Gabe Flicker will travel to Uganda this month with a group of men, most of whom are from Pocatello, to install electrical conduit in a primary school that’s under construction.
Flicker, who serves on the board of directors for the Pocatello-based nonprofit Hands4Uganda, which is building the school, says the structure is 65 percent complete and they need roughly $115,000 more in donations to finish it.
“We are still very much under the original estimate given to us from our Ugandan architect, which was $320,000. If we stay within our current budget estimate provided by our contractor, the building will end up costing $251,000 total,” he said.
The two-story, 14-classroom building with indoor bathrooms and showers will be a far cry from its predecessor — the one-room preschool Flicker visited with a mission group nearly 10 years ago.
“When they first stepped onto the school grounds, there were 25 malnourished preschool students in a broken-down stucco building with no electricity or running water on one-third acre of land,” Flicker said. “There was a pit toilet just outside the school door and all of the educational supplies, school books and materials could fit into one large box. Students were writing their letters and numbers on dirt.”
Still, the children were fortunate to be at school.
Principal Betty Wasswa, who was lucky enough to receive a college education, started the Rock of Ages School with her own money in hopes of giving the children in her home village a chance for a better life.
“Betty was led to start Rock of Ages School because most of the children living in Mbiko are either without parents, their mothers are prostitutes, and/or their family has been overcome by crippling poverty,” according to hands4uganda.org. “Betty embraced the great importance and urgency for the children of Mbiko to attend school and decided to offer a free education to as many as she could.”
Some of the Pocatello residents who visited the school during the mission trip in 2010 — particularly Ariane Drake, who was just 16 at the time — caught Wasswa’s vision and founded Hands4Uganda to help.
“Many thought it was just a dreamy teenager with a blue-sky idea, but Ariane’s passion and persistence continued to move Hands4Uganda forward,” Flicker said.
And thanks to the generosity of churches and people primarily in the Pocatello and Bannock County area, Hands4Uganda has been able to make a lot of changes over the past decade.
They’ve renovated three buildings at the existing site, provided drinking water and sanitary restrooms, added a library and a playground, and set up meal and medical care programs for the students. In addition, they’ve hired more teachers and administrators at the nondenominational Christian school, which today is educating 350 students.
Drake says the children have also been transformed in recent years.
They used to be ill-behaved and would speak harshly to one another, she said. Now, they’re well behaved, kind and full of joy as they have a safe place to go every day and are getting the things they need.
“Coming and knowing their teachers and peers are rooting for them ... is huge and life changing,” Drake said.
Many have scored high enough on their exams to go on to technical high schools and pre-college programs, Flicker said.
But Hands4Uganda isn’t through yet. The current school is on rented land. It’s costly and there’s no room for them to grow, Flicker said.
“While there are so many more children in need, we are not able to provide a place for them in our program as we simply cannot fit any more students in our classrooms without compromising the learning environment,” he said, adding that their rooms are overcrowded even by African standards. “In addition, we do not have space for a soccer field, a government requirement.”
That’s why Hands4Uganda has purchased 3 acres of land in the area and is in the process of building the new primary school. They hope to complete it by November.
“The old school is located on rented property and our lease ends in December of 2019, which adds to the urgency of completing this new building,” Flicker said.
The upcoming trip should help with that effort. Flicker says he and Randy Fowler, who also serves on the board of directors for Hands4Uganda, are leading the team of 16 men to Uganda. Most are members of Grace Lutheran Church in Pocatello, and each participant has covered his own expenses for the trip that will take place from May 28 through June 11.
While there, the men plan to assist with community projects, visit the homes of students and install electrical conduit at the new school, Flicker said.
For now, Drake says they hope to power small things at the school, such as fans to help with the sweltering heat and a projector for use in lessons.
“(That will be) huge. Most schools in Uganda do not have any type of electronics in the room,” Drake said, adding that she hopes to add more technology in the future.
Eventually, Flicker said, Hands4Uganda wants to build a total of seven buildings on the site: the primary school for children in grades one through seven; a three-classroom nursery school for kids in PK-3 through PK-5; a dining hall/kitchen area that will include a stage for school gatherings, performances and community events; an administrative building with a teacher workroom, offices, sick bay and library; a guest house for mission teams visiting the school; and two buildings for teacher housing.
“It is customary in Uganda for a teacher’s salary to include housing, either on site or within the community,” Flicker said. “These apartment-style buildings will be able to provide housing for all teachers and their families.”
Flicker says they estimate the entire campus will cost around $1 million.
“We hope to complete the campus construction within the next 10 years. However, we are building only as we are able to raise the funds,” he said. “We have been very fortunate to have some extremely generous donors step forward within the past year, allowing construction of the primary school building to proceed much more quickly than we had anticipated.”
Once the campus is completed, Hands4Uganda hopes to serve 500 students and sponsor another 300 as they move through high school at other locations.
Flicker says their ultimate goal is to provide opportunities for the most impoverished children in Mbiko. They want to provide them a faith-based education, medical care and food, and foster a community of faith, love, intelligence and security.
“Many of these children are the result of mothers selling themselves on a nearby trade route just to survive. These students will enjoy an entirely different future,” Flicker said. “Breaking the chains of poverty, AIDS, and disease for just one generation will result in many generations of opportunity.”
Those who would like to contribute to Hands4Uganda’s efforts by donating funds for the school, sponsoring a child, or providing money for health care and food can do so by visiting hands4uganda.org.