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!
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.