This organization has partnered with Hope for Humanity in several ways in the past.  When the priests could not dissuade the students from marching, they joined them in their march.  Once in Rumbek, the priests sheltered the students and teachers in the Catholic Diocese compound and provided counsel and care for them.

When Suzanne Hicks told me about the march, I responded with concern that they would not be safe and feared for their well-being.  But then Suzanne said, “Mary, they responded by doing what they have been taught at Hope and Resurrection.”  I saw in an instant that Suzanne was right. The students believe in peace and that disagreements are not settled by guns and revenge.  They do not trust that the government is strong enough to catch and punish the guilty men who shot their teachers, but they are demanding that justice be done through peaceful demonstrations and with their words.

This sad event reveals the progress and change that has gone on in the eleven years since Jim and I had to close the school early because of an ambush and killing of people of one clan by people of another clan.  The citizens have found their voices, especially the students of Hope and Resurrection Secondary.  Everything is out in the open for others to know.  The event has been shared on social media, and worldwide there is a cry for change that does not foster violent acts as the solution to conflicts.

The Ugandan teachers returned to Uganda with the bodies of Charles and Willis.  They asked Hope for Humanity to let them stay in Uganda for the next two months and that they will return in August to finish out the school year.  Their request is being honored.  Suzanne is going to the school with a hastily put together US team and will be there until August when the teachers from Uganda return.  The goal is to keep the school functioning as best they can, and to address the emotional healing of students from this trauma.

Through photos posted on social media yesterday, I witnessed from afar the scene at the airport strip in Rumbek of the chartered plane leaving with the Ugandan teachers and the bodies of their fallen colleagues.  Crowds were there—government officials, students and former students, and people from the communities which the school serves.  The tragic loss of the lives of Charles and Willis have profoundly affected the South Sudanese people who are longing for positive change in their society.  There is a collective cry for stability and order that is being raised and can’t be denied.

Sometimes I view Hope and Resurrection Secondary as fragile because of the challenges to provide quality education in rural South Sudan.  But this sad event shows that the school is strong, and its strength lies in the excellent character of its teachers and the young people it educates.  Our students are learning that violence solves nothing, that war is not the answer, and that there are joy and depth to life from the knowledge of literature, science, and math.  That the students responded to the loss of their teachers with a march, and their determination to see it through led to the Catholic staff and priests to join them, demonstrates in action their commitment to being a part of the change that needs to occur in South Sudan.

What is ahead?  The United Nations Mission in South Sudan has been an invaluable help to the Board of Hope for Humanity in transporting the teachers and the bodies of Charles and Willis back to Uganda, and this organization will be present at the Hope and Resurrection Secondary for support during the next weeks.   The months ahead will not be easy, but we are encouraged by the interest and care of others and inspired by the students’ and teachers’ courage and determination.

We are sad but not defeated.

For more information about Hope and Resurrection Secondary go to hopeforhumanityinc.org

Through the website, there is a way to donate to the families of Charles and Willis.

“R” Rated Post

The “R” stands for renewal, refreshment, and remembrance.  How could our four days at Holy Cross Monastery not be all the things that I just mentioned?

Jim and I joined the staff of Mission Personnel of the Episcopal Church and the ten people who will soon go out into the world as missionaries to places such as Jerusalem, South Africa, and Costa Rico. For our part at the orientation, Jim and I told some of our stories of mission—the joys and challenges and the opportunities to meet Christ in people in faraway places and different cultures. For us, remembering is sweet, and the telling of our experiences was received with interest and enthusiasm.

