As the days on this mission trip pass, our supply bags are getting lighter and our hearts are getting much fuller.
MBULAMUTI & KAMULI
Our last few village days were spent in the Hearts & Hope partnered villages of Mbulamuti and Kamuli. The team had tons of "known sponsored students" in this villages. This means we have to ensure we gather all the kids of the team’s friends and families to ensure they can greet the students and get pictures for their loved ones at home. When there are nearly 60 of these students to track down, it becomes a fun, but rewarding challenge! The students in these villages were decked out in new costumes and had prepared wonderful dances to share with the team. We were told the students in Kamuli were trying to become the best dance program in all of the surrounding villages since they are also number one in academics! They have definitely improved and you can see it in their faces how proud they are of the effort they put into practicing when they're performing.
The team enjoyed passing out the sponsorship packets and going through the usual program and activities with the sponsored kids. This trip we sent out a few team members to play fun games with the other children who are still waiting for sponsorship, so that they do not feel left out. This created reverse jealousy as the sponsored children were eagerly looking out at the fun happenings outside. By the end of the days, all the children had a blast with the team and vice versa.
In Mbulamuti, one of Kim’s sponsored students was particularly lethargic. She asked him if he was ok and he shook his head no. One of our team members is a doctor, and she knew immediately that the boy had a fever and should be checked out. Kim had the opportunity to take him to a clinic to get treatment and we found out he had severe malaria which we caught just in time!!!
Usually, our sponsorship coordinators will be contacted if there is a medical issue and we're able to address quickly thanks to generous donations to our medical fund from our supporters back in the US. This boy's case, however, was very severe and fast-acting, so it was a blessing that we were able to get him treatment and for his sponsor to be able to see first-hand the struggles these kids face every day. The amount of easily treated diseases that frequently take these children's lives is heartbreaking.
The team also got to visit the unsponsored village of Namwendwa. Hearts & Hope has been visiting this village for years and were blessed to be able to install a well there in 2017. Access to clean water brought about an immediate improvement in the health of the community and every year, we've been greeted joyfully by a multitude of smiling children and community members.
This year was different.
We pulled up to a nearly abandoned school. We looked around, confused as a small group of community members trickled towards benches and gathered to welcome us.
Almost immediately, we noticed that one of the three barren classrooms had collapsed - the wooden beams broken and bent towards the ground. The women of the community began welcoming us with a song as our minds raced with unanswered questions.
As the air filled with the beautiful melody of their voices, a community leader quietly filled us in. "We've had some difficulties," he confided. "Most children couldn't afford the scholastic requirements, like pencils. School started last week and only three students have reported. Beyond that, the parents are afraid the building will continue to deteriorate and may collapse on their children. Even without the fear, they lack the money to pay the school fees. The teachers are still owed three months of back pay and most are refusing to continue teaching until they can be guaranteed payment."
Our hearts broke as we took in the difficulties that our friends are facing. It was a harsh reminder that some communities, no matter how strong and resilient, might not succeed simply due to the extreme challenges they face on a daily basis.
Despite the heaviness of the situation, we were still welcomed with open arms and the people were so grateful with the smiles and joyful singing that we witnessed in the midst of such a difficult situation. We pray God finds a solution for this village so the children can continue to learn, the local teachers can earn a decent living, and the village can prosper and develop further.
Tomorrow we say goodbye to half our team as the rest leaves for a safari adventure. It has been such an incredible week full of emotional highs and lows for this team and everyone feels so blessed to have spent this week interacting with the wonderful people and marvelous children of Uganda.
Thank you all for your continued prayers for safe travels!
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 Kainhogoga 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.
Written by: Kelly Turntine
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.
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 the 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!
Mbulamuti & Kamuli - a double whammy day!!! These two villages are about 2 hours north of our temporary home in Jinja, and about 30 minutes apart from each other so we make every attempt to visit both of them in a single day if possible. After running three full sponsorship programs, the team was ready to take on the challenge.
The team rose up earlier than usual and took off for Mbulamuti. The roads were muddy from an early morning downpour and it was more of a roller coaster ride than a bus ride to the village. It was miraculous that we did not get stuck in the mud on the way. When we finally got there we were given a full report by the head teacher followed by lovely singing and dancing. The group that went outside during packet time had a wild time with the parachute that Becky brought and were delighted by the bubble guns. It was great to look outside and see bubbles floating around everywhere and kids squealing with joy as they popped them.
Some of the younger crew went out back where they have an expansive field and played a long, hot game of soccer against some of the unsponsored primary students.
Sara, the program leader of Hearts & Hope, was able to see her sponsored child for the second time and first time seeing her as part of the school community.
The second time seeing your sponsored child is always extremely special as you can see that they recognize you and there is a certain connection with them that was just budding the first time. Peace, Sara’s sponsored child, is one example of this. She was definitely more comfortable and engaging. Especially when she handed her a doll and started role playing with it - the cackling laughter from little Peace could be heard all over the village!!!
Tori shared one thing which stuck with her from this day was when Paul, the headmaster in Mbulamuti, spoke to her and asked why we show such open love to these kids when we don’t even know them? Aren’t we afraid we will get sick from them?
What he didn't understand is that we receive so much more than we give. The love we get from these kids is worth more than any sickness we may receive. God is so present here and no where is this presence felt more than when embracing these beautiful children.
Unfortunately, we had to cut our time short due to time constraints and head to Kamuli. By the time we reached there lunch was prepared and we were able to enjoy some time eating before round two of packets with the sponsored children.
After packet time we were able to meet with the women’s group and hand out tote bags filled with toiletries and other home supplies to the women. The appreciation from them was shown from cheering and dancing soon after the group photo was taken. It’s astounding how happy something so simple makes these women. It also makes the team appreciate all the gifts & conveniences they have back home.
