Our day of surprises for the children was wonderful. It was heartwarming, and fulfilling, and it was a labor of love from groups all over the US coming together for this special day. You see, there were many people, really many groups involved in making this all happen.
The First Baptist Academy in Powell, TN donated gift packs for each of our students. There was a string bag, a pair of shoes, a wonderful handmade card, and a goodie bag for each child. The surprise pack included candy, a tiny flashlight (which they call a torch there), a toothbrush, toothpaste, and hair care supplies. All of these shoes and gifts were donated a while back, but shipping things to Zambia, especially 300+ packages is VERY expensive. By the time we could get the packages to Zambia, a new school year had already started, and the students had all grown. The academy had labeled each pair of shoes with a child's name and we were a little bit worried that they would no longer fit. We decided to just re-sort the shoes, and find their new owners. I'm not going to lie, I was a bit nervous that the shoes wouldn't fit everyone, or that we would have to many, or not enough of the right sizes. Our God is great, so clearly I was worried for no reason. You would think I would give up this worrying thing after all that God has done for us...
In Chattanooga the children from Redbank United Methodist Church had raised money for us to be able to buy backpacks for all of the children. Each child that helped to raise the money had sent a tag with their picture, and either an encouraging message or bible verse on the opposite side. The tag was attached to a keyring and our instructions were to attach a tag to each of the backpacks. We sent Obrine and Frank, two of our Teach One International board members, out to purchase nearly 300 backpacks. They had to go to store after store to be able to buy that many, but after a few days, we had boxes and boxes of backpacks that were about to bring joy to our students.
Giving out nearly 300 of anything to our students is a challenge. It takes planning, organization, time, and patience. We only had a few of us available to get the job done so we spent an entire day sorting and getting everything ready. My family, and Godfrey's family spent the day sorting shoes and tagging backpacks. Even our kiddos were able to help. It was all hands on deck (even cute tiny ones) to get ready for the next day.
The morning that we were set to give out all the wonderful gifts to the children, our transportation was late. We waited and waited for our bus that was to take us to the school. I'm a bit of a control freak... ok perhaps my life depends upon planning and being in control... so this delay was stressing me out! I was so worried that we would run out of time and not be able to hand everything out. The children start school at 7:30 am, the first graders are dismissed at 10:20 and the rest of the grades go home at 12:30. That's not a lot of time to fit nearly 300 students with shoes, give them a backpack, choose a goodie bag, take their pictures, and get them back in class. As the minutes ticked by, my anxiety level got higher and higher. When we arrived at the school we were determined to make sure every child got their gifts. You could literally feel the excitement level of the students when we walked into the school. They didn't quite know what was going to happen, but they knew that they would be getting something. They had seen us sorting boxes of shoes the day before so there was a buzz of excitement in the air.
The students are very serious even when they are excited. It's like they don't want to get to wild and ruin their chances or something. I gathered up all of the first graders and lined them up in the hallway. They were brought into the room one at a time, fitted for shoes, handed a backpack, given a goodie bag, and sent back out in the hallway to gather for a picture. As more students made it through the line, you could literally hear the excitement growing out in the hallway. They were peeking into their goodie bags, comparing their new shoes, admiring each other's backpacks, and reading the tags on their bags. We explained to each class that their shoes and backpacks were theirs to keep, that in fact they were now part of their school uniforms. We learned that in the past that when they were given gifts, that some were taken away from them once they took them home. Sometimes they were sold to make money for the family, sometimes shared amongst all of their siblings or family members. We showed the children the tags on the backpacks. We shared that each of these backpacks were donated and prayed for. These are just for you, we told them, they are yours and only yours and for you to keep forever. Now that they are part of their uniform, it will insure that they will get to keep them.
It was so wonderful to be able to take part in this special day. The children were excited, proud, and couldn't wait to run home with their new things to show their families. They took such care of their new things, wiping off their shoes and dusting off their backpacks each time they got dirty. It truly warmed my heart to walk into an empty classroom and see all of their backpacks sitting on their desks. Such a difference than the plastic grocery sacks and stacks of books from the weeks before.
Thank you so much for every single person who has donated money, donated items, donated time, and spent time praying for the ministry. Each one of those children has truly felt all of your love and prayers.