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.)

Dead or Dead

While I was at Faith Babies’ Home and Children’s Village getting a personal tour of the grounds from Irene, she told me about a woman who learned she was pregnant with quadruplets. During her pregnancy, two of the babies died in utero. Surgery was done to remove the two, allowing her to go full term to deliver two healthy babies. The woman’s husband then left, declaring that feeding two more people was more than he could take on. He left this new mother alone, without any source of income or help with the two new babies. 

While I cannot wrap my brain around this, it is an all too common type of situation in this country where poverty is prevalent. 

Women left with children to feed and care for yet with no source of income, no marketable skills, nor an education show up on Irene’s doorstep begging for help. Or they turn to prostitution as a means of survival, which ends up becoming a death sentence really, considering Uganda’s HIV statistics. A choice between dead or dead isn’t much of a choice.

Irene got together with Ken Galyean’s wife, Renate, and the two of them formed the plan to provide sewing machines and training to women in these types of situations so that they could learn a trade that would generate an income. What you see here are ladies that are a part of this “women’s empowerment” group that spend their day sewing goods to sell. Some of them also make beaded jewelry, and another woman made this hat. I asked her to model the hat for me, and she even threw in a bit of hand-on-hip model sass for me. We were having fun! This led to several other women asking to model and pose for a photo with the hat, even those that had been quite shy when I first arrived. It’s amazing what a little camera fun can do to bring out a beautiful smile and lots of laughter even amongst complete strangers that do not speak the same language. 

Irene told me that some of the women wished to tell me about their journey from desperation to empowerment. I asked if I could record this on video and they were happy to oblige. I have to admit I was trying hard to hold back the tears as I heard story after story of hopelessness, fear, abuse, abandonment, and loss turned into joy, hope, freedom, and peace. These women have not only been changed by learning a trade that can provide food, shelter, and clothing for themselves and the children that some have, but also they have been changed by the Gospel and the love of Irene, Renate, and the many folks that have sent money to buy sewing machines to make this possible. Incredible! 

I think the smiles in these photos demonstrate their joy much better than I can describe. If I could share the videos I would so you could hear their stories, too. Sadly, there is no way for me to upload such huge files with the wifi that is available here in Uganda. 

And just so you know, there is a similar women’s empowerment program going on over on the grounds of Good Shepherd school that is managed by pastor Henry Ssevviiri’s wife, Mary. It is an outreach program of their church and includes women who have contracted HIV. I have included photos from both programs below. 

One by one lives are being changed from death to life by way of a sewing machine, circa 1940.

PS. There is a need for 3 more sewing machines at Irene’s place so that more women can learn the art of sewing and earn an income. The cost for these foot-powered machines is only $100 each. If you wish to donate toward this program, you can do so through Call to Africa. They will get the machines purchased through their local contacts and into the hands of these ladies.

Empowerment, a beautiful thing!

Click on the thumbnails below to see the full version photos.

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Cow Project Part 2

When I was in Uganda two years ago I learned about a program that Call to Africa had just recently started whereby they were delivering a couple in-calf cows to a few different Ugandans that they knew could really benefit from the milk production as well as the opportunity to use the new calf to pay it forward or provide future, ongoing reproduction. I was really impressed by this self-sustain idea and coined it the #cowproject. I explain more about this in my original blog post about the cow project here.

The story gained some international attention which resulted in many of YOU folks giving toward more cows. I went out on the road about a year later on a Great Lakes trip to raise money for 1 cow. The generosity of my friends and readers led to several cows being delivered last year during a trip that I was, quite sadly, not able to go on due to some serious health issues I was having at the time. But, my friend Alicia Ellis was able to go with a new CTA team, and she was able to work with Joseph to deliver all of the cows, each going to a different location across the magnificent Ugandan countryside.

