Dear Family and Friends,
After returning from our month-long trip to Uganda, we wanted to express our heartfelt thanks and appreciation, once again, for your support. Now that we have returned home, we wanted to tell you about what your help allowed us to accomplish in Putti Village, as well as a bit about the experience of living in Putti.
From the minute that we arrived at our mud-floor guest home in Putti, the members of the Putti community astounded us with their hospitality and warmth. Community members visited us in our home at all hours of the day, teaching us the local language (Lugwere) and local traditions, sharing their music and engaging with us in discussions about religious beliefs and practices. We immediately started building friendships with community members, and became especially close with “the youth,” the young men and women in our age group.
Our teaching responsibilities were split between three groups: the women, the children (ages 6-14), and the youth (ages 21-25). Since the women and children had had very little formal Jewish education, we primarily worked with them on learning to read and write Hebrew. We also studied various brachot (blessings) and tefillot (prayers) with them. The youth had a stronger background in Jewish education; they could read Hebrew and had been exposed to certain areas of Jewish law and Torah. We taught them about tefillah (prayer), Jewish history and pertinent areas of halakha (Jewish law). We focused on developing their learning skills so that they could continue to educate themselves and the other members of the community. For these formal lessons, the posters, whiteboard, markers, notebooks and pens that we bought before our trip proved to be invaluable resources. We were able to leave extra supplies with them so that they can continue to utilize them after we leave.
Since many of the adults work far from Putti, few of them are around during the week. As such, Shabbat plays a crucial role in community life. After Friday night and Shabbat morning davening, we taught the entire community about the weekly Torah portion, the laws of Shabbat and the laws and history of the Three Weeks. We felt that it was especially important to model participation in Jewish life as Jewish women, and so we sat on the papyrus mats on the synagogue floor of with the girls to show them the prayers inside the siddur (prayer book). On Shabbat afternoons, we told stories from the Torah to the children.
Everyone in the community proved to be eager, enthusiastic learners. The children always wanted to learn more between lessons. In the evenings, after completing their after-school chores, they would take the Hebrew alphabet chart and sing the aleph bet song, or practice writing their names in Hebrew on the whiteboard or on the dirt floor outside. Also, although the youth rent rooms near their boarding school in Mbale, they often walked the 15 kilometers back to Putti just to study with us, because as they said, “Your lessons are very important to us.” And in our final meeting with the community, they emphasized how important education is to them. The youth promised to continue teaching Hebrew to the children after we leave. According to some emails which we have received from the youth since we left, they have already begun this task.
Aside from our lessons, we provided some tangible support to the community. In addition to the school supplies that we already mentioned, we also brought many Jewish books with us that we left with the community. Mindy’s synagogue, Keter Torah, contributed many siddurim and chumashim that were put to good use. Before we left, we organized and labeled the growing library according to topic. We hope that with our help, the community members will now be able to use the books in their library with greater ease.
We contributed part of the money that you gave us as financial support. During our time in Putti, there was a drought which threatened the seasonal crop. As a result, the price of food skyrocketed, and so Rabbi Enosh asked us to help pay for the monthly supply of rice, the village’s main staple. We also supported a campaign to aid families suffering from a more severe famine in northern Uganda. Additionally, the youth were scheduled to take their university entrance examinations during our time there. Unfortunately, two of the youth were unable to afford the exam fee, and so we sponsored their exams, facilitating their access to university education.
Beyond the lessons that we taught and the support that we extended to the community, we all learned an incredible amount while we were there. We experienced life as many Ugandans live it: we ate local food (an assorted diet of rice, sorghum, millet, maize, ground nuts, beans and mangoes), slept in a house similar to their own, and attempted to help out with daily activities (including harvesting and shelling beans, shredding cabbage and splitting firewood). We were astounded by the resourcefulness of the community, and how they make do with their modest subsistence wages. We were discouraged by how hard it is to seek and receive medical help, and how little opportunity there is in the country for employment. But what touched us most deeply is the community’s staunch commitment to education, both secular and Jewish, and the relative open-mindedness of the Putti community, in an area that is often wary of Western values. As the chairman of the community announced one Shabbat morning after davening, “When you educate a woman, you educate a nation.” We were proud to be afforded the opportunity to teach in a place that shares some of our deepest held values.
Above all, we come home knowing that our partnership with Putti has just begun, and we invite you to join together with us. If you would like a pen pal in Putti, we would be happy to arrange it; those community members who already were paired with pen pals could not stop expressing their gratitude for this opportunity. If you would like to sponsor a child’s tuition, we know of so many children in need of this; the price is modest and the benefits of education are immeasurable. The local health clinic, which often has no medication for weeks at a time, is also in dire need of financial support, so that it can continue to provide free medical care to the low-income community in which it is based. And, on a bigger scale, the Putti community dreams to start a school of their own, where they can teach Jewish, as well as secular studies. Many of the adults are trained as teachers, so with your support, this project can become a reality. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have questions about any of these projects, or are interested in any of them. Also, we would be happy to present Putti’s story to schools and synagogues in the New York area, so please contact us if this interests you. We have been so blessed with your partnership, and we hope to collaborate on many more meaningful projects in the future.
If you have pledged money, but have not yet had the chance to give it, and are still interested in so doing, you can do so through our blog or by emailing us.
To learn more about our experiences in Uganda, we encourage you to visit our blog (www.shalomuganda.wordpress.com), where you can read some of our funny stories, learn some Lugwere words, and see photos and videos from the trip. We have included one our favorite video clips here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-KFP4BzIRt4.
From the depths of our hearts, thank you, again, for enabling us to do this.
Mindy and Beruria