“Count your blessings” - It’s a phrase which we’ve all undoubtedly repeated to ourselves from time to time when we’re feeling a little down. At Hearts & Hope we see and hear many stories that strongly solidify this concept. With over 900 sponsored students spread across some of the most disadvantaged parts of Uganda, it’s unfortunately easy to come across children suffering from ailments that are highly preventable in other parts of the Westernized world. Examples ranging from cases of Typhoid caught from unclean water sources, or Malaria, which is the leading cause of death in Uganda. To say we are used to students needing medical care for malaria complications is an unfortunate truth. Yet, occasionally we come across other woes that these children endure which shakes us to the core and intensifies our motivation to provide means for a better future for them.
One recent example of this is of a small boy in Kamuli village named Gerald. He is seven years old and lives with his grandmother after both parents abandoned him and his siblings. After we were sent photos of the students receiving their portions of the food distribution, we noticed something was obviously wrong with sweet Gerald’s face. His eye was very swollen and we were concerned with what could’ve caused this ailment and whether he had been treated. We were told that a rat bit his face at nighttime which caused an infection around the bite near his eye. The majority of the children in our program sleep on mattresses very low to the ground, or they sleep on bamboo type mats directly on the ground. This, partnered with the rural environments their house structures are located in (near small farms, plots of land with crops), puts the children at higher risk for animal bites in their sleep.
We were relieved to be informed a few days later that he was taken to a clinic and was undergoing treatment for the infection. It is slowly healing and Gerald can now see through both eyes.
This is yet another reminder that there are humans, children even, in this world suffering in ways that we may not necessarily ever grasp. To go to sleep at night with the fear that a rat may bite you while you dream is not the ideal bedtime we envision for a 7-year-old. This however is the reality for many children in Uganda. We do, on the other hand, envision a better future for children like Gerald through the gift of education and we ask for prayers for all of our sponsored students whose current circumstances may hinder their hope of a better tomorrow. Through it all, we pray they can be comforted by the knowledge that they are deeply loved by God and with him all things are possible.
Last month, thanks to the generous help of hundreds of our supporters, we were able to distribute food & hygiene supplies to our over 900 sponsored students. Our local Ugandan staff and LCU leaders worked diligently and handed out a month's worth of food supplies to each student. While we were hopeful the lockdown in Uganda would be lifted after that month, we were also preparing for the next step in case it was extended. While restrictions across the US have been loosening over the past couple of weeks, Uganda remains under lockdown with continued rules limiting the ability of the public to return to their normal work lives, mainly due to restrictions on transport. While private vehicles are now allowed back on the road, with only up to 3 passengers, public transport - the main use of travel by the majority of the country - is currently still banned.
This meant the students we sponsor and their families were again at risk of hunger with the supplies from last month quickly running out. Because the initial response to our COVID-19 food campaign was so great, we had the means to complete a second round of food distribution to each student. The staff and LCU had worked through the kinks of the first round and perfected the process, making the ease of the food handout even smoother. Each student received the same sack of maize (corn) flour, used to make the staple posho dish, as well as pinto beans. This round they also received salt and another large bar of soap for their hygiene needs.
As the country moves to ease their lockdown restrictions, they stand at 413 confirmed cases of COVID-19, mainly from truck drivers and their contacts, and zero deaths from the virus. The president will be addressing the country this first week of June to update on any further lifted lockdown conditions. The Government also plans on distributing free masks to all citizens in the country. Thereafter, no one will be allowed to appear in public places without wearing a mask. This will in theory help stop the spread as businesses, markets and schools open back up.
While Uganda makes baby steps to cautiously return to "normal" life, we will continue to monitor the status of the communities and students we serve. We tremendously thank everyone who has supported our COVID-19 campaign thus far and we ask for continued thoughts & prayers over this next month as Ugandans adjust to challenges in a post-lockdown life.
Photos from each village's distributions
Letter writing - perhaps an old fashioned art that is more nostalgic of a simpler time than is practical. However, when it comes to interacting with your sponsored student, it is one of the most valuable gifts you could give. These students crave communication from their sponsors. To them, their sponsor represents happiness, hope, and most importantly love. To know that someone very far away from them loves them enough to support their education is wonderful, but to receive confirmation of that by a letter written by that very person is priceless!