Because the cows are scattered across Uganda, I was not able to follow up with all of them on this trip where we are doing all of our work in Eastern Uganda only. So far to go, so little time! However, I did cover the story of one Cow Project cow here in a previous blog post. And….I had the awesome privilege of shooting the delivery of a new in-calf cow to a Christian pastor and his family in the village of Mbeko. I can tell you from first-hand experience that Reuben and his sweet wife and their 5 children are extremely grateful for the generosity. Reuben and his wife are generous folks themselves, even though they have so little. They will be able to use the milk that comes in due time for not only their family but also for others in their village.

Delivery of the cow to her new home in Mbeko

During the delivery of the cow to her new home, Joseph and Samuel, both veterinarians, were able to provide Reuben with a care kit of essential supplies to keep the cow healthy, especially as she delivers a new calf in about 3 months’ time. The care kit, the in-calf cow, and the pickup/delivery costs are included in the cow project price for a single cow. On behalf of Reuben and his family, I want to thank all of you for your generosity as the Cow Project continues to bless people in Uganda and creates an opportunity to teach people about farm animal management and self-sustaining capabilities. 

It was truly a pleasure to see Papa Joseph again (the name my daughter, Halla, gave him when she was here with me two years ago). Joseph is such a kind and generous man, sharing his extensive knowledge freely. He traveled some distance from his village of Mbarara on the western side of Uganda to come to us here in Jinja area to shop for and select the best cows and arrange the deliveries and care kits. He does so much!

Samuel getting her to her pen
Reuben and Samuel getting the cow settled in her “barn”
Is this my new home?

It is important that you understand we mzungus (white people) cannot be a part of the actual shopping for or buying of cows and supplies as the prices will automatically double (or more!) when mzungus become involved in a business transaction. Mzungus are “rich,” you see. At least by Ugandan standards. And they are also willing (and maybe ignorant enough) to pay the outrageously escalated prices. CTA relies heavily on some trusted and savvy Ugandan men to arrange these transactions to get the best prices possible as well as the best selections. We could not do what we do without them!

On the trip to deliver this particular cow it was my first time meeting Samuel. I am so impressed with this young man! And I want all of you to know, to really get this…..Samuel is a perfect example of what CAN result when a good education is available in Uganda as I had hoped to convey in my earlier post “When the Numbers Don’t Add Up.” 

Samuel and Joseph explaining the care kit

Samuel was a student at Good Shepherd school during his earlier years. After completing his education there, he went on to secondary school or high school and then on to college, ultimately graduating from veterinary school. His education was sponsored by a generous man in the US who paid the tuition that Samuel’s family could not pay when his father died. I can assure you he is putting that education to good use! And because he lives nearby to the village of Mbeko where this particular cow is now living, he will be able to check in and provide on-going vet care as needed. He volunteered his time to come with us and begin the initial process of educating Reuben on cow care for the coming months.

Samuel is just one example of many who are using their education to give back to their fellow countrymen, and, one by one, are making a difference that will become more evident in generations to come. I am excited to be some small part of this, even if it is by simply taking photos. 

Thank you, again, to all who have so kindly given toward the Cow Project. It is making a difference. I have seen the tears flow from eyes filled with extreme gratitude.

PS. Two more cows will be delivered in the coming days. One of them is going to Dbembe Orphanage which I will tell you about in an upcoming post.

4 of Reuben’s children that wanted mzungu Danelle to take their photo (even though the youngest couldn’t stop giggling)
Reuben, Ken, Samuel, and Joseph

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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Dirt Road Baby

Her name is Noelle. She is three months old now which is a miracle because she was found by the side of Ugandan dirt road in a paper sack, fresh out of the womb. She was left to die.

Baby Noelle at 3 months old

Miraculously, a man riding by on his boda boda found her and carried her to the nearby hospital where she received treatment and nourishment to get her stable in those very critical first days of life. She was then taken to Faith Babies’ Home and Children’s Village in Iganga where she lives with 27 other children, all abandoned, all with tragic stories of their own.

Faith Home became a reality in 2013 when an amazing woman named Irene saw the need for ongoing care for orphaned and abandoned children in her area. I met Irene only yesterday and yet, after just a short time, it is evident to me that she is a woman of action as well as a seeker of solutions. She is also a woman of God.

Some of the children I met at Faith Home
Can you imagine the amount of laundry everyday for 27 children?

