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.
Hearts & Hope is a nonprofit organization focused on unlocking the potential of people in Uganda through relationships with people in the US.