There are pockets of the world that are gems; places you can travel where, although everyone around you is a stranger and everything is unfamiliar, you are welcomed as though part of a family - like you belong. That is how it felt when we visited Oasis Musoto. As soon as we arrived we were warmly greeted by children and staff alike and adopted into the team as though we were just returning from a long journey and not first time visitors at all.
Oasis Musoto is on the outskirts of Mbale, a town six hours drive from Kampala, the capital of Uganda. It's designed around communal areas and a few classrooms. Every space is used for school and community classes, activities and prayers. Back through the compound gates and along the dirt road, there is the football field where boys from the community come to play together at the weekend.
At the heart of Musoto you have a small but solid team who epitomise the values that Oasis stand for. They work so hard and show love in everything they do. One of the things I was most grateful for was how we were brought into that team and how much I learnt from that, from helping with PE to serving the children breakfast and lunch. They show innovation in everything they do together; small things I take for granted as an LSA, they have to source themselves. They are in the process of converting a shipping container into a computer room so they can expand their life skills project, they use the concrete floor of their largest communal space as a giant whiteboard for the children, they use bottle caps as manipulatives in maths, they create their own games with no equipment.
Musoto has an attitude that fosters learning, enabling children and young adults alike to actively participate in their personal development as well as their academic pursuits. I have never visited a school where you can walk into a classroom and find the students willingly teaching each other from the front but it happens here - no rehearsal, no forewarning - under the guidance of a watchful teacher, a child of three years old at the front of the class, teaching his friends. It's the next generation of teachers, community leaders and entrepreneurs that we're seeing. Oasis is giving them the tools and confidence to learn from each other, to leave this school equipped and pass on that knowledge to others.
The team are not only teaching children but they are empowering the entire community, from the children to the parents. One of our favourite events of the whole day was meeting Mary; a gentle and kind soul. She currently runs a money management service which not only provides education in how to budget & ensure members of the community don’t live beyond their means but also provides short term loans for small start-ups, provides a variety of training and organises small groups which support in the saving for business ventures and school fees. It started as a way to empower women but it has really engaged the whole community and now Mary has local women running nine groups across four villages around Musoto. The more she tells you about it the more you realise just how much she has achieved in the six years that she has pioneered this project. She is so humble - it's not her achievement, it's their achievement. In the future, she sees herself furthering her own education, developing a community bank within Musoto and establishing a permanent team to support her. She has such passion for what she does and a vision for the community that makes you want to say “Yes! I want to be involved!”.
Musoto has an attitude that says a person’s beginning does not determine their end, they can actually achieve something.
I met an amazing young lady called Martha while I was there. She is one of the many young people within the life skills project, where they are being taught skills they can make a living from. She is a cheeky and joyful sixteen year old and, like many of the young people we met, she had a tough start. We had such a good conversation about hard work and not letting other people limit your achievements. It was later in the day that she introduced me to her little baby and I felt total admiration for her and her determination to make a life for herself. She has self belief and hope for her family because of Oasis.
Oasis Musoto is so much more than just a school. The development in this rural community, and how it has personally impacted each of the people we spent time with, is tangible. The entire team is an inspiration and seeing their dedication to the community was incredibly humbling. They work tirelessly, make the most of everything they have, take care of each other and spread endless joy.
They go above and beyond to fulfil their mission statement:
“Inspired by the life, message and example of Jesus Christ, through whom God’s unconditional love for all people is expressed; Oasis is committed to working in an inclusive, integrated, empowering and comprehensive way so that all people experience wholeness and fullness of life.”
Oasis Musoto is more than a school; it stands for a sense of belonging, achievement and hope. It's a home and a family and I for one am so proud to be part of the Oasis family.