Be Free

After two trips to Uganda in my lifetime (thus far), I only know a few Lugandan words. One of those is “ddembe” which means freedom. And the only reason I know that particular Lugandan word is because I have been to Ddembe House, an orphanage for abandoned children that was opened in 2015 by my friend, Moses. 

Moses is a young man who took the time to share with me the story of Ddembe house as we sat in his office while a young girl around the age of 4 or 5 stood beside me. Moses told of the story behind this girl’s arrival at the orphanage, and I found myself putting my arm around her, holding her close. You see, she was rescued from being buried alive as an infant when neighbors noticed her mother throwing dirt into a small hole in the ground. After being passed around from here to there and ultimately ending up at Ddembe House to live with 14 (at that time) other children, it is unclear of her exact age. Today she is alive and happy, healthy, and loved. It is evident. And stories like this one are the very reason Ddembe House exists. After all, what do you do when you believe all life has value and someone brings you a child that has been rescued from being buried alive because she is not wanted or valued?

I met all 14 of the children currently at Ddembe as our team spent some time reading to them, playing soccer, and showing them how to use our gadgets.The older children helped as the team bagged up lbs of flour, maize, rice, and sugar to later distribute to the widows with AIDS (another ministry by Call to Africa). 

Putting together food bags, one scoop at a time.
Some seriously heavy lifting going on!

The small strip of land beside the Ddembe house is used to grow a garden with bananas, sweet potatoes, and other crops. In addition, I saw chickens and even a turkey. Besides attending school, the children learn how to farm and raise animals so that they can be free – free from poverty and the enslavement therein.

One of the cows that the CTA team pitched in to procure during our work here over the past week and a half will be sent to Ddembe house once there is a space for it. I can see that they definitely need more land. Moses has a vision to one day own a house for the children rather than paying rent each month as they are doing now. His vision includes space for more farming to provide for the children’s dietary needs and also to further teach them each these essential survival skills. Ideally they will one day be able to procure 4 or 5 acres to make this all a reality. 

These are the sweetest children. It was such a pleasure to meet them all and get to know Moses and his mission. Please keep them in your prayers as he and the house mom, Kate, continue to care for these children as well as another 15 kids that live elsewhere in the community since there is no more space for them at the Ddembe house.

Hope is always a good thing!
The kids loved hanging out with Katelyn!

I am a bit sad today as I wrap up this blog, pack my suitcase, and head south to Kampala for my early flight out of Entebbe tomorrow to Johannesburg. I will miss this great team of people from Alabama and Florida, and I will miss my Ugandan friends. I have to tell you I have been most impressed by the three teens on our team. Jared, Riley, and Ashton are so not like the whiney, self-centered, entitled stereotypical young people back home in America that we see all too often in the media. They have given of themselves so tirelessly throughout this trip. Their parents are to be commended. 

They say in Uganda “be free.” No pressure, be free. I fly away from this exotic land where “it can’t be done” and “it doesn’t fit” are never spoken and where the handshakes are 3 steps long. I take with me the memories of strapping water jugs to a bicycle, cooking beans and porridge in a kitchen with open fires and mud walls, and watching the sun set over Africa from a paddle board on the Nile River. 

Good-bye Uganda. Thank you for having me. 

Be free, my friends, be free.

 

(click on the thumbnails below to see the full version of each photo.)

Overwhelmed (and homesick)

The CTA team has been busy at Faith house for the past 3 days. Most of the guys have been working on pouring concrete floors in 3 of the classrooms while the rest have been painting walls throughout the main part of the orphanage. Because the walls are concrete this requires two coats of primer and 1 coat of paint. As an added touch, Ashton, one of our team members that is a gifted artist was able to paint a beautiful mural on the wall of the freshly painted sewing room. (I’ll explain more about the power of the sewing room in a following blog post.)

Mixing and pouring the concrete is an extremely labor intensive process. I thought I’d use a quote from the CTA team construction supervisor, Kevin Brownell, as he has already described it quite well in one of his Facebook posts. (I have worked with Kevin on two different CTA trips to Uganda and he is truly skilled at assessing the prioritization of each project and then getting things done in a speedy manner.)

Kevin explains the process like this:

“The concrete work was also an exciting part of the day. You see in Uganda they pour cement on the floors and leave the surface rough. Then at a later time they come back and plaster the floor with a top coat of cement and sand. It gives you a smooth surface but after a short time the plaster cracks and comes lose. So we wanted to try and show them how to finish the concrete with a smooth trowel finish from the start which would save them a lot of time and money and make the floor a stronger and longer lasting floor.

In Uganda there are no concrete trucks or companies that bring concrete to you. We have to get the raw materials, sand, cement, and stone and mix it up to make concrete. So we start by getting one truck load of sand and one truck load of stone and several bags of cement. We shovel the sand into wheelbarrows and create four to six piles of sand with 4 wheelbarrows of sand in each pile. This is done in an area I call the mixing area.

