Many times, we have asked the congregation at Messiah Lutheran Church in Weldon Spring, MO to donate candy for our trips to Uganda - most notably, Dum Dums. They are inexpensive and they travel well. And, they hold up to being thrown out of the window to eager hands as we travel the back roads of rural Uganda.
I have had people ask me "why candy?" It's not healthy and it's such a small thing. Shouldn't we concentrate on more substantial gifts? Understandable questions, but the candy is so much more
It is a treat, a "sweetie" to kids who don't often get something special. It is the doorway to a conversation with a pre-teen boy. It's a gift for a teenage mother and the baby strapped on her back. It's a surprise flying out the window of a bus full of white people as a team bumps along a narrow road to a remote area.
During this trip I was struck by how many times candy plays a role in a story. Just like in the US, sometimes you need a reason to mingle with the crowd. Many times, handing out candy provides that for us in Uganda.
While we were in Butangala, a village plagued with extreme poverty, we had the chance to enjoy an unusual amount of free time. My mind was spinning with ways we could engage as many kids as possible. One idea was wheelbarrow races. The prize? Another piece of candy, of course.
I watched a two-man team dominate the first race. The older boy, probably 11 years old, was muscular and had stayed back as we had worked with the younger kids earlier. He was a typical pre-teen - a little too cool to come forward for candy, but wanting to be included just the same.
After they won the race, I gave him his Dum Dum and watched as he walked away. As the next race unfolded, I kept watching as he unwrapped the candy and bit off the entire end.
He bit it again and it cracked into 3 pieces.
He knelt down and gave 2 of the 3 small pieces to two small children who had followed him. Neither of them was over two years old; I don't know if they were siblings or just more kids in the village. I do know I was struck by the fact that no adult was telling him to share. He could have easily walked away with the entire treat for himself, but he didn't. He opted to share, of his own accord. I've seen it happen so many times and I'm always taken back by these kids' selflessness.
During a bus ride out of a village near Masindi, I shared a seat with an older gentleman. A lot of times, people will hitch a ride to the main road with us. He was most likely in his late 50's or early 60's, but looked more like he was over 70.
He had on a tattered suit jacket and didn't speak much. I offered him a piece of candy. He was an odd sight - very regal, with a blue Dum Dum in his mouth! After a couple of minutes of enjoying the treat, he took it out of his mouth and put it in the inside pocket of his jacket. One of our staff members saw me watching him and explained that he was saving the rest for his granddaughter at home.
I hurriedly opened my backpack and pulled out any kind of snack, candy, and mint I had in there and gave it to the man with a smile. He grinned and told me "thank you very much" in broken English. The bus reached the main road and the man got off with a wave to me.
Yep, candy isn't much. But maybe it is; maybe it's a universal language that says "hi" or "be happy" or "I noticed you" - no knowledge of English or Lugandan necessary. Whatever, keep those Dum Dums coming, Messiah! They are appreciated more than you know!
Andy, Todd, and I have arrived home safely, with no flight delays or other issues! We are thankful for the time we got to spend in Uganda - so much was accomplished that will allow us to move forward and touch the lives of more kids. We continue to be grateful to those who have donated to Hearts and Hope and those who are sponsoring children. Watch for more stories from our trip in the days to come!
Andy and Todd, relaxing at the home of Charles and Eve Bameka, prior to leaving for the airport Entebbe. Twenty-four hours later, we are home!
It is early Sunday morning here in Kampala; we arrived around 9:30 last night after a 3-hour plus drive from Jinja. Jinja Road is always busy, but there was a truck that had run off the road and was blocking traffic. While traffic is always a bit of a rat race here to those of us from the US, the jockeying for position last night rivaled anything I've ever seen. It was truly best to not look out the front window of the bus!
Saturday morning was spent in meetings at the hotel. We met with each staff member individually to discuss their new job descriptions, as well as projects and goals for the coming year. What a blessing to watch this team come together and align on plans for the future! To a number, they are passionate about helping the kids of Uganda and I look forward to seeing all that can be accomplished.
