The leadership team for Hearts and Hope arrived safely home on Monday evening around 5:30. We had a mostly uneventful trip back with only a one-hour plus delay while we sat on the runway at JFK in New York.
The next couple of days will be spent getting sleep schedules back in order (Uganda is 8 hours ahead of St. Louis) and catching up with our families and our jobs.
Sponsors should look forward to an update in the mail in the next two weeks. We have pictures of many of the sponsorship students and even letters from some. Packets are being delivered to any of the students who weren't available during our visit by our Primary Sponsorship Coordinator, Ronald, and our Advanced Sponsorship Coordinator, David. They will be taking pictures of the kids as they make those deliveries and those will be sent to sponsors as well.
We will also be making new posts to this blog in the next few weeks to share some of the stories we heard during out trip.
Friday was reserved for meetings with our Hearts and Hope staff in Uganda. We met at the office in Jinja and spent the morning discussing issues presented by both the Ugandan and US staff. It was a highly productive morning and will go a long way towards improving the organization and positioning us to help even more kids.
After lunch at the Source Cafe (where we met a man from Arkansas!), we decided to make a surprise visit to Nakabango. We have been working on a little music project and we went down the side road so that we didn't attract a lot of attention. We spent about an hour working on the project under the watchful eye of around 20 kids who don't attend school. It was a nice way to end our week and a reminder of why we need to take time to meet with our staff and make plans for the future!
A thunderstorm moved in, so we left Nakabango and returned to the Sunset Hotel. Andy and I met separately with each member of the staff for the next hour and a half. We received a lot of good feedback and we each have a list of action items to bring home. Mine will be written in my notebook; Andy's will be in spreadsheet form. That's how we roll!
We went to a different restaurant for dinner. Formerly known as "Two Friends", it is under new ownership and is called "All Friends Place". It is a beautiful place and a great location to unwind after an mentally and physically exhausting week. We toasted the staff and even took a special picture to let Todd know we have been thinking about him; he had to leave Uganda earlier in the week due to a family emergency.
We rode back to the Sunset Hotel in Charles' truck with Ronald at the wheel. Such a fun night to spend with these people we have grown to know and love so much. Saying goodbye to part of the staff last night was difficult. We value each of them and love knowing we will see them again soon!
On Thursday, we had the incredible task of delivering the news to Butangala that they now have a partnership with Immanuel Lutheran Church and School in Wentzville, Missouri! Wow! The reaction was pure joy! We look forward to some of the members of Immanuel making the trip with us in February to see firsthand the lives that are being changed by this partnership.
There were 15 children previously being sponsored here, thanks to an organization called "Misfits for Jesus". Since Immanuel announced their partnership with Butangala, the number quickly has risen to 69, with 17 students ready for sponsorship on the website: http://www.heartsandhope.org/butangala-immanuel.html.
We spent some time working on crafts and taking pictures with the kids and then delivered the packets from their sponsors. It's hard to describe the impact this has on a child. They LOVE seeing pictures of their sponsoring families! One little girl had a bright pink headband in her packet. I was helping her look through the other contents and took the headband out and tied it around her head. I snapped her picture and showed her the result; that smile was priceless! Truly a princess.
We also spent time with the women who were all dressed in traditional Ugandan dresses; the colors popped against the brown, wooden benches they sat on. Many times there is a bigger language barrier with the women than the children so there ends up being a lot of smiling, laughing and wild gestures. I'm guessing that the message that we really do care about them somehow gets across.
The rest of the afternoon was spent singing and dancing with the kids. Sheer joy is the only way to describe the reaction of most of the children when they receive undivided attention from a visitor. It is an honor to be able to be the face of so many people who care about the future of these kids.
The building formerly used for the school is near-collapse. The roof is completely gone. The man who has allowed the school to meet there has indicated he will continue to allow it so the parents are working to raise funds to purchase tin to cover the roof again. Most of the classes meet in a temporary structure built by the community.
There is a line at the well, built just last year, most of the time.
We returned to the hotel around 6:00 and spent more time discussing the business side of Hearts and Hope with part of the staff. Today will be spent in meetings, designed to improve the organization both in Uganda and the US. We are excited about the future of Hearts and Hope!
Wednesday morning we woke up in Kamuli to the stillness of no fans running because the power was out. That was soon replaced by the rumble of thunder as we began a soggy morning in Mbulamuti! To quote Violet, "no worries" and we made our way to the village by mid-morning.
Mbulamuti partners with Water's Edge-Allen and Water's Edge-Frisco in Dallas. What began as a small congregation meeting in an abandoned building has become a flourishing school of over 400. It was a pleasure to enjoy some entertainment by the kids and check out their new playground! One hundred ten students are sponsored here. They are a photogenic bunch!
