Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Reflecting Back on the Trip

I guess it's about time that I stop procrastinating and write about my time in Africa.

I (along with 12 other people from South Reno Baptist Church) took a 2 week trip to Jinja, Uganda. Going into the trip I had no idea what to expect of the culture or the situations that I would encounter. I was told that I would be working with two nurses teaching public health. Vanessa and Melba are the amazing women that I was paired up with for the week and we spent the majority of our time at schools and orphanages explaining why cleanliness and hygiene are so important. It was very humbling to speak with gracious adults about what a germ is and how diseases spread. The information that we take for granted in America is inaccessible to the villages of Africa. We took a first aid kit with us to each site and taught the adults how to diagnose and treat malaria, disinfect and dress wounds, and use Tylenol to break a fever…ect.

Fount of Mercy is the organization that we connected with once we were in Uganda. They linked us with 4 non-governmental organizations that they had researched and chose to offer aid to. Through Fount of Mercy these organizations were given information about public health, teaching skills (such as classroom management), pastoral workshops, grant-writing assistance, and Vacation Bible School for the children. The 4 ladies that run Fount of Mercy are tangibly giving their lives to God’s work, and even though it’s only been established for about 3 years, He has blessed every bit of the process.

Some of my favorite moments during my two week stay in Africa were hanging out with the people. I fell in love with the culture and I’m convinced that Africa has some of the most beautiful people in the world. We stayed at Ebeneezer Guest House, which was a large house, owned by a family. Lawrence and Prossy were the parents and they had 7 children with ages ranging from 11 months to 23 years. I really enjoyed the times when I was able to help out the family with their chores and discuss life in Africa. They were absolutely amazing and I’ve kept in touch with their oldest son Richard since I’ve been back in America.

At the end of the trip Pastor Joe asked us to put in 10 words what the trip meant to each of us. After being exposed to such poverty and desperation I have no choice but to believe that God is going to use me in the future amongst the villages in Africa. I am excited and willing to go back whenever he calls me. My ten words are “God loves all people equally and passionately and desires to rescue his children”.

I truly had the time of my life!

Aspen Holloway

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Some of the Most Happiest Moments

Posted by Katie
(Katie joined South Reno Baptist Church in volunteering with Fount this summer)

I am back from Africa! I loved being there! Before the trip, I was excited and looking forward to teaching teachers, seeing Africa, and anything God would want to open my eyes to about the world through this trip. What I didn't expect was to have as much fun as I had, to laugh as much as I did, to feel so alive as I taught, and to develop such incredible friendships as I had opportunity to develop while I was there.

Pastor Joe, the leader of our team, asked us each to put into 10 words or less what the trip meant for each of us. My 10-word phrase turned into 12 words, but I think it still works:) The perspective I gained through this trip is, "Christ's restoration of the world must be tangibly lived out through our lives." For me this means that if I call myself a follower of Christ, and I believe He offers true restoration, then in order to live out His teachings, I must then live my life out in such a way that I, too, bring about restoration where I can.

I had the time of my life getting to teach teachers quality teaching strategies. Tammy and Lauren, my two teaching team partners, and I worked so very well together. We did a total of five workshops at four different locations with teachers from nursery school (3-6 yr olds), primary school (1-7th grades), and secondary schools. We came with our lessons perfectly prepared and learned quickly to adjust. Some days we taught exactly what was prepared, and other days we taught things we never prepared for. Our original goal was to teach literacy and classroom management. We discovered that teachers most often asked about how we dealt with misbehavior in our classrooms. We also taught on learning styles, P.E., and theme-based instruction. None of which we came prepared for. Needless to say, some of the happiest moments of my entire trip and really, my entire teaching career thus far, have been teaching in Uganda...sitting with local Uganda teachers on wooden benches under trees teaching about literacy and classroom management.

I was amazed at the way Fount of Mercy works. Fount of Mercy is the organization our team connected with once we arrived in Uganda. Fount of Mercy connects groups like ours with established local NGO's (non-governmental organizations) in order to offer assistance to those NGO's. Seeing how Fount of Mercy works gave me hope in seeing how the Kingdom of God is meant to work on this earth. The ladies who run Fount of Mercy are incredible women who are giving of themselves to make a difference in this world. These ladies are tangibly living out the teachings of Christ. I am so thrilled to stay connected to this organization in the future.

To close, some of the fun highlights of my trip included zip-lining across the Nile, teaching Sunday school with an interpreter (that was really cool!), trying to take a shower with what resembles a kitchen spray hose (that was more funny than fun), riding in a Mtatoo (that's an old Toyota box-style van that is turned into a 16-18 passenger bus), and spending time just eating and talking and laughing with the people on my team.

I truly had the time of my life!