You see in Uganda you just mix the concrete on the dirt ground. Now we take 120 pound bags of cement and pour one bag on top of each pile. We then begin to turn over each pile of sand with a shovel three to four times until the sand and cement are completely mixed. Now we spread out the sand and cement mix in the mixing area so it is about three to four inches thick. We then begin to shovel stone into the wheelbarrows and cover the sand mixture with about four inches of stone. Did I mention the stone is very large chucks of granite that are about the size of a large Advil bottle which we will need later?

Once the sand mixture is covered with stone we begin to add water and start mixing it up with an old -tyle farmer’s hoe. Now that it is mixed we shovel it once again into wheelbarrows and roll them into the classrooms where we begin to spread it out and finish it.

This was the great part of it all. We worked with several local men teaching them how we screed out the concrete and finish it with a smooth trowel finish. They where very interested in learning and were so quick to catch on to the new method. They could see the amount of time and money they would save by using this method. Not only where we able to teach them this new method but we were able to help create a better environment for the school kids who no longer had to attend school in the dirt.

One of the things we decided a few years ago was that when we did projects like this we would hire the locals to work with us so we weren’t taking opportunities away from them. This also allows them to learn from us as well as for us to learn from them because they have a lot to teach us.”

Getting ready to mix cement!
Just getting started with the first of three floors.
A completed floor!

 

There are walls up for several other classrooms, which are desperately needed. However the structures still need a roof, at a bare minimum, in order to be used. The country of Uganda is on the equator so the days can get quite hot. Concrete floors would be nice, but once a roof is in place a dirt floor is quite useable in Uganda. Currently two classrooms are being rented so that the children can continue with their education.

The end goal would be to finish these half-built structures to become classrooms, thus eliminating the need to rent space. As funds are available (donated or otherwise generated), construction will continue. This could literally take years before the funds are available as so often they are stretched thin financially from providing the basics (food, medical care, clothing). Typically the completion of such projects is brought about by outside resources such as Call to Africa, from churches in America, or from private donations. But people can’t give for things they are unaware of. Hence, the blog I am writing and the photos I am taking. My hope is that some awareness will happen, and, as a result, Irene and her staff as well as the 180 children benefiting from her ministry here will be blessed beyond measure.

One of the classroom structures that needs a roof (and floor)
This is one of the classrooms that is being rented.

More housing space for the children that are orphaned or abandoned would be a very welcome addition. This room shown in this photo houses 6 boys. Mattresses are spread across every inch of floor space each night so the boys can sleep on something softer than concrete. The very small room in the back through the doorway is where a teacher and several other boys sleep. The teacher doubles as a sort of dorm mom at night.

The boys’s dorm room (the door at rear goes to the 2nd room)

Some other projects that the team has completed in the last couple of days include the pumping out of the sewer (above ground septic-like system). I have, for obvious reasons, not shared photos of that process with you.

Another project was the purchasing of a baby stroller for a baby that has cerebral palsy, and was, as of yesterday, spending her days propped up by wads of fabric in a cardboard box that was formerly a case for bottled water. The child’s mother sews for a living and must have something to put her little girl in while she works with her hands to provide a very small amount of income to feed her family.

Checking out the new baby’s chair/stroller/wheelchair
The discarded baby’s box

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The stroller lacks support to keep the little girl from slumping over so this weekend, one of the team members, Katelyn, who is a skilled seamstress, is going to design and sew a set of customized pads and supports for this little one. In the process, Katelyn will teach the other women how to create more custom designed sewn pieces so that they can perhaps branch out more from making the same items over and over again.

And one more thing…..Faith Home/Village needs a clinic. The government has informed Irene that she must build and staff a clinic. They sort of do this here in Uganda….make up new rules as they go along, even when it may be impossible to comply. So, yeah, now another building is needed plus a physician to staff it. Honestly this would help cut medical costs for the children long term and eliminate the need for Irene to go back and forth to the hospital in Iganga. But how do you build a medical clinic when you are but one woman and have no money for it? Good question!

I feel overwhelmed by all of this at times because my brain wants to fix everything all at once, solve all the problems right away. But we can’t. We can do what we can do in the 10 or so days we are here. I know that Ken will be back again with another Call to Africa team donating their time, money, and skills to do more. Ken has been to Uganda and other parts of Africa many, many times over the past couple of decades and the results of his commitment and heart for the people here is evident. I can see the results of work done on my first trip here two years ago. What an encouragement it is to see just that little bit making a difference.

Thank you for following along with us as we work here in Uganda. Today I am homesick, especially as fatigue starts to set in and I miss my family so much. It’s always hard in the mornings because my 8:00 am is only 1:00 am in South Carolina and everyone back home is asleep. Once I get back to phone service and pitifully weak wifi at the end of our work day, there is a small window of time in which I may possibly communicate with my family before I shower, eat, upload and sort hundreds of photos, and collapse into bed from sheer exhaustion. And more often than not we do not actually connect during that small window of time because of mid-day work and commitments on their end back home.

Anyway, thank you for reading. Prayers greatly appreciated!

