I’ve always loved school shopping. Is there anything more beautiful than a brand new box of Crayola crayons? Don’t even get me started on the perfection that is the big box with the built-in sharpener in the back. And can we talk for a minute about Trapper Keepers, the hands-down best binder ever created? My favorite one had wild horses on the front. Yes, I was that nerdy girl who played pretend horses at recess.
As a teacher, one of the best things about a new school year is buying fresh, new supplies. Rectangular, lined Sticky Notes and Sharpies, unblemished by little hands still sticky from the peanut butter and jelly sandwich from lunch, are my go to staples for starting a new year off right. All is right with the world when I have a bouquet of Sharpies and a pad of sticky notes on hand.
This year school shopping looked a little different for me. I made all of my preparations for the coming year in May. I ordered my supplies and put them all away, so tidy on my shelves, and then I locked my door and left for Uganda.
The calendar flipped to August and you, dear teacher friends, started posting pictures of your school supply finds, carts of crayons and folders and glue sticks. Be still my heart, I love those purple glue sticks. Seeing your school supply deals filling up my Facebook feed made me feel, well, left out.
So I took my friend and fellow teacher, Mr. Martin, school shopping. You remember Mr. Martin. He’s the same guy who when asked what he needed for his classroom last year had a list of only one thing: string. And he used the string beautifully to hang posters and word walls and all sorts of learning materials that made all the walls of his classroom learning spaces.
This year there are now three primary teachers and their classrooms are still desperately bereft of basic materials like books, shelves, clocks, pencils, paper, and almost everything else. Fellow teachers, I know you can relate to the continual challenge of teaching on a shoestring budget and making due without the materials you need.
So I asked the primary teachers to get together and make a list of the supplies they needed. This time the list was significantly longer and I was thrilled. In the good company of Martin and the principal, J.B., we hit the bookshop in Gulu hard. That’s right, the principal went school shopping with us, too. They checked things off their list and a pile of supplies grew in the store and suddenly I didn’t feel so left out.
I didn’t buy anything, save for one item. There was a kid in need of a mattress. He didn’t have one and his family couldn’t provide one. As we shoved the mattress in the back of the car we’d rented to haul our plunder, I thought of the kid last year who needed a mattress and how out of his need and out of the generosity of my friends and family, Vigilante Kindness was born.
This year a pocket full of Vigilante Kindness shillings has stocked the primary classrooms and given another kid a bed to sleep on. I don’t have pictures of carts full Sharpies and Crayolas and sticky notes to post. Instead here’s a shot of Mr. Martin, and his school supplies.
Dearest teacher friends, I’m with you half a world away as you prepare for a new year. I’m with you as you organize your rooms and fill them with things shiny and new. I’m with you as you create warm, stable environments for kids who don’t have beds to sleep in or homes that provide them a soft place to rest. Thanks for making a space for them in your classrooms and in your hearts. Now go and buy yourself some new Sharpies because you’re about to make a big mark in this world.