The village then had a surprise planned for the team - a goat roast! The village brought out the “largest speaker known to man” and blasted some Ugandan hits while roasting goat meat on a grill for the team to enjoy. The large team danced with the students and villages. We made such a scene that people from the surrounding community stopped along the main road to watch what was happening with all these Mzungus.
The best part, and I speak specifically for the crew from St Louis, was when the DJ played “Gloria” and all the children were dancing so enthusiastically!!! Little did they know about the recent Blues win in Boston, but they definitely were the cutest addition to the celebration of the Stanley Cup victory. Dance parties are always a spectacular way to end a day in Uganda!
The team has the final full village day tomorrow in Nalwire with the dedication of the newly constructed latrine. We are all ready for “potty time” with the people of Nalwire and we cannot wait for the celebration.
Today the team was greeted by dark clouds and rain early in the morning. The look of worry on the team’s faces as they wondered how many more shoes they had packed which could withstand another whole day of mud was ever present.
Nevertheless, we loaded up the buses and headed to Butangala. This village is partnered with Immanuel Wentzville and we were lucky enough to have Pastor Jason and some members of the church on our team to connect with their partnered village.
God blessed us in that as we drove the bumpy roads to Butangala, the skies opened up and it was sunny and beautiful for the rest of the day. We were greeted warmly by the children and the team was highly anticipating the dance performances as previous team goers had really talked up the skills of these kids. They certainly did not disappoint!!! The dancers were wearing the new dance costumes which were one of many initiatives funded by Immanuel Wentzville and presented on this trip. These new dance costumes were greatly needed as they are participating in upcoming competitions against rival schools and they need to look as good as they dance.
We proceeded with packet time as usual and the other part of the team was able to have a lot of free time with the large group of kids who gathered on the school grounds. To say the place was bustling would be an understatement. I had never seen such a crowd of people at Butangala and the energy was contagious. There was even a store set up with crafts made by local women and the team was able to shop for souvenirs while directly supporting the community - so great!
We were also able to see the new netball goals and soccer goal posts. A quality sports program was a need at this school and now the school children can play proper games of their favorite sports!!!. Pastor Jason, along with his children Jacob and Megan, also handed out new soccer/netball jerseys to the school teams so they can look and feel official when playing other teams. The clapping and smiles when we showed the teams their new jerseys were priceless.
Goats were next on the agenda and there were 10 to give away. Walking around the school grounds you hardly saw a tree without a goat or two attached to it, the unknowing team members might have thought Butangala bred goats, but it was simply another generous gift from the village’s partner!
Part of the team was also able to tour the land and see the beginnings of a live fence. This is a type of fence built around the grounds for security and consists of barbed wire with seedlings planted which will eventually become bushes to reinforce the fence - hence the “live” name. Being able to witness all the fruits of this partnership was very special.
A favorite experience from Betty was when she was helping Becky and Vicki sew some ripped uniforms and one student she was working on heard the call for sweeties (lollipops). When the team paused their sewing so he could go get the candy, the little boy insisted that he would skip the sweeties and asked them to finish sewing!!! It was touching to see the importance the children place on their appearance at school, even giving up the opportunity for a sweet treat - something they very rarely get.
While we were there, Pastor Jason and Sara, our Hearts & Hope Program Leader, were able to meet with the members of the Village Advisory Committee, a new team which brings together stakeholders from various parts of the community to identify & prioritize needs and build a long-term development plan for the village. They met for the first time in March of this year and much of the activities and projects going on in this village were a direct result of their report. And while meetings aren't exactly a fun thing to do when visiting a village, it was great for Pastor Jason to connect with the team that will help define the future of the partnership!!! Pastor Jason & Sara thanked the team for their efforts and congratulated them on all of the progress that they've made.
The team said their goodbyes and it wasn’t as bittersweet for everyone as we had the knowledge that we are returning to this village on Saturday for a few more activities!!!
We headed to the Nile river as we had planned a ride to the Source of the Nile, where Lake Victoria and the Nile meet. The crew waited patiently on the shores as one double-decker boat pulled up and we ALL loaded on - all 48 of us! This was a pleasant and unexpected change of the norm as we were all able to experience the boat ride together. It’s a very relaxing way to witness God’s beautiful creation with friends, new and old. It was a wonderful experience all around and dinner was full of funny stories and fond memories of the day.
The week is half way over and it has been such an unforgettable experience for everyone so far. Tomorrow is a double whammy as we venture out to both Mbulamuti AND Kamuli in one day. Looking forward to another busy day full of people loving people!
Thank you for your continued prayers for a safe & successful trip!!!
Well, our second day (first day as a complete team of 31!) is in the books and it was a huge success. The team got to sleep in a bit since the group from Redeemer arrived late the night before. Breakfast time was bustling with so many people and it was so great to see the team mesh so well and so quickly this first morning together. Our hotel is letting us use a large conference room overlooking the Nile River for our morning devotions (which have been wonderful as we have two pastors in the group). It was an awesome time for introductions, reflections, and spiritual preparation for our first full day together.
We loaded the two buses and headed out to Nakabango, a nearby village partnered with Messiah Lutheran Church in Weldon Spring, MO. The children there are very comfortable with Mzungus (an endearing Ugandan term for white person), so every team member had a buddy as soon as we stepped off the bus. Vicki from Redeemer said her favorite part of the whole day was just sitting down and holding the small children in her lap - and there truly was not a lap to spare. The open way these kids show us strangers such love is truly inspiring and every team member was able to experience that.
As soon as the team all walked into the school for the school program to start, the skies opened up and the rain on the tin roof was deafening! As the head teacher put it “God has a different agenda today.” The team made the best of it as we waited for the rain to subside. We sang songs, took some cute selfies with the kids, and held a lot of babies! Before we knew it, the program resumed and we were entertained by dancers and music. Then it was time to start handing out packets to the sponsored students. It's a great way for sponsors to connect with their students and it's always thrilling to see the joy in the students' eyes when they see a picture of their sponsor and see what goodies were packed for them. While we were focused on that task, Becky took the unsponsored kids outside to play with a huge parachute that she brought. Hearing squeals of laughter & joy from outside was so delightful.