The setting of Holy Cross Monastery supported the work of the orientation. Situated on the banks of the Hudson River, Holy Cross Monastery is about a two-hour train ride north from New York City.  It is a Benedictine order which emphasizes the balance of work, study, and worship.  To share in their hospitality means that you are invited to enter into their Holy Routine of prayer at appointed times during the day.  The chapel is narrow with high ceilings, and the Brothers sit in choir stalls facing one another.  At the Compline service at the end of the day, the Brothers chant Psalms.  You can follow along in a service booklet, but I liked to close my eyes and listen to the deep voices singing the ancient words.  There was quiet, too.  The Great Silence begins after Compline and ends at breakfast.  The quiet is a relief to me—a structure of time and activity that leaves room to reflect on the day and renew your spirit.  The days at Holy Cross Monastery did, indeed, renew and refresh my spirit.

 

Jim and I know that each of the ten people (shown here with Presiding Bishop Curry) who have committed a year to share their talents with others somewhere in the world will have an extraordinary experience.  What awaits them are partnerships with people and communities which will at first seem very different from the United States, but the differences will fade as caring relationships develop.  They will come back to us with inspiring stories of God’s expansive grace and the beauty and strength of the human spirit.

 

For Jim and me, we will try to be more mindful of the Benedictine point of view that was modeled these last four days—seek balance, breathe deeply, and invite stillness to take in God’s presence.

Fireworks Are in Order

When a long-held goal that at first seemed almost impossible to meet finally comes to fruition, it is like fireworks bursting bright in a black sky.  I am referring to the goal that we had when Hope and Resurrection Secondary in South Sudan first opened in 2008.  We hoped that in the future part of the teaching staff would be South Sudanese.  This goal is beginning to be reached ten years later.

In 2008, there were no university trained teachers in South Sudan, and we were fortunate to find excellent teachers in Uganda who were not only qualified but also had an adventurous spirit to come and teach in South Sudan.  The number of staff has expanded, and teaching positions opened, and three of the newest hires are South Sudanese teachers.  I should add that they have attended a university and are qualified.

Two of the three new hires are graduates of Hope and Resurrection Secondary which makes their joining the staff especially sweet for those of us who sit on the sidelines and cheer for the school.

Two new teachers are former graduates of  Hope and Resurrection: Thon Bec Ate and Awut Mayom Agok.

Thon is all smiles as he interacts with the children of the village.

Awut encourages the girls to be their best.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As a secondary student, Thon was gifted in math, and that is the subject he is instructing the students of Hope and Resurrection.  Awut was one of the first three girls to begin in 2008.  Her degree is in the area of business which makes her excellent at helping with administrative duties.

But it gets better…

Can you imagine the inspiring role models that Awut and Thon are to the students at Hope and Resurrection?  A secondary education is still not the norm for many South Sudanese young people, and Awut and Thon are proof that higher education can be obtained.

Still better…

During our time at Hope and Resurrection Secondary, the students often told Jim and me that one of the reasons they wanted an education was to be able to help their community.  Their loyalty and sense of responsibility to their community is a shared value by many of the African people whom we have met in South Sudan, Kenya, and Tanzania.  It is one thing to say that you want to help your community and quite another to put it in practice which is what Thon and Awut are doing by becoming teachers for the young people coming behind them.

Patience, perseverance, and hope are what it takes for someone or something to be an agent for positive change.  Thon and Awut demonstrate patience and perseverance.  Much of the hope is delivered by Hope for Humanity, the Virginia based NGO that financially supports the school’s operation because of the generosity of many donors.

The information and photos in this blog post are from Hope for Humanity’s latest newsletter.  To read more good news follow this link www.hopeforhumanityinc.org.

If you would like to know more of my adventures in opening Hope and Resurrection Secondary, including snakes, intense rainstorms, and being given a Dinka name that has to do with a cow, check out my book, Lessons from Afar, available on Amazon.

