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.
here to edit.
Betty, on the right, and the Deputy Teacher in charge of special needs. Those smiles say it all!
Abraham managed to talk me out of my sunglasses before saying his good-byes through the bus window.
New books for kids in Butangala today.
Carrie planting her eucalyptus tree.
Hmmmm, a heart? The bus ride home was long, so we found creative ways to entertain ourselves along the way!
The sugar cane trucks amaze us.
My goodness, it's chaos at the Sunset Hotel! I'm sitting here at 9:45 pm as dinner is being served and there is a buzz around the table; 10 Americans and 7 Ugandans - most of them talking at once. The wireless service is very slow so I will do my best to get this posted tonight.
We have Twizzlers and M&M's for dessert so life is good.
Another great day. This morning, Andy, Violet, Mariah, and I went to explore a school in Jinja that has facilities for kids with special needs. We are specifically looking for a school for Betty, a precious young lady in Mbulamuti that one of the team members in June has a special love for. It was such an informative trip. We were genuinely impressed with the teaching staff and the joy of the kids. We had the best time in a class of hearing-impaired kids. They signed to us and Violet (?) served as an interpreter. That's right - with no previous experience. They nabbed my camera early on and had the best time taking "snaps" of each other.
We later found out that Betty was assessed and accepted at the school. It is a boarding school so Violet and I will spend tomorrow morning purchasing all of the supplies she will need. Blessed that we have found an answer for Betty!
We picked up the team and headed to Butangala where we met with dedicated their new borehole well. We also got to plant eucalyptus trees; another item to check off the bucket list!
We met with the sponsored kids and handed out candy to everyone. After lunch we took a team picture with a beautiful backdrop. We were impressed that the church and school had taken the initiative to move to the newest piece of land and construct a better structure for the school kids.
I had asked to visit a village where we had never been so we went to Nawankompe. It was a long, bumpy ride but we always have adventures along the way. The kids at the school sang beautifully and we had a great time "interacting" after the program.
Dinner has been fun; it's our last night at the Sunset. Thankful for good health for everyone and safety along the way. Tomorrow we shop and head back to Kampala. Missing our family and friends but blessed to be here, serving in this way.
It’s Friday morning and we are back in Jinja.
We arrived back last night around 6:00 pm after spending two days in the Kamuli area. I think we were all competing for wifi signal last night so updates were difficult.
Thursday started in the village of Mbulamuti. Water’s Edge in Allen, Texas partners with the Lutheran congregation in Mbulamuti and has helped them make great improvements in the past two years. During devotions, Pastor Paul recalled preaching at a worship service in Mbulamuti in a dilapidated building where the roof was caving in around us only two years ago. Now, there is land, a borehole well, and a school that is being touted locally as a model school. The pride and joy is palpable and the 400+ students obviously enjoy being at their school.
We watched the kids dance and enjoyed dramas that referenced everything from teen-age pregnancy to HIV/Aids prevention to caring for the sick. These kids have seen and experienced more than many adults in the US and it’s amazing the things they need to be educated about at such an early age.
We met with the sponsored students inside the main hall next. Again, the team blasted into action and made the process look easy - which it isn't! I think they pride themselves on the system they have created and it's great to see it work so well!
Afterwards, Pastor Paul and Pastor Jason lead the kids on opposite ends of the hall with the stand-up/sit-down version of Allelu, Allelu, Allelu, Alleluia. They almost brought down the house! Paul also shared his fallback favorite, "My Aunt Came Back" - video is coming.
Andy walked the perimeter of the land with Henry and some of the village leaders to talk about plans for near-future expansion - a playground and school garden. It was a joy to see what can happen in a 2-year time period when people care! Thank you, Water's Edge!
We had lunch in the main hall and had the opportunity to purchase some items made by the women. Afterwards, we said our good-byes and headed to the village of Namwendwa on the other side of Kamuli.
Namwendwa has no partnership but in October, Andy, Todd, and I had requested a visit to a new village and this is where we ended up. The people were so warm and friendly and the needs so very great, we felt we had to go back. Also, the worship leader at the church is a graduate of the sponsorship program from Nakabango. Another success story!
The team enjoyed a program while Violet, Mariah, Ronald, and I attempted to organize some of the many items we have had donated recently. The team joined us as we handed out backpacks to P5 and P6 kids, and shirts and shorts to the younger ones. Of course, everyone was given candy - including the older boys watching from a distance.
We left Namwendwa around 5:00 and made it back to Jinja a little after 6:00. Discussions on the bus ranged from how much some of like Taylor Swift, to "what can we do for those people", to "what are you ordering for dinner?" I think everyone was a little bit broken by what they had seen that afternoon and it seems there is a lot of processing taking place.
A wonderful evening under the stars was a great way to end our day. Violet brought the Ludo boards so there was extreme competition at one end of the table. Hoping everyone got a great night's sleep.
Off to Butangala this morning, but the team gets a chance to sleep a little later. Violet, Andy, and I are going to investigate a school for a special needs girl from Mbulamuti today. Praying for a positive experience and a solution!
