As we woke up on day one, we couldn’t believe we were in Uganda again. After 2 years of unknowns, canceled flights, and two lockdowns from the pandemic, the US team had safely arrived back to our second home.
The week was full of very important meetings with the Hearts & Hope staff (US and Ugandan) and the staff from the Lutheran Church of Uganda (LCU). The LCU are charged with running the schools, implementing projects and, more importantly, sharing the love of Christ with our students. As Hearts & Hope continues to grow, It is always so vital to hear updates from the field and envision improvements for the coming year.
We also had a few days of village visits in between long meeting days. This refreshed our spirits as we were reminded of the “why” we were all here in the first place - the children. Our “why” was especially evident in the village of Butogonha.
Butogonha has been visited by Hearts & Hope many times in the past. In 2016, Hearts & Hope installed a clean water well for the community after visiting and seeing them gathering water from local ponds shared with livestock. We also visited them several times on mission trips and it was always a favorite village for the team members due to the incredible energy and hospitality shown to the teams. During the last mission trip we took there, in February 2020, the village and school had deteriorated as students could not even afford pencils and the structure had collapsed in a storm. One mission team member was devastated by what she witnessed and became determined to help this village in any way possible to get them back on their feet. It was discussed with the LCU that if this school was going to survive, it needed a solid permanent structure. The team member graciously agreed to fund this project. In partnership with Messiah Lutheran Church in Weldon Springs, MO, who further committed to sponsoring the children to go to the school, the village of Butogonha was instilled with hope for their future once again.
Flash forward to April 2021 and Hearts & Hope held 2 sponsorship drives at Messiah, hoping to get some of the very first kids sponsored. We were elated when in just 2 weekends, over 90 kids had been sponsored by members of the congregation at Messiah. Without the incredible hearts of the mission team member who funded the school and all the people who felt called to sponsor a child there, this village and school community would have been victims of poverty and ultimately met their demise.
With this fact ingrained in our minds, we visited the school last week to distribute sponsorship packets to the children there for the first time! We knew it would be an exciting day for everyone. What we didn’t anticipate, however, is the immense transformation we witnessed as soon as we pulled up to the school. The whole team simultaneously yelled “woooooow” as what once was a dilapidated, half fallen structure made of sticks, was now a brick structure with 3 classrooms for the nursery students and the completed foundation of the larger, primary school structures. In addition, from what was about 10 children present in 2020, came HUNDREDS of children and parents to celebrate the day and share gratitude for the school, singing and dancing loudly all the way.
To say we were moved is an understatement….but wait, it gets even BETTER!
After the sponsorship packet distribution was through for the 100 sponsored students, something amazing happened that made all of the team fill with emotions. It started with one, a child came up to a team member and gave her some eggs, as a thank you gift for her sponsorship. This often happens as the parents want to show their appreciation, and share some gifts, even with what little they have. It truly demonstrates how grateful these people are for the gift of education. While this might happen with one or two students, in Butogonha, the gifts never stopped! From the time packets were over until we boarded the bus to leave, we all received bag after bag of avocados, oranges, cabbage, corn, jack fruit, bananas, cassava, and even a live chicken! Boy do these children appreciate their sponsors! We were overwhelmed at their generosity and upon leaving the village, both our hearts and hands were quite literally FULL.
Hearts & Hope is a nonprofit organization focused on unlocking the potential of people in Uganda through relationships with people in the US.