It rained just enough to turn the whole ground into the thickest layer of mud and the buses had to move closer to the road (farther from the team) so they wouldn’t get stuck. This meant the team had to walk through the mud very often. The quickness it cakes onto one’s shoes is shocking! The team made the best of it and the day continued, just with more indoor activities!
One special story from the day happened while we were passing out packets. Toni Vogt (our Financial Coordinator at Hearts & Hope as well as a congregant of Messiah!) brought a blanket for a older student’s baby named David. The blanket was made by Toni’s mother and even had the baby's name embroidered on it. Unfortunately, that student did not show that day with her baby. However, Toni’s own sponsored student Mariam brought over her new little baby brother for Toni to meet. Can you guess what this baby’s name was? David! God works in mysteriously wonderful ways! We are shown examples of that daily in Uganda!
Before we left the village, the team split into two groups - one to visit Patricia at her new school and the other group went to visit some local families in their homes.
Patricia’s presence was definitely missed in Nakabango, so the team members who knew her from previous trips were excited to see her again. I was amazed when she greeted me and said, “Hello, Kelly, how are you?” I had never heard her say more than one word in English at a time. She is definitely learning and improving in her speaking skills!!!
The other half of the team were able to go on a few home visits and based on their reports, it was very impactful. The way in which the women who lived in these houses cared so much and were so proud to show off their homes was
very humbling to the team. These people don’t put their value in the size or price of their house and items, but in the wholeness of the community in which they live, quite the opposite of our American culture.
We finished the night with the largest table setting at the Sunset hotel we have ever seen! The hotel did a tremendous job at increasing their staff & capabilities for our large group. Food usually doesn’t arrive for up to 3 hours on a typical visit, but it was there in record time on Tuesday night - even with a record group size! We are so blessed to have such a cozy, caring and accommodating place to call our home in Uganda. This is why we often refer to the Sunset as our "home away from home."
Tomorrow we head to Butangala which is partnered with Immanuel Lutheran Church & School in Wentzville, MO. Pastor Jason Auringer and members of his congregation will have a great opportunity to connect with the village, church, and school leaders there and continue to strengthen their relationship with this poor, but joyful community. Hearts & Hope recently facilitated a Village Advisory Committee a few months ago and we're excited to see first hand the progress of the various initiatives the committee identified!
We have quite a busy day planned and we are looking forward to every minute!!!
What a day! The Hearts & Hope team visited Kainagoga today - always a high energy village which comes as a relief with our short amount of rest the team got the previous night.
It was so great to see the aisle of children and village leaders singing welcoming songs to us as our buses rolled in. It’s always slightly overwhelming being bear hugged by 5 kids as soon as you step off the bus - literally bombarded with love! I personally love watching first timers come around the corner with what seems like 10 children attached to them and barely able to walk.
We were thoroughly entertained by some singing and dancing by everyone in the village and then it was time to hand out packets - little packages of joy that bring a smile to each sponsored student!
The team carried out the process flawlessly and luckily we had enough team members to stay outside and play with some of the other kids while the packet process was happening. This helps ensure that we don’t have so many small faces looking in and feeling left out. With a team this size, we're able to share the joy of interacting with multiple groups throughout our visit!
Our craft activity for the sponsored students involves a lot of paint, but we had enough people to hand out wipes faster than the kids could get messy. Only one team member ended up with paint on their face, and I think it was self applied! :-)
We had plenty of free time which as always included soccer games, bubbles, stickers etc. The children always find a way to add a personal touch to the fun and with Kainagoga it was by finding every team member they could and placing bright pink flowers all over their hair/head/ears. We were quite the beautiful sight.
It was soon time to distribute a few goats to some families from the community. These goats were donated by some of our team members and the recipients will breed them and pay it forward to other families in the village.
While the team departed from Kainagoga, I headed back to Entebbe to the airport to pick up the final members to make our team of 31 complete. It's astonishing how a 2 hour journey turns into a 6 hour car ride due to the time of day it is in Kampala! It was worth every minute when we saw Paul, Beth and their team from Redeemer in Redwood City, CA walking up to us with their luggage.
Everyone is here, safe and sound! Praise God!!!
Tomorrow we all head to Nakabango, which is partnered with Messiah Lutheran Church in Weldon Spring, MO. The team is looking forward to spending time with the children and village leaders there. The partnership between Messiah & Nakabango has been in place for a long time and it's always great to see how this community has been blessed by Messiah and how Messiah has been blessed by its work in Uganda! Thank you for the continued prayers for a safe journey. We're excited to see how God continues to touch the hearts of our team.
Ahhhhh, Home sweet Uganda.
The team arrived in Uganda Sunday night (just in time to watch the Blues at 3am Uganda time!). The flights all went well and on time so that was a relief. When we arrived in Entebbe, we were also pleasantly surprised to see all our bags had made it without a hitch. We don't usually have an issue, but if it does happen, it can be quite a challenge!
We were greeted by our lovely Hearts & Hope staff member Nicholas, his wife Jackie and our 2 buses - yes one entire bus was filled with our nearly 50 bags!
As in February, we skipped our typical stop in Kampala and instead traveled on to Jinja. It was a comfortable ride and we arrived at the Sunset around 1:45am. While this may seem very late, it felt like it was early evening since we're all jetlagged. This also means that we don't have to unload & load our bags in Kampala and, most importantly, we avoid the morning traffic in Kampala which can take hours to navigate!
The wonderful staff at the Sunset Hotel were ready to help us no matter what time of day/night. They’ve been preparing for our very large team since February and I could see the excitement (or was that fear?) in their eyes when our two buses pulled up. I hope they like a challenge because we will be adding our final 10 team members on Monday night!