PS.
If anyone is compelled to help meet any of these needs or change a life by helping with the school tuition costs at Good Shepherd that I wrote about earlier, the best way to go about that is by donating directly to Call to Africa. They have the contacts here in Uganda to make it possible to get US dollars (or other foreign currencies) exchanged into Ugandan schillings and straight into the hands of the people that would need to get these various projects done. There is so much corruption here that having a chain of trusted folks along the way makes it possible for those specific donations to actually get to the right place.

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When the Numbers Don’t Add Up

On our first day in Jinja we were joined by Ken Galyean, the founder of Call to Africa, and the rest of the team that had just flown in and were, themselves, trying to recover from the flight over. We were now 19 people strong, ready to go, do, and give however we could to best meet the needs presented to us.

During the drive to our first stop, Good Shepherd school, I was reacquainting myself to a culture and a landscape I had discovered during my earlier trip that is so different from the American culture and landscape I have known all my life. I was reminded of so many things I take for granted, things I am so familiar with that I feel, if I am honest, that I am entitled to them. Yes, my WiFi should always work and be super fast and my venti-sized lattes should always be hot and made just the way I like them and ready within the 4-9 minute as-promised window on the Starbucks app. And my roads should never have potholes and the house never get too hot or my car never be without refreshing and comfortable air-conditioning. What would I ever do without Amazon prime and its near-instant delivery to my doorstep of all the many items I want but do not really need? And my bank account should always have at least some money in it.

At a bare minimum, these are my necessities and entitlements. I am ashamed to say this is true more times than it is not. It is the culture I live in and often the attitude of many fellow citizens. It cannot be denied because just today I saw tell-tale signs of this on Facebook. If we’re being honest.

I just visited a school here in Uganda that is currently educating some 550 children. There have been 700 students here at one time. Education in Uganda is not free like it is in the primary years in America. So there are children that do not go to school simply because their parents cannot afford it. Their floors are dirt floors, they have no cars, they fetch water from the well down the road and carry it on their heads several times a day to do the washing that needs to be done. There is no electricity in their homes.

I can tell you one thing for certain; I would not be here typing on my Mac computer in Uganda beside the Nile River if I had never been to school. If I could not read or write or add up numbers so that I could discern how to live on a budget or start a business from scratch, I would not be living the life I am living. It is hard for me to grasp what it would be like to not read or write or understand how history has shaped my world or be able to figure out the missing variable in a simple equation so that I can find the solution to just about any problem. I am a business owner and an inventor. None of that would be my reality if I had never received an education. What is an education worth?

Well here in Jinja, Uganda at Good Shepherd school it is worth everything when you have nothing. It is the thing that will equip and empower a generation to build new things, and overcome government corruption, and put clean, running water in homes. It is priceless. And yet, for some it is still unattainable. Too many children cannot read or write or add up numbers.

At Good Shepherd school, approximately 50% of the 550 students have their tuition costs covered by their parents (roughly 275 students).

Another 25% (approximately 137 students) have a portion of their tuition costs covered by their parents.

And the remaining 25% (roughly 137) are unable to pay anything at all.

One of the sweet girls at Good Shepherd school.

The staff at Good Shepherd have gone without to make up for the lost tuition so these students could continue being educated. The meals for the children are minimized to smaller portions and become rice with beans when tuition cannot be paid. Stretching a schilling (or a dollar) has become an art so that children can receive a priceless education. But this cannot continue for long. Those who cannot afford will not get an education.

The cost for one single child to attend school is about $150 per semester. There are 3 semesters in their school year which makes the total for one child per year $450. Some of these children live in dormitories and eat every meal on campus, while some go home to their families after school each afternoon.

I spoke with Lillian, the burser (treasurer) of Good Shepherd school and learned of this incredible need for tuition costs to be covered for these 130-some children that will not receive an education unless someone steps up.

If you want to help change the future of one of these little ones, you can join me in this endeavor. If we all gave up a coffee for one day a week or even one day a month it really could change a life, because the numbers add up when we all pitch in just a little. After meeting literally hundreds of these children and spending some time in Uganda on two different occasions, I can attest to the incredible impact that this does make for a child, a family, and the future of a nation.

boys at Good Shepherd school
Some of the boys that need tuition covered so they can stay in school #changealife

This evening, before I finished this post, I had the pleasure of meeting with three young men who have a vision to work together on a large project using their skills with computers, websites, digital marketing, and ministry. We had a bit of a jam-session to talk about ways in which they can best make their vision come to life. It was exciting for me to see them become excited over the potential that lies ahead for them. And our meeting was a reminder to me, yet again, of the incredible value of an education.

Anyone that feels compelled to help with a child’s tuition can do so by giving directly to Call to Africa, a non-profit organization that can get the money directly to Good Shepherd school and into the right hands. Every single dollar of a donation or sponsorship for tuition except for the credit card transaction fee will go to Uganda for this specific purpose.

I am so incredibly thankful to have received an education. I am thankful I can read, write, and add up numbers. I cannot imagine a life any different.

