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.

Halla the Vet

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

The Passing of the Cow

It is nearly midnight here in Uganda. It has been a long but productive day. I have so much to say…… today a cow in Uganda was named after me. And one after my daughter, Halla, who is with me here on this trip as part of the Call to Africa mission group. It has been a tiring but extremely exciting adventure thus far.

One of the many, many things that Call to Africa does here is work to meet the immediate physical needs of the people so impoverished. By most accounts, it takes $3 a day for a Ugandan to live at a very, very basic level. This is an impossible thing for my American brain to wrap itself around. A mere $3 per day. And yet so many Ugandans do not earn $3 per day.

This past January, the folks at Call to Africa spent some time working at an orphanage near Jinja where the ration of formula for the babies had been depleted. An immediate call to action by Call to Africa mission organization secured 2 cows for the orphanage. This made it possible for them to collect enough milk each day to provide for the children old enough to consume cow’s milk and then to sell the remainder each day, taking the proceeds to buy the much-needed formula. The provision of just two cows has solved a dire and deadly problem for this orphanage.

Today, through the amazing work of a pastor and veterinarian named Joseph living in a small village near Mbarara, Call to Africa was able to utilize the generous donations sent with us by supporters back in America to secure 6 cows and present them as gifts to some extremely needy people in Joseph’s village as well as the village of Karungu, about an hour and half drive from Mbarara. The cost for a single impregnated cow is $1400, which includes dewormer and vaccines to help keep the cow in good health. Joseph was able to wrangle a great deal so that instead of buying 5 cows as originally intended, the $7000 sent over with us specifically for cows was spent buying 6 cows! Yeah Joseph!

It was amazing to present each of the 6 recipients with the cows today, a gift that will truly keep on giving by providing milk for their own consumption as well as an invaluable opportunity to sell each day’s excess milk and thus help the villagers earn the $3 per day to survive. Each of the cows presented today are in-calf, meaning there will be 2 cows for each of the recipients in the not-so-distant future. The “Cow Project” or “the passing of the cows” as we have loosely been calling it, is a fantastic way to teach and promote an ongoing self-sustaining way of life. It is needed in so many places here in Uganda. I am pleased to report that today 6 cows were added to the project and the people in 2 different village are extremely thankful!

I have gotten to know Joseph and his sweet wife, Burna, over the past week. They work tirelessly to spread hope, truth, grace, and life to the people in very remote villages, sometimes on top of mountains. Joseph and Burna have no transportation. The old boda boda (dirt bike) that Joseph had at one time finally gave up the ghost. Joseph and Burna must now walk or hire a ride everywhere they go. Because of cost to hire and the impossibility of walking up a mountain to a remote village to do his work with the people and their animals, Joseph is unable to minister and serve as often as is needed. I came away from today determined to provide Joseph with a new boda boda that will enable him to traverse up the deeply rutted dirt roads that lead into the villages. The motorbike will cost $3500. I have already spoken with the folks at Call to Africa about utilizing them to send raised funds to purchase a boda boda for Joseph and Burna. There are channels that must be followed when sending money or making purchases within Uganda so that the money does not end up in the wrong hands.

I am personally going to work toward earning money for Joseph’s much needed boda boda bike. If everyone I knew pitched in $10, we could raise the $3500 quite easily and quickly, allowing us to present Joseph with a means of transportation. All it would take is giving up 2 Starbucks drinks or 1 night at the movies! I wonder if anyone would like to contribute toward this project that I have claimed as something that truly needs to be done. I’ve just got to figure out the best way to collect the funds for this project……..I will work on that tomorrow during the 8 hour drive from Mbarara to Jinja. I’ll keep you posted. I hope you all will help with this.

For those wanting to help me raise the money for Joseph’s boda boda you can either send a check directly to Call to Africa non-profit or you can donate directly through their Facebook page via this link. IMPORTANT: everyone who donates for this particular need should message me and let me know so I can be sure your donation goes to this! If writing a check please keep “memo” line empty so you can take the tax deduction.

We WILL get Joseph his much-needed wheels!! I’d love to present a boda boda to him before we leave Africa on the 12th!

Please send me messages or email me so I can keep up with the total.

Call to Africa Facebook link with donation option and mailing address.

Call to Africa

We have raised enough to purchase a boda boda for Joseph thanks to the generosity of my readers! Thank you so much! What a difference this will make in the villages of Uganda! You guys are awesome! Stay tuned for photos of the new boda boda bike once we get funds sent to the right place and find just the perfect set of wheels for the task.

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!