Greensboro couple dedicates two years to Amazima, an African school and orphanage
After six days of lightning storms, hale, snow and rain, world travelers Gabriel and Sarah Sams finally made it to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, where they began their life as one. Gabriel’s proposal was not only the start of their new adventurous life together, but also the beginning of their love story with the children of Uganda.
Greensboro residents Gabriel, 34, and Sarah, 27, have been married for three years, united by their passion for traveling abroad. They crave adventure and enjoy learning from different cultures. From living in Japan, to climbing a dormant volcano in Kenya, the two describe a lifetime of excitement that was in large part for them. But now, they want a voyage, in which they can give back. That’s why come January, the two will be moving to Uganda, where they will live for two years teaching and fostering children at The Amazima School.
“Our girls come from different backgrounds, but will all be local Ugandans boarding at the school,” Sarah said. “Some have never known their parents. Others have families that simply cannot provide for them. Some have HIV. Many have experienced abuse — physical, sexual, or both.
“From getting them ready for school to helping with homework, cheering them up on hard days to celebrating special occasions, we will be there to offer our love and care.”
Sharing love, in the face of Black Mambas
Though there are still a few fears in the minds of Gabriel and Sarah (who points out, “seriously, there are Black Mamba snakes”), the two can’t deny the strong pull they feel from God to help the children in Uganda.
While living at The Amazima School, Gabriel and Sarah will be providing 15-20 girls a loving home. “These girls come from broken backgrounds—many are orphaned, or vulnerable to becoming orphaned,” Sarah said. “They have been identified as the neediest in their community and do not have family members that can provide for their needs.”
Uganda is actually the youngest country in the world, with an average age of 15. Over half of its population is 15 and under, making it a nation of children.
“Children are fighting to survive and are not focused on education,” Sarah said. “The result is an unbroken cycle of poverty. Amazima hopes to provide the sponsored students with an education, medical care and food. Our role is to provide them with a loving home and ensure all of their needs are met, so they can focus on continuing their education and hopefully graduating with a degree and the chance to create a better life for themselves.”
In addition to caring for the girls around the clock, acting as two of the house “aunts” and “uncles” (they are not called mothers or fathers so that the children don’t get a false sense of hope), the two will have other duties, as well. Gabriel, a certified teacher, will be teaching African history from an African perspective, using storytelling and music in his lessons, since that is how their history has been passed down though generations.
“From a teaching standpoint, it’s awesome to be able to teach kids in really, really different contexts because you get to learn about them and the different ways they learn,” Gabriel said. “Kids in aboriginal and African communities, they learn through stories and songs and poetry and dance, whereas in Japan it’s very stark and rigid, and everyone’s wearing uniforms. And then in America, it’s kind of a blend of all of those things. It’s cool as a teacher to see and teach in those different contexts.”
In fact, it was Gabriel’s goal to teach on all of the inhabited continents before 35.
Sarah, a journalist and successful blogger, will be writing for the school’s website, where she’ll update sponsors on the students and school activities.
Open house for The Amazima School
The Amazima School began in 2006 when 18-year-old Katie Davis traveled to Uganda. She was so enthralled with the people she met that she returned the following summer to teach Kindergarten at an orphanage. It was there that her greatest passion was realized.
While working at the orphanage, she was shocked to see so many students working in the field or playing in the streets, rather than attending school. She soon discovered it was because most families don’t have enough money to pay the fees required of students. In Uganda, education is only for those who can afford it.
Davis says she felt called to start an Education Sponsorship Outreach, in which families can sponsor a child’s school fees. For $300 a year, a sponsor can provide a child with school supplies, three hot meals a day, spiritual discipleship, medical care, and ultimately, an excellent education at a Christian school.
Though she originally planned for only a few children to be sponsored, by the end of 2008, more than 150 children were signed up.
Not long after, Amazima Ministries International was established as a 501(c) 3 non-profit, which will soon include the development of The Amazima School. Opening its doors this coming January, the school will offer secondary school courses, as well as a two-year vocational school, to sponsored children in Amazima’s programs. This is where Sarah and Gabriel, along with 8 other heavily screened volunteers, will be teaching and living with about 20 girls for two years. Each volunteer will also be working with a local, so that both African and western ideals are represented in each role, and so that the two can learn from one another.
