This week our US leadership team is holding important meetings with our Ugandan staff and our partner, the Lutheran Church of Uganda (LCU) about progress, changes, and plans for future improvement. Sara, the program leader of Hearts & Hope, and I are lucky enough to have some extended time in Uganda before and after this leadership conference. As we wrap up our first-week in-country and prepare for a long week of meetings, I want to reflect on some special moments during our first week in Uganda.
Every day in Uganda is different, an unexpected adventure, and this trip so far has proved that fact. We started our trip by attending a beautiful Introduction Ceremony for Yatif, our financial coordinator. In Uganda, an introduction ceremony is essentially a wedding celebration where the two families meet and formally agree to the marriage of the bride and groom. A lot of pomp and ceremony surrounds this day, and it is a joyful and exciting time for the couple to look forward to their future together. Sara and I were thrilled to attend and we were adorned in the traditional Ugandan formal wear for women called a gomesi (a bright silky dress with very pointed sleeves that is tied around the waist by a large belt). We truly fit in with all the other beautiful women in attendance, although we received many more stares and laughter as it is very out of the ordinary to see a “Mzungu” (white person) in a gomesi.
We were informed by the sister of Yatif that we were given a special role in the ceremony. We were shown a wheeled cart full of assorted “gifts” and we were to present these gifts to the bride at a given time. Sounds simple enough, right? The twist was that we also had to present each item and metaphorically explain to the bride why each one was purchased for her… through a microphone, in front of about 500 people. For example, “This apple represents how your marriage will be very fruitful”. We were given about 3 seconds to prepare. I think it goes without saying that it was a tough task for 2 (very jet-lagged) Mzungus, but we completed it with only a few cringe-worthy moments. Overall, it was a fun start to our trip and an honor to be invited.
We then headed to Busia for a few days to work with the village of Nalwire, our newest village partnered with Redeemer Lutheran Church in Redwood City, CA. The sponsorship program there is launching and will be in effect for the 2020 school year. Sara and I worked with the soon-to-be-sponsored children and did some crafts which will be brought home for the new sponsors. It was the first time these kids experienced a program like this and they were so excited to complete something for their new sponsor. We also brought in the guardians of the students and photographed them together to also be presented to their sponsors. Seeing as we were in a small, mud structure and there were over 95 students and parents to photograph – it was a long day! Luckily, our staff worked with the awesome teachers to help wrangle the kids in an organized fashion. Nalwire is a unique village, not only in its location and the local culture but also as it has had very little support compared to our other sponsored villages. You can see it in the conditions of the surrounding structures and the poor health of the children. It will be a joy to watch the school and village develop through the partnership with the people of Redeemer.
This is my 8th trip to Uganda and I have noticed the things I see becoming normal in my mind. I remember the first time I visited Uganda I was crying every day, multiple times per day from the shock of the immense material poverty and suffering I witnessed. I now see these same things but I fear I have become somewhat “numb” to the obvious lack of necessities of these people. I have to remind myself that, no, this is not “normal”. It is not normal for children to be without shoes, without food, without medicine, without clothing, and without education. This is what you see everywhere in rural Uganda and yet, I refuse to accept it as “normal”. It is the reason Hearts & Hope will continue to support these villages and it is the reason we pray God continues to work in people’s hearts to sponsor these children. It is also the reason I will continue to tell the story of these people and their struggles which many of us all too often take for granted.
We thank everyone for their prayers and continued support of Hearts & Hope. We will strive during this leadership trip to ensure that our practices, policies, and strategies are continuously in line with our mission to develop relationships, create hope, and transform the lives of people here in Uganda and at home.
Hearts & Hope is a nonprofit organization focused on unlocking the potential of people in Uganda through relationships with people in the US.