I believe this will be the Hearts & Hope compound for the next week and I could not think of a better place to be welcomed.
We head to our first village, Kainagoga, on Monday. It's always a great first stop as the kid’s very high energy always lift up our tired team on the first morning. I can’t wait to see those faces and take some new pictures with the kids and their packets!
Thank you for all of your prayers for a safe journey. We thank God for his protection and guidance and we continue to pray for the success of this trip.
Hearts and Hope for Uganda Trip – February 2019
This was my second trip with Hearts and Hope and my experience as a “repeat goer” was significantly different than my first trip. For starters, I took MUCH fewer photos. Although that did not keep me from having thousands of the same
pictures on my phone… thank you, Violet ;). I caught myself pausing in several moments, hoping to make my time in them stretch and the feeling to stay forever. I noticed more, breathed more, and cherished every interaction more. I loved everything about this experience and every feeling I had when I was with these people, in this place.
I was a ball of anticipation and excitement heading into the villages. Will Benjamin, my sponsored student, remember me? Will he be there? How much has Patricia changed? Is she excited about going to school? Will I recognize many faces
from last year? Will I be able to find my family’s sponsored children? My expectations were far exceeded.
Benjamin found me before I found him. He stood by my side at the front of the class in Kamuli and helped me pronounce the list of names I called for students to come get their name tag. This was a very challenging task, except for Lindsay who did it flawlessly (haha). I was amazed at the difference I saw in this young boy. We could have a conversation this year, I could tell he understood me, and he was much more outgoing. He told me I need to bring Bentley next year to meet him and said “baseball” when he opened his new Cardinals gear. At one point, he also quickly
sensed my panic and jumped in to rescue a tangled goat followed by a soft pat to the head and a big smile in my direction. He had a large group of friends and was very social with his peers. At lunch, he cleaned up his plate and everyone’s around him with no one watching or asking him to do so. His teachers and his father all reported that he was a great student, comes to school every day, and has exceptional behavior. I am unbelievably proud of him and the obvious hard work he has put in over the past two years.
And then there is Patricia. Having the opportunity to be at all involved in this girl’s story still baffles me. I cannot begin to express the gratitude I have for Hearts and Hope giving this special little girl a chance. Pulling up to Nakabongo, I was
very excited to see Patricia and how much she has grown. What I was not at all expecting was the greeting I got as soon as I got off the bus. I was thrilled to hear we’d be taking her for a group visit to a potential new school later that week. I
was overwhelmed with joy to see Patricia welcomed into this school full of obvious love and acceptance. We toured the school and entered classrooms where individualized and therapeutic learning took place. There was a room of beds with
mattresses and a fully functioning bathroom attached. The place was clean, bright, and decorated for children. Most of all, seeing Patricia’s face light up as we entered was priceless. She made herself right at home, especially outside on the school’s swing. I can’t wait to see her potential unlocked with specialized education and therapies that hold the key!
Lastly, meeting my family members’ and friends’ sponsored children was a highlight of my trip. I felt connected to each one of them and couldn’t wait to share with my family how their support is truly making a difference in a child’s life and future. My favorite part was watching as Violet interpreted the letters. She does so with such enthusiasm and provides opportunities for responses that I would not otherwise understand.
This team. I cannot say enough about this team. We worked together like a well-oiled machine. With each village, we got in, got packets out, pictures taken, and spent time with sponsored kids, followed by free time to play and visit to our
hearts’ content. I loved looking around during free time and seeing each team member off “doing their thing”… Sarah conversing with a teacher or parent, a group of kids teaching Kelly a Ugandan game, Kim leading the hokey pokey, cheers coming from a Netball game where Lindsay just scored for her team, Jerry scaring kids with his tiny hands, Mark connecting with a little girl with a whole lot of sass, Andy jumping into a soccer game, and Susan leading “class” in a schoolroom. Everyone had something big to contribute, had no problem taking initiative with tasks, and were right there to help if a team member needed anything. I loved watching the “newbies”: Lindsay, Susan, and Sarah. I would pay attention to the first time we rode the bus on the busy streets of Jinja, the first time we pulled into a village, and the look on their faces the first time they met their sponsored students. Watching these moments took me right back to the feelings I had two years ago when I was
introduced to this beautiful (and wild) experience. I especially treasured the time I spent with the Ugandan team members this trip. I got to know each one of them better and developed some new friendships as well. I loved talking with Maj about her journey to find the best school for Patricia. Watching how Mariah communicates with each child in the villages is inspiring and I was fascinated with our
discussion of similarities and differences in our roles in similar fields, but different countries. Spending time with Nicholas was always an adventure… whether it’s a game of soccer, learning to pick/eat Jackfruit, or spending time with his family. And Violet, everything about Violet is magical. She brings joy and laughter to everyone she encounters and meets no stranger. Not to mention the support and friendship from Tif, David, Julius, and Joel as well!
Thank you Hearts and Hope for the endless opportunities, our whole team for their friendship and commitment, Kelly’s fearless leadership, the sponsored schools for always making us feel most welcome, and my family and friends at home that continue to support me with this journey that has stolen a piece of my heart. It’s a journey I hope continues year after year!
-Jackie Kline (signing off with my best Ugandan head nod)
Sad to see this trip coming to a close.
What a spectacular week with some truly inspiring people. This team has been a blessing to me for my first mission trip as a leader. I was nervous that I couldn’t take on the task, but I quickly found out God has a way of grabbing hearts here in Uganda that has nothing to do with me. The Ugandan staff has also been immensely helpful; I couldn’t do this without each and every one of them.
Three of the team members who were not able to go on the safari left Kampala on Saturday. Before they left, we all headed to Nakabango for a couple of hours of more fun with the kids in that morning. It was great having that last little time with those wonderful souls.
