A few weeks ago I had the privilege of participating in a humanitarian mission to Uganda with Hope 4 Kids International. This was an incredible experience. Although this is referred to as “vacationing” with a purpose, I must say for me it was “educating” with a purpose. I had heard that there was poverty; many orphans; no clean water; government corruption; and few resources, but the vastness of it all was overwhelming. To manage the emotions meant only letting in a little bit of the reality at a time and diverting the focus to the hope and joy that fills these beautiful people.
When I decided to go on this mission I felt strongly that I needed to take something with me that would be meaningful to their lives. I knew that my life would be changed forever, but I wanted them to receive something as well. So, after having a wonderful visit with Pastor Wilber from True Vine Ministries in Tororo, Uganda – our destination – he suggested I teach the widows to make soap so they would have an industry to generate income. I was thrilled and up for the challenge. And there were challenges; gathering equipment and ingredients was difficult. I took a big black box with everything to assure their success. I also work in pounds and ounces; they work in grams and kilos. I use Fahrenheit; they use Celsius. But we worked through it.
The first session was at True Vine where 53 eager, hopeful, and excited women gathered. Working with an interpreter, we went through the process. Later in the day I assisted them while they made their first batch. I was impressed with the thought that these ladies had given to the project. They had set a goal of 200 bars per week, which they would take out into various market places. I could feel their sense of empowerment.
On we went to Smile Africa where a group of 24 ladies went through the process with me. In the background, hundreds of curious and ragged little Karamajong orphan children played and waited for their meal. Could a little soap making business make a difference in the lives of these forgotten people? Obviously it will take many projects, big and small. The big picture is daunting, but when you see the joy and hope in their faces just knowing that we care enough to come and acknowledge them; to do one project at a time – you know the efforts will be blessed and multiplied. They will be encouraged and strengthened.
So, now I am home and thinking about what I can do next. Now that I have seen, I cannot forget.
Today most of the team traveled to visit the villages of Bupoto and Sibanga. Bupoto is one of my favorite villages far up in the mountains overlooking deep, lush, green valleys.
The village has been sponsored by Seaside Community Church in Newport Beach, California. Sponsorship of a Ugandan village includes funding the digging of a well, building a medical clinic, a church building, a house for the pastor and sanitary toilet facilities.
Bupoto is a personal favorite of mine because it is the home village of our sponsored daughter, Watera Bekka. As we were approaching Bupoto by bus I mentioned to Sam, one of the orphan program field workers, that I had been looking forward to this day because I was going to see our daughter, Bekka.
Sam informed me that Bekka wouldn’t be there. She had been sent to live with her auntie in Tororo, where the schools are better. Needless to say I was very disappointed and lost a little bit of enthusiasm about our visit.
As we emptied the bus and approached the church building, out of nowhere a child ran up from behind and hugged my waist. When I looked down, it was Bekka! My eyes welled up with tears of joy. (Not an unusual occurrence for those of you who know me.)
Apparently arrangements had been made for her to be at Bupoto for our visit and no one had told Sam. It was a wonderful surprise. Not only did I get to see her but I also had the opportunity to meet her mother, Jennifer and her sisters, Betty and Esther.
Her whole family lives in a mud hut that is probably no more than six feet by ten feet divided into two rooms by a curtain. One half is for receiving visitors and the other half for sleeping. This is quite typical for most families in a Ugandan village.
I cannot describe the overwhelming sense of humility that comes over you when invited into such a home and offered something to drink or to eat. Out of their extreme poverty these people are so generous. I am ashamed to accept such costly gifts yet it would be such an insult to refuse.
What also continues to impress me at the great level of authentic joy that is so often expressed by the people we meet. I don’t want to idealize things. I’m sure these people have bad days and feel overwhelmed by such challenging circumstance that they face throughout their lives. But when I think about how often I let such little irritations affect my attitude I certainly have a lot to learn about faith, trust and joy.
It was a great day and to top it all off, Bekka was able to ride back with us on the bus to Tororo. We had time to visit and talk about her new home and her new school. She is doing very well in her schooling and I am proud of the advancements she has made over the past three years. (By the way, I happen to think she is the most beautiful girl in Uganda.)
My first Sunday in Africa began at 5AM with the sound of church bells and the crowing of roosters on the outskirts of Tororo in Southeast Uganda.
Rising from my bed, I clothed and walked from my hotel room to the top of a nearby hill to watch the golden African sun rise over the African plain and valley below.
After breakfast, our group had our first “family” time meeting with Tom Eggum and his staff from Hope4 Kids International. Tom explained the “ruler of the road” and his staff summarized its many partnerships here in Uganda. The message I received was that, as ambassadors for Hope 4 Kids we are not missionaries. We are not here to “convert the heathen”. Hope 4 Kids is here to enable Ugandans to solve their own problems and help achieve their own dreams.
We then piled into the bus to attend church at the True Vine complex. Words cannot describe their joyous celebrations of dance, song, music and the word by Ken Jensen, a pastor from California and a member of our group.
