As each day passes, the team experiences more and more amazing Ugandan moments.
The weather has been so sunny, warm and beautiful which makes all the team members want to slow down time to extend their enjoyment just a little longer. The past two days were spent in 2 of our partnered villages - Nakabango & Butangala. Each of these communities have come a very long way in the development thanks to Messiah in St Charles, MO and Immanuel Lutheran in Wentzville, MO. The entire community is always very happy and eager to "receive" the team.
Both sponsorship packet programs went off without a hitch and the team members are now experts on the whole process. If you sponsor a student through Hearts & Hope, thank you for sending your packet to your student. Their smiles of wonder and joy demonstrate how important these little packets of love are to these students, letting them know that someone cares about their future.
After packets, we made paper plate fans with the children for them to decorate and take home - boy was that a weather appropriate activity! When you panned across the villages you saw multitudes of waving fans on hot little faces!
We also included the women in our team's activities each day. The women in Nakabango were given sewing kits and they taught the younger kids on how to sew up their clothes and replace buttons. This gives these young students the skills to ensure that they always look nice and "sharp" in their uniforms. Sometimes the women are so busy with housework/digging, they rarely have time to mend the children's clothes, so it was important to pass out the sewing kits for both the women and older students to practice.
Then it was manicure time for the women in Butangala! We brought nail polish, lotion, and nail files and the women enjoyed being pampered and receiving some attention & love - even if just for a little while. Diane even gave many of the women hand massages which made them feel special in such a relaxing way! it was great to see all the beautiful nails (and smiles) at the end of the day! Thank you to all who donated the nail polish and sewing kits, they have been truly such a wonderful gift that the team used to build relationships with these women who rarely receive special attention or activities.
One particular cute moment from these past few days was a conversation between Kim and her student Anita. Kim was explaining to Anita that at home when she is going to sleep she always thinks about Anita who would be just waking up to walk to school. Anita's eyes lit up and she exclaimed "Kim, every time I wake up and walk to school, I think about YOU!" Another example of how important sponsors are in the minds of these students. They are truly heroes to these kids and it is so special to witness and hear about all the different ways this sponsor relationship enhances lives in both Uganda and at home.
The next few days will be spent in Nalwire and Mbulamuti!
This will be the first sponsorship packet program for Nalwire which is partnered with Redeemer in Redwood City, CA. We are so excited to see the sponsorship connection bloom in this newest partnered village!
Before the team headed to safari we had a final day to see the kids in Butangala and do some shopping afterwards.
When we arrived in Butangala, Pastor Jason headed straight to lead a catechism class for the church. The church in Butangala started weekly catechism classes on Saturdays for the community and Immanuel Wentzville is providing the church in Butangala with worship and instructional materials. Since this visit coincided with the catechism class, Pastor Jason took the opportunity to join in the weekly teach responsibilities!!! It was awesome seeing Jason and Bishop Charles work together to lead this class and the students were very appreciative!!!
While Pastor Jason & Bishop Charles conducted the class, we met with the women of the village to have fun with a small project. It is always wonderful to see the joy in the eyes of these women, as they are often not given too much special attention in their lives. They all gathered excitedly and were ready for decorating some tote bags - something so simple, yet this activity brought them so much joy. They took pride in every stroke of paint they applied and the bags turned out beautiful!
An extra special experience for Liz was when she was able to meet her newly sponsored child. After experiencing the villages earlier in the week, Liz decided that she wanted to sponsor a child and selected. Her little Praise had the biggest smile, despite having lost her mother several years ago. While she wasn’t too comfortable with Mzungus (or "white people"), she was adorable and happy to meet Liz. Liz has daughters similar in age to Praise, so it will be so great to watch them all grow together over the coming years!
The team then went to an away field to play some organized sports. The kids with their new netball and soccer jerseys looked like they were ready to take some Mzungus down! We split into a netball game and soccer game and the whole team had a lot of fun engaging in these kid’s favorite pastimes. Not sure who won either game, but the sweaty, tired look on all the Mzungu’s faces was a sign of how hard they had to play to match the skills of the students.
After exhausting a lot of energy and saying our last goodbyes to Butangala the team headed in to Jinja to eat lunch and do some shopping.
This is always a great way for the team to decompress from an exciting and exhausting week. The team loaded the bus back up with lots of fun goodies & souvenirs to take home and we were able to get back to Sunset earlier than usual.
This gave the Pastors Jason & Paul extra time to set up a wonderful church service that evening, since we would be traveling to safari that Sunday.
It is always such a blessing to have pastors join the mission team and Bishop Charles was also happy to assist. It was wonderful to pause on a Saturday night from a hectic, but joyful, week and prayerfully reflect on all that we have experienced during this amazing week. Each morning, before we jump on the bus for our planned itinerary, we take a moment for a brief devotion and then share our experiences from the previous day and prepare for what's to come the next. Each of us had experiences throughout this week that are at one moment joyful, and in the next sad. Uganda has a way of breaking your heart in one moment and then showing you God's love and joy in the next. Capping off a wonderful week in the villages with a church service led by Paul, Jason, and Charles was a perfect ending.
ON TO SAFARI...
The next morning we were up bright and early as the safari vehicles awaited us. The team was made up of many people who had never gone on safari so excitement level was high.
We drove several hours to get to Murchison Falls National Park, which is located in the northwest of Uganda. Upon arrival, the lodge was waiting for us and spoild us with cold towels and cool, refreshing watermelon juice!!! It was wonderful after several hours of traveling!
It was soon time to head for our evening game drive and we were off to see many giraffes, elephants, lions etc. Driving through the safari park is a beautiful way to experience the majesty of God’s creation. Twaha, our safari guide, did a fantastic job of making sure all the 5 vehicles were able to see the animals up close. The 5 lions hanging out in a tree was the favorite that night!
We repeated the game drive early the next morning to see the sunrise and, although many team members couldn’t keep their eyes open, we were still in awe of the amazing animals and the beauty of God's creation!
Many people were excited about the boat ride we took later in the afternoon. Hippos and crocodiles were plentiful and we had a lot of time up close!!! The hippos would pop up out of the water so close to the boat - it was alarming, yet such a cool experience for the team.
Tomorrow we drive to the top of the falls to see how beautiful and strong they are from above, then we drive straight to Entebbe.
The team is overall ready to come home, yet sad they have to leave this wonderful place. The people and kids here really make this place feel like home to anyone who visits. I think we all leave a little bit of our hearts in Uganda - I know I certainly do!
Prayers for a safe journey home are requested.
This trip was epic and amazing and we owe it all to your prayers from home answered by our most gracious God.
Hearts & Hope is a nonprofit organization focused on unlocking the potential of people in Uganda through relationships with people in the US.