The following was shared by Jen Ritter, a team member who attends Immanuel Lutheran Church in Wentzville.
The day we visited Butangala was a very special experience for me. This is Immanuel Lutheran, Wentzville's sponsored village, so I was filled with excitement knowing I was going to meet the people that my congregation is sponsoring. Thinking back to that entire day, I felt a wide variety of emotion. Everything from excitement, joy, and happiness to sadness, grief, and disbelief.
Upon our arrival, we were greeted with the children waving Eucalyptis branches and singing. The kids were so happy we had arrived! We were greeted by Butangala's leaders, and before I knew it, we were walking the perimeter of their land. What a beautiful area...filled with Eucalyptis trees, crops, and rolling hills. The Butangala members are so very proud of their village. They have grown, and expanded the village in such a short amount of time...just 2 years. As Butangala continues to set goals and reach them, I look forward to seeing more growth and prosperity.
Our time in the village was mainly spent with the kids. I was finally able to meet Sanon! My family's sponsored child. He is so very sweet. He is quiet, but very loving. We didn't say much to each other, but the smile on his face said enough. I really enjoyed hugging him, playing with him, and showing him pictures on my phone. The time with Sanon flew by...its was difficult to leave.
On our way out of Butangala, we stopped for a few home visits of two sponsored children. It was interesting to see the home life of the kids, and to meet their mothers. I was amazed by the mud huts used as kitchens to cook meals, and the dirt floors where they slept with a blanket, and if they are lucky, a misquito net. The reality of life for the kids started to settle in, and I became overwhelmed with disbelief. How can anyone survive on so little? I remember thinking of my own children, for a brief moment, while I was standing in the home of one of the sponsored children. And I thought about not being able to feed them, or give them clothing, or shoes. What does that feel like to the mother of these children? The sponsored kids are given meals at school. Possibly, the only meal for the day. But what about the next door neighbor of a sponsored child, that is not in school? I was able to meet some of the children...the neighbors to a sponsored child. The difference in appearance is unimaginable. Tattered clothing, no shoes, malnourished bodies, and sad faces. The guilt and grief I felt while shaking hands with the boys and girls was overwhelming. We handed out candy (sweeties) to them as we headed to the bus. What happened next, I have never experienced. One of the boys knelt down on his knees to thank me for two pieces of candy. I was shocked. Saddened and overwhelmed with emotion. My immediate response was to give him a handful of candy, because I didn't know what else to do. The image of his sunken face, malnourished body, and tattered clothing will always be with me. Something must be done to help these families! This sense of urgency is with me continuously!!!
I am happy to say that there has been so much accomplished in Butangala!! This is a thriving village that will continue to flourish!! I am very worried about the kids that live near Butangala, but are not in school. I pray for their health and wellness, and for their families.
Hearts & Hope is a nonprofit organization focused on unlocking the potential of people in Uganda through relationships with people in the US.