We then went to Jinja to shop and eat lunch and then it was time to say our goodbyes. After hugs and tears shed we bid adieu to Jerry, Mark, and Jackie as they boarded the bus for the few hour journey to the airport.
The remaining members of the team headed to our next activity - visiting Betty!!!
With their passing, Betty lived in a small mud & thatch hut that her aunt had built for her. Betty was unable to speak, had difficulty walking and using her arms, and made meager income to feed herself by digging in people's gardens.
After Grant & his wife Tonya learned of Betty's situation, they sponsored her and she's been attending a special school that has improved her speech (she now sings!!!) and her mobility. She now attends a vocational school and is learning to sew and tailor clothing.
It’s always a pleasure to see how she is doing and it gives everyone such joy to see her big smile. Betty was thrilled with the packet from her sponsor and the other treats we had bought for her.
Afterward we went with David, our Advanced Sponsorship Coordinator, to a secondary school where five students in our program attend. It was interesting to see how different the school is at the next, higher level. The girls were all very welcoming and looked so happy. We continue to pray for our secondary students to thrive and for the program to continue to expand and grow in number.
After a long and eventful Saturday, we ate a quick dinner and headed to bed as we had to wake up early to travel to Western Uganda for our Safari. The next morning we were met at the Sunset by Twaha, our lovely safari guide, and Sandra, his coworker in training.
We had a long ride ahead of us, but were all very excited for a relaxing, fun weekend.
We first stopped at a rhino sanctuary which was a first for all of us and we had the chance to trek some rhinos. We saw a total of 5 rhinos and it was like being in Jurassic park - those things might as well be dinosaurs!!
We then continued to our lodge in Murchison, called Pakuba. We decided to switch things up this trip as we usually stay at another nearby lodge. It was totally worth the switch! The staff is very friendly and we were all pleasantly surprised at how large the rooms were and (drum roll please) each room had A/C!
Usually I have to mentally prepare for sweating myself to sleep on safari, but this was not the case! We went on our evening drive and it was great to see the first timers faces each time they saw the animals!
The next morning we woke up at 5:30 to see the sunrise on our morning game drive. Always such a peaceful time witnessing God’s creation.
We saw many lions and then helped a couple of Americans who were trekking the park alone find some lions. On the way out of the lion’s den, we got stuck on a pile of dirt while off-roading and were then saved by those very same Americans with their tow rope!!!
Great example of how being kind always comes back to you!
We finished the day with a boat ride to the bottom of the falls and then hiked our way 45 minutes uphill to the top. It was beautiful as we saw many new views of the falls from different perspectives. Also a great workout! We were also blessed with a wonderful dinner and early bed time.
Everyone woke up feeling very refreshed and ready to drive back to Entebbe after one last mini-gamedrive back to the park exit. (Our lodge was in the middle of the park, so driving anywhere would mean wildlife sightings around each corner.) In one instance, we came extremely close to an elephant, but our fearless tour guide knew how to handle the situation. However, the sight was breathtaking!
A cherry on top of a very wonderful week.
I can’t thank this team enough for their positivity and joy. How lucky am I to have been your leader this trip!
A few long flights lie ahead of the group and we pray for their safe return home.
Thank you all at home for your prayers and overall support.
Wow, what a great last full day in the villages! It was beautiful weather as the clouds were out which cooled it down a bit.
We visited Kainagoga and the children were so energetic and happy as they had been waiting a long time for us to arrive. Since we were delayed with our flights we had to push Kainagoga back to the end of the week.
They did not disappoint in making it one of the best days of the week! The kids there were so joyful and wanted to embrace us at ever opportunity. While the dancers were performing I had two toddlers on my lap just stroking my hair and face. Usually the smaller ones can be more fearful of the Mzungus, but all the children there were very ready to be loved on. Packet time was carried out like a well-oiled machine and we had very few absent students.
For free time the boys played soccer and the ladies went off and were taught more local games. One was a cat and mouse type game where a circle was formed and the children block the cat from getting out and chasing the mouse. Both cat and mouse were not surprisingly Mzungus chosen by the kids.
We then had a team member dress in her inflatable T-Rex costume and I feared for her well-being as she came up the hill to a stampede of about 150 kids running her way! She danced and kicked around the soccer ball to the sound of giggling and a few crying babies. : )
We enjoyed a nice lunch prepared by the women and then handed out donated books to the school and allowed the P5 class to read some of them out loud. It’s always wonderful to hear those voices reading!
Then we were greeted by a surprise guest in Kainagoga, Patricia!
We planned on visiting her school and I suddenly hear my name being screamed (my name is Kelly, yet she insists on calling me “Kelaya”) and there she was in Kainagoga. It was fun to interact with her at a whole different village. We then got on the bus with Patricia and her mother and visited her new school which she will be enrolled in soon. Some of the team members were involved in fundraising for her school so it was great for them to see it in person.
For dinner we went to All Friends and were joined by Rachel who is an LCU missionary and has lived here for over a year. The Bishop of the LCU also joined us and was able to connect with the team.
It was a delight to enjoy this meal with the full team as tomorrow three people depart us to go back home. Time has flown by! We will visit Nakabango again for some free time in the morning tomorrow and then shop in Jinja before our team members have to leave. Prayers for a safe journey back for them would be appreciated! They’ve had an action packed and blessing-filled time! The rest of the team leaves for safari tomorrow morning and we are looking forward to some exotic animals and a chance to unwind from the emotional highs and lows from our village visits.
On Valentine's Day we had double the fun by hitting two villages, each partnered with churches back in the US through Hearts & Hope! Luckily we were able to fit in a lot of activities in each village as they aren’t as far away from our hotel.
We first went to Butangala which had a wonderful transformation thanks to their partnership with Immanuel Lutheran in Wentzville, MO and Hearts & Hope. Thank you to Pastor Jason Auringer, Jen Ritter and the members of Immanuel for their efforts to help the people of Uganda. The people of Butangala cannot wait to see you and the team from Wentzville this June!!!