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Happy Kids

The team from Archer City, Texas arrived on the 10th of July and we left for safari on the 11th. It was a crazy six-seven hour drive up to Murchison Falls. The road had a gazillion pot holes in it, and by "pot holes" I mean caverns. You can almost get lost in those things. They have to swerve all the way across the road and back to miss them...which means that you often come face to face with huge trucks and see your life flash before your eyes just nano-seconds before you miss hitting them by centimeters. Then about half way there the roads become all dirt. But the dirt roads are a million times better than the "paved" road with ditches.
The safari was amazing. We saw scads of giraffe, elephants, cape buffalo, weird little deer like things with squirly horns, amazing birds....and best of all...a LEOPARD!!! The guides said that there have been only four sightings of a leopard in the last 20 years!! Kathleen saw something move in a tree and it turned out to be a leopard tail. We stopped our safari land rover and watched it for quite a while. We have amazing pictures and video of it. Can't wait to get some printed out. After the land safari we went by boat on the Nile. Tons of crocodiles, hippos...and you could see ginormous wart hogs and elephants on the shore. Way cool. Then we spent the night in tents with hippos and wart hogs roaming the camp throughout the night. Be careful on your way to the bathroom!!
The next morning we hiked up to the top of Murchison Falls. There is a constant rainbow where the spray of the water bursts into the air. It's pretty incredible.
After arriving back in Kampala, we went to a remote village called Buganga. It means "the smell of gun smoke" because there was so much fighting there during the war. Now it's mostly old people and orphans. Ed played his soprano sax for them and then improvised with them as they sang and played their big drums. It was awesome to see the little old ladies gettin' down!!! Then Roger conducted his pastoral training workshop. The people and pastors who had come from far away remote villages just to be with us were constantly saying how blessed they were by it. It was all translated, of course. Then we brought in the gigantic sacks of food we had brought as gifts. It took two men to carry each sack into the wood-slatted-tin-roofed church building with dirt floors. As soon as the people saw the food they started clapping and doing their tribal "calls." It's a sound of celebration and great joy. Then we divided it up into small sacks for each person. We spent about $150 USD and literally fed a village...for about four days! It was one of my favorite experiences in Uganda so far!
Yesterday we went to the Orphan Rescue Minstries for the first time since last year. It was sooooo good to Bishop Yusto, again (the leader of the organization). He has had to move the organization’s location twice since we saw him last year. He has now found a good landlord who actually cares about the children and is doing so much to renovate the facility so that they have a good place to live. Today and for the next two days we are building a kitchen for them. The guys are out buying supplies and timber and tin and all that stuff right now so that we can get started. Kathleen, my mom, and I are about to head out with all our day camp stuff for the kids. The children of the Orphan Rescue Ministries were so different than they were last year. Last year, they looked sad, and malnourished, and sang songs of death and dying and hopelessness. Yesterday, they were happy, and healthy and sang songs of their desperate situation, yet how happy they were because they can "take the Spirit with you anywhere." They are now in a much better facility, getting matoke (like mashed potatoes, but it's from plantains), rice and sweet potatoe every day and meat on the weekends. Half of them are going to school. When the other two rooms are built, they will have sewing classes (with the two new sewing machines we brought them), shoe making and carpentry, plus one more vocational class that is yet to be decided. They are finishing the toilets (squatty potties) and we are about to build the kitchen. I almost cried when we drove up and they were all out front waiting for us and greeted us with huge smiles and hugs as they swarmed the car. Their English is so much better than last year. It was so amazing to get to sit and talk and play with the kids that just one year ago couldn't communicate with me and were reluctant to play. And to think that it's because my church from Archer City, TX is supporting them! What an honor and a blessing!! I love my life. I really, really, really love my life!!
Okay, there's a ton more, but I have to go see the kids now. Everything is working out so amazingly well!

Posted by Vanessa

Friday, August 3, 2007

Reflecting on an Amazing Trip

For the last two weeks a group of 13 adults and 1 teenager from South Reno Baptist Church has been working in Jinja providing technical support for Message of Hope Ministries, Aim for Restoration of Hope and The AIDS Orphan Support Trust.

The team taught education workshops for teachers, conducted public health seminars, lead proposal writing workshops, held pastoral trainings and organized and lead day camps for orphans. Here are some of their thoughts on their trip:

"This trip exceeded my expectations so much!"

"It opened my eyes to other ways of living."

"It was a great experience. I was blessed. The people here love their children. I have learned a lot from them."

"The leaders of these organizations have vision. In spite of all the hardships and poverty they have hope."

"I totally fell in love with Uganda, especially the children, the orphans and all the people associated with the orphanages and the schools. They need all our help and encouragement. I believe they are doing the best they can with what they have, hopefully they will do better with the teaching and advise we helped them with."

"Fount of Mercy is an answer to prayer! During my time in Uganda with Fount of Mercy, I saw a tangible expression of restoration."

"I was overwhelmed with the amount of devastation but then realized I was not here to change the country I was here to change a life."

"The most life changing experience of my life! I will be back here very soon."

"My experience in Uganda was very eye-opening. I am leaving here changed and intending on making trips back to help more."

"The total experience was very rewarding. Without the aid of the Fount of Mercy staff it would have been very difficult to accomplish as much as we were able to do."

"My experience in Uganda has been amazing! I was unsure of what to think initially but am very satisfied with how things went."

Friday, July 27, 2007

Teaching Accounting and Grant Writing

I had a large class yesterday. Well, not that large, but the largest on the trip. 15 people within the community came to hear Ann & I teach Accounting & Grant Writing.

There were a few moments that strike me. While I was teaching I was having a hard time figureing out if the workshp paricipants were understanding me or were receptive to my teaching. It was about an hour into my lesson. I was confident 4 people were following along....the others, not sure. A man asked a question....3 people started answering it for me...they were talking about all the things I'd just taught. It was a great moment, my students understood me, so much so that they were anxious to help others understand too! :)

At the end of the session a man said our class was like "what it would be like if I attended university". Another man said "I didn't know we would be so blessed today".

Yestrday was an amazingly rewarding experience all the way around!

Posted by Alex

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Picking up a Pencil for the First Time

Marie and my task this trip was to teach design and sketch classes to the women of the community in Iganga. The time spent with them blew away my expectations. Each day got better and better as we connected with them more, saw them develop into artists, and then as we gave them gifts to expand their program.

Marie had brought a suitcase full of art supplies, and I had brought a bag full of sewing supplies. It seemed like meager gifts for such extensive need, and quite indulgent, to be honest. I must admit that my initial thoughts sounded something like this....."why would these women who have lost husbands, are sick with HIV, can't afford to feed or school their children, and are barely making it through life even be remotely interested in drawing and sketching fashions?" Our team had graciously helped drag the heavy suitcase through dirt roads and on and off crowded buses, but we found out later that they had secretly been cursing it the whole time. Ha!

We started our first day talking to the 20ish women about how important it is for us to be creative. Then we showed them current fashions from around the world. This lead to where we find inspiration...in nature and works of fine art. We had them choose artwork they were inspired by and colors they loved. They went around and shared why they had chosen what they had, and how they could translate some of the ideas into garments. At that point, we were excited that they had been open to our sharing of new things with them, but had no idea how interested they'd be in the whole class.

The next day Marie, pure genius, handed out tracing paper and line drawings of different clothes...skirts, sleeves, pants, dress shapes, etc. Then, step by step, we showed them how to draw freehand and make sketches of the clothing they wanted. It was amazing how consumed they were by it. Several of the older women don't know how to write and had never used a pencil, but here they were quietly drawing in their sketch books and going farther and farther...adding color, attempting faces and hands. We were simply blown away.