#changealife
#getdirty
#mycalltoAfrica

PS. Check out the school for the little ones at Sangaalo that I wrote about on my last visit to Uganda here.

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Sunsets and Penguins

I left my home and my family in South Carolina exactly one week ago to fly to Africa. The ultimate destination: Uganda. It would be my second visit to this beautiful country as part of a mission team with Call to Africa. I did not know exactly what would be involved in this specific trip, only that my camera and I were needed to once again share some incredible stories of despair, hope, need, unconditional love, darkness, and a light that shines so bright the darkness cannot survive in the midst of it.

Ready for whatever was needed, I packed my camera gear and my passport and some of the Ugandan attire I had picked up in Jinja two years ago and set my sights on the continent of Africa. I flew first to Johannesburg in South Africa and then caught a short flight over to Cape Town to visit a city whose streets I had dreamed of walking since I was 14 or 15 years old. Truly my visit to Cape Town was a bucket list item.

As I was booking flights around Africa and places to stay, I reminded myself I wasn’t getting any younger. Now was the time. If I was going to see Cape Town I might as well make the most of the incredibly long journey across the Atlantic to Uganda and some soon-to-expire Delta global upgrades for a bit of Cape Town adventure. I’ll admit I was a bit nervous as well as excited – both because what lay ahead was completely unknown in a land faraway. But, hey, you only live once, right?

At 49 years of age, I stood atop the plateau of Table Mountain, one of the 7 natural wonders of the world, and let the South African wind blow through my hair and into my lungs. I stood on a rock at the ocean’s edge and watched the sun set over a land that has always been somewhat mystical in my mind. And I waded through crystal clear water very near the place that the Indian and Atlanta oceans exchange tides and watched an African penguin paddle by not more than two feet away. I am certain the penguins knew I was a professional photographer for they were actually posing for the camera!

If you’d like to check out some of my Cape Town photos, you can see those here. It truly is a magical, beautiful place, better than I ever dreamed. #noregrets

The next stop: Entebbe, Uganda. And this is where the romance of the trip comes to an end.

Oh my word, at about this point in the adventure I’m so over the flying! It’s only May, and I’ve already been to Taiwan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Ethiopia, and Uganda….not counting 2 trips to Portland, OR wedged in between.

It’s during that last hour from Cape Town to Addis Ababa when I’m watching the clock and that super short 35-minute layover dwindle down to nothing that my neck starts to really, really hurt, and I’m a bundle of tension. I start imagining the long night in Addis Ababa, stranded, maybe with no ability to communicate with anyone back home. Maybe I will be lost forever, or at least my luggage will. I start having flashbacks to the lost luggage of 2016 where I learned to live with two Ugandan dresses, deodorant, a toothbrush, a tube of toothpaste, a cheap plastic comb that tore out too much of my hair, and a bar of soap for shampoo when my luggage was lost for 5 (seemingly endless) days as we hightailed it across Uganda from east to west. I remind myself that I survived just fine and really some of the Ugandans that I met on that trip survive with less most of the time . No complaints. It is life. I need to get over myself. And besides, God’s got this. Whom or what shall I fear?

As it turned out, Ethiopian Air took good care of me and the other two mzungus (white people) that were connecting to Entebbe, holding the flight and shuttling us straight to the plane. Even the luggage made it, miraculously (which I was skeptical of until I saw it for myself. My type A be-in-control personality not trusting the airline personel.)

I was picked up at Entebbe airport at nearly 2:00 am by my dear friends Emmanuel and Josephine, whom I had met two years prior. I was so grateful to see familiar faces and get a hug from Mama Josephine! (Thank you, both, for staying up in the middle of the night to collect me and get me safely to Kampala!)

The next morning (which was really just about 4 hours later, in a zombie-like state) I met up with half of the Call to Africa team. Everyone was new to me – a bunch of Alabamans (this could be interesting…..). We got to know one another over a breakfast of eggs and croissants and lots and lots of coffee. I could already tell I was going to enjoy spending the next week and a half working with this group as we piled into our awaiting bus to make the journey to Jinja, another 2 hours north (or 4 hours, or whatever, depending upon traffic or anything else that might happen along the road ahead). Welcome to Uganda!

(If you want to read about my earlier trip across Uganda and the boda boda thing, the cow project, the encounter with a hippo, and more, check that out here. Otherwise stay tuned for my next post coming soon!)

Getting Dirty. On Purpose.

The Story of the Moringa Tree

There’s a moringa tree just down the red dirt road from an orphanage outside of Jinja on the eastern side of Uganda. I had never heard of a moringa tree before. Not until I was in a van headed down the dusty Ugandan road into town to pick up some vet supplies for the animals at the orphanage farm. Joseph, the veterinarian told those of us in the van about the tree and the amazing health benefits that can be found in a single pod hanging from its branches. When I got back home to the US I looked it up. Yes, it’s true. The moringa tree packs a healthy punch!

