Tuesday was spent in eastern Uganda in a village called Nalwire, near the Kenya border. It was a beautiful drive along Iganga road. We arrived in under three hours and spent the bulk of the day with these new friends.
We met in a mud structure that serves as their church. Everyone was surprised at the cool temperature inside! We were entertained by some dancing from the school choir and then proceeded with some activities with the children.
Chrissy met with the younger kids inside one of the classrooms to let them paint. We were so impressed with their skills – and their ability to keep the paper dust-free! The older girls made headbands and painted nails, while the older boys moved across the road to play, what else, soccer! Mary and Kelly spent time outside playing jump rope and reading books to the nursery students.
We had the opportunity to deliver some shirts donated by Lutheran High School in St. Charles, Missouri. There is a lot of Under Armor being represented in Nalwire today! The bright, neon colors look beautiful on the kids and it was a thrill to replace a rotted shirt with something new.
Margaret, the leader of the women’s group, invited us to visit her home. We took a short walk through some tall grass and hedges to the clearing where she lives. She was a most gracious hostess! We were also able to visit another set of homes that have immaculately sculpted bushes in front. It was fun to visit with the women who live in these homes as they shelled beans for their dinner.
Messiah Lutheran Church in Weldon Spring, Missouri also provided funds to purchase six goats to be donated to the women of Nalwire. They will breed these goats and pass along the offspring to other members of the congregation. I believe it may have been the first up close and personal encounter with a goat for some of the team!
As we left, we went knowing that it was our last full day in a village for the team. Always a bit of a sad time. The team is tired – physically, mentally, and emotionally. There are times that you don’t really know if you can “feel” anymore. I do know this team is leaving behind a lot. They have spent their energy wisely and most likely, left a little of their heart. It has been a joy to serve beside them.
Today, we are heading to Nakabango for a brief visit to the school. Then it will be back to Jinja for some lunch and shopping and then on to Kampala. We are thankful for good health for everyone and safe travels.
Saw this guy and some friends along Iganga road!
Our days always begin by picking up cases of water in Jinja. Yesterday was no different, but we also had shopping to do for Betty, a beautiful girl with some challenges, including mild cerebral palsy, who goes to school in Jinja and is sponsored by the Ehlmann family. Tonya, Violet, Maj, Mariah, and Ronald roamed the aisles of the supermarket finding all the requirements. The rest of the team enjoyed an ice cream treat while we waited.
What a great day in Butangala! If being greeted by hundreds of singing children waving eucalyptus branches with drums beating in the background is on your bucket list, you need to visit Butangala! This village is a bit further off the main road than most that we visit so it always seems the anticipation is a bit ramped up by the time we hear those sweet voices. These kids never cease to take our breath away.
We began our visit with a walk around the perimeter of the recently purchased land. Many thanks to Butangala’s partner, Immanuel Lutheran Church in Wentzville, Missouri for your generosity that made this happen!
We enjoyed some speeches by the church and school leadership and amazing dancing by the girls. The headmaster in Butangala has a reputation for encouraging music, drama, and dance. It is evident in the short time he has been in this school that he has had a huge impact.
After introductions, we had the chance to present two sewing machines and cabinets to the women’s group. Funding was provided by some friends of Hearts and Hope at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Peoria, Illinois. This gift will be one more way that they women can support their families. Thank you, St. Peter’s!!
We were presented with a goat as a gesture of thanks (it’s been quite a week of livestock for us!) Their generosity was touching, even if the goat’s life was short-lived….
The afternoon was spent with our usual projects. I told the team I could have stayed on the bus – they didn’t need me anymore! Shelby, Charlie, and Susan had a chance to help make soap with the women, culminating with songs from Shelby and Charlie, and a robust dance from the latter. I have been touched by the response from the women; I truly believe this is life-changing for them.
The younger set gathered with the “middle school” girls under the eucalyptus trees for some precious time of sharing. They made headbands, bracelets, and painted nails. Some things are universal!
Sweeties were delivered and it was time to leave. Anyone who visits this village marvels over the beautiful views of the surrounding hillsides. We stand in awe!
Our last stop of the day was Betty’s school. No surprise that she was waiting in the school yard for us when we arrived. The hug that she gave Tonya is not something I will soon forget. Her curled arms wrapped Tonya in a bear hug to beat all bear hugs. It was, indeed, a “moment”.
We toured a bit and then went to the dormitory where Betty stays. Watching her take out each treasure from the slightly-oversized J that Tonya brought her was mesmerizing. We all stood by as she and Violet put each item back in her trunk and lock it up. The entire room was brought to tears when Betty pulled out a special photo given to her on a previous trip. It is the Ehlmann family with Betty photo-shopped into it – the perfect family portrait and obviously something she treasures.
We left with not many dry eyes on the bus and returned to our beloved Sunset Hotel. It was our night to go to the All Friends pizza kitchen restaurant – always a fun evening. We shared dinner with the Uganda Hearts and Hope team and I had a chance to visit with Nicholas’ wife, Jackie. I love the chance to learn more about our staff and their lives here. They are a hard-working, dedicated group.
We are heading east today to the village of Nalwire. They have no partner and it is striking example of what most of the Hearts and Hope partner villages looked like before they had partners. Prayers for safe travel and a productive day are appreciated.
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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.
Hearts & Hope is a nonprofit organization focused on unlocking the potential of people in Uganda through relationships with people in the US.