It may seem intimidating to think about writing to a child you've never met, don't personally know, and who may not understand everything about your culture. Nonetheless, this child appreciates every word and there are many people around who can help translate if the child is very young. Oftentimes, you will notice (especially with older students) that whatever you write to them gets mentioned back when they return with a letter. For instance, you might mention your dog Max and your sponsored student will frequently ask about how Max is doing. Getting to know you helps them stay connected to the blessing that is a sponsored education and reminds them that though they may face many hardships in their daily life, often fueled by poverty, they are no less important and worth the time to put pen to paper and share your love.
Majorine is one of our primary sponsorship coordinators and during this break from life normality her job is extending way beyond her job description. Maj handles the coordination of a special type of sponsorship for a young boy from Butangala named Pius. Pius is a 10-year-old boy who is hearing impaired and unable to fully speak. His sponsor is supporting his education in a special school for the deaf in Kampala, the capital city of Uganda, where he is thriving.
When schools temporarily closed due to COVID-19, Maj went to gather Pius to take him back home to his village where he resides with his grandmother and 6 other people with disabilities. He lives in the village of Butangala which is about a 3-4 hour taxi ride away from his school. However, upon getting Pius, the government announced a shut down of the roads and banned all public transport. This left Pius stranded and Maj to care for him during this quarantine as she lives in Kampala near his school and was able to get to her home before the total lock down began.
Fortunately for Pius, who at home is often sent out to beg for food to eat and doesn’t get much devoted attention, this was a huge blessing as he now has regular food, shelter, and most importantly – a loving caretaker. As for Maj, she shared that her family treats Pius like a prince and enjoys his company tremendously. His smile is contagious and he makes every day meaningful. Even better is Maj and Pius set up a routine where she helps with his school lessons and his speaking skills are improving day by day. They also have leisure time where Pius enjoys watching cartoons and playing games, a rare commodity for this special boy.
It is so comforting to know that our sponsored students in Uganda have our staff who see them all as family members and would give anything for them, jumping in to help them in the face of a global pandemic. We thank our sponsors who support vulnerable children in Uganda like Pius. We thank our staff in Uganda who are so dedicated to the well-being of each student. Lastly, we thank God for giving us this positive story of love and unity in an otherwise unclear and low-spirited time.
While COVID-19 has been a challenge for many around the world, it has quickly become a crisis in Uganda. The entire country has been on a restrictive lockdown since March 30th, which prohibited private/public transport, closed all schools, eliminated gatherings of any kind, and imposed a strict curfew. Thanks to your support, the quick action of our local staff, and our partnership with the LCU leaders, we funded & delivered hygiene products and a COVID-19 education program to each community right before the lockdown began.
On April 14th, the president extended this lockdown for another 3 weeks and many Ugandans now find themselves in a desperate state.
We have previously shared concerns from our staff about the communities we partner with and how many families lack access to food. Many of the student’s parents are peasant farmers and work in other people’s gardens for a small daily wage. Unfortunately, the owners of these gardens are not hiring day laborers due to the lockdown. With our students already being the most vulnerable in their communities, this elimination of their daily income has been devastating. Furthermore, with school closures, the daily meal that many of our sponsored students counted on is no longer accessible.
The extension of the lockdown means the situation for these families and their children will only worsen with each passing day as their already depleted reserve of food disappears. Many of the students are already in a malnourished state which means getting them and their families access to food has urgently become our top priority. With the extended lockdown, special authorization from the government is required for trucks to travel on the roads. Fortunately, the LCU has been given this authorization in order to provide aid to their communities.
Our staff has been working over the last few days to identify the neediest families in each community. We have identified several students and families that are in desperate need of support. Here are just two examples from our Primary Sponsorship Coordinators, Maj & Joel:
Hearts & Hope has always been an organization that supports in multiple ways in these communities, with a focus on providing education as a foundation for future success in life and an escape from poverty. However, the poverty that our students find themselves in, when combined with the harsh reality of government-enforced lockdown forces us to shift our focus in this crisis – we urgently have to get food to these kids.
This is where we need YOUR help.
You have all been so generous and gracious to these kids in supporting their educations and beyond. We now ask for you to consider giving to our COVID-19 fund so we can provide food to these families who are in the midst of a living nightmare, desperate for some hope. They need you now more than ever. While we recognize that everyone is struggling in many different ways, we only ask for you to consider helping or spreading the word on this urgent need.