I’ve been in the education field for a very long time, first as a homeschooling mother of my 5 kids and in later years as an educator within the pet grooming industry. I have seen quite clearly the value of education – the role it can play in the creation and shaping of an entire industry. Education can make all the difference.

There’s an orphanage near Jinja with 32 kids in need of nutrition, some arriving on the doorstep of the home in a rather malnourished state. And there, just down the road maybe 1/2 a mile away grows a robust tree with hundreds of pods dangling from its branches. The nutrients in these pods can easily be crushed into a powder that has the potential to heal the malnourished state of these children. But no one there knows of the mooring tree, this secret gem in the midst of banana trees, dropping miracle pods to the ground to die away.  Except Joseph, who was visiting the orphanage with the Call to Africa team to help care for the cows, pigs, goats and chickens. All it takes is one man teaching another who then teaches another until a whole village knows simple yet amazing things that change lives. How cool is that?

During the 2 weeks I was in Uganda, I marveled at the fact that such a country so laden with rich fertile soil, 3 growing seasons, and bountiful and delicious crops is in a state of such poverty. I inquired about this and learned that many rural Ugandan farmers do not have the means to export their goods to a level that would bring them out of poverty.

Of course, my entrepreneurial mind was turning flips and cartwheels, working out the obvious but surmountable obstacles that stood in the way. But truly, when we get down to it, what might be the first “how do you eat an elephant, one bite at a time” step to helping a man, a woman, a village, a nation rise out of poverty by using its own plentiful resources? Education is a tool that can make such a difference.

I have seen it first hand. I am not deluded. Education is not the only issue underlying such a huge problem. Nor will making a dent in one small way change an entire country. But I do know that doing something is better than doing nothing at all. I know that I can use my gifts and talents to do small things. And I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that sometimes it’s the very small things we do that can make the greatest difference of all.

I am working with Call to Africa to put together a team that will return to Uganda in January 2017, to minister through educational business training, working with orphans, delivering cows, and MORE! I am excited about this! As a team, we will have opportunities to teach, train, inspire, love, maybe pass out a cow or two (or more!), as well as visit the children and meet some of the needs there at Sangaalo. I’m starting now to raise that team and assist with planning out the specific ministries that we will perform on this next trip. I promise to chronicle the journey from behind my lens, just as I did before. Please join me, whether in person, in prayer, through donations to buy a cow or deliver shoes and clothes to the orphans, or simply by following my blog and photos, sharing your comments along the way. I hope you will join me, however you can, on this next journey to Uganda! Let’s get dirty!

Thank you to Ken and Clint and the Call to Africa team for making this next endeavor possible. I look forward to breathing in some of that Ugandan dust again as we bump down the road on our way to whatever lies ahead. Getting dirty. On purpose.

(PS. It costs $1400 to buy a cow and the meds needed to help keep it in good health. I will find out more about the specific needs at Sangaalo and share them with you in a future blog post. If you want more info about how you can help, post a comment below or send me an email or fb message.)

Thanks to Brit (@mzungubrittain) for the new hashtag idea: #getdirty
Please help me spread the word by using #getdirty

 

The cover photo as well as these below are of the “school” down the road from Sangaalo where the children begin their education. They have a dirt floor. And brooms made from grass to keep the dirt floors clean.

Joy to the World

What a joy it has been to work at Sangaalo home for children in Jinja this past week! The Call to Africa team served by helping with the feeding, bathing, dressing, and general care of the 32 children living at Sangaalo. We also worked around the farm, caring for the animals, building nesting boxes in the hen house, repairing the swing set, and doing other random projects around the property situated at the end of a long dirt road at the top of a hill.

Sangaalo was started 6 years ago by a Ugandan woman with a passion for orphaned children. Damalie and her husband, David, work tirelessly alongside a group of folks from the nearby village to provide food, shelter, clothing, medical care, structure, discipline and love to children ranging in age from newborn to about 5 years of age, all of whom have been abandoned or left orphaned.

Sangaalo means “joy” and joy is exactly what you see in this place where they have so little in the way of material things. Call to Africa has worked alongside David and Damalie over the past couple of years to provide a variety of needs including 2 cows that produce milk for the children as well as create revenue from the sale of excess milk on a daily basis. Chicks, goats, and pigs also contribute to the cause of turning this wonderful mission into a self-sustaining one.

The ladies that came over for this particular trip, all from the southeast part of the US, spent several days loving on the children, helping with the 3x/per day bathing routine, feeding time, play time, naps and oodles of other responsibilities that go into caring for 32 youngsters. Can you imagine the work load? And I thought raising 5 kids was a lot!! Yet Damalie and her helpers do this kind of work day in and day out, providing so much that these children would never have otherwise. Some of the kids are sick and fussy. They cry. It gets wearing on the nerves. These ladies seem to be full of endless patience, much more than I could ever possess!

If you think about it, please pray for David, Damalie, and these ladies that care for the children each day. They need it!

I wanted to share a few photos that I was able to snap during our week at Sangaalo. I think the pictures say so much. I hope you enjoy!

