Today we had the pleasure of visiting the village of Nalwire, partnered with Redeemer Lutheran Church in Redwood City, CA. What a magical day it was. Since the sponsorship program was just recently launched, it was the first time this village has ever received communication from their sponsors in the US. The students don’t fully understand what we meant when we said we had packets, but magical is the only word I can think of to describe the looks on these kids' faces when they saw the pictures and letters sent in from their sponsors. It was also incredible to drive up to this village and see over 70 students in nice, new uniforms and brand new shoes. It was in stark contrast to our previous visits when we usually the only clothing we would see is ripped, old and dirty. A HUGE thanks to the people of Redeemer who sponsored those kids so quickly! Your support will be such a blessing to them and it will be an equal blessing to watch these beautiful children bloom through education.
The mission team jumped in to help with the confusion of this first time process while also entertaining the HUNDREDS of other kids from the community who gathered outside the school room to watch. This is a team of energetic and extremely compassionate people and today further proved that fact. As we had many students still available for sponsorship join the sponsored ones to make a craft, the team saw the many faces of the students still in need of a support for their education. When you put a face to an issue, it all becomes so much more real. As a result of this, we ended the day with 8 of those available students being sponsored by our team! It was such a blessing to see the team members be able to meet their new students face to face that day and to introduce themselves to these special little souls they bonded with and tell them that they were going to be able to join their friends in school this year! Jodi sponsored a little girl named Phoebe and with the pastor translating for her, she asked, “what is your favorite color?” Phoebe sweetly answered “A uniform!”. Clearly she was thrilled and focused on now being able to get a nice new uniform with her sponsorship after seeing many of her friends outfitted in one. They take such pride in their education!!!
The mission team also came together again in a very special way. Since Nalwire is in the beginning stages of partnership and sponsorship, they sometimes have trouble providing us lunch with their very limited funds. The team came together and collected MORE than enough to feed us and the school staff/village leaders, with some money leftover. It was decided by the team that the leftover funds would be used to buy 4 sheets of tin roofing so the school could finish or repair the school's current roofing. Amazing how much can be accomplished when kind hearts come together!
Tomorrow we head to Mbulamuti and then we will visit the unsponsored village of Namwendwa. This is always a good opportunity to see the contrast between different levels of support and how a partnership can impact the communities we serve.
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!
Greetings from Uganda!!!
It is so wonderful to be back in Uganda. As the team was riding the bus on our way to Jinja, the town we stay in, the excitement was palpable. none of the team members seemed to have slept well on the long plane rides, but it seems as though all the inconveniences of international travel seem to fade as soon as we step onto Ugandan soil.
After reaching our hotel and sleeping for a few hours, it was time for our first village visit. This team consists of newcomers and "veteran" team members. This mix is always an asset to the trip as it ensures the day's schedule runs smoothly while at the same time possessing that first timer wonder and awe. We reached the village of Kainhagoga and we were literally flooded with love when we stepped off the bus. I find it amazing how much love these kids have for perfect strangers. The hugs, hand holds, and smiles would make one think this was a giant family reunion. In many ways, thats exactly what it was - because so many teams from Hearts & Hope have visited and it seems like everyone has a comfortable familiarity with each other.
Our sponsors were so thrilled to see their sponsored students and the students of their families and friends. The bond they hold with each other is strong and supersedes all cultural barriers. Even when the first-timers meet their students, there is such a strong emotional connection that isn't always present when meeting someone for the first time. It was fascinating to see how Joanna and Diane's sponsored girls ran right up to them. They had recognized them from the coveted pictures sent over in their past packets!!! Those communications & photos that sponsors send to their student is extremely important and these kids love them!
We were able to pass out the enormous pile of sponsorship packets in what seemed like record time. This team seems to works together unbelievably well and I'm thankful for their hard work for the sake of these kid's happiness.
Another task we accomplished was giving away 16 goats. One of our team member's Sunday school program collected spare change last year and raised enough money to provide this precious gift!!! This is such a precious gift that keeps on giving as the goats can be used for milk, meat and bred to be sold for income for the needy families who receive them. What a testament to what happens when someone's passion and a little effort can do to help a fellow brother & sister!!!
