A Bracelet's Path for Deaf School Uniforms
In the summer of 2016, I was part of a mission team consisting of Deaf, hard-of-hearing and hearing United Methodists from across the US. We traveled to Africa to work in Deaf schools, churches and communities in Kenya and Zimbabwe. Before our trip, we collected offerings, monetary gifts, and supplies from a myriad of groups: Jews, Catholics, Presbyterians, United Methodists and individuals supporting this mission.
In Zimbabwe, we worked at a deaf school, Nzeve (means “ear” in the local language). Nzeve had a fundraiser selling bracelets that read: “Communicate: Learn Sign Language.” I purchased a handful of the bracelets to support the school, thinking I would decide later what to do with them, but God had a plan for the bracelets, I just didn't know it yet.
The bracelet: From Zimbabwe to Kenya
After our wonderful week in Zimbabwe, we flew to Kenya. In Kenya, there are about 37 Deaf schools that are supported by churches, communities, non-government organizations and the Kenyan government. One of the schools we visited, Njia Special School, has 160 students most of whom are Deaf or are hearing with various physical or cognitive disabilities. Located in a small community near Meru, Kenya, Njia (pronounced gee-ah) is a residential school about a 5 hour drive north of the capital city of Nairobi.
The teachers at Njia work diligently to provide a good education to the primary and secondary age students. The needs are great as the school struggles to provide the basic essentials for the children. Uniforms are one of these crucial needs. The majority of the students only have one school uniform each and most of these are tattered.
Our mission team, led by Carol Stevens of the Peninsula-Delaware Annual Conference Deaf Ministry, dispersed the donated funds and supplies to purchase furniture for the dining hall, start a food/fundraiser chicken project with freshly-hatched chicks and feed, begin a garden project, provide classroom teaching supplies, set-up a water collection project and provide an estimated 30 new uniforms Yet, from our team's observation of the students, we saw a much greater need than for just 30 new uniforms.
The bracelet: From Zimbabwe to Kenya to Minnesota
After being gone nearly a month, I arrived home in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I was only home 4 days before I left for Minnesota. Jet lag had disrupted my sleep and I had much to do between trips. I didn't give much thought to the bracelets, but tossed them into my luggage to take to Minnesota.
I brought the bracelets to St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota for the national meeting for Episcopal, Evangelical Lutheran and United Methodist Deaf. During a board meeting of the United Methodist group, Carol Stevens showed me an email from Njia School with the happy students in their new uniforms. Unfortunately, the cost of each uniform was more than expected, so fewer student received them. What can I do to help this situation? The bracelets! I could sell, barter, or auction the bracelets to raise money for more uniforms! Thank you, God, for Your inspiration and Your plan!
During the Saturday evening program, our conference host, Dorothy Sparks of Bread of Life Deaf Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, asked for all meeting participants to gather around a map of the world to pray for the Deaf. Once gathered, God provided the right moment for me to announce the need for uniforms at Njia Special School, in Kenya.
I placed one of my bracelets, a red bracelet, on the map of Africa. After we all prayed for the Deaf around the world, I retrieved the bracelet from the map, and gave it to Pastor Ruth Ulea, a Deaf Lutheran pastor from Nigeria. That red bracelet is a reminder to her of our continued prayers and support. She is taking that bracelet back to her home, in Africa. Other conference attendees from around the USA who donated to the Njia uniforms received a bracelet, as well, including United Methodist Bishop Peggy Johnson.
During our last worship service in St. Paul on Saturday, July 23, an offering was given to support the school uniform needs at Njia. The offering amount was $252. Combining the amount raised through offering and bracelet sales, the money total was $667. At approximately $10 per uniform, that is roughly 67 new uniforms!
The bracelet: From Zimbabwe to Kenya to Minnesota to Nigeria and across the United States
I am thinking about the path of that red bracelet to Pastor Ruth: purchased in Zimbabwe and inspired by the needs of Kenyan Deaf school students, prayed over in America—that red bracelet returns to Africa.
As for the other bracelets, after traveling halfway across the globe to Minnesota, they are now dispersed across the USA. These bracelets with “Communicate-Learn Sign Language” have supported and will continue to support Deaf missions through our prayers and contributions.
Thank you for your prayers and support for this uniform project. Thank you for your prayers, and if you would like to make a donation to this school uniform project, please send a donation payable to “UMCD,” with the memo “Njia,” and mail it to Linda Ford, UMCD Treasurer, 7405 S. Granite Ave., Tulsa, OK 74136.
Zimbabwe/Kenya Mission Team Member
Deaf Education Teacher