 

 

To view my top picks from the Uganda trip, check out the album here. Photos can be downloaded and shared by using PIN code 4618. Please feel free to share individual photos or the entire album. The more people learn about Call to Africa and the country of Uganda, the greater the reach!

Halla the Vet

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Tagging and deworming cows in Karungu
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Hitching a ride into the village on a borrowed boda boda.
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Spraying of the pigs.

I am so proud of Halla! She has been such a trooper as we’ve covered miles upon miles of Ugandan countryside and congested city traffic. She has spent the better part of this week playing with and caring for children at an orphanage near Jinja, providing much needed-respite for the hard-working ladies that work there day in and day out. Some of the children are not well, some have special needs – Halla has been so patient and caring for each and every one of them. She wants to bring half a dozen children home with her!

When she’s not with the children, Halla has been assisting Joseph in providing veterinary care to the farm animals at the orphanage that provide milk, meat, eggs, and revenue for the children each day. And yes, she has taken a cow’s temperature! As it turned out, the cow was quite sick and needed an injection of antibiotics and some other care to help overcome the illness. I am happy to report that Olivia the cow is now on the mend, thanks to the efforts of Joseph and Halla! (Halla named the cow after her older sister. She also named a pig after her younger sister, Katie. Sorry Katie!)

One of the yuckiest jobs I have witnessed while here in Uganda is the spraying of the pigs. Some of the pigs had mange and pests were a big problem. Under Joseph’s tutelage, Halla climbed into three separate pig pens and sprayed down each of the four sows. She also sprayed each of the cows and all of the goats to make sure all of the animals at the orphanage farm were taken care of. I haven’t seen Halla turn down a single job she was asked to do – even the icky jobs!

This has been such a phenomenal experience for Halla while she is still young enough to be impressionable and make so many choices as she moves into adulthood. I pray this makes such an impact on her that will net huge blessings to the people she meets throughout her lifetime.

I want to personally thank friends and family that supported Halla in this mission trip through prayer and financial support. She is making a difference to many people throughout Uganda!

 

Update on the Boda Boda Project: We have reached the goal! Yes! I am so thrilled. The $3500 in funds directed to Call to Africa for Joseph’s boda boda will be wired in to Uganda upon our return, converted into shillings and used to purchase an all-terrain bike for Joseph to get to the the most remote of villages here in Uganda. I am amazed! Thank you to those that pitched in!

To view my top picks from the Uganda trip, check out the album here. Photos can be downloaded and shared by using PIN code 4618. Please feel free to share individual photos or the entire album. The more people learn about Call to Africa and the country of Uganda, the greater the reach!

Piggy Power

The power of a single piglet is greater than one might imagine. A piggy can provide for a single person or it can empower an entire village. The story of two piglets has impressed me in such a way that I simply must share the story with you.

In 2003, Christian pastor and veterinarian Joseph Olowo from the Ugandan village of Mbarara accepted an invitation from some folks in the village of Karungu, a very bumpy 2 hour drive (in a car) from Mbarara, to come speak to them about the Bible. That was the first of many visits Joseph has made to the mountain-top village of Karungu since then.

I do not know the history of the people of Karungu but I have been there and can tell you they lead an unbelievably simple life. They have very little in the way of earthly possessions and what they do have they mostly make themselves from the land they live on. Basic shelters are constructed from bricks formed from the dark red clay-like soil beneath their feet. Small stick and mud enclosures are used to create kitchens whereby crops such as bananas are steamed and mashed into common dishes like mitoke (yes, I did try mitoke!). These people literally live off the land. If they cannot make it or grow it, they probably do not have it.

The view from Karungu mountain is breathtaking, with rolling hills in every direction, dotted with farms growing such crops as bananas, sweet potatoes, sugar cane, tea, and more. The land in these parts is extremely fertile. It is believed by some that Uganda itself, as small as it is, could grow enough food to feed all of Africa. Many places in Uganda, Karungu included, enjoy 3 growing seasons per year. These people are literally standing on a goldmine of crop potential! And yet, Uganda realizes very little in the way of exportation of crops. My business-minded brain cannot comprehend this loss of opportunity! I can’t help but want to fix the obstacles that stand in the way and turn potential into reality. There are many reasons why this isn’t being maximized, each of which would require at least one separate blog post of its own.

One obstacle that stands in the way is empowerment – empowerment comes with knowledge. Teaching the people in Karungu and other like villages scattered throughout this great country how to manage their resources in such a way that they not only provide for the folks living in the village but they also utilize these resources to generate more goods that can then be shared with others is a vital step in the empowerment process. This is where Joseph and Call to Africa come in.

In 2012, Joseph brought Ken Galyean, founder of Call to Africa mission organization, and his wife Renate to the village of Karungu where they presented two piglets to some widows there. Incidently, Ken and Renate were the first mzungus (white people) to ever set foot in the village. The piglets were provided by donations to Call to Africa for this specific purpose. The goal: empowerment through piglets. So simple, yet so ingenious!