After saying goodbye to the school and the students, we headed out to visit some of the sponsored students homes. This was particularly special for a few of the sponsors on this trip as we were visiting THEIR child's home. It can be very eye opening to see not only the student you're supporting who lives 8,000 miles away, but to also see where these students call home. It's very emotional after the day's joy & happiness to realize your child goes home to a small, humble structure where they live with their parents and 7 other siblings, combined with the fact that there are limited resources for food and basic living supplies.
However, it is vital for sponsors to see the hard truth. It is the reason these students place an incredible amount of hope in our sponsors and see them as an extended part of their family. To have the opportunity to go to school, study hard, and have a chance to escape the extreme poverty they were born into is an incredible gift. These visits are also a gift for the lucky few who get to visit Uganda and witness this first hand on each trip. It is our hope they share these stories for the sake of future kids who are in need to change their unfortunate circumstances through access to education.
The team left these home visits with full if not slightly heavy hearts and we all headed back to the Sunset hotel to relax. Many people called it an early night after experiencing an exciting and equally emotionally exhausting day. We head to Nakabango on Sunday and look forward to more moments of love between the families there and their sponsors and partners in the US.
Thank you to everyone at home who has prayed for safe travels and supported their loved ones on this long, but transformational journey.
What do you think of when you hear the word home? Maybe you think of your childhood bedroom, your relaxing bathroom, or your kitchen table where many family meals are shared. This past week we did a few home visits where some of the sponsored kids live. The picture painted in the minds of most people in the US when we hear the word home is quite contrasting to what we saw. The first few homes were one-room structures made mostly of mud and sticks. The mothers greeted us warmly as soon as we arrived and generously began showing us around their homes. While US kitchens are often nestled somewhere indoors, the kitchen is usually the first "room" you notice in rural Uganda, as it's often outside the home. Generally, the kitchen is comprised of a firepit, sticks, rocks, charcoal, and a few pots and plates, either a few feet from the structure or sometimes even in the home. The bathroom is also outdoors, although the "toilet" is really just the ground and the "shower" is generally a bucket of water, hidden behind a partially enclosed area. Indoors, there was usually either one or two rooms. A storage room and a "living room," where the family sleeps at night. Beds are made of rolled-up bamboo mats that on the floor when it was time to sleep. Many times multiple children share one mat.
This example of material poverty, however, was juxtaposed with the pride, happiness, and welcoming spirit of the mother who greeted us. “Home” means something very different here. Home means having a community of families coming together to help raise children who can contribute to the wellbeing of said community in the future. It is comprised of many neighbors coming together, gathering what little they have, and contributing to one another. I fear that my home community is so much more focused on material wellbeing that our sense of togetherness is sacrificed. The people in Uganda take great care of each other and when one family unit is in need, others come to their aid with no questions asked.
This aspect was highlighted in the last home we visited. Before we arrived, Mariah, our primary sponsorship coordinator, turned to me and said, “you need to prepare yourself for this one”. That statement was alarming as the homes we had just toured weren’t exactly easy to see from my Western perspective. We pulled up along the main road to a tiny structure made up of coal bags and leaves. The bedroom was the size of a small closet where sacks are laid down and the two share the spot and hope for safety through the night.
They did not have any sort of bathroom structure, so the grandmother and girl have to shower at night with a bucket and try to dodge any light source in order to protect what little privacy they have left. This was the home of a sponsored 6-year-old student and her grandmother. The girl’s father was killed in a car accident and the mother remarried and abandoned the child. A story that is all too common here. The grandmother was very frail, sickly, and therefore couldn’t work. The only way they receive food/shelter is from a good Samaritan across the street. This lady owns a small store and allows the grandmother to sell charcoal for her and in return, she gives them some food to eat. We went to give our thanks to this store owner and we had a great discussion about how we must take care of each other here on Earth and she only hoped that someone would do the same for her if the roles were reversed.