After lunch, we began the bumpy drive to the village of Namwendwa. We had a few exciting moments when the bus hit some particularly muddy patches but we pulled into this special place about an hour later.
Namwenda owns a small amount of land and they have constructed a very temporary structure that serves as a school for 120 kids. They have no partner and no children are sponsored. We did leave a duffel bag full of books with them in February and loved seeing them being used. We even got to enjoy a "drama" that was from the Arches book "The Empty Tomb"; the kids did an AWESOME job!
We had the privilege of handing out treat bags, decorated by kids at Messiah Lutheran School, and filled with bracelets, also made by these kids, letters, and candy. Violet directed traffic and it was quite an orderly process! The kids were thrilled. We had enough bracelets left over to share with the women and we can safely say everyone with in a one mile radius must have received candy!
Apparently, hamming it up for the camera is universal!
We had lunch, again, in Namwendwa and then the party started! We had time to lead the kids in a rousing rendition of "If You're Happy and You Know It" and the Hokey-Pokey. There are pictures of me "turning myself about" that will not be shared, but it was great fun. Next, Andy broke out the wireless speaker and we share our theme song for the week "Best Day of My Life". SO MUCH FUN dancing and singing with these kids! We are thankful for a day where we could simply enjoy the moment.
We said our "good-byes" and headed for home. We drove up on a car in the ditch and a truck in the center of the road soon after we left. Julius, our courageous bus driver, was able to navigate us around the scene and an hour and a half later, we were back at the Sunset Hotel in Jinja.
It was a small group for dinner - only 6 of us. Somehow the discussion turned to the Tooth Fairy and Violet shared the Uganda version with us - the Tooth Rat. Yes, Tooth Rat. Those of you who know Violet know that there is always the possibility of embellishment with her, but we googled it and she was telling the truth!
Today we go to Butangala. They are going to hear some great news today - that they have a partner in the US with Immanuel Lutheran Church & School in Wentzville, Missouri. They have gone from 18 to 69 sponsored kids since our last visit and we look forward to sharing that news with them!
We are thankful for your continued prayers and look forward to our day!
It is Wednesday evening in Uganda. We just returned from two days in the Kamuli area where we had no wifi and very little phone service. We packed a lot into the two days!
Yesterday we left Jinja and headed north to Kamuli. The road has been under construction for several years and is almost complete. A ride that used to take 3 hours took us on 50 minutes; this is a great thing!
We arrived to a loud, energetic greeting - something we've come to expect from our friends in Kamuli. The children provided entertainment for awhile and then it was the women's turn to pump things up a bit! And, yes, Crystal, Andy, and I all got in on the action. A pact has been made that no video will be shown.....
We met with the sponsored kids and handed out their packets. They are so respectful and we loved every minute of watching them open their treasures from the sponsoring families. After a couple of projects and a meeting with the women, it was time for lunch. It is always interesting to watch the kids line up for this meal - the only meal of the day for many. Mondays, Wednesday, and Fridays they typically have beans and rice; Tuesdays and Thursdays they have porridge. The cooks are some of the hardest working women you will ever meet!
We had time in the afternoon to hang out with the kids a bit - always a favorite thing for me. It is such a treat to hear their stories and laugh with them. One boy, Alex, wanted to know if my phone was an iPhone 4 or 5! He considers himself our personal tour guide on every visit and is SO entertaining. He suggested I bring him a skateboard next time we visit. I'm laughing at the thought of him trying to use a skateboard on the roads in Kamuli!
We enjoyed some more entertainment (including a mini-concert by some guys playing homemade string instruments!) and then had the chance to make some home visits again. Two of the sponsorship girls are sisters and the family rode with us on the bus to their home. It is an incredibly long walk for these kids to get to the Hearts and Hope primary school in Kamuli - really unbelievable! It was a great visit; again, we learned so much seeing where these kids live.
Next we visited the home of Frank, who was in an accident 3 months ago that broke his femur and dislocated his hip. We are going to send him to a hospital for x-rays and determine if there is a way to assist him in his healing. Some girls from the St. Tereza's Academy were walking by during our visit and joined us for some fun pictures. Their purple uniforms are beautiful!
After we checked in at the hotel in Kamuli, we gathered on the back lawn for a night of nail-painting, goat roasting, and dancing. Quite an evening! Several of our friends from Kamuli joined us and it was quite the celebration.
Another productive, tiring day but so worth every ounce of effort put into it. It is a joy to see the school in Kamuli functioning so well, with an incredible staff. We appreciate their efforts!
Hearts & Hope is a nonprofit organization focused on unlocking the potential of people in Uganda through relationships with people in the US.