Marie had to leave soon after, but I went back 2 more days. One day was spent shopping with Pastor Sarah for the 4 machines we donated to their program, and the fabric, scissors, and other supplies they would use as well. Then the next day, i went to their class, where Sarah implemented what we had taought the previous week, saying, "You are the designers of this community now. It is your responsibility to design and the first project will be designing the uniforms for the children of the orphanage." She walked them through it and they all took about 2 hours to draw their own ideas for the dresses. They came together, had a group discussion about what would be most practical, cost effective, etc, and chose a design to start making. This will hopefully be a way to make some money to put back into the program. Next year we will return to see all the children wearing the designs these women have chosen and then made!

Some of the women had pages full of drawings they had done in the 4 days since our classes. They were thankful to have something to think about and a way to use their brains besides digging and cooking. So encouraging!! I feel like I could go on and on about what those days were full with, but i will stop here with just a taste. The suitcase went back to New York just as heavy as it came, but it is now full of african fabric for Marie and I to design with ourselves. We have lots of plans for how to help these and other women of other communities. It will be alot of work, but so satisfying!
Published by Tara

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Ignorant & Irresponsible Alex

I'm not sure what to title this entry other than Ignorant and Irresponsible Alex.

It is one of my most humble moments thus far on this trip. I'm telling the story because I think we have all had these moments...what makes it ignorant is me not fully forgetting the fact that I'm in Uganda and not the Western world.

When I was playing with the kids at Message of Hope last week...there was a little boy who was playing with bricks by himself building a wall. He wasn't engaged in the soccer game I was playing with the boys, so I wandered over to play with him. Most of the kids dont speak or understand english, I'm left to engage them by making funny faces or silly expressions to connect. I started to take the bricks and make a card-table-like-house. Before I realized it all the kids surrounded me and were all watching the Mizungu. They were all squealing and laughing. I was kneeled down, it was the first time I was looking up at them, they were all looking down at me. A neat and different perspective to be looking at these kids.

They all were saying the Ugandan word for "house"...pronounced: umba. I repeated "umba" and then said "HOUSE". I pointed at a kid and said "HOUSE". No one said anything. I did it again..."UMBA"...then "HOUSE". One little daring kid said "OOOUUSSEEE" All the others laughed. I said their word for house...all of them giggled.....I probably said it wrong. :)

I pointed at another kid gave him 3 bricks and asked him to make a house. He did...the other kids all started grabbing their own bricks and doing the same.

At this moment there was a split second I thought "someone could get hurt"...but dismissed it. I learned this day to GO WITH YOUR GUT when ever this happens....ESPECIALLY when you're with children and a developing country.

It wasn't long until all the kids started looking at the ground, I didn't get it. They were all talking and pointing. I was so confused, I couldn't understand. Eventually I saw blood....I tracked it back to a little girls foot. The tip of her big toe was skinned pretty badly and bleeding...I assume she dropped a brick on it. **She wasn't crying or upset. This is what we're all noticing, most kids don't cry when they're upset or hurting.

Note to self: "Oh no." (I think I chose another word for the "no" in "Oh no")

I brought her over to the director, Irene. She washed the shoe-less girls foot off and said "she'll be fine". I talked to Irene about cleaning it with soap and bandaging it up....she kept insisting the little girl would be fine. The scope of the situation hit me...it's not an option...they dont have cleaner or bandages. She's going to keep playing with us, an open wound, no shoes.

Someone on the team had antibacterial wipes and a bandaid. The little girl didn't have shoes to protect her toe.

Again, the scope of it hit me....she could get an infection and need to go to the hospital. After my financial training & consult, I know very well these organizations dont have funds to feed these kids well...or excess funds for hospital/doctor visits.

One of my worst moments.

The Unexpected Gift!

It was a long and fantastic day!!

I didn't have to work today, I planned on sitting around and resting.

I had a gift out-of-the-blue opportunity to head back to Message of Hope.

Tara had to run out to this village to meet with some of her sewing women...amazing delivery...she had purchased 3 sewing machines for them and wanted to document stories & help set them up! Hopefully she'll post on Fount's blog about it.

The trek to Iganga isn't easy...a 3 hr endeavor to get up to the village...a series of taxis, picking people up, bumpy dusty red clay roads, riding on the back of a bicycle for 25 minutes down dirt roads...AND well worth the time I got with the kids!! I left part of my heart there today!

I didn't cry when I left last week, I had a gut feeling that I would see them again this trip...unlikely, but I had a feeling.

Today, I teared up a few times playing with the kids but decided it wasn't best to cry. We keep hearing from people that African's dont cry....and I didn't want to freak any little kids out.

The weepy moments:
I had an cute moment with this little girl. You see, the kids here dont understand hugs. I want nothing more than to hug and squeeze them, I realized it probably wouldn't happen this trip. I'd get close and they laugh like i'm going to tickle them...they dont understand affection.

I had played soccer for 4 hrs with the kids, took a break....this little girl stood
next to me...I decided to stand so close that i'd be pushed my arm up against her arm & shoulder as we watched the boys play. After about 10 minutes, she took my hand an was examining and and playing with my thumb....she looked up and smiled at me. It was such an amazing moment.

I had another strange moment where a little boy got kicked in the head I scooped
him up...he didn't respond or have his eyes open...he just kept wailing...it
wasn't really crying though, so strange to explain by typing.
He cried for 20 minutes, the kids were laughing at me because I was holding him. They didn't understand what i was doing. I rocked him and he eventually fell asleep in my arms. I returned him to a worker as he slept. She was alarmed, I know she was thinking that he was unconscious or dead. She seemed confused as to why I
was holding him for so long.

At the end of the day another kid was crying (same girl who was playing with my
thumb), I went over and held her in my lap and rocked her. It wasn't long before we were playing and laughing together. 15 kids noticed and ran over to join in.
They circled around me sitting on the grass and started examining my white-ness....my long straight hair, the holes in my ears (most kids have holes in their ears but it's to protect against witch-doctors...more
about that another time). I showed them that if you push on my skin it turns white
for a second then returns to the natural color....they all started poking at me and giggling. One kid untied my shoes and was looking at my feet.