The Faith compound has grown to include a school where 180 children are being educated. I had the awesome privilege of meeting many of these children who greeted me with the sweetest welcome.
(I’m going to try to figure to how to upload the video even though right now it’s too big for the website and the bandwidth I’ve got here in Ug.)

The front gate at Faith.

For those that gave money toward the #CowProject when I was running around the US and Canada and jumping off my paddle board into the 5 Great Lakes, your donation sent a cow to Faith Babies’ Home and Children’s Village. How cool is that? The cow’s name is Hope, which I think is absolutely perfect.

Hope

Irene took fellow CTA team member, Elizabeth, and I out to the pasture area where Hope is kept and cared for. Hope currently produces 10 liters of fresh milk daily that is used for the children at Faith. Two of the 27 are infants and must still drink baby formula, but the rest drink Hope’s milk. I can attest to the fact that all look healthy and have a well-cared-for glow about them. So Irene and the children thank you. I thank you!

Prior to having Hope the cow, Irene had to buy milk which got very expensive. In addition, Hope is in-calf at the moment. We are praying she delivers a cow rather than a bull so that they can eventually have two milk-producers to provide what is needed for the children on a daily basis as well as generate a small revenue stream by selling off any remaining milk. (Read more about Cow Project here,)

Irene is a remarkable lady. Her work and servanthood does not end here. But I will save that for another day.

My beautiful new friend, Irene

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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!)

Go Big or Go Home

Go big or go home. A great motto and always best if whatever it is you’re going big about is something worth doing.

I awoke this morning to great news……Joseph and Berna have new wheels! It’s true. We thought we were getting them two wheels but miraculously they got FOUR! God does things like this all the time, often when we least expect it. It really shouldn’t be a surprise.

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Most of the roads in the outer villages of Western Uganda are dirt roads. It is dusty and hot. And most of the travelers on these roads are walking or riding a boda boda. When a car or truck passes by, all of those left behind are left behind in the dust. Literally. Great clouds of reddish-orange dust swirling about, sometimes so thick you can barely see the people and animals walking alongside the road. And just about the time the dust begins to settle and everyone can breathe again, another car or truck rumbles by, kicking up a new cloud.

And it’s hot in Western Uganda. Sometimes really hot. And there are things to be carried, often things that are much too big to be carried on top of one’s head or on the back of a boda boda. Of course this doesn’t stop the Ugandans from carrying whatever needs to be transported. It is the way of life there. For me, personally, I really appreciate having the roomy space in the back of my SUV that I can transport most anything in with ease where it is weather-protected, climate controlled, and will arrive without a layer of red dust stuck in the cracks and crevices. Our great God took the generous donations sent by friends all over the globe for #projectbodaboda and made it possible to provide an actual car instead of a motorbike for Joseph to get up the mountains and into the villages – a shiny white vehicle with a roof on top and seatbelts and cargo space and maybe even climate control. How awesome is that?

The coolest part of this whole thing for me is being right smack in the middle of a project that involved people from all walks of life, from far corners of the world. Donations arrived by way of family members across the US to former students of the National Cat Groomers Institute (you guys rock!), to Canadians and old friends in Thailand, and folks I haven’t seen in ages and only know because of my former days showing Persian cats! It truly is remarkable! In these troubled times of crime and hatred and petty disagreements that don’t mount to a whole lot in the overall scheme of things, it has been truly refreshing to me to see my circle of acquaintances come together at a moment’s notice to make it possible for a kind and generous and very knowledgable Ugandan man to travel up mountains to minister to people that need it the most. This is just really really awesome!

I’m totally planning on taking a ride in this new car of Joseph’s when I go back to Uganda. And when I do, you can be sure I’ll have camera in hand as we dodge pedestrians and potholes, kicking up a thick cloud of the very dust I so long to breathe in again. There is more to this story. Thank you to the all who pitched in to make it so beautiful!

 

Note: the children featured in the photo above are from the village of Karungu where we delivered 2 cows in June. Is their excitement not contagious?!?

 

 

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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!