Around 1:00 we took the bus to the home of Henry Ballidawa for lunch. When I asked how far the drive would be to Henry's house, David said "just over the Nile." You don't hear that every day!
Lunch was fabulous and it was nice to enjoy the hospitality of Henry and his family.
After lunch, we dropped everyone off back at the hotel where we would have access to wifi so that everyone's email could be updated as well as some other technological updates. Violet and I seized the moment to do some shopping in Jinja. Afterwards, we sat and talked and shared a snickerdoodle at the Source Café until Charles came by to pick us up.
Everyone met at the Total station on the outskirts of Jinja and we headed for Kampala. When we arrived at the Hotel Africana, we sent the Uganda teams home to rest and we had a late dinner.
Fred Magezi, a member of the LCMU Board and his daughter joined us. Fred's daughter has some special needs and we are looking into ways that we can provide support for her.
She is a sweet little thing and I fell in love watching her drink her orange Fanta.
We are up early this morning, ready (?) to make the long drive to Masindi, where we will worship with a congregation there. We hope to visit a village this afternoon where we have never been and then will spend the night in Masindi for the first time. Looking forward to the adventure!
This is the time in the trip where we start to wind down; we are all physically and emotionally exhausted. We've been bombarded with joy and sadness and sometimes you wonder if your mind and heart can take anymore. And then you see one more child that you know needs help and they smile and you summon up the energy to do it another day! It is a blessing to be a part of this work!
On Friday we visited a small village called Butangala. This is a village that is located in a remote area of Eastern Uganda. It is a simple place in many ways, but also complex at the same time. While life here is simple, it is clear that life here is also
Talking to our local team it we learned that many of the families in this area struggle to provide for themselves and their children. Most can be found working as laborers in the sugarcane fields where they might make 1,000 to 3,000 shillings per day. In U.S. dollars that would be the equivalent of making $0.40 to $1.20 per day.
For those of you who have heard me talk about Uganda, you may recall me talking about how happy the children seem to be. You may have heard me talk about how refreshing it is to see the children get so excited over the simple things in life, as it more common for our own children to completely take for granted all that they have.
But as I reflected on what I saw in Butangala, I realized that if you look close enough you will begin to see the real truth.
And the real truth is, there is more hurt than happiness and there are more challenges than opportunities.
So while some of the harsh realities may be masked by the big smiles, they are harsh realities nonetheless. And this helps explain why each trip to the villages is such an emotional roller-coaster.
On Friday, the roller-coaster ride begin as we turned off the main road and took the bumpy dirt pathway a few miles back, deep into the remote areas of the village. Along the way, we tossed “sweeties” out the window as we so often do. The smiles and screams of excitement from the children as they scramble to pick up their little treasures is truly something I wish everyone could experience.
Yet despite behind the smiles, and excitement, you can’t help but notice the living conditions.
These children are standing in front of homes that are typically no larger than 100-200 square feet. They do not have electricity, running water, nor plumbing and many of them sleep on a dirt floor at night.
When we arrived in the village, we are greeted by more smiles, a lot of singing and a lot of dancing. And during our time with the children we introduced them to new games like human pyramids, wheel barrel races and Frisbee. There was much excitement and much laughter.
Once again, there was a sense of joy and happiness.
But after the initial excitement wore off, and the laughter died down, in the quiet moments you begin to what is really going on in the village. There were dozens of young children walking around unattended. They weren't laughing, and they weren't smiling. They looked hungry, they looked tired and they looked sick.
One little girl in particular caught my eye.
She was maybe 18 months old, and was walking around lost and crying but her mother was nowhere to be found. This is not an uncommon site, however, usually when a small child like this begins crying an older sibling will walk over to calm
the child, or take her to her mother. But no one seemed to pay attention to this child, and she simply stood crying louder and louder.