All this talking and looking about me and my white-ness...but I didn't understand a thing because n one of them are fluent in english. It was a great few minutes.

I'm in love with this orphanage....the kids adore me, I adore them. It's
out in the middle of no where, 7 acres of land. I taught a little and we played for 5 hrs today while Tara worked. I had the time of my life! I cant wait to show you the pictures.

Posted by Alex

Friday, July 20, 2007

chronicles of amina: the search for the fount, part 1

Little Lucy-Nangobi sat at her makeshift desk in Brooklyn, covered with the pre-travel clutter she had hastily left two weeks before. Lucy's leg snugly draped over the armrest of her canvas reading chair, with her other ankle wrapped curiously around the stool she was sitting on. The cool summer breeze greeted her back home to the States, and a bright blue sky shined apologies for providing such bad conditions for airplanes last morning. What had just happened! Tears rolled down her peeling sunburned cheeks as frustration and release wove into her thoughts, leading her back through her journey in Amina.

About a year ago, Lucy had stumbled across a women's Bible study that met during the ridiculous hour of 7am in Noho, an hour that didn't exist in the public mind of many a New Yorker. During these dim waking mornings a certain prayer request fell in the line of her fading attention- two adventurous women named Michelle and Lori had started up a non-profit organization called Fount of Mercy. The bold and fearless women crossed the sea with their friends to the land of Africa, and ventured into the country of Uganda to bring aid to and learn of the widows and orphans living there. The little Richter scale God had made a cozy chamber for in Lucy's heart (I'm terribly sorry if you are not in possession of such a wonderful attribute!) began to tremble quite wildly, especially the summer morning she met Lori Acton, soon after Lori had returned back from her trip from Uganda. "Tell me about your trip! You! Your work! Uganda!" Lucy asked excitedly, but rather naively. She was not as socially apt as she can be 8:30 in the morning, after waking at 5am. She cared so much but didn't know what to do- words seemed to be at a loss for both Lucy and her new friend Lori, who seemed very much culture shocked.

Within the little chamber in Lucy's heart, the equally as small Richter scale wagged its needle like a puppy's tail gone wild. A little confused at the allure Lucy found to Uganda and the work Fount of Mercy was doing, Lucy gathered her vacation days one by one like lucky pennies in her pocket to spend on the big trip she hoped to make one day with Fount. Lucy sounded grand, philanthropic, and majestic to those she explained her vacation days to, but she herself knew the simpler truth behind her actions. Not only was it a lifelong dream for Lucy to work with orphans, but she had a deeper connection with the people she longed to fly continents to see- Lucy had lost her dear father a few years ago, and simply wanted to dwell with women and children who she could be with, in the midst of a confounding, commonplace yet life-altering human experience. She shared with these women and children in these pains, and wished to bear gifts and share tears with people like herself. "Maybe this is a really wrong, totally un-P.C. way to think," Lucy began to guilt-trip herself. "How am like these people? Maybe I'm being a punk or pretentious or overly pious... to think that I am like these people bearing such great burdens!" But the little Richter scale didn't fail to quiver in defiance and quickly shut her up. "Or maybe.." Lucy prayed, "they are my kin."

Amina hovered over the land of Uganda, resting in the morning mists and floated in the night's breath. The magic of Amina threaded itself amongst the life of the Ugandans- some realized what was happening, some did not. Even foreigners would travel from far off lands to see the workings of Amina. Amina soaked into the lives of the people in ways not much understood. Civil war had ceased- Amina. The rate of AIDS/HIV had drastically dropped- Amina. The land is in a great state of redemption- its children will all know soon.

After a swirling first night in Kampala Lucy awoke bright and early to rise with her team to leave for the city of Jinja. The postal bus ride there was bumpy yet gentle- Lucy had gotten a chance to chat with her teammate Jen, who would become special to her. Jen's head eventually bobbed asleep in the misty Ugandan morning, but Lucy's hungry eyes plastered themselves open for the sake of eating up the passing landscape she would grow quickly fond of. Lush greens whipped past her sight, in processions of all the different kinds of African ferns, leaves, buds, banana leaves, high grasses an American girl's eye could identify- in shades of viridian, hunter, kelly, all sorts of greens. The mist provided gradations of foliage and of the land- providing just enough for faith for sight, but preserving the unknown of the unseen. The looping sugar cane leaves bowed their arms gently with cocoa dust from the roadside, greeting the muzungus in the passing postal bus in which Lucy was perched, with their sugar stalk feet planted regally in the rich red dirt which christened the earth.

"Welcome to Uganda, sistah," the low winds slithered through the window cracks of the postal bus and whispered to Lucy, as her eyes gave out to exhaustion.

..to be continued..

posted by Marie back in Brooklyn, missing Uganda

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


It is a very humbling process to enter into someone elses world, hear about their unimaginable struggles, their seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and have them look at you and say, "How do we teach these students who carry the weight of this world?" And that is just the incredibly humbling moment, they are looking to us to give them strategies for helping their students and they are so willing to receive. This has been my experience teaching the teachers of the orpanages we are working with.

We have worked with three different organizations so far and a total of four schools. One of the most rewarding experiences we had was sitting down with the headmaster, Xristin, of one of these schools. We gave her the Ugandan curriculum guides and she lit up saying, "We have been singing for these!" We then went through the curriculum with her and explained that she could lead workshops for her teachers just as we had. She could choose a topic that she felt they needed help with and present the information to them in a workshop. When we started explaining this it was obvious by her eyebrow movement that this was a very new idea.

I felt nervous that she might reject the idea while she briefly hesitated to respond. Then, as if a current of energy started from her toes and came up through her body she looked at us with a grin and said emphatically, "I can do this!" She asked me how often we have workshops in the States and I told her about once a month. She chuckled, a chuckle of joy and empowerment and said, "I will give them twice a month. We need lots of work."Xristin went on to explain that we had brought a new way of teaching. A way that is more fun for the students and for the teachers. She insisted that they had been so bored in the way they teach now.

