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.
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.
Hearts & Hope is a nonprofit organization focused on unlocking the potential of people in Uganda through relationships with people in the US.