Many team members on this trip have been to Butangala before and they didn’t even recognize it. The large and beautiful new school building is such eye-candy compared to the open air thatch & stick structure that the kids used to have school in. Passing out packets to so many kids in this large space was much easier compared to squeezing the students in the previous structure.
We were greeted in usual Butangala fashion with a breathtaking music & dance performance. The students here are the most talented in their dancing and skits they perform and have won several awards in local competitions. It is always such a impressive thing to witness!!!
We handed out sponsorship packets - little packets of joy from their sponsors back in the US. Thank you to all of the sponsors for sending these and personalizing them for your student. You have no idea how much this means to these kids.
We then we did what we do best - free time!
The kids taught us how to play one of their local games called “blind." It’s basically the Ugandan version of Marco Polo, only on land. They put a blindfold on us and yell a word for the blinded person to chase after. All of us Mzungus (Ugandan for white person) lost quickly when we realized the twist that the kids would push you into the blinded person if you got too close. Lots of laughs for sure.
We also were blessed to visit the home of one of my favorite families on Earth. Not only does my sponsored child live here, but also her brother Moses - the boy with a large cyst on his neck that we were able to help with the support of the Ehlmanns. There are also a number of other sweet little babies that make up this family. It’s always gut wrenching to see the small brick structure that this whole family lives in. When I think of my girl having to sleep on the floor in there I can’t help but cry. Hopefully with some of the kids being sponsored and going to school they can break that chain and help the rest of the family in the future.
We then headed to Nakabango. Truly a special place as Messiah Lutheran has partnered with this village even before Hearts & Hope was created! Because of the long history, most of the kids here are very comfortable with us and are therefore very outgoing and playful. We ate a wonderful lunch here - the biggest spread we had so far as many villages are suffering from a sustained drought that hopefully will end soon. Please pray for rain!!!
Next we were delighted to hear a song sung by the school choir thanking Hearts & Hope and Messiah Lutheran Church for all the work they’ve done to change their lives. It warmed my heart and I'd like to say thank you to Messiah, Pastor Chuck Schlie, Julie Stroder, and all of the supporters in the US who have been involved in any number of projects and sponsorships in Nakabango. The village truly has seen amazing changes over the last 10+ years thanks to all of your efforts!!!
Next a group of dancers walked in, led by the tiniest dancer I’ve ever seen, who was probably 3 or 4, but she kept up with the rest of them and gave the team a good laugh. We were all impressed by this prodigy!
Packet time went smoothly and we had a small amount of free time to hang out in the cooler evening weather.
I heard many team members say that they had a wonderful day and I felt the same. We did get to see our special friend Patricia in Nakabango and she was feisty as ever - she's always so excited to see her friends from the USA!
We are going to Kainagoga tomorrow and then we are picking up Patricia and taking her to her new school that she will be enrolled in soon. Many team members helped fundraise for this school and are very emotionally invested in this girl so we are all very excited to see her future school.
Thanks for yours prayers at home for a safe & impactful trip!
They are definitely being answered, so please keep them coming!
Today we went to the village of Mbulamuti and wow, it was a hot one. We were spoiled with the first day being mostly overcast and today there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The team lathered on sunscreen and were ready to take on the day.
It was special to visit Mbulamuti (the 'm' is almost silent when pronouncing the name...) as very few team members had been there before, even repeat goers.
Mbulamuti was Hearts & Hope's first 'greenfield' village, where partners in the Dallas, TX area gathered together and partnered with Hearts & Hope to make a significant investment for the long-term. We purchased a large tract of land, installed a clean-water well situated close to the road to attract the local community, built a large school building, constructed a permanent kitchen, latrine, etc. And there still was enough space for a football/soccer field, plus space for agriculture to help feed the many children. All of this resulted in one of the highest performing schools in the area. Thanks to Waters Edge, Holy Cross, Our Savior, the Tibbetts family, the Moothart family, and all of the donors and sponsors in Texas who made this vision a reality!
When we arrived, we were greeted by many smiles and adancing and passed out packets to anxiously awaiting sponsored students. The team members knew so many students and it was a joy to watch the whole interaction.
After packets were opened it was free time and we played various relays including egg races (which the Ugandan staff enjoyed just as much as the children)! There was also a very heated game of netball with many team members and students. This is a game similar to basketball mixed with keep-away. It is usually played by the girls, but the men of our mission team had to work hard to keep up!
Source of the Nile River Cruise
The afternoon flew by and we made our way to the Nile river for a cruise to where Lake Victoria turns into the Nile (also known as "The Source of the Nile."
It’s always a relaxing ride where we get to see a lot of wildlife and other interesting sights. The team then ate dinner at a restaurant called “Forever Resort” which is a nice spot on the bank of the Nile that has much room to spread around, play pool, dance on the stage, or relax at the table and reflect on the day.
The food was delicious as always and most of the team went straight to bed after returning to the hotel. The heat, combined with all of the fun activities throughout the day, has a way of sucking out all your energy, so rest is definitely important.
Especially since tomorrow we have a two communities to visit - Butangala & Nakabang.
Wish us luck and thank you for your continued prayers!
Today we had the immense pleasure to visit the villages of Kamuli & Namwendwa. After such a long delayed travel time the team was ready to see some beautiful faces in the villages. Kamuli has been partnered with Hearts & Hope since being founded in 2011, so there are a lot of familiar faces & relationships!
Although sleep was short it was very restful for us all and the team was up early ready to hit the road. We drove the 90 minutes from Jinja (our home base) to Kamuli and the fun began. It was great to see the first-timers' faces as the children danced and sang for the group - always one of my favorite sights and sounds.
We handed out packets in what seemed like record time and had the rest of the afternoon to just play - and play we did!