Upon presentation of the pigs, Joseph and other Call to Africa team members worked with the people of Karungu to produce more pigs out of the original two, whereby they gave back one of the newly produced piglets to Call to Africa for gifting to yet another village where the same process was started again. Management of resources was taught along the way, empowering the people there with a source of revenue that could be regenerated, shared, and grown over time. Empowering a village through pigs.

When we presented the two in-calf cows to the village last week, it was the beginning of the same self-sustainment/empowerment process, only this time with cows instead of pigs. In a few months’ time, when the cows deliver calves and they are weaned and old enough to travel, one heifer will be cared for until it can then be gifted to needy folks in another village somewhere in Uganda. Along the way, milk will be provided as a source of nourishment as well as provide extra milk to sell, thus generating revenue to be invested in other ways to meet various needs.

Another valuable instruction that Joseph will provide is teaching the people how to turn cow manure, a never ending resource when one owns a cow or two, into bio gas that can then be used to create power for both cooking and lighting purposes. This way the kids can continue to do their much-needed studies even after the sun goes down. Without bio gas production, the villagers have to purchase candles as a means of providing light. Candles might be cheap, but they do cost money. Manure turned into bio gas turned into electricity is totally free! Joseph is bringing both light and LIGHT to many villages – yet another reason he needs that all-terrain boda boda!!

The money that has been generated through the pig project over the years has gone toward building a school, buying food, and purchasing land. Little by little, those two little piglets have empowered a village! And now there are two cows to help the process along even further, thanks to Call to Africa’s vision and the many, many people that stand behind it to offer time, money, and other valuable resources.

This trip has changed my life! I am excited about the work we have been so honored to be a very small part of over the past 2 weeks! What a blessing it has been to me! We are well on our way to getting that boda boda for Joseph, thanks to my friends and family that have been so very generous. To you I say, “Thank you!” You are truly helping to make a difference in the country of Uganda, a place filled with amazing landscapes, kind and beautiful people, and so many giving hearts.

The cover image above was taken just as we were leaving Karungu. Joseph got out to buy some sweet bananas being sold at a roadside stand since none of us had eaten most of the day. (I have no idea who actually comes by to purchase produce from this stand as it is literally at the end of a remote mountain road!) You can see Joseph in the background buying the bananas. This family was walking by, staring at me since I am a mzungu (blond hair and blue eyes make it even more of a novelty!). The kids were laughing and calling “Mzungu! Mzungu!” I could see that the woman was intrigued by the camera around my neck. Using pantomime motions, I asked if they would like their photo taken. The man and woman posed rigid and serious after I arranged them into place. The little guy in front bopped around, full of excitement and curiosity. After I took this photo I showed it to them via the camera’s viewfinder screen. They were so delighted! I waved goodbye, leaving them laughing and chattering in their native tongue, as Joseph returned with several bundles of delicious bananas in hand. We jumped back into the van, kicking up a cloud of red dust in our wake as we drove downward, away from Karungu. Maybe one day I will see these people again. Wouldn’t it be fun to bring them a print of their photo?! 

To view my top picks from the Uganda trip, check out the album here. Photos can be downloaded and shared by using PIN code 4618. Please feel free to share individual photos or the entire album. The more people learn about Call to Africa and the country of Uganda, the greater the reach!

An Angry Hippo and a Crazy Baboon

During our first week in Uganda we covered a lot of ground. Literally. Over speed bumps and mountains, dodging potholes and boda bodas, making sure not to take out a goat or cow along the way, we made our way from Entebbe to Kampala to Mbarara to Karungu to Jinja. Dusty and sweaty we bounced along what could hardly be called roads, stopping periodically to squat over questionable potty holes to empty hurting bladders when we simply couldn’t hold it any longer. Short calls, as they say.

It was worth it though because somewhere in middle of it all we came across some of the most exquisite creatures to roam this earth. We saw them in their natural habitat. An excursion through the Queen Elizabeth Park reserve and on a boat around a lake allowed us an up-close look at water buffalo, monitor lizards, monkeys, baboons, crocodiles, warthogs, elephants, unusual deer-type animals that I can’t recall the name of, and birds of an amazing variety! Such an exotic landscape filled with creatures I had never seen before outside of a zoo-type setting. What fun! And, oh yes, there were the zebras we saw along the road on our way back to Igongo!

If you ever venture to this part of the world, come prepared to take a rough ride, but also come prepared to stand beside elephants walking toward the water for their evening dip or get charged by an angry hippopotamus! Yes, we did get charged by an angry hippo! Fortunately we were in a vehicle with a driver that responded quickly when his son yelled, “Dad, Dad, Daddy!!”

I will admit I am somewhat disappointed that I did not get to see a lion while here. Well, really I’m greatly disappointed. But, then…..on the upside…..this just gives me yet another reason to return again in the future!

I hope you enjoy the photos that Halla and I took on our excursion to Queen Elizabeth Park!