I was blown away by the teachers willingness to try new things. We had them clapping and singing songs, standing on chairs and discussing if equal is always fair in education.

There are many things these teachers are already doing that I can learn from. Many of them are not getting paid for any of their work because and they still go to school every day trying to reach these children. Many of them demonstate a deep concern for the students they teach, a concern not present in many of teachers I have worked with in the states, a concern that ran much deeper then I could undertand because many of these teachers came from the same conditions that their students are experiencing.

Posted by Erin in Uganda

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Great Day

Going to the organizations can be really inspiring but also very humbling. Sometimes I feel like we may not be able to communicate past cultural lines. However, today I feel like we had a really great session. The group we were working with was very responsive to our accounting workshop and gave us great feedback. They were a group of leaders from a few different organizations and they all knew each other well so they had a great group dynamic. We are going back tomorrow to work with the same group and I am looking forward to what we will be able to acomplish. Visiting these organizations makes me better prepared about the grant proposal writing workshops we will be doing in a couple of weeks since I now have an idea of where the organizations are and what we should cover.

In addition to teaching we have been having lots of other fun exploring Uganda. All eight girls in Jinja are living in one room and I have been pleasently supprised how well we have been able to respect each other's space and different personalities. Sadly a lot of us have been getting sick although I am happy to report I am still feeling well (knock on wood). I credit my ablity to fight off sickness to my sister. When we were children she was always getting sick and I believe this has really bulit up my antibodies.

We have had some great food. The home cooked African food from the organizations we have visited has been probably the freshest food I will ever eat and I love getting to try all the new dishes. We have also visited some great restaurants. A favorite of mine as well as the whole group is a restaurant here in Jinja called 2 Friends. The tables are all outside and since the weather is great we have been eating there almost every night. My favorte resturant in Kampala is an Indian restaurant on the roof of the mall which is also an open-air resturant and has amazing food. We actually when to see Die-Hard at the mall the other day. It was a nice escape but it was kind of hard to concentrate knowing that for a lot of people there this was their only impression of the US.



I sat in shock as Geoffrey spoke about his life. I was keenly aware of my body language attempting in every way not to show patronizing pity or shed a tear because he was able to speak without tears but with a subtly hopeful expression. No, my tears must be held back now. They are not productive at this moment. At this moment he needs an ear listening and a voice that will go out and tell his story. Our tears help little our action will do much more. And his story is quite and amazing one.He grew up as an orphan. I feel like the weight of that sentence can never be understood by those who haven't been the subject of such a sentence. All Geoffrey could say about being an Orphan is that the pain and emptiness is inexplicable. I believe we are made by a personal God. We are made to feel personally loved, adored and personally cared for by a parent. After all, our relationship with our God is that of a child with a parent. And so to have no such earthy relationship goes against the very core of our being. One thing that continues to break my heart here is that so many parents don't have the simple luxury of delighting in their children. They don't have the time or the energy. Geoffrey tried to explain this feeling of growing up without parents to delight in you. He would utter a few words to try and explain and he would stop mid sentence and say there is just no way to help us understand. This man was the kind of person that inspires you simply through his physical presence.Geoffrey's story is one of deep pain but great hope. He has started one of the Community Based Organizations we are working with called TAOST, The Aids Orphan Support Trust. They provide vocational training, education for orphans, support for widows and income generation for those impoverished. He tells so many stories of deep suffering. This past year four of their sewing machines were stolen along with a typewriter. He watched a widow and a child die from their community as they desperately tried to get these victims medical attention. His 4 month old baby has already had malaria 5 times. You may think this sounds too hard to be true but it is just a glimpse of the difficulties they face. However, he tells about the successes of his organization as well.There was another man sitting next to Geoffrey. He seemed very ill and was barely able to hold his eyes open. He is suffering from Malaria and could hardly stand up but he said he wanted to meet us so he got out of his bed. That is just the thing. The people we have met will do just about anything to connect with people that can share their story and bring some hope. So this man mustered up the strength to come meet us. Geoffrey kept repeating as he told these stories, "There is light at the end of the tunnel." And the man sitting next to him, his name is Bright.
Posted by Erin


It is hard to explain what it is like to be back in Uganda working with our partnering organizations. It is a combination of emotions. Overwhelming is probably the best word to describe what I am feeling.

I have been so humbled by the amazing progress our partners have made in one year. Ray of Hope has a wall around their facility now. They have dividers in their school. There are currently working on building a tailoring room and a kitchen.

Grace Christian ministries has built a school/church in Iganga. An entire building in one year. And to hear how they were able to build the building is even more humbling. The community came together and constructed the building from scratch.

Message of Hope ministries has built an entire orphanage since we saw them last and have constructed plans for building an entire compound. It was incredible to visit and meet the children that are directly benefiting from their work. Children that did not have a home now have a place to sleep and a home to call their own.

We have not visited our other partnering organizations yet, but I imagine that their progress is similar.

All of this overwhelms me with a sense of responsibility. I know that if we can raise money for these organizations and their projects, they will put them to good use. I know that because I have seen over a one year period what they have been able to accomplish all without our aid. I can not imagine what they would be able to do with our aid, but I want to. I am very excited for this year and for all of the fundraising we are going to do. I believe in MOHM, in AROH, in TAOST, in Ray of Hope, in Grace and in Makindye. I want to see them succeed and I am so humbled to know that they will succeed with or without us.

Posted by Michelle


Absolutely amazing, best work day I've had in a long time. I'm getting
choked up thinking about it. I love it here. I got a little spooked driving out of Jinga today, we traveled into the villages...30 minutes by taxi. Rocky red clay
roads...my body is completely covered in red clay...never mind my ankles after an intense hour of tennis.

It's terrible, I'm smelly, but so worth it!

We showed up in a village and I was a little anxious, very poor, lots of people
just hanging out around fires cooking corn or something.

There was a butcher with meat laid out (flies all over it) on his stoop. I'm sure it was killed this morning, just not sure about sanitation after it was killed or what animal it was.

We showed up at the orphanage and I was a little anxious, it's hard to believe
these kids dont have parents and are living in a village in cement housing (no plumbing, obviously) all have hiv/aids.