Mbulamuti - now.
Mbulamuti - two years ago.
I could tell she hadn't seen Jerry yet, so I took her hand and walked around the bus to find him. She saw him before I did and she let go of my hand and ran and jumped into his arms. I’m not sure who had the bigger smile – him or her! I
didn’t see much distance between them the rest of the day.
I say it a lot – but it really is about the relationships.
We gathered inside one of the classrooms and enjoyed the privilege of having a chapel service with the students. Jason had a great message about not being afraid and it was obvious the kids were hanging on every word.
There was singing and dancing after that. The harmonies during one of the songs the P3 class sang brought tears to my eyes. Almost everyone got to enjoy the final dance with the women leaders in the village. We are hoping there is no video proof.
We met with the sponsored kids next, handing out packets and taking pictures with each of them. This is when a team always shines – everybody pitching in to do whatever is needed. Blessed by this hard-working team!
It is always a special time when anyone gets to meet their sponsored child for the first time. Sam sponsors a boy named Jonah.
So much fun to watch them sit together and open his packet – even when there was a Red Sox hat involved. Jonah wasn't hard to pick out of a crowd the rest of the day; he wore that hat with pride!
Lynn, Kim, and I found one of our friend’s sponsored child, Daphine, and took some pictures with her. She is a beautiful little girl who seems to smile all the time. It was a blessing to watch her take each item out of her packet and see the look on her face. She seemed to especially love her turquoise and hot pink bandanas!
We met with the P3 class next and passed out books. Listening to them read was a highpoint of the day! Looking around the room and seeing each team member sitting with a group of kids made my heart ache; I wondered how often these kids get that kind of attention.
My family’s sponsored child, Matia, read through a book about construction vehicles that took me back to listening to my own son when he was learning to read. It has been interesting to think about the content of children’s books through the eyes of a Ugandan child! It made me wonder how well Barney and Baby Bop translate…
Lunch was next and then it was on to bead-making for the women…and Jerry. What he lacked in quality, he made up for in speed and the women were impressed. We had a chance to purchase some of the paper bead necklaces as well. I’m thankful that Edith took the time to show the team how they are made.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent just enjoying time with the kids. David, the Advanced Sponsorship Coordinator for Hearts and Hope, refers to it as “time for interaction”! It’s a bit less formal than that, but one of my favorite ways to spend my time!
All too soon, it was 5:30 and time to make the 5—minute bus ride to our home for the evening in Kamuli. After checking in, we gathered around tables put out on the grass in the courtyard area and enjoyed the evening. It was actually cool enough for jackets! We painted nails and enjoyed chatting with some of the leaders from Kamuli. Violet broke out some Kenny Rogers tunes at one point.
Later in the evening, Charles brought out two decks of cards (Titanic-themed) that he had brought along. Our Ugandan friends taught us to play a game that is basically Uno with real cards and a few rule twists. The twists, surprisingly, seemed to
occur whenever Violet was losing, but I'm sure that is just a coincidence! Clubs are referred to as “flowers” and Jacks are referred to as “J’s”. That took a bit of getting used to but the entire process made us all laugh until our stomachs hurt. Such a fun evening!
Prayers for continued safe travel and healthy team members are appreciated. It has been a wonderful trip!
I wanted to share a bit more about the end of our day in Nakabango on Tuesday. We had spent a physically exhausting day, especially working with the sponsorship children. As usual, there were several kids who weren’t there, and we always put their packets together in a bag so that they can be handed out when the child returns to school. I was sad to see that the packet for Richard, a boy that is sponsored by my parents, was still lying on the table.
I asked Ronald about him and he said that Richard wasn’t there, but we were going to his house as we left to see where he lived and to deliver the bedding kit he was receiving. I was so happy to hear that he was on the list created by Nakabango leadership to be a recipient of these gifts from Messiah Lutheran!
When we left, we turned off the main road and bounced along for almost 10 minutes before we stopped in front of a rectangular mud structure that had holes so large, you could see through to the other side. Ronald explained to us that this is where Richard had lived until a few weeks ago when they had relocated to a house next door that was in somewhat better shape.
We got off the bus and we were met by Richard’s grandmother. She cares for Richard and his 3 siblings and his mother, who is mentally disabled. Ronald explained that the children each had a different father and the mother was incapable of caring for the children and quite possibly, had been taken advantage of by the men. The story of one of the children’s birth is something to be shared later.
As I attempted to explain to him who these people were, I was flooded with emotions I still can’t explain entirely.
I think a huge part of it was the disparity between that family in the picture and
the one standing in front of me at that time. It was a physical hurt that I didn’t
understand and I was broken by the small gifts we were giving him that we hoped
made him feel loved and noticed.
Ronald helped me give Richard his bedding kit as the grandmother continued her “thank you’s”. James, one of the Ugandan pastors, suggested we gather around this family and pray for them. His words were beautiful to me and I know even more beautiful to God’s ears. Surely this family felt the love poured out on them that
I was again blessed by a reminder of why we do what we do – and that being here DOES make a difference.
