That is what my neighbors told me when when I told them the whole story. You see about 4 months ago during a normal day at Skuli ya Imani we had just finished our story and were listening (well, mostly) to announcements about the coming week when one of my students raised his hand and then shared his opinion that we needed uniforms at our little school. I actually responded by laughing as I thought they were kidding but it was very clear by the looks on their faces that they were indeed very serious and everyone shared his desire. School uniforms are BIG here and they are worn with pride because not everyone can go to school. It is a sign you belong, you are part of a group and that matters a lot. I told them I thought we probably did not need them considering we are not a full fledged school but they quickly countered by explaining that we were a real school and that when we go on trips (we had only ever been on one trip) we need to wear them so everyone knows who we are. All the kids echoed this suggestion and soon a flurry of discussion broke out that we could wear them "when we go to Dar" or "when we fly to America" one suggested. It was hilarious and very clear they had big plans. I listened and thought about it and told them that we did not have money for uniforms since they do not pay to study here and I knew asking their parents would bring a hardship as many struggle to have enough money for notebooks for the government schools. But I did tell them we could pray right then and there and ask God to provide the money if He indeed wanted us to be a uniform wearing school of sorts. He had provided in so many amazing ways since we started way back when. Remember when we started? They agreed and we prayed together. I dismissed the kids after they finished their writing exercises and really did not think much about the issue again.
Until a day and a half later when I got an email from a dear friend that used to live down the street from me in Chicago. Now, I digress but with good cause to explain that friends that live down the street from you in the city are fast friends for they appreciate the diversity, the noise, the lakefront, the vibe as much as you do. They long to escape small condos in the winter and can often be seen at the neighborhood coffee shop or play groups as mere survival and coping tactics. We actually met in an uber granola birthing class and I remember the first thing that struck me was that she was one of the most beautiful pregnant women I had ever seen. Along with some other women and first time mamas in our neighborhood we formed an informal Mama's group and met together regularly. I also used to babysit her son and parade him and Anni around the neighborhood passing them off for twins since they are a week apart. In the many things about leaving Chicago that was painful these women and their kids top my list. She (and I) have since had more babes and both moved a pretty far distance. Me: obvious, her: L.A. We still catch up a bit in cyberspace but getting an email from her still was a surprise. First, greetings from their family and was there anything she could send for our school. WHAT? Just then the prayer offered up just a day and a half before on the other side of the planet from her flooded my mind. The prayer offered (at least by me) only half believing it would be answered. Again, I am grateful God is more faithful than us. Every time. God is good. Really good. Instead of filling their home with more stuff for her son's birthday she thought of us, of my students, and wanted to encourage them and bless us here in lieu of presents. Wow. Awesomeness is all I can say. I replied that my students really wanted uniforms and God had already provided the money we needed for notebooks, pencils, rulers, etc. She was pumped and the plan started taking shape. My students here would design a logo and then I would pass it along to her. She found a really cool NGO in L.A. that helps formerly gang involved youth receive job training and use their skills called Homeboy Industries. It was settled: kids in L.A. would receive a logo drawn by kids in Tanzania and they would print the shirts in our chosen color (there was a HUGE debate about this folks). I found a local fundi here that came and measured all the kids for skirts and pants (the boys wanted long pants because that was all the more fancy). The skirts were sewn by a friend who needed some money for a trip to help her sister give birth. Everything worked out brilliantly.
Then we waited and waited for the shirts. The first date we had scheduled for a field trip to a national forest here came and went and my students opted for not going without their uniforms. They could wait until they arrived so that we would all "pendeza" (look fabulous). Another week passed and finally one dented box made it here. That was only half the shirts but we held out hope the rest would arrive and planned the field trip for that Saturday. Everyday Jason or myself checked the post office and still notta. Remembering the great package debacle of Christmas 2011 that only made it to us after 6 months I began to get nervous. And I prayed. A lot. Finally Jason went to the post office the Friday before the trip and still nothing. I was beyond bummed and the watoto; who at that point were making hourly checks as to if the shirts had indeed arrived, were so disappointed. That day was crazy as it was the last day of the Teacher Training Seminar and we were madly putting together their gift bags and planning. I had to run back into town last minute because the pictures that we were told would take 3 hours to develop would now take 6 and we needed them for the teachers that afternoon. There are no quick errands in Africa folks but I tried my best to fly in and out of the picture place asking them to forgive me for being in a rush. Just about to head home and I decided to try one last time at the post office. It was pretty much a lost cause but with buses reserved and kids waiting at my home all day to hear the news of shirts arriving I decided maybe I need to have a little more faith. We are the School of Faith after all! I pulled in past the uniform guard and slammed the car in park with 8 minutes until I would officially be late for the seminar and checked the PO box again. Empty.
But I still had this feeling. I went inside and ......this is where you may just think I am crazy and in my defense I have admitted to being nuts many times...I got on my knees at the counter and prayed the box was there somehow. The guys that work there know us well and again told me that my package was not there. I asked if he would check one last time as I shared the pathetic story of my eagerly waiting students. C'mon who can't feel sorry for some cute little kiddos? and begged that he check one more time because we prayed and prayed. He sighed and in an effort to humor me returned to the store room to look. I waited. When he emerged 2 minutes later he had a US Pre-paid box in his hand I almost peed myself. Seriously! He said it had "just arrived." Now anyone who knows the woes of the postal service in Africa can attest this was a miracle. I was so grateful and started jumping up and down affirming my "crazy white lady that prays at the post office" persona. I was celebrating! I was late for the seminar but did not care one bit since I had in my hands the rest of our uniforms. After the seminar word traveled fast and kids were in and out of our home all night getting the right shirts and delivering them to other kids until we were sure everyone was ready for the field trip the next morning. Sizes are a bit big because I had apparently forgotten that American kids are monster big compared to African kids but they still look smart (I feel so British using that word) in their Skuli ya Imani uniforms.
The uniforms asked for in hope, made in generosity, cared for by God, and now worn with pride and love. Miracles happen.