After that the couple who started the orphanage took us to their other location....1 hr on rocky clay roads further out of Jinga. This was really something, the roads weren't roads anymore. We showed up to this beautiful farm land...chickens, goats, orphans, a fire, teachers, etc. When we got out of the car, the kids were all singing.

My favorite part...I finished work and gave the director a soccer ball and kick
ball for the organization. I brought 20 kick balls & soccer balls out to give away to the organizations. I know they probably could use food/clothes, etc....but I think it's fun for kids to be kids. The orphans (about 20 of them, ages 4-10) were all smiles, they gave me a traditional thanks, kneeling down and holding my hand. You should have seen their faces, I could see it in their eyes...they'd never seen something so fun looking! We played soccer and random games for about 2 hrs together...the squeals from their mouths were hysterical. I got video of it.

Being with them during that time is something i'll never forget. I was acting like a kid with a bunch of kids who could act like kids for a bit. We're going there again tomorrow to finish up, I cant wait to see them again. I'm going to cry hard when I have to say goodbye to them.

I got lots of great pictures.

Speaking of crying, I've been afraid of crying pity tears and offending people.
I realized today, tears aren't necessary. No tears today. Maybe I welled up a little when the kids were running and squealing and when I said good bye for the night. There's nothing to be sad about here. Although they live in the slums, the org leaders are so excited about what they have/how God has blessed them. It's amazing to see people with so little so content and psyched about what's to come.

Posted by Alex

Getting There

Marie, Jasmine & Jen went to MOHM again (where we've spent the past 2 days).

Ann, Alex, Erin & Michelle went for our first day at The Aids Orphans Support Trust (TAOST).

we took another motatu (taxi) to this village...always eventful. the the taxis here look like VW Wagons, they're aren't private taxi, but like public hire taxis. the van can comfortably seat 8, uncomfortably 12...or 'Ugandan style'...21. We rode in a mutatu with 21 people!

I'm told it wasn't "that bad" because "last time we had 22 and some chickens".

you know when you're riding on the subway and people jam themselves into your car even when they cant?....this was worse. The difference, it was totally culturally acceptable...no complaining, extra loud sighs or people yelling "YOU CANT FIT!"....the ridiculous reality is, you really cant fit. I think it's questionable on the packed subways.

When we walked up to the taxi, we told them where we were going....the conductor said "get in". I said "Michelle, we cant fit"...there were already 18 people in there. She lowered her head and said "yes". I was puzzled but dove in too.

I'm sure you're wondering HOW?
No sitting on laps. Everyone (except infants) have their tooshes on a seat...just really squished or sideways.

It's completely acceptable and almost unavoidable that EVERYONE has bags, food, stalks of corn, burlap bags, doors, chickens or what ever else they picked up at the market to take home. amazing.

Posted by Alex

The Village Outside of Iganga

It is hard to put into words the past few days in the villages. I spoke with Jeremy, my husband, last night for the first time since we had been teaching in the villages and I realized there was no way to bridge the gap in time, space, experience, and emotions that I was feeling. I feel a sense of inadequacy with each word I type because it can't even begin to explain some of the things I have seen but for the sake of those who have supported my trip and, more importantly for the dignity of the people I have met and observed I will try and tell a bit of the story.

Walking down the long dusty clay path to the first orphanage overwhelmed me. I kept thinking as we past each child, (some standing naked on piles of clay digging into the dirt with a stick, some squatting naked on piles of trash sorting through it for what to them would be a treasure or a next meal) "Where are the people that should be taking care of them?" I do not ask this in any sort of judgmental way because the severity of the circumstances here humble me to the core in a way that no judgment could possibly pass from me to them. I ask this question with a deep sadness.

We spent many hours in the past few days with the teachers of some of the orphan children. It was wonderful to see how appreciative they were of our resources and time. We were able to find the curriculum for Uganda primary school and give them the curriculum along with the teacher guide. They had never seen any of this and they said it would help them tremendously.

I want to introduce you to Rebecca. She is one of the mamas at the orphanage. She has such a sweet, nurturing spirit and a deep concern for the children. She gave me great hope when she told me her story of growing up an orphan. She attempted to explain how lonely it can be at times. I felt hopeful that someone could grow up in those circumstances and come back to love on these children so well.

Posted by Erin

Monday, July 9, 2007

Getting to Jinja

We got up at 6:30am (11:30pm est, sorry, i cant help but keep telling myself what time it is in NY...anytime someone says it I tell them to STOP, but internally I cant!) to catch the "Postal Bus" from Kampala to Jinga...2 hr drive. It was really something. I didn't get coffee before I left Kampala...so I know I didn't get to appreciate all it was worth. WE hop on this bus, "Postal Bus"....there are other people on the bus....it drives 2 hrs...picks up mail at other post offices and people along the way. Hysterical.

At one point we stopped outside of this market...about the 2nd stop. Kids and old women swarmed the bus and shoved open our windows and started talking in a foreign language. THey were shoving things near my face....cold bottled water, bananas, and, get this, meat on a stick. Mystery meat. We asked an old woman for a banana...she said $1,000 shilling. We bartered for 500 schilling....she said okay and handed us a huge bunch of about 10 bananas. 1,000 shilling is less than a dollar. We ended up paying 1000 shillings. I didn't catch the price for the meat...I'll do that next time. Dont worry, I got pictures.
We made another stop, a man selling a a wooden round bowl with a hole in the bottom on a pedastal ran up. I was so confused, the man infront of me started batering in another language. They bought one, I couldn't understand why he was buying a bowl...with a hole in it...and 3 legs to prop it up. I was so confused...he looked like he was going to work. Why does this man need an eleveated holey bowl before work? I turned to Michelle, she told me it was a seat. :) THey got it for the older woman on the bus who had to stand for 2 hrs....she proped it in the tiny aisle and we were off! :)

Shortly after that, another post office stop. One package....and we're on our way. We start hearing all this shuffling.....Ann said "is that the seat that's squeaking?" I laughed, "no, the package we just picked up was a chicken!"
Soon after, we arrived in Jinga....town of 60,000 people. The bus was packed, we were all in back with our backpacks. The conductor shoved all of our 10 bags out the tiny window so as not to disrupt the larger woman sitting on a bowl-with-a-hole in the aisle. From there we were swarmed by "motorcycle men" who wanted us to hop on the back of their motorcycles for a ride to the guest house. Tempting, but no thanks....I'm weebles wobble with my 70 lb backpack....I dont need to have red-clay knee burns from skidding onto the street from the dirt bike.

