Sad to see this trip coming to a close.
What a spectacular week with some truly inspiring people. This team has been a blessing to me for my first mission trip as a leader. I was nervous that I couldn’t take on the task, but I quickly found out God has a way of grabbing hearts here in Uganda that has nothing to do with me. The Ugandan staff has also been immensely helpful; I couldn’t do this without each and every one of them.
Three of the team members who were not able to go on the safari left Kampala on Saturday. Before they left, we all headed to Nakabango for a couple of hours of more fun with the kids in that morning. It was great having that last little time with those wonderful souls.
We then went to Jinja to shop and eat lunch and then it was time to say our goodbyes. After hugs and tears shed we bid adieu to Jerry, Mark, and Jackie as they boarded the bus for the few hour journey to the airport.
The remaining members of the team headed to our next activity - visiting Betty!!!
With their passing, Betty lived in a small mud & thatch hut that her aunt had built for her. Betty was unable to speak, had difficulty walking and using her arms, and made meager income to feed herself by digging in people's gardens.
After Grant & his wife Tonya learned of Betty's situation, they sponsored her and she's been attending a special school that has improved her speech (she now sings!!!) and her mobility. She now attends a vocational school and is learning to sew and tailor clothing.
It’s always a pleasure to see how she is doing and it gives everyone such joy to see her big smile. Betty was thrilled with the packet from her sponsor and the other treats we had bought for her.
Afterward we went with David, our Advanced Sponsorship Coordinator, to a secondary school where five students in our program attend. It was interesting to see how different the school is at the next, higher level. The girls were all very welcoming and looked so happy. We continue to pray for our secondary students to thrive and for the program to continue to expand and grow in number.
After a long and eventful Saturday, we ate a quick dinner and headed to bed as we had to wake up early to travel to Western Uganda for our Safari. The next morning we were met at the Sunset by Twaha, our lovely safari guide, and Sandra, his coworker in training.
We had a long ride ahead of us, but were all very excited for a relaxing, fun weekend.
We first stopped at a rhino sanctuary which was a first for all of us and we had the chance to trek some rhinos. We saw a total of 5 rhinos and it was like being in Jurassic park - those things might as well be dinosaurs!!
We then continued to our lodge in Murchison, called Pakuba. We decided to switch things up this trip as we usually stay at another nearby lodge. It was totally worth the switch! The staff is very friendly and we were all pleasantly surprised at how large the rooms were and (drum roll please) each room had A/C!
Usually I have to mentally prepare for sweating myself to sleep on safari, but this was not the case! We went on our evening drive and it was great to see the first timers faces each time they saw the animals!
The next morning we woke up at 5:30 to see the sunrise on our morning game drive. Always such a peaceful time witnessing God’s creation.
We saw many lions and then helped a couple of Americans who were trekking the park alone find some lions. On the way out of the lion’s den, we got stuck on a pile of dirt while off-roading and were then saved by those very same Americans with their tow rope!!!
Great example of how being kind always comes back to you!
We finished the day with a boat ride to the bottom of the falls and then hiked our way 45 minutes uphill to the top. It was beautiful as we saw many new views of the falls from different perspectives. Also a great workout! We were also blessed with a wonderful dinner and early bed time.
Everyone woke up feeling very refreshed and ready to drive back to Entebbe after one last mini-gamedrive back to the park exit. (Our lodge was in the middle of the park, so driving anywhere would mean wildlife sightings around each corner.) In one instance, we came extremely close to an elephant, but our fearless tour guide knew how to handle the situation. However, the sight was breathtaking!
A cherry on top of a very wonderful week.
I can’t thank this team enough for their positivity and joy. How lucky am I to have been your leader this trip!
A few long flights lie ahead of the group and we pray for their safe return home.
Thank you all at home for your prayers and overall support.
Wow, what a great last full day in the villages! It was beautiful weather as the clouds were out which cooled it down a bit.
We visited Kainagoga and the children were so energetic and happy as they had been waiting a long time for us to arrive. Since we were delayed with our flights we had to push Kainagoga back to the end of the week.
They did not disappoint in making it one of the best days of the week! The kids there were so joyful and wanted to embrace us at ever opportunity. While the dancers were performing I had two toddlers on my lap just stroking my hair and face. Usually the smaller ones can be more fearful of the Mzungus, but all the children there were very ready to be loved on. Packet time was carried out like a well-oiled machine and we had very few absent students.
For free time the boys played soccer and the ladies went off and were taught more local games. One was a cat and mouse type game where a circle was formed and the children block the cat from getting out and chasing the mouse. Both cat and mouse were not surprisingly Mzungus chosen by the kids.
We then had a team member dress in her inflatable T-Rex costume and I feared for her well-being as she came up the hill to a stampede of about 150 kids running her way! She danced and kicked around the soccer ball to the sound of giggling and a few crying babies. : )
We enjoyed a nice lunch prepared by the women and then handed out donated books to the school and allowed the P5 class to read some of them out loud. It’s always wonderful to hear those voices reading!
Then we were greeted by a surprise guest in Kainagoga, Patricia!
