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Teacher plans Uganda trip to work with child victims of human trafficking

The hubbub of 28 first-graders, Boulder Creek Elementery School teacher Alicia McCauley of Redding quietly says “Shh, shhh” five times as she counts down silently by bending in sequence the fingers and thumb on her outstretched hand.

Like magic, the room quiets and children hurry to take their places on colored squares of carpet.

When the five-second countdown ends, all is quiet and the children are sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of a Smart Board, a large white writing surface that captures her pen strokes and transmits them to a computer screen across the room.

For the next 10 minutes, the children focus on dictating and choosing just the right words for a form letter they will copy later inviting family members to a school musical, “Goin’ Buggy.”

The calendar is close to running out for the school year, but Mrs. McCauley has once again worked wonders in teaching her young students how to collaborate on a writing project with a purpose that is both fun and full of learning.

Some of the more successful writing techniques Mrs. McCauley uses were picked up during summer workshops put on by the Northern California Writing Project in Chico, a chapter of the National Writing Project that hones the skills of teachers who want to do a better job of teaching writing.

While most teachers are looking forward to a summer away from books, grading papers and classrooms, Mrs. McCauley is packing her bags for a globe-trotting trek to the African nation of Uganda where she hopes to use writing as a way of healing the young child victims of human trafficking.

That idea grew out of a motivational speech given in December 2011 by one of her favorite authors, Donald Miller.

“He came to speak in Redding. He was talking about Bob Goff, the founder of Restore International in Gulu, Uganda. I filed it away as an interesting notion until I realized in February that I didn’t have any plans for my summer off,” Mrs. McCauley said.

“I felt stirred. I remembered Restore International so I found a video about two men from the Pacific Northwest who went over to Uganda to build a schoolhouse for 250 children and they built it out of compressed dirt with almost no money,” she explained.

She then went to the Restore International Web site and found a challenge. With its stated goal as fighting injustice, the non-profit organization “seeks to find daring and audacious ways to combat human rights violations, including forced prostitution and slave labor. Instead of just talking about it, we want to be actively seeking ways to bring hope, justice, and restoration.”

With some trepidation, Mrs. McCauley emailed Goff at the Restore International school in Gulu with her proposal to spend a month in Uganda making full use of her teaching and writing skills to help abducted children rescued from a life of forced prostitution or boy soldiering.

“I have moxie to spare but I’m not very daring. I’m not a contractor or a lawyer, so it didn’t seem like I had any of the skills they needed. I emailed Bob Goff and offered to build children up by allowing them to tell their stories in their own writing,” Mrs. McCauley said.

“Then I waited to hear back from them. I waited to feel confirmation from God that this was what I was meant to do. I waited for weeks. I didn’t hear a thing. Then it struck me, chances are if I wasn’t hearing God, it wasn’t because he wasn’t speaking. It was because I wasn’t listening,” she wrote in a blog to family and friends.

That is when she did a very daring thing.

“I turned off my television for 10 days. I know it doesn’t sound very daring, but for me it was. I decided that for 10 days I would actively pray and listen for direction. In the third day of my fast from television, the founder of Restore International emailed me back. He loved my project idea and specifically wanted me to work with students at their academy in Gulu, the very same academy that had been built from just dirt,” McCauley wrote in her blog.

Mrs. McCauley’s love for writing was developed at an early age when she would read piles of books and create her own poems.

“As a child, there was no greater feeling of empowerment than seeing my own writing in print. My goal in Uganda is to prompt children to write about something concrete like their bodies. Then, through cubing — looking at something from six different sides such as their ties to family, memory, etc., — the writing assignment will lead children from the concrete to the abstract, from the physical to the emotional story of their life experiences,” she said.

“My goal is to be able to give each student author a copy of the anthology that we will prepare as a group during my stay. Copies of the anthology will also be sold with any net proceeds donated back to the school for future writing projects,” Mrs. McCauley said.

Her husband Terry McCauley, a bank auditor, is offering full support for her mercy mission of a trip, but cannot accompany her because he will be involved all summer long in an audit.

“Terry has been incredibly supportive of this big dream of mine and I know I am blessed to have a husband who helps me follow my heart, even when it takes me to Uganda,” she said.

“I think this is going to be a real fabulous experience,” Mrs. McCauley added.

“Are you scared?” is the one question she is most often asked about the project.

“Surprisingly, I’m not frightened. I don’t feel God would call me into something that wasn’t safe,” said Mrs. McCauley, 34, who has been going on Neighborhood Church mission trips to Mexico since she was 14.

The next question on everyone’s lips is, “How can you afford the trip?”

She and her husband had intended to personally finance the venture, but so many family members and friends were touched by the project’s selflessness that they begged to be allowed to contribute towards the book publishing costs, she explained.

After posting a link to her PayPal account along with a description of the trip and its purpose, Mrs. McCauley said she has received donations of more than $900.

“I think people are excited about the project,” she said, barely suppressing a giggle.

In early June, after watching her husband run a marathon in San Diego, Alicia McCauley will board a plane bound for the Ugandan capital city of Entebbe.

There, she will eventually meet up with Colin Higbee, a high school social studies teacher from Oklahoma City, Okla, and head to Kampala. From there, the two adventurers will travel by postal bus to Gulu where Higbee will take photographs of the children and Mrs. McCauley will work her magic through writing.

Somewhere along the way and before they return to the United States in early July, Mrs. McCauley hopes to see the grandeur of Murchison Falls, also known as Kabarega Falls, on the Nile River where it flows across northern Uganda from Lake

Victoria to Lake Kyoga on the western branch of the East African Rift.

“I’m gradually checking off some of the things on my bucket list, the 100 things I want to do before I die,” she said, breaking into a full-throated yet still dainty laugh.

Anderson Valley Post
29 May 2012

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