After lunch some of us went to the local hospital, which is also indirectly supported by Hope 4 Kids. As joyous as our morning at the church, Pastor Eric Sabitti lead me through the men’s ward of the hospital which must resemble one of Mother Theresa’s hospitals in Calcutta. Emaciated bodies of just skin and bones lying on cots (or in one case, on the floor) partially covered by blankets, flies and filth. In most cases, these “patients” were attended by family members. I saw no doctor or nurse. Correction, there was one “doctor”, a witch doctor who was attending his patient and had placed a magical bracelet on his wrist. These men were dying of AIDS, T.B. diabetes, tumors or undiagnosed wasting diseases. Even if AIDS drugs were available, which they are not here , these men would die from simple lack of food. Here in Tororo, as in most of Africa, it is the responsibility of the patient or his family to bring to the hospital the patients’ food and medicine, if they have any.
Pastor Eric and I touched and prayed with each patient at his bed. I ended my day back a the hotel pool surrounded only by black Africans who could not help but notice my whiteness.
When asked what I wanted to see on my first trip to Africa, my #1 response was to see a water well being drilled. Our family business at home is water well drilling and I couldn’t wait to compare our drilling techniques.
What an amazing experience to walk up on the jobsite in Fort Portal and see so many differences in equipment & materials but yet learn that the technique is very similar. The hydraulic engineer spent an hour answering all of my questions. He was incredibly gracious as is every African I have met thus far.
There are so many things we have learned and seen so far. This is going to be an incredible two weeks. I hope it goes slow so I can soak in every experience!
Today after I woke up, I went to the equator! The equator! But today was more about the journey than the destination, in many ways.Along the way to the equator and the safari – I met wonderful people in the bus who share my faith and my hope for Africa. Discussing this only made us more excited! Along the way, I was able to see the wonder in African children’s eyes as they joyously waved at our passing bus. Along the way, I saw the resourcefulness of the African people making a happy life from what we might throw away. I saw the kindness of the Ugandan people cheerfully greeting us and welcoming us to enjoy their beautiful country.
Today when I went to the equator, I took a journey of amazing grace. Coming to Africa was a dream come true for me and after just three days, I am truly amazed by the people and their ways. Proud, polite, and honorable – they have shown me so much today. Know that what Hope 4 Kids International does is life changing and life-saving in so many ways.Take your faith in a journey and you’ll see just what I am talking about. Today was life changing and life-saving- and I mean for me!
Today’s journey started with a wonderful tropical rain shower before dawn. Waking up at the beautiful Mountains of the Moon hotel is such a treat. After a breakfast that includes sweet bananas, we are off to take our journey to the equator and go on a safari in Queen Elizabeth National Game Park. We are met by our kind guide, Ven who tells many memorable tales of the animals in the park. The boat ride is amazing as we see hippos and a regal elephant is right away. We were treated to view of so many species of native animals and plants. The highlight of the safari was catching a glimpse of three lions in a cactus tree! To make the day even more perfect- we were treated to a beautiful rainbow from t he showers of the morning!
Reflecting on the day, I know why so many of the people (Americans) on the trip came back time and again to Uganda. The country has such a rich beauty that simply cannot be translated into film or video. The people are so kind, so genuine and so unique that you cannot help but fall in love with the Pearl of Africa!
What a day we had with the Pygmies! Thirteen women, their chief and four babies traveled from the Congo for a tea party with us in Fort Portal, Uganda! We arrived at the school of Outreach to Africa where the Pygmies were waiting along with our many sponsored children who attend the school. After introductions and photos we all went inside the school for a wonderful lunch. The Pygmies asked for and received beef and rice while the others were served spaghetti. We were then entertained by the children of OTA who sang and danced for us. Then we had the Pygmy women sit in a circle and placed basins of soapy water before them. While they soaked their feet, they munched on banana cakes. Team members then knelt before them, washing and drying their feet–then slathering them with lotion. The women held out their hands and asked for lotion on their hands also. We adorned them in pillowcase dresses, necklaces and colorful scarves. There are about three hundred families living within their group in the Cong0–they are a mixture of tribes. The forests in which they have lived for many years are being destroyed and the animals which the Pygmies hunt for food have been driven out as the forests are destroyed. Now the Pygmies have to find a new way to provide for themselves or they fear they will become extinct in that area. Robert, who has promoted victory gardens in Uganda provided them with seeds and training so they can grow their food. Outreach for Africa has provided seeds previously to them. Tomorrow they be sent back to the Congo with their seeds and garden hoes so they can garden more effectively. Kent Dirks, a seasoned Hope 4 Kids team member, met the chief last summer. The chief entertained the team by acting how how they hunt with their homemade bows and arrows. Kent sent him deer jerky to try. He loved it and was reluctant to share with his friends:) It was a great time of celebration and the women were so joyful as we showered them with love and gifts.