We planned on visiting her school and I suddenly hear my name being screamed (my name is Kelly, yet she insists on calling me “Kelaya”) and there she was in Kainagoga. It was fun to interact with her at a whole different village. We then got on the bus with Patricia and her mother and visited her new school which she will be enrolled in soon. Some of the team members were involved in fundraising for her school so it was great for them to see it in person.
For dinner we went to All Friends and were joined by Rachel who is an LCU missionary and has lived here for over a year. The Bishop of the LCU also joined us and was able to connect with the team.
It was a delight to enjoy this meal with the full team as tomorrow three people depart us to go back home. Time has flown by! We will visit Nakabango again for some free time in the morning tomorrow and then shop in Jinja before our team members have to leave. Prayers for a safe journey back for them would be appreciated! They’ve had an action packed and blessing-filled time! The rest of the team leaves for safari tomorrow morning and we are looking forward to some exotic animals and a chance to unwind from the emotional highs and lows from our village visits.
On Valentine's Day we had double the fun by hitting two villages, each partnered with churches back in the US through Hearts & Hope! Luckily we were able to fit in a lot of activities in each village as they aren’t as far away from our hotel.
We first went to Butangala which had a wonderful transformation thanks to their partnership with Immanuel Lutheran in Wentzville, MO and Hearts & Hope. Thank you to Pastor Jason Auringer, Jen Ritter and the members of Immanuel for their efforts to help the people of Uganda. The people of Butangala cannot wait to see you and the team from Wentzville this June!!!
Many team members on this trip have been to Butangala before and they didn’t even recognize it. The large and beautiful new school building is such eye-candy compared to the open air thatch & stick structure that the kids used to have school in. Passing out packets to so many kids in this large space was much easier compared to squeezing the students in the previous structure.
We were greeted in usual Butangala fashion with a breathtaking music & dance performance. The students here are the most talented in their dancing and skits they perform and have won several awards in local competitions. It is always such a impressive thing to witness!!!
We handed out sponsorship packets - little packets of joy from their sponsors back in the US. Thank you to all of the sponsors for sending these and personalizing them for your student. You have no idea how much this means to these kids.
We then we did what we do best - free time!
The kids taught us how to play one of their local games called “blind." It’s basically the Ugandan version of Marco Polo, only on land. They put a blindfold on us and yell a word for the blinded person to chase after. All of us Mzungus (Ugandan for white person) lost quickly when we realized the twist that the kids would push you into the blinded person if you got too close. Lots of laughs for sure.
We also were blessed to visit the home of one of my favorite families on Earth. Not only does my sponsored child live here, but also her brother Moses - the boy with a large cyst on his neck that we were able to help with the support of the Ehlmanns. There are also a number of other sweet little babies that make up this family. It’s always gut wrenching to see the small brick structure that this whole family lives in. When I think of my girl having to sleep on the floor in there I can’t help but cry. Hopefully with some of the kids being sponsored and going to school they can break that chain and help the rest of the family in the future.
We then headed to Nakabango. Truly a special place as Messiah Lutheran has partnered with this village even before Hearts & Hope was created! Because of the long history, most of the kids here are very comfortable with us and are therefore very outgoing and playful. We ate a wonderful lunch here - the biggest spread we had so far as many villages are suffering from a sustained drought that hopefully will end soon. Please pray for rain!!!
Next we were delighted to hear a song sung by the school choir thanking Hearts & Hope and Messiah Lutheran Church for all the work they’ve done to change their lives. It warmed my heart and I'd like to say thank you to Messiah, Pastor Chuck Schlie, Julie Stroder, and all of the supporters in the US who have been involved in any number of projects and sponsorships in Nakabango. The village truly has seen amazing changes over the last 10+ years thanks to all of your efforts!!!
Next a group of dancers walked in, led by the tiniest dancer I’ve ever seen, who was probably 3 or 4, but she kept up with the rest of them and gave the team a good laugh. We were all impressed by this prodigy!
Packet time went smoothly and we had a small amount of free time to hang out in the cooler evening weather.
I heard many team members say that they had a wonderful day and I felt the same. We did get to see our special friend Patricia in Nakabango and she was feisty as ever - she's always so excited to see her friends from the USA!
We are going to Kainagoga tomorrow and then we are picking up Patricia and taking her to her new school that she will be enrolled in soon. Many team members helped fundraise for this school and are very emotionally invested in this girl so we are all very excited to see her future school.
Thanks for yours prayers at home for a safe & impactful trip!
They are definitely being answered, so please keep them coming!
Today we went to the village of Mbulamuti and wow, it was a hot one. We were spoiled with the first day being mostly overcast and today there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The team lathered on sunscreen and were ready to take on the day.
It was special to visit Mbulamuti (the 'm' is almost silent when pronouncing the name...) as very few team members had been there before, even repeat goers.