In Uganda, the towns and streets are among the busiest of places I've ever seen. As I sit here at home imagining it now I can so clearly envision the dozens of cars, bikes and motorcycle taxis (aka boda bodas) whizzing past a multitude of people walking, visiting with friends, selling goods, and shopping for their everyday essentials.
As of today, conversely, the streets are an unfamiliar and empty sight.
Amidst the 14-day lock-down that President Museveni ordered, life is more challenging for Ugandans in both the large cities and rural villages. We asked our local staff living in Kampala (the capital city) and the town of Jinja (near many of our partnered villages) to explain how this lock-down has impacted their daily routines.
Mariah, one of our Primary Sponsorship Coordinators, explained how awful the situation was - especially for pregnant women. She and her sister (who is 35 weeks pregnant) both had to walk 3 hours in order to find a market open to purchase food. As the restrictions continue and get stricter, whatever small supplies they happened to have at home - which is very little when compared to many of us in the US - now have to be restocked. They live each day with the uncertainty of knowing when the restrictions will be loosened up or if they’ll become stricter. The greatest fear for her family and many others is that when a woman goes into labor, there is no transport available to take them to the hospital for a safe delivery. Ambulances are few and far between and many have to be bribed in order for them to help you. It would appear that in this time of disarray, desperate people are putting their morals aside in the short term in order to ensure their well-being remains intact.
Majorine, another one of our Primary Sponsorship Coordinators, explained that the people are banned from moving around, even walking outside for leisure, yet they were not given enough time to prepare and purchase food or other supplies. This leaves the citizens in a food crisis as the majority work hand-to-mouth daily. To make matters worse, people who work in the marketplaces are not allowed to go back home until the 14-day lock-down is over - essentially a quarantine at their places of work. This means that many sellers are left to sleep with their crops and goods on the streets.
“We also have a curfew,“ she explained. “Everyone has to be in their house by 7 pm and the army is strictly enforcing the curfew.” While the president recently declared during his address to the country for the police and army to refrain from physically attacking people, many are still being treated in the hospitals because they have been hit.
Because many people are lacking food to eat, the government has started giving out posho (a dish made from cornmeal) and beans. However, not all districts and homes are getting the supplies. The primary focus has been to distribute these supplies to the urban suburbs of Kampala which holds many vulnerable families; outlying villages have not received anything yet.
Mariah further voiced her concern to us by saying, “My heart is with the families in our Hearts & Hope villages who live in rented houses with no gardens to grow food for home consumption. Some parents in these villages depend on casual laboring each day and the people who are supposed to pay them for their services are no longer working. This means they can’t earn money to buy food for their families. Moreover, those with gardens of food can’t share much with others because they’re afraid of running out of food."
In Uganda, it seems lives could be impacted highly by the effects of this lock-down even MORE than the spread of COVID-19 itself. Hearts & Hope will continue to gather information on ways we can help those in our communities who are most susceptible to a food shortage.
We also continue to pray for all those who are struggling to provide for their families in the US and who share in this distress. Lastly, we remain hopeful in the future and we put our trust in God during this Easter season that this cup will pass us soon and we will become even more appreciative of the little pleasures in daily life that we once took for granted.
As the world continues to be at a complete standstill, we all have more time to think about the things that are truly important in life. As we settle the fear and anxiety of the unknown and the yearning for our “normal” lives to return, it is valuable to remember how important those around us are and have always been. While our “communities” are much tighter these days or are limited to a computer screen, their worth is no less significant.
As our staff distributed soap to our students and their families, we learned that one family was using sap from a tree to wash their hands. They were so fearful that they and their families would get sick, they resorted to whatever soap like resource they could find. Needless to say, they were immensely grateful when our team pulled up with large bars of hand soap. As our team was leaving the village they were reminded from a parent that “a friend in need is a friend indeed.” When we as a community, locally or around the world, need assistance, the people that show up are truly friends to be treasured.
I think we can all look around our communities and not only be reminded of how lucky we are to have the support we do, but to remember to be a friend to others around us in need. This is just another instance that displays how united the human race is even with such obvious cultural differences – we all need each other.
Many people are curious as to how the Ugandan way of life is different from what we experience in the US? As you can imagine, the answers are numerous. This is no less the case when we consider life during a global pandemic.
