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The Youngest First Grader

April 25, 2014

After nine months relaxing in the cushioned comfort of his mother’s womb, baby Namoki now spends his days quietly sleeping on the divoted concrete floor in the back of his older brother’s classroom at Lokiding Primary School.

Karamojongs like Namoki have it rough from day one.

What would be considered neglect in the West is necessary for survival in Africa. In this area of Northeast Uganda, progressing though school is not a typical right of passage. CWS staff speculates that only around 20% of children here attend. Nomoki’s older brother, Kapel Namuya, has to take his little brother with him to attend school. During the day, fathers are occupied herding livestock, and mothers are busy crop farming, fetching water, cooking, and doing everything else, so traditionally much of the responsibility of child rearing falls on older siblings.

Kapel likely already realizes school is variedly essential. The earliest memory I have of my academic life is not staring at a blackboard, but on my elementary playground encircled by Indiana cornfields with my best friend, Jahan. I made my first Asian friend at school. I made my first black friend at school. I made my first deaf friend, Muslim friend, gay friend, and Latino friend—all at school. With youthful ignorance of the enmity culture gradually seeks to ingrain, we befriend those whom society demeans and are able to discover discrimination’s stupidity in a more personal and meaningful way than by merely glossing over the civil rights movement in history class. School has not only increased my knowledge of academic subjects, it has made me less of a bigot.

US Americans like to put people in categories, but it might come as a surprise that Africans do the same thing. Similarly to the way we sort white people as Greek, Irish, or German, Africans group people by their tribe. There are over 60 different tribes in Uganda alone, and again, just as in the US, these types of classifications can lead to discrimination.

For many years, Uganda has been affected by violence among different villages, tribes, sexes, and militias, including Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army. Bringing children of diverse groups together at school is helping diffuse sectarianism as they inevitably ingratiate themselves to kids they would not have otherwise encountered. By supporting Lokiding and other area schools, CWS fosters mutual tolerance and respect for a safer Karamoja, so little Namoki can continue to sleep soundly for years to come.

Learn more about CWS Africa School Safe Zones

Joel Cooper serves as a Global Mission Intern with the Church World Service East Africa in Nairobi, Kenya.  He serves as Community Communicator.

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