Greetings from Uganda!!!
It is so wonderful to be back in Uganda. As the team was riding the bus on our way to Jinja, the town we stay in, the excitement was palpable. none of the team members seemed to have slept well on the long plane rides, but it seems as though all the inconveniences of international travel seem to fade as soon as we step onto Ugandan soil.
After reaching our hotel and sleeping for a few hours, it was time for our first village visit. This team consists of newcomers and "veteran" team members. This mix is always an asset to the trip as it ensures the day's schedule runs smoothly while at the same time possessing that first timer wonder and awe. We reached the village of Kainhagoga and we were literally flooded with love when we stepped off the bus. I find it amazing how much love these kids have for perfect strangers. The hugs, hand holds, and smiles would make one think this was a giant family reunion. In many ways, thats exactly what it was - because so many teams from Hearts & Hope have visited and it seems like everyone has a comfortable familiarity with each other.
Our sponsors were so thrilled to see their sponsored students and the students of their families and friends. The bond they hold with each other is strong and supersedes all cultural barriers. Even when the first-timers meet their students, there is such a strong emotional connection that isn't always present when meeting someone for the first time. It was fascinating to see how Joanna and Diane's sponsored girls ran right up to them. They had recognized them from the coveted pictures sent over in their past packets!!! Those communications & photos that sponsors send to their student is extremely important and these kids love them!
We were able to pass out the enormous pile of sponsorship packets in what seemed like record time. This team seems to works together unbelievably well and I'm thankful for their hard work for the sake of these kid's happiness.
Another task we accomplished was giving away 16 goats. One of our team member's Sunday school program collected spare change last year and raised enough money to provide this precious gift!!! This is such a precious gift that keeps on giving as the goats can be used for milk, meat and bred to be sold for income for the needy families who receive them. What a testament to what happens when someone's passion and a little effort can do to help a fellow brother & sister!!!
After saying goodbye to the school and the students, we headed out to visit some of the sponsored students homes. This was particularly special for a few of the sponsors on this trip as we were visiting THEIR child's home. It can be very eye opening to see not only the student you're supporting who lives 8,000 miles away, but to also see where these students call home. It's very emotional after the day's joy & happiness to realize your child goes home to a small, humble structure where they live with their parents and 7 other siblings, combined with the fact that there are limited resources for food and basic living supplies.
However, it is vital for sponsors to see the hard truth. It is the reason these students place an incredible amount of hope in our sponsors and see them as an extended part of their family. To have the opportunity to go to school, study hard, and have a chance to escape the extreme poverty they were born into is an incredible gift. These visits are also a gift for the lucky few who get to visit Uganda and witness this first hand on each trip. It is our hope they share these stories for the sake of future kids who are in need to change their unfortunate circumstances through access to education.
The team left these home visits with full if not slightly heavy hearts and we all headed back to the Sunset hotel to relax. Many people called it an early night after experiencing an exciting and equally emotionally exhausting day. We head to Nakabango on Sunday and look forward to more moments of love between the families there and their sponsors and partners in the US.
Thank you to everyone at home who has prayed for safe travels and supported their loved ones on this long, but transformational journey.
What do you think of when you hear the word home? Maybe you think of your childhood bedroom, your relaxing bathroom, or your kitchen table where many family meals are shared. This past week we did a few home visits where some of the sponsored kids live. The picture painted in the minds of most people in the US when we hear the word home is quite contrasting to what we saw. The first few homes were one-room structures made mostly of mud and sticks. The mothers greeted us warmly as soon as we arrived and generously began showing us around their homes. While US kitchens are often nestled somewhere indoors, the kitchen is usually the first "room" you notice in rural Uganda, as it's often outside the home. Generally, the kitchen is comprised of a firepit, sticks, rocks, charcoal, and a few pots and plates, either a few feet from the structure or sometimes even in the home. The bathroom is also outdoors, although the "toilet" is really just the ground and the "shower" is generally a bucket of water, hidden behind a partially enclosed area. Indoors, there was usually either one or two rooms. A storage room and a "living room," where the family sleeps at night. Beds are made of rolled-up bamboo mats that on the floor when it was time to sleep. Many times multiple children share one mat.
This example of material poverty, however, was juxtaposed with the pride, happiness, and welcoming spirit of the mother who greeted us. “Home” means something very different here. Home means having a community of families coming together to help raise children who can contribute to the wellbeing of said community in the future. It is comprised of many neighbors coming together, gathering what little they have, and contributing to one another. I fear that my home community is so much more focused on material wellbeing that our sense of togetherness is sacrificed. The people in Uganda take great care of each other and when one family unit is in need, others come to their aid with no questions asked.
This aspect was highlighted in the last home we visited. Before we arrived, Mariah, our primary sponsorship coordinator, turned to me and said, “you need to prepare yourself for this one”. That statement was alarming as the homes we had just toured weren’t exactly easy to see from my Western perspective. We pulled up along the main road to a tiny structure made up of coal bags and leaves. The bedroom was the size of a small closet where sacks are laid down and the two share the spot and hope for safety through the night.
They did not have any sort of bathroom structure, so the grandmother and girl have to shower at night with a bucket and try to dodge any light source in order to protect what little privacy they have left. This was the home of a sponsored 6-year-old student and her grandmother. The girl’s father was killed in a car accident and the mother remarried and abandoned the child. A story that is all too common here. The grandmother was very frail, sickly, and therefore couldn’t work. The only way they receive food/shelter is from a good Samaritan across the street. This lady owns a small store and allows the grandmother to sell charcoal for her and in return, she gives them some food to eat. We went to give our thanks to this store owner and we had a great discussion about how we must take care of each other here on Earth and she only hoped that someone would do the same for her if the roles were reversed.
God did not create us alone. Whether our houses are made of mud, coal sacks, or concrete and plaster, the community of people God has entrusted to us is what makes that space home. As difficult as that was to see, it was another eye-opener as to what is truly important in this life: loving one another. Whether that be through sponsoring a child from afar or taking care of your neighbor just across the street. These are the means by which God leads us away from our material homes on Earth, to our spiritual home with him in Heaven.
Hearts & Hope is a nonprofit organization focused on unlocking the potential of people in Uganda through relationships with people in the US.