The majority of Americans are rattled by a life stuck at home where they can no longer enjoy some of the simple pleasures that going out brings. Many Ugandans are being forced to stay home by their government for a reason they don't fully even comprehend. While many Americans can no longer enjoy their favorite restaurants or may have to buy the "off-brand" version of their usual groceries, many Ugandans are faced with potential food shortages and lack even a daily meal for themselves or their children. While many of us are deeply affected by the damage our economy is currently facing, we are supported by a government that is trying its best to come up with solutions for the American people. Meanwhile, in Uganda people who venture out into the market or gather too close to one another are beaten by the local police. In a place where the strength and bonds of family and community are the foundation for the success of the society, how do you keep people apart?
Hearts & Hope is trying to find the best ways to help in this rapidly changing situation. We are regularly asking our staff for recommendations and updates and speak to them daily. Nicholas, our head of operations recently shared with our US team just how dire the situation is becoming in Uganda. We learned that although the people in the village may have heard of coronavirus, they know very little about what it actually is, how it is impacting our world, how to protect themselves and their loved ones, and how to prevent it from spreading. In an effort to keep them safe and informed, our staff and local leaders took to the streets late last week and in a matter of a few of days provided all our sponsored students with hand soap, education on proper hand washing techniques, and information about COVID-19 and how to prevent its spread.
Thanks to the quick action by our staff, they were able to complete this work before Monday evening, when the Ugandan government announced a 14-day total lockdown where even private vehicles are not allowed to travel. People are still allowed to move around on foot but are not allowed to gather in groups of more than five at a time. This highly limits how people can live their daily lives. Because there was little to no warning, many people were left without basic living resources in supply, unable to venture out to get them, and are frightened about what the future holds.
With such strict restrictions in place, Ugandans are now faced with an emerging issue - feeding their families.
"There is no assurance that you will have at least one basic meal in a day," Nicholas said in a recent phone call. "This is a big challenge since the emergence of Coronavirus has come as a surprise and thus the families didn’t plan for extra food preparation like they would normally do during school breaks/ holidays."
While the president of Uganda said the government would begin distributing food to those in need, no further details were provided. We are working with our staff in Uganda to research potential options for keeping the students & communities we support both safe and fed. It will be our priority to stay on top of these issues and to act in a way that can support these communities in this time of need. If you are interested in helping us in supporting these families, please consider making a donation to Hearts & Hope here. We will continue to provide updates as we work with our staff to implement a support program.
We are praying for anyone in the US who may be struggling with similar issues due to loss of jobs or income and are praying for our friends in Uganda. We want to thank each of you in advance for your prayers for strength to those in Uganda who are faced with challenges that are difficult for many of us to comprehend.
We wanted to make sure you had the latest information on what is going on in Uganda.
While the US and other nations have been experiencing the uncertainty of COVID-19 for weeks or months, our friends in Uganda are just starting to see the Coronavirus spread through their nation. The Ugandan Government has responded forcefully by limiting social gatherings to no more than five people, enforcing a lock-down in Kampala, and temporarily closing all schools, churches, and large institutions. We are thankful that the students in our sponsorship program will be protected from mass-exposure and will hopefully be able to avoid illness by staying home with their families or guardians.
While people in the US have access to global media and can stay informed about the latest developments, many rural villagers in Uganda do not even know what coronavirus is, how it spreads, how to protect themselves, or how to prevent the spread. This obviously can cause immense fear about the current circumstances in their country.
As knowledge is key to prevention, Hearts & Hope developed and implemented a plan to assist our communities during this crisis. Late last week, our staff worked with local leaders to distribute information pamphlets to our partner communities. Through this effort, these communities gained a basic understanding of coronavirus, the need to practice social distancing, and how to maintain proper hygiene per CDC guidelines. During the informational visits, each sponsored student received soap for their family and was trained on proper hand-washing.
We were very fortunate to be able to take swift action and distribute these supplies, but we anticipate that there will be more needed over the coming weeks - from additional hygienic supplies to basic foodstuff in many cases. Many of you have asked us how you can help and we thank you for thinking about the people in Uganda during this difficult time. Hearts & Hope will be collecting donations for our medical fund to continue to support these communities through this pandemic. Funds will be used to distribute additional kits to the community leaders, which includes basic infection prevention materials such as gloves, masks, disinfectants, and soap. This will enable the local leaders to reassure the families in their community as they provide support over the coming days and weeks.
