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!
Today we had the pleasure of visiting the village of Nalwire, partnered with Redeemer Lutheran Church in Redwood City, CA. What a magical day it was. Since the sponsorship program was just recently launched, it was the first time this village has ever received communication from their sponsors in the US. The students don’t fully understand what we meant when we said we had packets, but magical is the only word I can think of to describe the looks on these kids' faces when they saw the pictures and letters sent in from their sponsors. It was also incredible to drive up to this village and see over 70 students in nice, new uniforms and brand new shoes. It was in stark contrast to our previous visits when we usually the only clothing we would see is ripped, old and dirty. A HUGE thanks to the people of Redeemer who sponsored those kids so quickly! Your support will be such a blessing to them and it will be an equal blessing to watch these beautiful children bloom through education.
The mission team jumped in to help with the confusion of this first time process while also entertaining the HUNDREDS of other kids from the community who gathered outside the school room to watch. This is a team of energetic and extremely compassionate people and today further proved that fact. As we had many students still available for sponsorship join the sponsored ones to make a craft, the team saw the many faces of the students still in need of a support for their education. When you put a face to an issue, it all becomes so much more real. As a result of this, we ended the day with 8 of those available students being sponsored by our team! It was such a blessing to see the team members be able to meet their new students face to face that day and to introduce themselves to these special little souls they bonded with and tell them that they were going to be able to join their friends in school this year! Jodi sponsored a little girl named Phoebe and with the pastor translating for her, she asked, “what is your favorite color?” Phoebe sweetly answered “A uniform!”. Clearly she was thrilled and focused on now being able to get a nice new uniform with her sponsorship after seeing many of her friends outfitted in one. They take such pride in their education!!!
The mission team also came together again in a very special way. Since Nalwire is in the beginning stages of partnership and sponsorship, they sometimes have trouble providing us lunch with their very limited funds. The team came together and collected MORE than enough to feed us and the school staff/village leaders, with some money leftover. It was decided by the team that the leftover funds would be used to buy 4 sheets of tin roofing so the school could finish or repair the school's current roofing. Amazing how much can be accomplished when kind hearts come together!
Tomorrow we head to Mbulamuti and then we will visit the unsponsored village of Namwendwa. This is always a good opportunity to see the contrast between different levels of support and how a partnership can impact the communities we serve.
As each day passes, the team experiences more and more amazing Ugandan moments.
The weather has been so sunny, warm and beautiful which makes all the team members want to slow down time to extend their enjoyment just a little longer. The past two days were spent in 2 of our partnered villages - Nakabango & Butangala. Each of these communities have come a very long way in the development thanks to Messiah in St Charles, MO and Immanuel Lutheran in Wentzville, MO. The entire community is always very happy and eager to "receive" the team.
Both sponsorship packet programs went off without a hitch and the team members are now experts on the whole process. If you sponsor a student through Hearts & Hope, thank you for sending your packet to your student. Their smiles of wonder and joy demonstrate how important these little packets of love are to these students, letting them know that someone cares about their future.
After packets, we made paper plate fans with the children for them to decorate and take home - boy was that a weather appropriate activity! When you panned across the villages you saw multitudes of waving fans on hot little faces!
We also included the women in our team's activities each day. The women in Nakabango were given sewing kits and they taught the younger kids on how to sew up their clothes and replace buttons. This gives these young students the skills to ensure that they always look nice and "sharp" in their uniforms. Sometimes the women are so busy with housework/digging, they rarely have time to mend the children's clothes, so it was important to pass out the sewing kits for both the women and older students to practice.
Then it was manicure time for the women in Butangala! We brought nail polish, lotion, and nail files and the women enjoyed being pampered and receiving some attention & love - even if just for a little while. Diane even gave many of the women hand massages which made them feel special in such a relaxing way! it was great to see all the beautiful nails (and smiles) at the end of the day! Thank you to all who donated the nail polish and sewing kits, they have been truly such a wonderful gift that the team used to build relationships with these women who rarely receive special attention or activities.