I asked the other children where the mother was. No one seemed to know who the mother was, or where she lived. So I picked her up and put her on my lap to try and calm her down. Bit by bit, second by second, she began to calm down until she sat calmly and quietly on my lap. Her clothes were tattered and soiled. Her hair was knotted and nappy and there were flies all around her face.
Sitting there with her I was faced with the reality that this is likely not the exception, but the rule in this village. I do not know for sure, as I never did find the child’s mother (instead gave her to a few elder women as we left) but it is likely that the mother was out working in the fields and a younger sibling simply let her get a little too far away.
She was not happy. There was no joy in her.
She was just content to be in the company of someone who cared.
And that is when it hit me. What appears to be joy, may just be the excitement knowing that someone cares. And while we are only there a few times a year, these people have a strong faith that allows them to know that God is always with them.
They have faith that He will provide for them and faith that He will answer their prayers. Upon further reflection, I realize that they may see the small things that we do as an answer to their prayers.
Thanks to the sacrifices of many, this village now has a few children being sponsored to attend school and they now have access to clean water as well. And if we are open to doing His work, we just might be that answer to more prayers and we just might be able to bring more joy and more hope to this village on the other side of the world.
May God bless the people of Butangala and all of His children in Uganda. And may God continue to bless us all, that we may be willing to sacrifice a little so that the prayers of many may be answered in Africa.
On Friday we spent much of the day in Kamuli, a village which is directly sponsored by Hearts & Hope. The team arrived and was greeted by hundreds of children singing & dancing.
Like many of the villages we visited this week, the purpose was to share with the community leaders how Hearts & Hope will further assist the community to offer the highest quality education in their area and for the village itself to become self-sustaining over the long-term. The messages are well received and the villages understand that in order to become self-sustaining, they have to focus on making educational & school improvements a priority in order to attract other students from the surrounding area.
The spirit in Kamuli and its leaders continues to inspire me - they are hopeful and positive about the future and are thankful for the support that they receive. They know that they still have a lot of challenges and a long way to go, but their devotion to each other and their spirit will ensure that their dreams for the future will become a reality.
One huge surprise for Andy, Julie, and me was when Ashraf Woira and his mother walked into the meeting. Ashraf is a small boy that we met in the village of Naminage in November of last year. He required advanced surgery and Hearts & Hope launched a campaign to raise the funds.
I held back tears as Ashraf entered the room - thinking about his situation almost a year ago and now to see him entering the room with a smile on his face.
He and his mother walked all the way from Naminage to see us.
The village chairman stopped the meeting and Ashraf's mother came forward. She described to the Kamuli leaders Ashraf's medical problem that he has suffered with since birth, gave thanks to God, and thanked Hearts & Hope for supporting them.
She was so thankful that she brought two chickens and a bunch of plantains from her village.
Here was this poor woman, unable to provide little if any of the medical fees for her son for the past 7 years, giving probably more than she had to thank us.
It's encounters like these which take your breath away - when you think back to the first time that you met someone and then later see how their lives have changed.
And how many other lives have we encountered and how many relationships have we developed?
As I looked at the students in the school and remembered them all by name - Veronica, Alex, Annita, Patrick, Fida, Daniel, Jonah, Jonathan, Margrate - I realized that each of them likely has a story not too different from Ashraf's. I met a student whose father had passed away several years ago and who had just recently lost her mother. Fortunately, she is able to stay with family members nearby and still attend school. But she is only in 1st grade.
While there is joy, there is also heartache. Kamuli and its people certainly encounter both on a daily basis. While they've seen a glimpse of what a partnership can provide, they know that there is much work to do.
After being away for almost a year, my return to Uganda was just like the encounter today with Ashra.
I have seen the pictures of the progress from the local staff and from the teams that visit, but to see all of the changes first hand truly energizes me.
Where once there was nothing, there now are wells.
And next to those wells are schools with children in uniform, wearing their shoes, and proudly carrying their backpacks - eager to learn.
