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

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!

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… 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!

It’s the Little Things in Life

It really is the little things in life. I tend to forget this and need a reminder from time to time.

On Sunday, my daughter Halla and I flew from Greenville, SC to Entebbe, Uganda in East Africa. We arrived safe and sound but my luggage did not. It got lost for several days, probably in Europe somewhere. I spent the first 4 days of the trip with some camera gear, a phone, a laptop, some charging cords, chewing gum, chapstick, and not much else.

I came to Africa to work as a photojournalist for the mission organization Call to Africa, based in Alabama. I first heard about Call to Africa from a former student of mine at the National Cat Groomers Institute. Brittany Clark, a young lady from AL, went on her first mission trip to Uganda back in January. As I saw photos and posts on social media from Brittany from her time spent in Uganda, my lifelong dream of going to Africa worked its way to the forefront of my mind. After a bit of conversation with Brittany, I was soon speaking to the head of Call to Africa, Ken Galyean. Shortly thereafter, I bought a ticket to Entebbe and signed up both Halla and myself to go along on this current trip to serve as part of the team here to meet some very specific needs. I look forward to sharing more about those needs and the work here through my blog over the next couple of weeks.

My trip here in Uganda started off at a hotel in Kampala that did not provide any of the usual travel size toiletry amenities. I had to borrow what I could from Brittany and Halla, spending that first day in borrowed clothing and without the benefit of any of my usual hair, skin, and face products. Bad hair day!

The first day involved a quick trip to a local store where a Ugandan friend of Ken’s made sure I had some basic necessities to get me by for a few days while the airline searched for my luggage. I bought a colorful Ugandan bag and stuffed it with colorful African dresses, a pack of underwear, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, and lotion. I had a disposable toothbrush and bit of toothpaste courtesy of Delta and KLM. All of the sudden life became very simple for me. I will say that getting ready in the morning was a breeze!

My first job as a photojournalist on this trip took place in a small village in western Uganda, not far from the Rwandan and Congolese borders. The village was set amongst several rolling hills that, I am told, provide a good picture of the terrain that leads into Rwanda, the Land of a Thousand Hills. On the way to the village we passed miles and miles of banana farms, tea farms, a cotton mill, and acres upon acres of lush green landscape. I have been told that Uganda has extremely fertile soil and most areas have 3 growing seasons per year. What a vast resource!

Yet…..Uganda is plagued by poverty. Amidst the lush, fertile land were small dusty villages dotted along a severely potholed main road, giving us a glimpse of a people that have very little. They would probably think that my new colorful bag with its few measley items was a motherland of goodness. I felt a tinge of guilt for every single thought or complaint I might have had because my luggage was lost and I was having to make due with so little. In comparison I truly had plenty.

Upon arrival at our destination, I set to work shooting photos at a leadership conference for Call to Africa. Children gathered outside throughout the day, everyone staring at the mzungus (white people). Some of the children came up to touch my skin or hair, staring at me wide-eyed. They were especially fascinated with the cameras and a small group of children caught a glimpse of my camera display screen. Soon everyone wanted to be a model!  I put Halla in charge of one of my cameras with the zoom lens while I shot portrait and wide angle primes. We kept busy all day between the conference shots and the children gathered around to have their photos taken.

Late in the afternoon, as I was thinking how great it would be to take a shower and wash all the dust and sweat away, an older Ugandan woman wearing colorful traditional dress came up and grabbed me into a tight hug. She was chattering in Lugandan and smiling widely, speaking the universal language of thankfulness. This woman that had so little her whole life long was so thankful that we had come to visit and teach. I offered to take her picture. At first, she had no idea what I was offering nor what my camera was going to produce. I will never forget the way her face lit up with excitement when she saw the image of her that I had captured!! Soon she had her friends all staged in front of me, one at at time, to get their photos taken. The ladies giggled and chattered as they saw their photos for the first time, thanking me profusely for taking a photo of them that they will never hold in their hands. A fleeting moment for them. A memory without an actual photo. They will not find their images on their Facebook pages or Instagram accounts because they do not have electronics. I realize this is hard for the western world to imagine. But can you imagine?

I would have paid good money to have a printer on hand yesterday so I could print out photos for these women right there on the spot. If I come back again to Uganda, I’m going to figure out a way to have a printer on site for that very purpose. It is a wonderful thing to see genuine joy, to experience a truly thankful heart from someone that really has very little in the way of earthly possessions. It is quite a contrast with the pettiness and grumbling I see on social media everyday. Makes me wonder who is truly poor.

Here are the ladies. You can’t tell it from the photos, but they were so excited! It was funny to watch them go from acting like school girls when I showed them photos I had taken to the stiff, straight-faced models you see here in these images.


Note: the cover photo is of a little girl that caught my attention because she spent most of the day staring at me. She is sitting here eating sugar cane which is grown nearby. Earlier, for breakfast that morning, she ate a banana that came off a tree next to where she is sitting. For dinner, she will have matoke. I saw the women peeling and slicing the green bananas in the field next door, as they prepared them to be steamed and mashed to make matoke. 

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!