Mbulamuti was Hearts & Hope's first 'greenfield' village, where partners in the Dallas, TX area gathered together and partnered with Hearts & Hope to make a significant investment for the long-term. We purchased a large tract of land, installed a clean-water well situated close to the road to attract the local community, built a large school building, constructed a permanent kitchen, latrine, etc. And there still was enough space for a football/soccer field, plus space for agriculture to help feed the many children. All of this resulted in one of the highest performing schools in the area. Thanks to Waters Edge, Holy Cross, Our Savior, the Tibbetts family, the Moothart family, and all of the donors and sponsors in Texas who made this vision a reality!
When we arrived, we were greeted by many smiles and adancing and passed out packets to anxiously awaiting sponsored students. The team members knew so many students and it was a joy to watch the whole interaction.
After packets were opened it was free time and we played various relays including egg races (which the Ugandan staff enjoyed just as much as the children)! There was also a very heated game of netball with many team members and students. This is a game similar to basketball mixed with keep-away. It is usually played by the girls, but the men of our mission team had to work hard to keep up!
Source of the Nile River Cruise
The afternoon flew by and we made our way to the Nile river for a cruise to where Lake Victoria turns into the Nile (also known as "The Source of the Nile."
It’s always a relaxing ride where we get to see a lot of wildlife and other interesting sights. The team then ate dinner at a restaurant called “Forever Resort” which is a nice spot on the bank of the Nile that has much room to spread around, play pool, dance on the stage, or relax at the table and reflect on the day.
The food was delicious as always and most of the team went straight to bed after returning to the hotel. The heat, combined with all of the fun activities throughout the day, has a way of sucking out all your energy, so rest is definitely important.
Especially since tomorrow we have a two communities to visit - Butangala & Nakabang.
Wish us luck and thank you for your continued prayers!
Today we had the immense pleasure to visit the villages of Kamuli & Namwendwa. After such a long delayed travel time the team was ready to see some beautiful faces in the villages. Kamuli has been partnered with Hearts & Hope since being founded in 2011, so there are a lot of familiar faces & relationships!
Although sleep was short it was very restful for us all and the team was up early ready to hit the road. We drove the 90 minutes from Jinja (our home base) to Kamuli and the fun began. It was great to see the first-timers' faces as the children danced and sang for the group - always one of my favorite sights and sounds.
We handed out packets in what seemed like record time and had the rest of the afternoon to just play - and play we did!
My favorite activity was the attempted tug of war game that resulted with half of the “tuggers” to fall to the ground in uproarious laughter. Then they just got up and continued to pull - the game never ended! We did eventually lose the rope to a villager but I’m sure it will go to good work for someone!
Jackie Kline, now on her second trip with Hearts & Hope, was blessed with seeing her child Benjamin again. The bond between those two is priceless - they are truly family.
We handed out sweeties and had to get on the bus. It's always difficult to say farewell, but we can all confidently tell the community that we'll be back - whether it's us individuals or others representing us on some future trip.
We then headed over to another village, Namwendwa which is just a short drive from Kamuli.
Namwendwa does not currently have a partner, but Hearts & Hope was able to raise funds to purchase some land for them and install a clean water well there in 2016. The people of Namwendwa say "Thank You!" to everyone who attended Party With a Purpose in August of 2016!!!
It is always good to see the contrast between a village that has had a partnership for such a long time and one that only has the basics like Namwendwa. While they have access to clean water, the children always are dustier and in very tattered clothing as they are not provided with uniforms for their small school.
However, the smiles they give and joy they spread are no different.
We spent a few hours playing with the children. Then the women picked up a game of net ball (which is like basketball, but given the fact that we're playing on uneven dirt, dribbling is not a possibility). It's a fun game and all of us ended up laughing and having a great time together!
When we were back on the bus everyone was overwhelmed with happiness at how wonderful the day was. Dinner was spent with the usual card game tournaments and most of the team was in bed by 11pm.
On Wednesday we are headed off to Mbulamuti and can't be more excited!
Thank you at home for your prayers for this team. It has been a fantastic time so far, praise God!
The team finally arrived in Jinja after an unexpectedly long weekend of travel.
We were delayed so long in Chicago due to mechanical issues that we missed our connection in Brussels. Luckily, we were able to connect with the airline just before the we took off for Brussels to book us on the next flight out. Unfortunately, that flight meant an 11 hour layover in Brussels. We also had to split up the team which is never ideal but it was the only way to all get to Uganda by Monday.
We were rerouted through Ethiopia which was another fun adventure and finally made our way to Uganda. Despite the awkward and long journey, we were blessed to see that our bags had made it to Uganda with us! Praise the Lord!
I Thank God that this team is full of amazing people who have the best attitudes and remained positive the entire way. While everyone is extremely exhausted, we are very excited to get this Ugandan party started.
Because we are an entire day behind, we will have to adjust our schedule of village visits - but when in Uganda, flexibility is always a vital trait!
On Tuesday we visit Kamuli and the team is so thrilled to get to our first village and start seeing the kids. It's the smiles on the faces of the kids and the relationships we build with the people in each community that truly make the long journey worth every minute.
Thanks for all your prayers for a safe journey!
Hearts & Hope is a nonprofit organization focused on unlocking the potential of people in Uganda through relationships with people in the US.