Weather is more lovely here. 70 and sunny. It was a misty/foggy morning, just as on National Geographic....although I think in Kampala it's smog. :)

I love the small town atmosphere here in Jinga. A lot better than Kampala. I apreciate the fresh air today, and I'm from NYC.

We had an another amazing lunch today....small outside restaurant...fancy, white cloths, we ate under a cabanna hut. Just lovely, 3 hrs lunch. total cost: 8,000 shilings each.

We keep getting called Mizunga. It means white person. The little kids are facinated with us. I'm facinated that someone's facinated with me. I want to wave back at them waving at me. Then realize I'm feeding the spectical..."look at the white freak mommy! Whoa, look it will wave if you call it Mizunga!!"

Really, I want to run up to them....jump up and down and say "I know, I cant believe I''m here...I've waited years for this....Can you believe it?!" Instead I just smile.

I really cant believe I'm here, I'm so grateful.

We start work tomorrow, I hear we're going into the slums and it may be difficult to see.

With love,
Mizunga Alex

Surprising Peace

Anticipation is such a strange thing in life. We build up these ideas in our heads and these feelings in our hearts as we try to make the unknown more tangible, less scary, before the reality of the anticipated experience assaults all of our senses. Before arriving in Uganda I had anticipated so much and now the truth of experience is blanketing peacefully(at least for now) the preconceived notions of my anticipation. My first impression of flying over Uganda and into Entebbe was how beautiful this country is. The vibrant green of the vegetation beautifully contrasts with the deep red of the earth. It is the most beautifully colored place I have ever seen.

My time here so far has been marked by a deep peace. I anticipated being very nervous and distraught about leaving Grace(my daughter) and coming somewhere so different. However, I really have felt very good about my decision to be here.

I have not yet been to the organizations we are helping (although the group that has been here for two weeks has). Tomorrow will be my first day working with the teachers in these orphanges. Those who have arrived before said the teachers were eager to learn new strategies for their classrooms. The teachers we will train tomorrow have no teacher training. I am excited to finally begin the work i flew all this way to do.
I think the best way to describe my experiences here will be to introduce you to the people i meet.
On the plane I met an incredibly sincere and beautiful Ugandan woman named Margaret. She is working in New York for UNICEF. We discussed for a little bit the initiatives she has worked with in improving girls education around the world. She explained that a huge problem with educating girls in Uganda is that they stop going to school when they hit puperty. They are too embarressed by the changes that are taking place with their bodies, specifically with menstruating and all of the stigmas attached to that here, that they stop being educated. We decided this would be a good issue to discuss in our teacher training here. Margaret had such a peaceful, genuine spirit about her. I felt blessed to travel with her. She was so excited to be returning home for a visit.

I am sure I will have many more people to introduce throughout the next two weeks. For now I am trying to process all of the very new experiences I am having. I am attempting to let go of my anticipated feelings and allow the incredible experience of just being here fully seep in.

Posted by Erin in Uganda

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Getting Around Kampala

Jambo! olyotya. (how are you in swahili and bugandan - as a friend mentioned to me before arriving here, there is no simple hello. It's always how are you - so if you ever say hi, the response is "fine. how are you?")

It's been a week in Kampala and so far, it's been a great experience. Every day has been different full of good things. when I first arrived at the backpacker's hostel in southwest Kampala, I was happily surprised to find a kooky building surrounded by a tree-filled oasis. Turns out the compound was once the Prime Minister's grounds. An Aussie ex-military guy with tons of personality bought the place, helped some Rwandan refugees across the border and opened a hostel. The facilities are good here and the place is always buzzing with new faces, non-profit groups at work and travellers from overseas; a great place to network between orgs and to share ideas.

i'm staying in the "round banda", a tarp and grass covered building. It's dark and damp most of the time, but otherwise, it's spacious and well suited to our needs.

My first day in Kampala city centre included a quick trip to the Old Taxi Park, a bustling chaotic pit full of people selling goods, "boda bodas" or mopeds for hire, and shared taxi vans. It's quite ingenious; post a sign to indicate the destination. wait till the 18 seater fills up, everyone pays a standard fare (or "muzungu" fare - the white/European fare sometimes) and you carpool. Without these, the city would be in gridlock, as it is already busy enough, full of traffic enough and polluted enough. The people are friendly and helpful, always eager to sell their goods but not pushy. (Funny to come from India where bargaining involves much give and take to Uganda, where a low offer is often met with a blank stare rather than a middle ground offer.)

The downtown core is a mix of old low rise concrete buildings and shiny tall towers for hotels and banks. There's lots of construction going on and it feels like the city is headed somewhere. For myself, I'd like to know where but that kind of understanding will have to wait. There are people everywhere and at all hours. Lots of street vendors who lay their wares out on the streets or on the dirt by the sides of sidewalks. I know of 1 streetlight, a new one, in Kampala. i've been told and people are still getting accustomed to using it so crossing the street can be like walking a maze here.

Of course in the city centre, it being the capital, one can find the Parliament, where I went today. It is in session tuesdays to thursdays so when I arrived there today (on a Saturday), I was asked "what are you doing here?" When i responded that I was hoping to tour the building and look around, I was met with a very puzzled face. perhaps it's not a traditional tourist thing to do to see the parliament here? I don't know. Lonely planet did not recommend this one. (the other question I was asked was "are you carrying any weapons?" when I responded no, I was allowed to pass without a bag check... hmm...)

So that's my intro and your intro to this busy city.