Grateful for that.
Many times, we have asked the congregation at Messiah Lutheran Church in Weldon Spring, MO to donate candy for our trips to Uganda - most notably, Dum Dums. They are inexpensive and they travel well. And, they hold up to being thrown out of the window to eager hands as we travel the back roads of rural Uganda.
I have had people ask me "why candy?" It's not healthy and it's such a small thing. Shouldn't we concentrate on more substantial gifts? Understandable questions, but the candy is so much more
It is a treat, a "sweetie" to kids who don't often get something special. It is the doorway to a conversation with a pre-teen boy. It's a gift for a teenage mother and the baby strapped on her back. It's a surprise flying out the window of a bus full of white people as a team bumps along a narrow road to a remote area.
During this trip I was struck by how many times candy plays a role in a story. Just like in the US, sometimes you need a reason to mingle with the crowd. Many times, handing out candy provides that for us in Uganda.
While we were in Butangala, a village plagued with extreme poverty, we had the chance to enjoy an unusual amount of free time. My mind was spinning with ways we could engage as many kids as possible. One idea was wheelbarrow races. The prize? Another piece of candy, of course.
I watched a two-man team dominate the first race. The older boy, probably 11 years old, was muscular and had stayed back as we had worked with the younger kids earlier. He was a typical pre-teen - a little too cool to come forward for candy, but wanting to be included just the same.
After they won the race, I gave him his Dum Dum and watched as he walked away. As the next race unfolded, I kept watching as he unwrapped the candy and bit off the entire end.
He bit it again and it cracked into 3 pieces.
He knelt down and gave 2 of the 3 small pieces to two small children who had followed him. Neither of them was over two years old; I don't know if they were siblings or just more kids in the village. I do know I was struck by the fact that no adult was telling him to share. He could have easily walked away with the entire treat for himself, but he didn't. He opted to share, of his own accord. I've seen it happen so many times and I'm always taken back by these kids' selflessness.
During a bus ride out of a village near Masindi, I shared a seat with an older gentleman. A lot of times, people will hitch a ride to the main road with us. He was most likely in his late 50's or early 60's, but looked more like he was over 70.
He had on a tattered suit jacket and didn't speak much. I offered him a piece of candy. He was an odd sight - very regal, with a blue Dum Dum in his mouth! After a couple of minutes of enjoying the treat, he took it out of his mouth and put it in the inside pocket of his jacket. One of our staff members saw me watching him and explained that he was saving the rest for his granddaughter at home.
I hurriedly opened my backpack and pulled out any kind of snack, candy, and mint I had in there and gave it to the man with a smile. He grinned and told me "thank you very much" in broken English. The bus reached the main road and the man got off with a wave to me.
Yep, candy isn't much. But maybe it is; maybe it's a universal language that says "hi" or "be happy" or "I noticed you" - no knowledge of English or Lugandan necessary. Whatever, keep those Dum Dums coming, Messiah! They are appreciated more than you know!
We woke up this morning to rainy skies but had beautiful weather for most of the day. Tonight it's jacket weather!
We left the hotel around 10:30 this morning (our intention was to leave by 9:00 but the rain postponed our departure a bit). First stop was Nakabango, the partner of Messiah Lutheran Church in Weldon Spring, MO. We met with the teaching staff and the leadership of the church and school, explaining in greater detail to mission and vision of Hearts and Hope and announcing some of our plans for expansion.
We met with the sponsored children inside the church building and had a great time working on a super secret special project! (Sponsors - you will find out what we accomplished later this year!)
I had the chance to visit the land Messiah helped the disabled ministry in Nakabango purchase and see the crops they are growing - Bananas, beans, and passion fruit. Very impressive! I was really pleased with the progress they have made. It is always good to visit with Alex Bakaki, who leads the program.
Andy toured some land that Nakabango is interested in purchasing to have a dormitory that can be used as a home for street kids from Jinja, as well as for some other projects.
We had the chance to spend some quality time with a lot of kids - my best day!
I never can put into words how much I want these kids to reach their full potential. They are precious and every story I hear from them tugs at my heart more. Their joy-filled little faces are a blessing to behold. Moral of this story: there is much work to be done!
Late in the day, we headed to Kainagoga. Sadly, a lot of the kids had already left, since we were running so late, but many were still waiting for us! We repeated our sponsorship activities and played football (both the Ugandan and the American versions) and I must have taken over 300 pictures of kids who were more than willing to pose. Always amazing how easy it is make them laugh!
Kainagoga's school is still growing, despite the deplorable conditions of the building. The well put in last year has changed their lives for the better, but I continue to pray that there is an organization looking for a partnership that can change their lives as well! Those precious kids need a partner organization to love!
We are waiting on dinner now; it is 8:20 in the evening. Updates are not likely tomorrow as we will spend the night in Kamuli where there is no wireless service available. Looking forward to our visit to Kamuli and nearby Mbulamuti!
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.