To view my top picks from the Uganda trip, check out the album here. Photos can be downloaded and shared by using PIN code 4618. Please feel free to share individual photos or the entire album. The more people learn about Call to Africa and the country of Uganda, the greater the reach!

Dream Come True

For as long as I can remember I have been in love with Africa. It may have started with a novel I read once that took place in various parts of this most exotic continent. Whatever it was, Africa captured my attention and has beckoned me ever since. Today, at the age of 47, I sit here in Africa typing this blog post. This is a dream come true. And it’s because of cats, in a very weird, twisted only-God-can-do-this kind of way.

In 2012 a young woman from Alabama attended my school, The National Cat Groomers Institute. Brittany Clark was one of many, many students we had over the years, most of which came from places far away. Brittany learned about the school program from another former student from Alabama named Robyn Warner (thank you, Robyn!). I have kept up with both these ladies via social media, as is the way of things these days.

In January of this year, I started seeing images of Africa pop up on Facebook as they were shared by Brittany during her first visit to Uganda with Call to Africa missions organization. I was jealous. I wanted to go to Africa! Months later, after getting to know the work of CTA a little bit more through Brittany’s posts, I was most intrigued and reached out to Mzungu Brittain, as she is called here in Uganda, asking when the next trip would be and would they need a photographer to go along to do a photojournalism piece. It was a long shot, but I am living proof that long shots can actually turn into realities and, well….. you never know unless you ask. Unbelievably Brittany responded to me that, yes, indeed, a photographer would be a most welcome addition to the team as CTA really needed to be able to share their mission with the world. What better way than with photographs?! 

The tricky part was going to be timing and working out the logistics of fitting CTA’s next mission to Uganda into my already packed travel schedule. As luck (NOT!) would have it, The 2-week trip to Uganda departing May 29 and returning June 13 fit just perfectly, exactly, miraculously into a tiny little 2 week slot between trips that I already had planned or contracted for work! Miracle indeed!

What makes this story even more interesting are the events that happened in Sydney, Australia last September and then again just north of Sydney in February. You can read about those events here and here. All of this leading up to now….today…..me sitting here in a small cafe in downtown Jinja in eastern Uganda, not far from the source of the Nile River. I am listening to people converse in Luganda and Nyankore. I am a “mzungu” (white person) in the midst of true Africans, typing away on my Mac, enjoying the luxury of a latte which I have not had in quite some time. Oh how I have missed my lattes!

I have been across the country of Uganda and back in the past week and a half, visiting remote villages as well as larger cities. I have seen rivers, lakes, elephants, crocodiles, baboons, and folks carrying full-grown pigs on bicycles. I have been to the Equator. And I have been charged by an angry hippo yet lived to tell about it. I have driven a van in Uganda and also lived to tell about that. (There is probably a greater risk of dying while driving here in Ug than getting killed by the deadliest animals on the planet, the hippo!) This is my dream come true and I am loving it!

I am so honored to be a part of the Call to Africa team that is here for 2 weeks to minister, teach, train, build, repair, relieve, deliver life-sustaining cows, care for life-giving animals and provide much-needed respite for overworked care givers at a local orphanage. I have witnessed people with nothing in the way of physical possessions delight in something as simple as seeing their image captured by my camera. I have seen children that belong to no one and have nothing to their names smile and giggle while chasing bubbles down a red dirt road. I have witnessed generosity from a few friends and family back in America and around the world as they have given toward my boda boda for Joseph project that has become my new personal mission.

I am building friendships with wonderful folks from Alabama, Florida, Uganda, and Botswana. When you spend 8 hours in a crowded vehicle with no air conditioning bouncing along potholed roads for 2 weeks, hungry, tired and needing to pee, you get to know your fellow travel companions quite well! We have an awesome team! I am grateful.

I wake up each morning thanking God for the fact that I can enjoy running water when I return home. I will not have to haul water up a mountain in the mud. I have a new appreciation for air conditioning and timeliness. Never again will I complain about a rough road at home in the USA. Never.

I have fallen in love with the beautiful land of Uganda and its people, culture, colors and the way that 3:00 might mean 4:30 or just whenever. Clint Galyean with Call to Africa told me yesterday that there is no such thing in Uganda as “it doesn’t fit” or “we don’t have room.” I love that! And it is completely true. Why yes, you can carry 3 kids, a bike, a goat and a few chickens on a boda boda. Throw in a mattress for good measure! Why not?

At home we often say “where there is a will there is a way.” But here in Uganda I think it is more “where there is a need there is way.” In this land so far from home, needs are truly needs, not the Americanized version of “needs.” We in Western cultures have so much and yet, at the end of the day, I think it is these people who have so little in the way of material things and conveniences that really have the most.

I will be back again! Ideas are percolating and being formed even as we speak. There is more I can do here – so much more. I will return.

My dream has come true. I am in Africa.

To view my top picks from the Uganda trip, check out the album here. Photos can be downloaded and shared by using PIN code 4618. Please feel free to share individual photos or the entire album. The more people learn about Call to Africa and the country of Uganda, the greater the reach!