What makes Amazima unique is that it’s not only a school, but also a loving home. Gabriel notes that part of its importance is that it’s not forcing western ideals on the children. Its focus is to help affect change through healthy relationships, and to teach and empower the community to help themselves.
“Amazima is doing something that is new and, as far as we know, unheard of in Uganda –– they are boarding local kids at the school,” Sarah added. “In order for children to receive a good education, families must send them hours away to larger cities, like Kampala—assuming they have the money to. Abuse—physical and sexual—run rampant in traditional boarding schools in Uganda. What little families these children have are broken when the children are sent away, and they lose connection.
“By boarding local kids, Amazima is bringing an excellent education and safe learning environment to their community. By living on campus with the children, we’re able to ensure all of their needs are met, and they are able to visit family during holidays and school breaks.”
A lifetime to prepare
To mentally get ready for their exciting, but taxing journey to Africa, Sarah and Gabriel will rely on their past experiences and what they’ve learned while traveling the globe together.
“It’s difficult to prepare for a move like this,” Sarah said. “While we can read about Uganda and listen to others’ experiences, the most beneficial thing we can do is enter this new culture with an open mind. We’ve both lived abroad before –– three weeks after getting married, we moved to Japan. Before that, Gabriel lived in the Northern Territory of Australia, teaching English in an aboriginal community in the bush. We’ve learned how to navigate through the waters of culture shock, and have picked up skills along the way that will help us communicate with others in Uganda.”
Collectively, Gabriel and Sarah have traveled to 28 countries across six continents. Their travels together include visits to Tanzania, South Korea, Costa Rica and Nicaragua, just to name a few.
Their first international trip, as well as their first service trip, was to Kenya in 2013, while they were dating. “I had a friend that was living in Kenya,” Sarah said, “and we wanted it to be a joint fun trip, but also a trip where we were serving and giving back.”
At the time, Gabriel was a teacher at Northern Guilford Middle, so he arranged a service project, in which the students collected 50 pounds of dental supplies for the couple to take on the trip. They donated the supplies to two orphanages in Kenya and Tanzania. It’s also where they got engaged.
“After we got back from Tanzania and Kenya, Gabe found out that he was offered a teaching position in Japan, so we had a short engagement.” Five months after their engagement and only three weeks after their wedding, the two moved to Sapporo.
“Living abroad was definitely an exciting adventure for us,” Sarah said. “Looking back, we learned a lot of things when we were in Japan. We learned how to deal with culture shock, we really became a stronger team because we were forced to rely on each other, and we picked up a lot of skills that will help us in Uganda.”
It was their travels that also illuminated their next calling.
“When you’re in other countries—especially developing countries—you see poverty on a level that you don’t see here in the states,” Gabriel said. “I think after traveling to these places and seeing that level of poverty, we really wanted to put ourselves in a position where we could give back to people who truly need it.”
After Gabriel’s teaching position ended in Japan, they moved back to Greensboro to be with family. It was only shortly after that they say God called them to Uganda. A friend connected them with Amazima, and after much prayer, the two began the long application process.
In addition to channeling past lessons learned, the two had to go through an intense two-week training course in New York, and, most importantly, raise the $77,000 it will take to support them through the full two-year commitment.
“One of the biggest challenges we’re currently facing is finding financial partners who will join us on this journey,” Sarah said. “This opportunity comes with no salary, so we’re raising our own support. While it has been challenging, it’s also rewarding because by raising our own financial support, we’re allowing Amazima to continue focusing its funds on sponsoring children within its programs. We’re not taking away from their resources.”
Donations to Sarah and Gabe will also help to fund their “date nights” with the girls, to ensure they get quality family time, as well as the salary for their Ugandan counterparts.
Wanna help? Gabriel and Sarah are still far off from their financial goal and need as much support as they can get. Learn more about The Amazima School and make a tax-deductible donation by visiting Sarah’s blog at whiteblankpage.co. The Sams also ask for prayers as they embark on this incredible journey.