One particular cute moment from these past few days was a conversation between Kim and her student Anita. Kim was explaining to Anita that at home when she is going to sleep she always thinks about Anita who would be just waking up to walk to school. Anita's eyes lit up and she exclaimed "Kim, every time I wake up and walk to school, I think about YOU!" Another example of how important sponsors are in the minds of these students. They are truly heroes to these kids and it is so special to witness and hear about all the different ways this sponsor relationship enhances lives in both Uganda and at home.
The next few days will be spent in Nalwire and Mbulamuti!
This will be the first sponsorship packet program for Nalwire which is partnered with Redeemer in Redwood City, CA. We are so excited to see the sponsorship connection bloom in this newest partnered village!
Greetings from Uganda!!!
It is so wonderful to be back in Uganda. As the team was riding the bus on our way to Jinja, the town we stay in, the excitement was palpable. none of the team members seemed to have slept well on the long plane rides, but it seems as though all the inconveniences of international travel seem to fade as soon as we step onto Ugandan soil.
After reaching our hotel and sleeping for a few hours, it was time for our first village visit. This team consists of newcomers and "veteran" team members. This mix is always an asset to the trip as it ensures the day's schedule runs smoothly while at the same time possessing that first timer wonder and awe. We reached the village of Kainhagoga and we were literally flooded with love when we stepped off the bus. I find it amazing how much love these kids have for perfect strangers. The hugs, hand holds, and smiles would make one think this was a giant family reunion. In many ways, thats exactly what it was - because so many teams from Hearts & Hope have visited and it seems like everyone has a comfortable familiarity with each other.
Our sponsors were so thrilled to see their sponsored students and the students of their families and friends. The bond they hold with each other is strong and supersedes all cultural barriers. Even when the first-timers meet their students, there is such a strong emotional connection that isn't always present when meeting someone for the first time. It was fascinating to see how Joanna and Diane's sponsored girls ran right up to them. They had recognized them from the coveted pictures sent over in their past packets!!! Those communications & photos that sponsors send to their student is extremely important and these kids love them!
We were able to pass out the enormous pile of sponsorship packets in what seemed like record time. This team seems to works together unbelievably well and I'm thankful for their hard work for the sake of these kid's happiness.
Another task we accomplished was giving away 16 goats. One of our team member's Sunday school program collected spare change last year and raised enough money to provide this precious gift!!! This is such a precious gift that keeps on giving as the goats can be used for milk, meat and bred to be sold for income for the needy families who receive them. What a testament to what happens when someone's passion and a little effort can do to help a fellow brother & sister!!!
After saying goodbye to the school and the students, we headed out to visit some of the sponsored students homes. This was particularly special for a few of the sponsors on this trip as we were visiting THEIR child's home. It can be very eye opening to see not only the student you're supporting who lives 8,000 miles away, but to also see where these students call home. It's very emotional after the day's joy & happiness to realize your child goes home to a small, humble structure where they live with their parents and 7 other siblings, combined with the fact that there are limited resources for food and basic living supplies.
However, it is vital for sponsors to see the hard truth. It is the reason these students place an incredible amount of hope in our sponsors and see them as an extended part of their family. To have the opportunity to go to school, study hard, and have a chance to escape the extreme poverty they were born into is an incredible gift. These visits are also a gift for the lucky few who get to visit Uganda and witness this first hand on each trip. It is our hope they share these stories for the sake of future kids who are in need to change their unfortunate circumstances through access to education.
The team left these home visits with full if not slightly heavy hearts and we all headed back to the Sunset hotel to relax. Many people called it an early night after experiencing an exciting and equally emotionally exhausting day. We head to Nakabango on Sunday and look forward to more moments of love between the families there and their sponsors and partners in the US.
Thank you to everyone at home who has prayed for safe travels and supported their loved ones on this long, but transformational journey.
Hearts & Hope is a nonprofit organization focused on unlocking the potential of people in Uganda through relationships with people in the US.