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Staff and children of Suubi School and the Church of the Angels team celebrate the installation of the library furniture. They went on to organize and shelve the books. Photo / Anita Nardine

As the Suubi Christian Primary School settles into a new library with more than 10,000 books, Pasadena’s Episcopal Church of the Angels is celebrating the culmination of its four-year effort to bring the school’s library from concept to reality.

Tracy Gaestel, who is married to the Church of the Angels’ rector, the Rev. Bob Gaestel, learned first-hand about the Suubi School and the challenges of education in rural Uganda when she visited in 2014 as part of a volunteer group helping the school’s instructors learn how to teach reading in the classroom. She was surprised at how few resources teachers had to enable student learning.
“These enthusiastic instructors were working with very few books,” said Gaestel, a recently retired teacher, librarian, and teaching methods instructor. “As you can imagine, it’s hard to teach reading effectively without the materials teachers need, especially books,” she added.

Returning to Pasadena, Gaestel convened a group of parishioners with teaching and library experience around the possibility of creating a school library. They agreed, and working quietly at first; over the next four years, the project became a focused, parish-wide activity that included fundraising, individual donor support, and sourcing, buying and storing books for the yet-to-be library.

The project moved into high gear in August 2018, when the church’s parish hall became a book processing center. Over the next seven weeks, more than 60 parishioners and friends sorted, cataloged and packed the thousands of books for shipping to Africa. Because 10,000 books would eventually require a lot of shelves, the parish bought 50 new modular bookcases to be included with the shipment so that the bookcases could be built on site.

In October, books and bookcases left the port of Los Angeles aboard a cargo ship for the two- month journey to the port of Mombasa. Once there, the shipment traveled overland by truck through Kenya to Uganda, arriving just days before Christmas at the village.
Soon after Christmas, nine adult and youth parishioners from The Angels traveled to the village of Bukeka to organize the books, work with the teachers and librarian, and officially dedicate the library. During an emotional dedication ceremony the school’s principal acknowledged the leadership of the parish and the commitment of Tracy Gaestel, noting that the school and its teaching methods would be forever changed by the church’s acts of kindness.

The word suubi means “hope” in the Lugandan dialect of the Bantu language, which is widely used in addition to English. The school serves 225 children ages four through the seventh grade who are among the ‘poorest of the poor’ in the region. The church partnered with Global Hands of Hope, a nonprofit organization that works in communities like Bukeka to end generational poverty. One focus of their effort is creating safe environments for vulnerable children such as the program at the Suubi School.

“This project would not have been possible without the Church of the Angels’ vision and leadership,” said Bethany Ross, communications director for Global Hands of Hope.

“From start to finish, the long-term commitment of the parishioners and donors has been amazing, and we’re so grateful for what they have created at the school — this effort is already changing lives, and it’s a testament to the Christian witness of the people of this church,” she added.

The parish continues its support of the school, and to reduce the effects of region’s heat on the learning environment, is now working to fund a suspended ceiling in the newly commissioned library.

For more information about the Suubi School, visit www.ghoh.org.

—Steve Leland is a member of Church of the Angels.