There is a well-known proverb that states: “to understand a man, you’ve got to walk a mile in his shoes.”
Students at Redeemer Christian High School (RCHS) in Ottawa participated in a 30-hour weekend event recently which they dubbed “The Ugandan Mile”, designed for students to walk a metaphorical mile in the shoes of homeless teens in Uganda.
The goal of the event was to support the Kwagala Ministries, a home for orphaned and homeless youth in Africa that was co-founded by Redeemer alumnus Robbie Palmer. Inspired by reading New York Times bestseller Kisses from Katie, Mr. Palmer travelled to Uganda in 2012 to see if he could help alleviate some of the troubles there. While there, he developed a relationship with Congolese youth pastor Raoul Mugosa, and the two of them rented a home to provide care for children living on the streets in Uganda.
Over the last few years, students at RCHS have stayed in contact with Mr. Palmer and the children at Kwagala Ministries via written letters, email, video, and Skype conversations. Mr. Palmer has remained involved at RCHS, occasionally speaking in chapels when he travels to Canada. By staying connected to the students, he has helped them to understand how to become active members of the body of Christ in communities outside of their own.
“He really encourages our student body to give back—to think of others before themselves, make sacrifices, and to be involved with the community,” shared RCHS student council member Mikaela Hummel.
Students at RCHS have created this ongoing relationship with the boys at Kwagala, and look forward to their weekly Skype calls together. “The boys at Kwagala are so full of joy,” shared Mikaela. “Everyone smiles and laughs when we Skype them as a class. They teach us how to speak their native language, tell us what they grow in their garden, and share with us more personal details like what they want to be when they grow up, what they did at school that day, or even what they ate for supper.”
Once a year, Redeemer students plan a weekend of activities to raise funds for the organization to cover the cost of a year’s worth of food, rent, toiletries, and other necessities for the twelve children there.
“The event is planned and run entirely by the student council, and students can participate voluntarily,” shared Redeemer teacher David Vance. “We had eighty students participate this year, which is just over half of the students at our school.”
Students were kept busy during the 30-hour event, which began at 8:00 on Friday morning and continued until the following Saturday afternoon. After school on the first day, the eighty students were divided up into seven “Ugandan tribes” to compete in various challenges in the school’s neighbourhood. Activities such as carrying water on their heads, sorting beans from rocks, eating insects, and washing dirty clothes by hand were all geared towards raising awareness of the activities that the children in Uganda are involved in on a daily basis.
“The point of the event is for our students to walk in solidarity with these boys, whom the students have gotten to know over the year through Skype calls,” said Mr. Vance. “In addition, the students research how to cook various Ugandan staples—mainly beans and rice—using only camping barbeques.”
[caption id=”attachment_13177” align=”alignleft” width=”300”] Blue and Purple teams participating in races[/caption]
Student council members also put in a great deal of time planning other activities for the two-day event, such as organized sports, board games, and movies. In the evening, participants were encouraged to perform musical pieces, tell jokes, share stories, and sing karaoke in a Coffee House atmosphere.
At the end of the first day, student council set up a game of “Midnight Madness”—a late night game played in the dark, which involved finding hidden student council members and getting a card filled out in the correct order without getting caught by “wolves”. According to Seth Hogeterp, student council Vice-All, “there was a lot of screaming and a lot of laughing.”
One of the highlights of the event for several of the students was the spontaneous worship time they shared in the middle of the night. Although students were given the option of sleeping at the school, many chose to stay awake, and members of the worship team led them in singing some of their favorite worship songs together. “It was just such a great opportunity to praise God,” shared Seth. “The best moment for me was when we sang the song I Love You Lord in acapella with four-part harmony. It was a moment where I think we all felt the presence of the Holy Spirit.”
The following morning, sleeping participants were woken up at 8:00AM, and groggy students were assigned the task of cleaning classrooms before they could eat their breakfast. For many, the experience of having to “work to eat” gave them an even deeper appreciation of the differences between their own daily activities and those of the children in Uganda.
The goal for this year’s event was to raise $21 500, and student council members were thrilled to learn that they had raised well above that, bringing in over $27 900. The money was raised entirely by students, who approached family members, church members, friends, and neighbours, asking them to pledge donations for their cause. In order to participate, each student had to raise at least $125, but according to Seth, most students who participated raised well above the minimum.
As a result of reaching their goal and surpassing it, students at RCHS were awarded a pizza party, and the boys at Kwagala got to have a “rollex party”—the Ugandan equivalent to pizza. As a way of thanking the Redeemer students for their support, the boys of Kwagala prepared a surprise gift—they performed an African dance in the courtyard of their home, which Redeemer students and teachers could watch through Skype.
“That was the most amazing dance we’ve ever seen,” teacher David Vance told the dancers afterwards.
The members of RCHS student council put in a great deal of time and effort making the Ugandan Mile event a highlight of the year. Although Mikaela admitted that the planning was a lot of work, and it was a bit stressful at times to get everything together at the last minute, she was thrilled at how smoothly everything went, and at the outpouring of financial support that came from the community to make the event successful.
In the end, students were most grateful to be given the opportunity to provide for the needs of others. The relationship they’ve built with the boys at Kwagala provides for a unique service opportunity that RCHS students have embraced for the past three years.
“This was a truly unifying event for our school,” shared Mikaela. “We had a lot of fun, but it was also a very practical way that we can give back and use the resources that God has so generously provided to us.”