Lessons From Afar

 

Lessons from Afar now available on Amazon

 Lessons From Afar, Authored by Mary Higbee  –  List Price: $9.99

Have you ever heard God’s irresistible call? Mary Higbee did. She soon found herself in rural South Sudan where she faced the challenges of opening a secondary school and connecting with people of another culture. On the other side of the world, amid scarcity and need, the author experienced God’s generosity and a life-affirming purpose and learned about trust, vulnerability, gratitude, perseverance, and non-judgment in profound ways. Lessons from Afar is more than a memoir because the book includes a variety of questions at the end of each chapter which invites the readers to consider how the life lessons learned in Africa can be applied to the circumstances their lives.
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A PERSONAL NOTE: I describe the mission to South Sudan as the hardest and the most wonderful thing that I have ever done.  I have tried my best to capture in words both the hardest and most wonderful parts of the school year at Hope and Resurrection Secondary in Lessons from Afar.  There is much for us to learn from our brothers and sisters on the other side of the world.  I hope that you will come with me to explore what they have to teach us.

Almost ready to publish…

         

Lessons from Afar is almost ready to be published. I am proofing the book now, and it will be available on Amazon in a few weeks. So that you can sample Lessons, I am sharing part of the Introduction with you.  Please take a look and let me know what you think.

 

INTRODUCTION to Lessons from Afar

 New experiences and difficult challenges often result in the development and growth of spiritual maturity. Lessons from Afar is about such experiences and challenges, and what I learned from them when my husband, Jim, and I served nine months as missionaries in Southern Sudan. In the rural village of Atiaba, we worked to open a newly built school named Hope and Resurrection Secondary.

We lived for a school year in Southern Sudan in 2008 during the small window of time between the end of a twenty-three-year long civil war and the violence and civil unrest that began in December 2013. Jim and I are among a limited number of foreign visitors that experienced the relatively peaceful and hopeful time that occurred during this period. Our stories of Southern Sudan need telling, for to judge the value of this culture by the horrific news stories of last few years is not to know the whole truth of people who love their families, want progress, and long for leadership that is not corrupt.

My missionary experiences do not always make pretty stories. As ready and committed as I believed I was when Jim and I boarded the plane for Africa, I often stumbled as I tried to live out the mission to help begin a secondary school. Through my stumbling, I learned to think and live in ways that were not about my comfort and convenience but were about how to develop the resilience to fall and, with God’s help, to get up again.

In Lessons from Afar, I relate my stories through the lenses of the many life lessons that awaited me in Southern Sudan. These life lessons were not new to me. They had been with me in all kinds of circumstances, yet I had not always integrated what I learned into my life in a lasting way. Living and working in a culture that was not my own made the lessons about trust, vulnerability, humility, perseverance, and non-judgment immediate and necessary for my emotional and spiritual well-being.

I invite you to accompany me as I recount my experiences in Southern Sudan in Lessons from Afar. I look forward to introducing you to some of the students of the first class of Hope and Resurrection Secondary and letting you glimpse the culture of the newest country in the world. This invitation includes the opportunity to pursue your own spiritual understanding by reflecting on the events of your life and Scripture passages.

On the other side of the world, amid scarcity and need, I experienced God’s generosity and a life-affirming purpose for me. Which brings us to the question that is at the center of this book: Can the lessons taught to me by God and the Dinka people of Southern Sudan be brought home to the United States for a life that is more abundant and generous? Please join me in seeking answers to that question.

 

 

 

How Success Is Measured

DSCN3152 - CopyWhen Jim and I made the appeal through this blog and Facebook for donations for teachers’ salaries at St. John’s Nursery and Primary School in Tanzania, we didn’t have in mind a specific amount that we hoped to raise.  We knew that any amount would be a success because it would be more than they had.

Yesterday over $2,000 was wire transferred to the Nursery School account.  That means that all the staff’s salaries are covered for about nine months of this year. This represents success in easing the strain on the school’s budget so that the staff can focus on education instead of making ends meet.

It is also a success in terms of the expanded interest and involvement of people outside of Tanzania.   Offering quality education in Tanzania is challenging because of lack of funds and resources, and it can be discouraging to those working so hard against the obstacles of poverty.  The funds that were sent for teachers’ salaries carry a message that the staffs’ efforts are worthwhile and noticed.  It says that they have partners.