Lastly and most importantly, we are maintaining our grants to support the teachers in each of the community schools, providing them with a consistent income even though the schools are not open per government orders. As prices for food, hygienic items, and basic goods soar, we want to ensure stability for all teaching and support staff during this already difficult time. This not only contributes to greater economic health for the communities, but also ensures that teachers are able to stay in their homes and return to their duties as soon as school resumes. Our support for the teachers and these communities will continue for the entirety of the coronavirus pandemic.
We thank you for your ongoing support during this time. We ask for you to join us in praying for the Ugandan communities we serve. We will continue to keep you updated on the situation as it evolves and as we learn more information.
Kelly, Sara, Diane, Toni, Andy & Todd
The Hearts & Hope Team
As the days on this mission trip pass, our supply bags are getting lighter and our hearts are getting much fuller.
MBULAMUTI & KAMULI
Our last few village days were spent in the Hearts & Hope partnered villages of Mbulamuti and Kamuli. The team had tons of "known sponsored students" in this villages. This means we have to ensure we gather all the kids of the team’s friends and families to ensure they can greet the students and get pictures for their loved ones at home. When there are nearly 60 of these students to track down, it becomes a fun, but rewarding challenge! The students in these villages were decked out in new costumes and had prepared wonderful dances to share with the team. We were told the students in Kamuli were trying to become the best dance program in all of the surrounding villages since they are also number one in academics! They have definitely improved and you can see it in their faces how proud they are of the effort they put into practicing when they're performing.
The team enjoyed passing out the sponsorship packets and going through the usual program and activities with the sponsored kids. This trip we sent out a few team members to play fun games with the other children who are still waiting for sponsorship, so that they do not feel left out. This created reverse jealousy as the sponsored children were eagerly looking out at the fun happenings outside. By the end of the days, all the children had a blast with the team and vice versa.
In Mbulamuti, one of Kim’s sponsored students was particularly lethargic. She asked him if he was ok and he shook his head no. One of our team members is a doctor, and she knew immediately that the boy had a fever and should be checked out. Kim had the opportunity to take him to a clinic to get treatment and we found out he had severe malaria which we caught just in time!!!
Usually, our sponsorship coordinators will be contacted if there is a medical issue and we're able to address quickly thanks to generous donations to our medical fund from our supporters back in the US. This boy's case, however, was very severe and fast-acting, so it was a blessing that we were able to get him treatment and for his sponsor to be able to see first-hand the struggles these kids face every day. The amount of easily treated diseases that frequently take these children's lives is heartbreaking.
The team also got to visit the unsponsored village of Namwendwa. Hearts & Hope has been visiting this village for years and were blessed to be able to install a well there in 2017. Access to clean water brought about an immediate improvement in the health of the community and every year, we've been greeted joyfully by a multitude of smiling children and community members.
This year was different.
We pulled up to a nearly abandoned school. We looked around, confused as a small group of community members trickled towards benches and gathered to welcome us.
Almost immediately, we noticed that one of the three barren classrooms had collapsed - the wooden beams broken and bent towards the ground. The women of the community began welcoming us with a song as our minds raced with unanswered questions.
As the air filled with the beautiful melody of their voices, a community leader quietly filled us in. "We've had some difficulties," he confided. "Most children couldn't afford the scholastic requirements, like pencils. School started last week and only three students have reported. Beyond that, the parents are afraid the building will continue to deteriorate and may collapse on their children. Even without the fear, they lack the money to pay the school fees. The teachers are still owed three months of back pay and most are refusing to continue teaching until they can be guaranteed payment."
Our hearts broke as we took in the difficulties that our friends are facing. It was a harsh reminder that some communities, no matter how strong and resilient, might not succeed simply due to the extreme challenges they face on a daily basis.
Despite the heaviness of the situation, we were still welcomed with open arms and the people were so grateful with the smiles and joyful singing that we witnessed in the midst of such a difficult situation. We pray God finds a solution for this village so the children can continue to learn, the local teachers can earn a decent living, and the village can prosper and develop further.
Tomorrow we say goodbye to half our team as the rest leaves for a safari adventure. It has been such an incredible week full of emotional highs and lows for this team and everyone feels so blessed to have spent this week interacting with the wonderful people and marvelous children of Uganda.
Thank you all for your continued prayers for safe travels!
Hearts & Hope is a nonprofit organization focused on unlocking the potential of people in Uganda through relationships with people in the US.