God did not create us alone. Whether our houses are made of mud, coal sacks, or concrete and plaster, the community of people God has entrusted to us is what makes that space home. As difficult as that was to see, it was another eye-opener as to what is truly important in this life: loving one another. Whether that be through sponsoring a child from afar or taking care of your neighbor just across the street. These are the means by which God leads us away from our material homes on Earth, to our spiritual home with him in Heaven.
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.
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.
Our last full day in the villages, how bitter sweet. The activities of the day definitely made up for the sadness we felt in the trip winding down.
Nalwire is a village slightly further out east on the Kenyan border. The landscape is slightly different, as is the language. It is more underdeveloped than the other villages we have visited, so it was great for the team to witness what a village looks like before a partner makes the investments.
Nalwire is in the beginning stages of its partnership with Redeemer Lutheran Church in a Redwood City, CA. We were lucky enough to have a team of 10 from that church on our team, including the pastor Paul and his wife Beth and they were able to meet and connect with Pastor Nicholas, who cares for this growing flock in eastern Uganda.
The village had recently finished building a latrine funded by Redeemer and we had planned to dedicate it with Pastor Paul.
One might think this sounds like a silly thing to do, but it is such a blessing for this village to have a sanitary restroom. It is something that not only prevents illness, but it keeps the dignity of the people intact.
How blessed are we in the USA to not even have to think twice about where we will use the bathroom. For the people of Nalwire, this latrine was a huge blessing. We were blessed in return with the joy they shared with us in their dancing and welcoming. A local dance crew was hired and invited us to learn the dance of that region. This was a great way for the team to blend with the villagers and share in their culture.
After the welcoming speeches and entertainment we started on numerous projects with the kids. Each time we visit Nalwire, it seems the children multiply so we had to be ready for a lot of different crafts to keep large crowds of very energetic kids very busy. Luckily, the group from Redeemer did a wonderful job planning out many “stations” for kids to visit and spread out. We had a Polaroid station, face painting, arts & crafts, parachutes/bubbles, and projects for the women and the men - all at the same time! This is the benefit of such a large group, we can divide into multiple teams and interact with various groups across the community!!!
After many faces were painted, pictures taken, and crafts in hand, we were invited back to the tents to begin the latrine dedication. Lunch was catered by the women in Nakabango, which is a small business initially funded by their partner Messiah. It was delicious as always and these women truly know how to cater for a large crowd, even when it's far away from home!
It was amazing to see the Nalwire people with the team from Redeemer mingling and enjoying lunch with one another. The speeches that followed were inspiring as Pastor Paul explained to the village that their partnership is a mutually giving relationship and a true partnership. It is not merely donors from the US and recipients in Uganda, but a group of people from across the world - praying for each other and using God’s gifts to bless one another.
Such an inspiring message that aligns so well with Hearts & Hope's mission!!!
The team then proceeded to the latrine for a one of a kind ribbon cutting ceremony led by Bishop Charles Bameka. We were once again witnesses to the spiritual richness of the people of this village and the gratitude they had for the new latrine.
Time went by too quickly and it was soon time to load the bus and say our goodbyes. The team from Redeemer left with a lot of love for this village and were fired up to keep going in making this school, congregation, and community more developed and successful. The villagers left with news that a student sponsorship program will soon be implemented and the hope for a quality education of their children will soon become reality.
We are so thankful for the opportunity to have shared this experience with the people of Nalwire!!!
As Beth put it, “we are together sharing in the kingdom of heaven here on Earth” and it was a wonderful time. We are beyond excited to see how this village progresses - together with Redeemer, Hearts & Hope, and God - anything is possible!
The team heads out for safari tomorrow for some relaxation to decompress and process all they have seen this week.
There are many first time safari goers on this trip and I can’t wait to see their reaction to all the lions, elephants, giraffes and more! Prayers for a safe drive to the park are appreciated.
Thank you for those at home who supported the team with thoughts and prayers - we appreciate every one!
Hearts & Hope is a nonprofit organization focused on unlocking the potential of people in Uganda through relationships with people in the US.