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Rarely can anything of significance be accomplished singlehandedly as shown by people’s generosity in donating towards the salaries.  Jim and I appreciate the staff at Faith Episcopal Church who was willing to receive donations for this effort in the midst of the busy Christmas season because they made it possible for others to donate.  Thank you, Father Sean, Barbara, and Lynne.  Thank you all who donated and all who read this blog.

If during the busy Christmas season, you missed donating to the teacher’s salaries you can still do so and we can do a second wire transfer.  Would it be possible to raise funds to cover the last three months of salaries in 2018?

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Additional funds can be sent to Faith Church, 2200 Country Club Drive, Cameron Park, CA 95682 with checks made payable to Faith Church.  I think that you can give online by choosing “mission team” with the optional memo being “Tanzania.”

 

Wishing you all the best in 2018.

Mary and Jim

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Gifting-giving at its best

What if you could give a meaningful Christmas gift to someone who does not need more stuff?

As Jim and I leave Tanzania, we would like to raise money to support three of St. John’s nursery teachers’ salaries for 2018. Each mama makes $30.00US a month for 12 months. Would you give a month’s salary or more in the name of someone who would value such a gift?

Send tax deductible gift to:

Faith Episcopal Church

2200 Country Club Drive

Cameron Park, CA 95682

and mark for Tanzania. We will gather funds and make one wire transfer, and I will personally send a thank you note. It would do so much good to extend the nursery school budget. St. John’s provides quality education in one of the poorest regions of Tanzania. God bless.

What am I leaving in Tanzania and what am I taking?

Grace and I at the teacher meeting and training.

We are taking many good memories and connections to people who will remain in our lives via email. We feel appreciation for the hospitality of Grace and Festo Kanaugha and the work that they are doing in the Anglican Diocese of Rift Valley. Our host’s children have become dear to us–two-year-old William’s giggling and addressing Jim as Babu which means grandfather and my serious discussions with four-year-old Zephaniah about Spiderman will always be sweet memories. The small hands of the nursery school children holding mine as I walk home—all very good stuff.

Giving the certificates for the teacher training.

I am taking the sense of friendship with the nursery school teachers that was hard won. I had to prove myself—that I cared and knew what I was doing. I am leaving behind ideas. From prior experience, I know that not all Western educational best practices work in African schools. I have needed to be with the teachers these many weeks to determine what would be of value to them and how to respectively share the ideas. The last two days of meetings and training with the staff have been gratifying because together we came up with some solutions for the challenges ahead.

Staff of St. John’s Nursery School and Primary Grades 1 and 2.

I am taking away an increased understanding of poverty in rural Tanzania. Now that the rains have started, everyone has prepared their large gardens and begun planting. The moment the rain began, growing food became an immediate priority and entire families are involved in the hard work of tilling the soil by hand and planting. In a cash-poor economy and a place of limited employment, the food grown in gardens are critical to people’s well- being.

Jim and I leave behind some tangible gift. The nursery school classrooms now have shelves for storing teaching materials, the teachers have work tables and there are new textbooks thanks to many friends at Faith Episcopal Church in Cameron Park, California. Their generosity that made it possible to purchase those resources.

Stamping the new textbooks with the school stamp.

For me, being on mission is like standing very close to the edge of a steep cliff. I feel apprehension, but the view from the edge is so astonishing that I forget my fear. It is on the edge of my comfort zone that my Western veneer drops away and I see things with new clarity—the humanity of others living in very different circumstances from me, what an extraordinary gift life is, and God’s presence in all of it.

Homeward bound via a visit to Zanzibar.

Two Special Occasions

I will miss these children–bright, energetic, and full of hope and joy.

Special occasions in rural Tanzania are–well, extra special and done with hospitality and joy.  This week we were given a  going-away dinner and Class 3 graduated from St. John’s Nursery School.

Jim and I were given kangas and a beautiful wooden bowl.

 

Kanga-giving is accompanied by music and dancing and hugs all around

 

Graduating Class 3 with their proud teacher, Bertha.