My favorite activity was the attempted tug of war game that resulted with half of the “tuggers” to fall to the ground in uproarious laughter. Then they just got up and continued to pull - the game never ended! We did eventually lose the rope to a villager but I’m sure it will go to good work for someone!
Jackie Kline, now on her second trip with Hearts & Hope, was blessed with seeing her child Benjamin again. The bond between those two is priceless - they are truly family.
We handed out sweeties and had to get on the bus. It's always difficult to say farewell, but we can all confidently tell the community that we'll be back - whether it's us individuals or others representing us on some future trip.
We then headed over to another village, Namwendwa which is just a short drive from Kamuli.
Namwendwa does not currently have a partner, but Hearts & Hope was able to raise funds to purchase some land for them and install a clean water well there in 2016. The people of Namwendwa say "Thank You!" to everyone who attended Party With a Purpose in August of 2016!!!
It is always good to see the contrast between a village that has had a partnership for such a long time and one that only has the basics like Namwendwa. While they have access to clean water, the children always are dustier and in very tattered clothing as they are not provided with uniforms for their small school.
However, the smiles they give and joy they spread are no different.
We spent a few hours playing with the children. Then the women picked up a game of net ball (which is like basketball, but given the fact that we're playing on uneven dirt, dribbling is not a possibility). It's a fun game and all of us ended up laughing and having a great time together!
When we were back on the bus everyone was overwhelmed with happiness at how wonderful the day was. Dinner was spent with the usual card game tournaments and most of the team was in bed by 11pm.
On Wednesday we are headed off to Mbulamuti and can't be more excited!
Thank you at home for your prayers for this team. It has been a fantastic time so far, praise God!
The team finally arrived in Jinja after an unexpectedly long weekend of travel.
We were delayed so long in Chicago due to mechanical issues that we missed our connection in Brussels. Luckily, we were able to connect with the airline just before the we took off for Brussels to book us on the next flight out. Unfortunately, that flight meant an 11 hour layover in Brussels. We also had to split up the team which is never ideal but it was the only way to all get to Uganda by Monday.
We were rerouted through Ethiopia which was another fun adventure and finally made our way to Uganda. Despite the awkward and long journey, we were blessed to see that our bags had made it to Uganda with us! Praise the Lord!
I Thank God that this team is full of amazing people who have the best attitudes and remained positive the entire way. While everyone is extremely exhausted, we are very excited to get this Ugandan party started.
Because we are an entire day behind, we will have to adjust our schedule of village visits - but when in Uganda, flexibility is always a vital trait!
On Tuesday we visit Kamuli and the team is so thrilled to get to our first village and start seeing the kids. It's the smiles on the faces of the kids and the relationships we build with the people in each community that truly make the long journey worth every minute.
Thanks for all your prayers for a safe journey!
I am thrilled to announce that Sara Owens is the newest member of the Hearts & Hope team!!! Sara has accepted a full-time position with Hearts & Hope as the US Program Lead.
Reporting to the Executive Director, Sara will have overall responsibility for implementation and execution of our vision in Uganda. Sara will work closely with our Ugandan staff to manage our sponsorship program, oversee the performance of Hearts & Hope schools, manage various projects in Uganda, manage relationships with our US partners, and ensure we are delivering the maximum impact and benefit to those we serve.
Sara is a passionate supporter of our mission in Uganda and has had extensive experience in international missions. Throughout the years, Sara has lived and served in Greece, Haiti, Mexico, the Netherlands, New York City and Los Angeles. Whether working at creating jobs in a local dump, welcoming boats of refugees on island shores, working with communities to rebuild after a natural disaster, or volunteering with vulnerable American populations, Sara is constantly seeking the best for the communities she involves herself in. Central to each of these missions was the relationships she built with the people in each community - and she's thrilled that she'll continue to do that in Uganda!
Previously, Sara was Director of Missions at Middletree Church in St. Louis, MO, where she coordinated projects and partnerships on a local, national, and international level. Sara graduated magna cum laude from University of Missouri, Saint Louis, earning a Bachelor of Science in Social Work with a minor in Psychology and Trauma Studies. Her educational background and experience in the field will serve as an excellent foundation for working with Hearts & Hope as the US Program Lead.
Here's Sara sharing her thoughts on why she decided to answer the call to join Hearts & Hope:
"While I have been faced with my fair share of difficult decisions, accepting a job with Hearts & Hope was not one of them. I love that Hearts & Hope works to see children healthy, educated, and prospering, all while providing the people of Uganda with opportunities to further develop their own communities. I feel incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to work alongside the amazing Ugandan staff as well as the generous US partners that are striving to bring such a beautiful vision to life."
We are so thrilled to have Sara join our team! Sara can be reached at email@example.com
These past 10 or so days have been quite a blur. I feel like I have not had enough time and yet feel as though I have been here much longer than 10 days. Time in Uganda is unique and I’ve loved every second of the time I have spent here. This is a summary of the last few days of our trip:
Saturday- this was another meeting heavy day. We broke into smaller groups to discuss more specific topics with the staff in order to collect data, organize thoughts and plan ideas for the future. The day went by quickly and we headed to ‘All Friends’ restaurant for dinner, which is always delicious and a needed change of environment.
Sunday- Nalwire, our last village day, so bittersweet. The route to Nalwire has been improved as far as newer roads being finished. This meant instead of 3 hours, we arrived in a quick 90 minutes, meaning more time with the kiddos- always a great thing. We celebrated church with the people of Nalwire with Bishop Charles and some LCU members and then had a quick meeting with the school village leaders. We don’t yet have a sponsorship program in this village so the meeting was brief. We passed out T-shirt’s and flip flops to what seemed like a never ending line of children and then it was playtime! Some played soccer, others threw around footballs and frisbees, but many kids just stood around and talked to us. Their English is good enough to have basic conversations so that was fun to interact in that way. The questions asked the most by these kids were “What is your name?” and “how are you?”. They tried to teach me some of the phrases in their local language which mostly ended in uproarious laughter at my pronunciation. The day ended with a chicken given to me by one special little girl in that village who I’ve bonded with over the past trips. Although I was terrified of holding this chicken I couldn’t help but graciously accept this gift.