Teaching Teachers

Work. So what exactly does my day involve, besides weaving in and out of traffic? our first workshop took place in Kampala with Grace Ministries in Katwe, an area of cramped wood and brick, tin-roofted housing for transient people moving from outside Kampala into and around the city. The organization is led by a tireless, generous-hearted, forward-thinking man named Pastor Livingston. He and his church began a school to meet the needs of local children; the teachers are volunteers who teach 3 classes (the baby, middle and top classes) everything they know from 7 to 1. With few resources, no books and no desks, such a challenging job is made that much more challenging. Imagine needing to sharpen pencils with razor blades because the class doesn't have a sharpener.

And this is a common story among underfunded schools, like the other schools we saw in rural Buganga (named after the smell of gunpowder from the civil war that took place there) and at the Ray of Hope area (built on the now defunct railroad lands - a temporary settlement where the government refuses to give over deeds or do anything with the land). there are simply not enough resoures and teachers are working tirelessly for little to no pay. But they do their work to the best of their abilities and smile at the end of the day. where we come in is to give teachers an opportunity to learn some professional skills we as teachers have been fortunate to learn; basing lessons on national standards (which we've found written by the Ugandan National Curriculum development Council and are distributing), planning units and lessons, learning theory and teaching literacy and ESL.

Meanwhile, some of our team members are also helping org leaders capacity build by setting them up to be able to write grants. A fortuitous meeting with people from Camara project have also helped us to help Grace get access to computers and training. Synergy is a wonderful thing. Our resident nurse has also had a challenging job of teaching first aid to community leaders and purchasing first aid for the organizations; this made more challenging by the extent and source of people's medical needs. how do you advise a woman on ways to stay healthy when her roof is leaking and she cannot afford proper nutrition? The more we see, the more need we see for work to be done by those who are able in communities here, and the need for those in positions of privilege and power to enable those doing good work on the ground; whether through funding, skills training, or better yet, changing the systems and structures that prevent greater equality on this planet we all share.

Posted by Jasmine

Adventures in Public Health

Kampala seems strangely familiar to me this year. In many ways I feel as though I never left. I find myself able to get to obscure places with no difficulty. Travel around this city is certainly not self-explanatory, but I am having no trouble. It seems weird, but I'm very thankful.
I taught my first public health classes yesterday and the day before. The first day went okay. I started out with the kids, which was WAY more difficult than I expected. It's just that the kids don't really speak English...at all...except for the numbers 1-21 and a few phrases that their teacher taught them. I'm soooo glad that Jasmine was there with me. She was a lifesaver. Michelle would also come in from time to time and rescue us with her awesome kid teaching ability. I just kept thinking to myself...I'm a nurse, and there's a reason I'm not a teacher! I love teaching my patients in the hospital, but that's a whole different animal.
The second day was better. For one, I felt much better...still sick, but at least I wasn't totally suffocating. We went out to a remote village where there is mainly elderly people and orphans. It's the helpless living with the helpless. I was expecting to teach a small group of adults, mainly leaders of the community, but in the typical African fashion, plans changed and I ended up teaching public health to a congregation (and by that I mean 25-30 adults) from the pulpit! Weird, but cool. They would stand up one by one and fire a million questions at me. Most of them spoke no English,...at all, so there was one middle aged man who would interpret for the crowd and Pastor Livingstone would translate for me. I really enjoy public speaking and teaching about health care, but that was rather...difficult. I deliver babies...I'm not a geriatric specialist by any stretch of the imagination, but I still know more than they do, so that made me the teacher. It went well though and the community was very thankful for the first aid kit we left with them.
In spite of all that is going on and the difficulties of life here, I'm so glad to be here. I love these people and I love what we are doing here. We are still trying to navigate the culture here, which is quite different from home, as you might imagine. It's fun...and awkward at times, and frustrating...and interesting, and...funny.
Time is up. Until next time...Vanessa

Friday, July 6, 2007

Traveling in a Matatu with 20 Chickens

So we just finished our first week of technical support. This week we worked with Grace Christian Ministries. Grace works in two locations in Uganda. Katwe, Grace's home location, is an industrial slum in Kampala. It is hard to explain Kampala's slums. All of life happens in such a small area of land. In one small area people are cooking, selling food, welding iron, throwing out their garbage, doing their laundry, tending livestock or playing with a soccer ball.

In Katwe, Grace works with street children. It is amazing what Grace has done in this community. Last year I meet a young man named Emmanuel who had been living at Grace for the past 10 years. As a small boy he had escaped the genocide in Rwanda and ended up living on the streets in Kampala. He told me that he had no where to live and no food to eat. He would go through trash piles looking for food.

Livingston, Grace's director, found Emmanuel and brought him in. Under Grace's care, Emmanuel completed his primary and secondary education. When we visited Grace this week I spoke with Emmanuel. He is now attending the University and is studying social work. Emmanuel wants to become a social worker and wants to help children.

I am so amazed at Livingston and Grace's commitment to these children. Because of their work, this young man, along with many other, have a future. Who know what would have happened to Emmanuel if Grace had not taken him in. Now Emmanuel is going to grow up and take care of children just like himself. So amazing!

After teaching a two day teacher's workshop at Grace, we headed out to Grace's other location in the district of Buganda. Buganda is about an hour and half outside of Kampala in a very rural area. It was so nice to get out of Kampala. Kampala is very congested and polluted.

In the village we taught a teachers workshop and offered a public health and a first aid seminar. Returning home from the village was a little difficult. The only matatu (Ugandan taxi system, really just a van they stuff with people) we could catch was full. They fit us anyway. So for an hour and half we road home in a matatu stuffed with 21 people and with 20 chickens. Yeah imagine that. I would do it all again though to spend time with the wonderful people we meet in the village.

Back in Uganda

Fount of Mercy is back in Uganda for their second visit. Last year we established relationships with six indigenous grass-root organizations who are caring for orphans and vulnerable children in Kampala and Jinja Uganda. Last year on our trip we meet with each organization, listening to their vision and dreams.

This year we have returned with a large group of volunteers to provide technical support. Our volunteers are traveling to Uganda from New York City, Boston, Archer City and Reno. They are teachers, accountants, pastors, nurses, costume makers, fashion designers and students. This summer our volunteers are going to be teaching workshops for our organizations to attend. Follow our blog to see how our summer goes.