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 spent much of the day in Kamuli, a village which is directly sponsored by Hearts & Hope. The team arrived and was greeted by hundreds of children singing & dancing.
Like many of the villages we visited this week, the purpose was to share with the community leaders how Hearts & Hope will further assist the community to offer the highest quality education in their area and for the village itself to become self-sustaining over the long-term. The messages are well received and the villages understand that in order to become self-sustaining, they have to focus on making educational & school improvements a priority in order to attract other students from the surrounding area.
The spirit in Kamuli and its leaders continues to inspire me - they are hopeful and positive about the future and are thankful for the support that they receive. They know that they still have a lot of challenges and a long way to go, but their devotion to each other and their spirit will ensure that their dreams for the future will become a reality.
One huge surprise for Andy, Julie, and me was when Ashraf Woira and his mother walked into the meeting. Ashraf is a small boy that we met in the village of Naminage in November of last year. He required advanced surgery and Hearts & Hope launched a campaign to raise the funds.
I held back tears as Ashraf entered the room - thinking about his situation almost a year ago and now to see him entering the room with a smile on his face.
He and his mother walked all the way from Naminage to see us.
The village chairman stopped the meeting and Ashraf's mother came forward. She described to the Kamuli leaders Ashraf's medical problem that he has suffered with since birth, gave thanks to God, and thanked Hearts & Hope for supporting them.
She was so thankful that she brought two chickens and a bunch of plantains from her village.
Here was this poor woman, unable to provide little if any of the medical fees for her son for the past 7 years, giving probably more than she had to thank us.
It's encounters like these which take your breath away - when you think back to the first time that you met someone and then later see how their lives have changed.
And how many other lives have we encountered and how many relationships have we developed?
As I looked at the students in the school and remembered them all by name - Veronica, Alex, Annita, Patrick, Fida, Daniel, Jonah, Jonathan, Margrate - I realized that each of them likely has a story not too different from Ashraf's. I met a student whose father had passed away several years ago and who had just recently lost her mother. Fortunately, she is able to stay with family members nearby and still attend school. But she is only in 1st grade.
While there is joy, there is also heartache. Kamuli and its people certainly encounter both on a daily basis. While they've seen a glimpse of what a partnership can provide, they know that there is much work to do.
After being away for almost a year, my return to Uganda was just like the encounter today with Ashra.
I have seen the pictures of the progress from the local staff and from the teams that visit, but to see all of the changes first hand truly energizes me.
Where once there was nothing, there now are wells.
And next to those wells are schools with children in uniform, wearing their shoes, and proudly carrying their backpacks - eager to learn.
It brings tears of joy to know that our supporters - many of whom have yet to visit Uganda - are willing to make all of this possible and to impact the lives of so many.
Woke up this morning to a storm and the rains are now obscuring my view of the other bank of the Nile river. Since Uganda is near the equator, there is no winter or summer, just an alternation between rainy and dry seasons.
Despite the rain, we have a full day's agenda ahead and I hope that the weather doesn't slow us down. Today we are going to visit Nakabango, which is a short drive north from Jinja. The relationship between Messiah and Nakabango has been strong over the years and was the inspiration for starting Hearts & Hope. Through this partnership, where there was once just green fields there is now a community with a borehole well, an operational primary school, and a sewing & carpentry center.
I can't wait to return and see the friends that I've come to know over the past few years. I also hope that I'll be able to see Patience, the little girl that my family sponsors in Nakabango.
Have a great day and check back for an update later this evening!
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.
After a long and productive meeting today with the Hearts & Hope staff, the team visited the Teacher Training College in Jinja to discuss how we can continue to improve the capabilities of our teaching staff in our schools. It was a short but productive meeting. The hope is that this relationship with a local teaching college that can provide a pipeline to teaching talent in the area.
Hearts & Hope is a nonprofit organization focused on unlocking the potential of people in Uganda through relationships with people in the US.