Monday- this was shopping day. We had quite the list of items to buy at “the most sweetest deal” and this task could not have been accomplished without the help of our Ugandan staff. They always know how to barter to the lowest price and I am most appreciative as those store owners sure know how to work the Mzungus out of serious schillings! We ate lunch at the Source Cafe in Jinja and hopped on the bus for a long, traffic filled ride back to Entebbe and onward to the airport.
This trip has been very successful and we are so thankful to you all at home who supported us and prayed for a safe journey. We have 2 more flights ahead of us before we arrive home and continue to support the great work being done in Uganda. Again, thank you for the prayers, I give thanks to God for his protection and blessings, and I give thanks to the beautiful people of Uganda.
Thursday and Friday were as fun as they were long and hot! We hit 2 villages on Thursday, Kamuli and Mbulamuti, and 3 on Friday, Butangala, Nakabango and Kainagoga. Todd and Andy along with our Hearts & Hope staff met with some of the village leaders while myself, Toni, Maj, Mariah and Violet had the (better) task of entertaining the children while getting pictures for the Christmas card.
This part also included seeing our own sponsored children and giving them a small gift which is always a very special time. My favorite part of the meetings we joined had to be when Nicholas told the village leaders that we would not need lunch if we visit multiple villages in one day or “we will die, our stomachs will burst”. If you were to see how high these plates are piled by Ugandans, you would know he is not lying!
Another special moment from these days was while we loaded the bus from Kamuli heading to Mbulamuti, I was told there was someone who had something for me. My sponsored child Jessica got on the bus and handed me a handmade cross necklace and a very used little teddy bear. She had run home to grab these so she could give me something before we left. Such an incredibly touching moment, this little girl, who does not have much at all, gave me 2 of her treasures. Priceless little love offerings, and I am very grateful to her and God for giving me such an amazing child to sponsor.
We had a lot of fun taking pictures for the Christmas card as Violet basically had a laughing competition to see who could make the final cut. Seeing how laughter is very contagious, the task of picking the best smile was not an easy one!
After all the meetings and tasks were accomplished we headed back to the lovely Sunset Hotel for dinner where our nightly heated tournament of Uno ensued with the US and Ugandan staff. Which was always a fun ending to long full days!
Today we had the pleasure to go and see 2 very special ladies, Betty and Patricia. Both have some type of disability but their personalities and overall presence supersede any mental or physical maladies they might have. If anyone has ever hugged Betty or held Patricia you know exactly what I mean.
Betty’s school was first, we saw her classrooms and was told by her teacher that she is doing very well and always asks questions if she doesn’t understand in order to learn better. She is learning how to sow and showed us a pattern she has sown for a skirt which will be finished soon. It’s great to see her thriving!
We then went to Nakabango to pick up Patricia and her mother. We could see her from afar jumping and clapping all dressed and ready to go!
The whole bus ride was filled with her shouting “soda!” At every sight of one and frequently yelling my name to wave at me from the front of the bus. When we arrived at her possible school it was amazing to see her mother so happy and Patricia running around so visibly excited. We were told about the curriculum and therapies that they offer and toured the property. The headmaster then had a good conversation with her mother starting with the question “what do you expect from us?” And “how do you want us to help Patricia?”. You could see in her mother’s eyes that she had been waiting for someone to ask her this question for quite a long time.
After the visit we returned to the bus and gave Patricia a few gifts. One of which was a very large bottle of soda. Her face erupted in laughter and happiness. She didn’t fail to carry it off the bus and show it off to her siblings and friends. It was such a wonderful break from the meetings to see these girls and reinforce the mission and reason we are here.
Wednesday was not too eventful with children but very important nonetheless. We had the official MOU meeting and signing between the LCU and hearts & hope which strengthens the partnership and should improve the running of our schools and expansion of our programs in the future. That night we had a banquet to celebrate the MOU and to say thank you to a few Hearts & Hope employees who are moving on. It was great to get together in this way to end such an important day!
The past few days here have been very long and full of important engagments. Unfortunately our blog editing website in combination with the spotty internet have been a roadblock with posting these blogs. Luckily, Todd found a go around and I can continue to share the journey.
We arrived to Jinja Sunday morning and went straight to the village of Kainagoga to celebrate church with the congregation and Bishop Charles. It was very refreshing to see and interact with the children, even for such a short time. It gave us the energy we needed on short sleep to prepare for the staff meetings in the coming days.
After Lunch in Jinja we had a long meeting with Nicholas who heads the Hearts & Hope staff in Uganda and then was informed we were trying a new place for dinner. It was Andy's birthday and what a fun celebration we had! We were joined by our staff, Bishop Charles and our good friend Violet, who is always the life of the party.
The restaurant was right on the bank of the Nile and had a wonderful view of the brand new bridge recently finished in Jinja. There was even a DJ who entertained us with music that ranged from Miley Cyrus to Nursery rhymes! After dinner we had a mini pool competition and I can say playing pool while listening to "Old Macdonald had a Farm" is definitely a first. They brought out a delicious cake for Andy and the owner of the restaurant politely informed us that they were closing and we headed back for our first night's sleep.
Monday was mostly filled with long staff group meetings and individual staff meetings to discuss big changes ahead and voice concerns. We are heading out of the hotel and into the villages in the coming days so we will have more pictures of cute kids to come! Thank you for your prayers for our safety and we appreciate continuing prayers for the remainder of out trip.
Hearts & Hope is a nonprofit organization focused on unlocking the potential of people in Uganda through relationships with people in the US.