It brings tears of joy to know that our supporters - many of whom have yet to visit Uganda - are willing to make all of this possible and to impact the lives of so many.
Sorry for no actual post on Thursday; we spent the night at a hotel in Kamuli and had no wifi or cell service (or even any electricity starting around 11:30 that evening!) We started the day by checking out of our beloved Sunset Hotel and beginning our drive to Mbulamuti. We took a new route that involved crossing the river on a ferry - never a dull moment!
We repeated our previous day's itinerary of a lengthy meeting with the teachers and leadership in the village and some special time with the sponsorship kids. We even managed to create a little Cardinal fever - Todd, Andy, and I were thrilled that it worked!
We enjoyed our time in Mbulamuti, a village that partners with Water's Edge in Allen, TX. They have acquired land, a well, and a fabulous school building in the last year and the children are thriving in an area that, in early 2011, was a heartbreaking place to visit.
After we left Mbulamuti, we drove to a village that we had never visited before - Namwendwa. The worship leader in Namwenda is Nicholas Mulero, a graduate of the sponsorship program in Nakabango! What a precious congregation they are. One little boy (who could not have been more than 3 years old) asked Nicholas, the Hearts and Hope accountant, why I wore make-up to make my skin white! Definitely not many American visitors here!
I also had the privilege of holding a tiny baby during most of our time there. Near the end, I was handed a second baby and was told they were twins! Only one and a half months old - and their mother is 19.
We loved our visit with them and look forward to a time when we can match them with a partner congregation in the U.S.
A precious song from the kids in Namwenda.
After we got to the hotel, Charles surprised us with a "goat roasting" for dinner. I fear I wasn't as excited as I should have been, but it HAD been a long day!
As the week has continued, we have been blessed to visit with so many of our Uganda friends and to travel with our staff. Looking forward to a wonderful weekend as well!
We woke up this morning to rainy skies but had beautiful weather for most of the day. Tonight it's jacket weather!
We left the hotel around 10:30 this morning (our intention was to leave by 9:00 but the rain postponed our departure a bit). First stop was Nakabango, the partner of Messiah Lutheran Church in Weldon Spring, MO. We met with the teaching staff and the leadership of the church and school, explaining in greater detail to mission and vision of Hearts and Hope and announcing some of our plans for expansion.
We met with the sponsored children inside the church building and had a great time working on a super secret special project! (Sponsors - you will find out what we accomplished later this year!)
I had the chance to visit the land Messiah helped the disabled ministry in Nakabango purchase and see the crops they are growing - Bananas, beans, and passion fruit. Very impressive! I was really pleased with the progress they have made. It is always good to visit with Alex Bakaki, who leads the program.
Andy toured some land that Nakabango is interested in purchasing to have a dormitory that can be used as a home for street kids from Jinja, as well as for some other projects.
We had the chance to spend some quality time with a lot of kids - my best day!
I never can put into words how much I want these kids to reach their full potential. They are precious and every story I hear from them tugs at my heart more. Their joy-filled little faces are a blessing to behold. Moral of this story: there is much work to be done!
Late in the day, we headed to Kainagoga. Sadly, a lot of the kids had already left, since we were running so late, but many were still waiting for us! We repeated our sponsorship activities and played football (both the Ugandan and the American versions) and I must have taken over 300 pictures of kids who were more than willing to pose. Always amazing how easy it is make them laugh!
Kainagoga's school is still growing, despite the deplorable conditions of the building. The well put in last year has changed their lives for the better, but I continue to pray that there is an organization looking for a partnership that can change their lives as well! Those precious kids need a partner organization to love!
We are waiting on dinner now; it is 8:20 in the evening. Updates are not likely tomorrow as we will spend the night in Kamuli where there is no wireless service available. Looking forward to our visit to Kamuli and nearby Mbulamuti!
Woke up this morning to a storm and the rains are now obscuring my view of the other bank of the Nile river. Since Uganda is near the equator, there is no winter or summer, just an alternation between rainy and dry seasons.
Despite the rain, we have a full day's agenda ahead and I hope that the weather doesn't slow us down. Today we are going to visit Nakabango, which is a short drive north from Jinja. The relationship between Messiah and Nakabango has been strong over the years and was the inspiration for starting Hearts & Hope. Through this partnership, where there was once just green fields there is now a community with a borehole well, an operational primary school, and a sewing & carpentry center.
I can't wait to return and see the friends that I've come to know over the past few years. I also hope that I'll be able to see Patience, the little girl that my family sponsors in Nakabango.
Have a great day and check back for an update later this evening!
As we wrapped up our team meetings today, we had an opportunity to reflect back on the past two years and talk about the future.
While we have achieved much as an organization, there is still much work to do. Working in Uganda, we are often faced with issues that are so complex and so large that you can become paralyzed with fear. Fear of failure, fear of letting people down, fear of not doing it right, or fear of doing more harm than good.
You may also find doubt creeping in, as you ask yourself "What can I possibly do to make a difference." Why should I try if the best minds in the country and the world haven't been able to address these issues. But just when things begin to look hopeless, you realize that they are not. You see, no problem is too big when you stop to realize that it's not the issues that matter, it's the people impacted by the issues. So while we may not be able to solve all the problems in Uganda, we can make a difference in the lives of many. And to make a difference in lives of many, you must start by making a difference in life of just one.
For me and my family, it all started with a young girl named Majorine. Five years ago she was a introduced to us as little more than a girl in need. We had a name, a picture, and we knew she lived a long way away in Uganda. Today we consider her part of our family and yesterday I was lucky enough to visit with her at her school.
And the smile on her face reminded me that what really matters is doing what you can to make a difference in the life of just one.
A long day for everyone on the Hearts and Hope staff, but we have a lot to show for our efforts! The morning was spent as a staff going over accomplishments of the past two years, our vision and mission, refined job descriptions, and an employee code of conduct. After lunch, the team split up. I went with Ronald, Mariah, and David to Nakabango to work on a special project with the P3 and P4 classes. Messiah Lutheran School's 3rd, 4th and 5th graders had written letters to these kids that I delivered. The Nakabango students attempted to write notes back and/or draw a picture. I have many treasures to deliver when I get back!
The remainder of the team moved ahead with parts of the meeting and then went to visit a local Teacher Training College. As we look at expanding our efforts into supporting more students in higher education, this school could be a potential partner. We are exacted about the conversation that took place today and look forward to the future.
After the team reunited, Andy held a brain-storming session to identify the Hearts and Hope priorities for "extra" projects in the coming year. It was so beneficial to have all of us together and to share ideas. We worked on 4 categories including "health and wellness", "education", " small business/commerce", and the infamous "other". We were each allowed 5 votes in each list and ultimately compiled the 4 lists and voted again. Some very interesting results; stay tuned for more details!
Tonight we are having dinner and continuing our discussions. I can safely say that all of our brains are exhausted and have been stretched today. Todd and Andy are in their own small version of heaven with so many business strategies put into place! It's very fun to watch them use their gifts. I like to provide snacks.....
At the end of the day, we really do have much to be proud of. Looking over the accomplishments of Hearts and Hope in the last two years is exciting and challenging at the same time. There is much work to be done and many ideas to turn into realities! Thankful for this amazing staff.
Nicholas, the Hearts and Hope Accountant in Uganda, casts his vote for health
After a long and productive meeting today with the Hearts & Hope staff, the team visited the Teacher Training College in Jinja to discuss how we can continue to improve the capabilities of our teaching staff in our schools. It was a short but productive meeting. The hope is that this relationship with a local teaching college that can provide a pipeline to teaching talent in the area.
Hearts & Hope is a nonprofit organization focused on unlocking the potential of people in Uganda through relationships with people in the US.