Monthly Archives: July 2013

Last days in Lira Uganda

Last days in Lira. My mind has to leap over the memory hurdle of a 9+ hour van ride (by Jimmey who drove through Kampala to Entebbe straight out of a Hollywood Script), Safari (complete with lions, elephants, giraffes, hippos and more), and land back in Lira.

My experiences in Lira the past few days felt a bit surreal. There are no pictures of the 121 men who live at Erute Prison. Imagine bright yellow scrubs – shorts and shirts with vertical lines with flip flops completing the uniform. They are packed in a room sitting on the floor shoulder to shoulder, we must sit indoors as it is raining outside and the compound is muddy. Teenagers from the Children’s Village, the visiting team from Oklahoma, the COTN interns, and a few others come to share. There was heartfelt upbeat singing by many of the men and we joined in by clapping. How I wish I knew the words. Singing and sharing by our team. An invitation to pray and accept Christ and a response by over 15 men. I sang when I knew the words but what else did I have to offer other than the gift of presence? These men are not forgotten, even in the rain and mud we have come. My only gift was to be willing to look at these men not as group rather be willing to look into their faces, their eyes and acknowledge them as individuals with stories which have brought them to Erute. Erute we have been told has a new warden/officer who truly cares for the men in the prison. She has brought better conditions (decent clothing and food). They still wait, as they have been charged but it can take over a year to see a judge yet she serves them where and how she can. I pray that they sense they are not forgotten and there continues to be outreach by the church.

There are no pictures of the harrowing drive in the rain and mud to Christopher and Joyce’s home. A yellow van sliding down the Children’s Village driveway and getting lost in the streets of Lira to slide precariously into a ditch yet recovered back to the road by a trusty driver. Walking to the home knowing my shoes will need an inch of mud scrubbed off. Christopher oversees the Village Partnership Program (VPP) caring for (through sponsorship funds) over 200 children. When I was a Dept. of Mental Health case manager for kids and my caseload inched over 23 it was a bit more challenging. Christopher is stretched thin as he does home visits and checks in about food, living conditions, family situations, etc. for the 200 VPP kids. He opened his home to us providing a meal and the entertainment of “Evan Almighty” and his 1 1/2 year old twins. We arrived to a lantern burning and headlamps providing additional light. This is Uganda, unreliable electricity even if your home has it. Eventually the electricity came on. Christopher also opens his home, and his wallet by funding education for 2 other children that are not part of the COTN program. I am struck by the generosity and hospitality of the Ugandans and recognize it is something I admire and can learn from. Nearly everyone is caring for someone who is not an immediate family member and helps fund education in some way. I pray it’s truly a lesson I take home with me and consider what it mean for me.

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The Hope of Rain

HOPE – the fuel of a changing nation. Saturday we took the oldest girls out to dinner at an American type Internet cafe. They had the opportunity to try foods they had never had (banana pancakes, cinnamon rolls, eggs and toast, and pizza) among some more known drinks and foods. (Pizza was not a winner with these teenagers!)

We asked them questions about themselves and the future. “I want to be a doctor.” “If I fail to be a doctor I want to open up a home for many children.” “I want to be a lawyer to stop corruption in Uganda.” “If I fail to be pilot I want to help those who are needy.” We talked about their careers and dreams and how they might be intertwined. There was hope in the room. These young women have have a safe and loving place to live, are being educated, and believe that God has a purpose for their lives.

I wasn’t sure what to expect as I came to Northern Uganda. The civil war is not that far in the past, and many of the older children at COTN have vivid memories of violence yet there is hope in how their lives will unfold. The joy they have as they dance, play, cook, and even as they sing worship songs as they mop and clean is not contaminated with worry and stress for the future. They truly believe in, and hope for futures, that continue without war or hunger. They believe that God is with them and will continue to be with them

The rain here in Uganda brings with it many things, hard work, dirt, mud, getting clothes off the line, challenges with driving, and again dirt and mud. Yet rain also bring growing crops, food, outdoor washing and showers. I asked some kids at the Children’s Village to draw themselves in the rain. I love the following picture.

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He drew it of his sister. Yes there are clouds but she is holding an umbrella. She is not deterred, saddened or immobilized by the rain. The colors he chose, blue and yellow are joyful and hopeful. I love the bright colors. His sister has a big smile on her face. It is a picture of how this young man, the future of Uganda has HOPE. My desire and prayer is as children’s physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs are met that hope continues to rain down.

Sound and Sights

I wake up each school day to the sound of washing at 5am. I’ve never quite sure what is being washed as I lay in bed. I assume it clothes being washed but it seems too early. As the day progresses more washing is heard and the roosters start. Pots bang, birds chirp, and sweeping and mopping are in full swing. It’s now 6am and some mornings I even feel cool here in Africa as I lay in bed surrounded by a blue mosquito net. The sweeping continues and I can hear the water being pumped from the well. The voices of children begin to get louder. A girl sings a worship song as she moves about her morning chores.

Sweeping inside and outside, the floors and the hard packed dirt around each home. Sweeping the road. Washing of floors by hand with towels immediately red with dirt. Floors drying nearly as soon as they have been washed. Red brown dirt at every turn. Always sweeping and the sound of the well, pumping, pumping, pumping. Always children heard at school and here in the village.

A cow mooing. Water being used again, washing, is it clothes, a floor? Always washing. More roosters, chickens and then the bleat of goats, baby goats. Goats galore leaping and playing and seeking their mothers out. I look up and there is a lost goat in my room. Are you here for me or can you catch the rats living in my room which I hear at night? Outside bunnies hopping across the path. Wait now it’s turkeys strolling through the middle of the Children’s Village.

Digging, banging – construction being done for more houses. Children – you can hear them in the school and then clammering for lunch. Laughing, playing games, sitting together under the tree. The smell of fires burning to make food all day long. It’s the end of the day – a school assembly under the tree. A sea of pink uniforms.

School is out and a stream of children in pink uniforms stream home and back to the Children’s Village. Bees buzzing, birds chirping, metal doors and cabinets clanging, blue with color and long in endurance. Boys doing their laundry together, girls as well. Laughter and raised tones from the older children for the younger to behave and act maturely. The clotheslines full of color at every moment. Then I smell charcoal for ironing clothes and newly washed sheets.

Children are sorting beans, finding the rocks, picking out shells. Herbs being dried and nuts being roasted. Children washing clothes, cooking posha and beans, eating with their hands. Football being played, bikes ridden, homework remembered and completed by solar lighting. Singing, a dance practice, washing, bathing, and laughing.

I look hard enough and I see a lizard on the wall in the girls room. Don’t step on the toad as you catch white ants to eat later. It’s a game and our arms hurt from helping children catch them, like money falling from the sky. They’re better than bubbles, grab them and enjoy them later.

Singing, dancing, laughing, playing cards, water pumping, washing, homework and the night begins to wind down.

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Swarming and Snacking

Sunday night at the Children’s Village is quite low key. The kids sometimes watch a movie when they hook up the generator. So on Sunday when a movie was playing suddenly there were swarms of White Ants (also known as termites) around the outside lights. The solution I thought would be to shut the lights off and let the white ants fly away, however the kids solution is quite different. They were elated at the swarming. Out the younger children came with pans and they started to catch them. Soon the other consultants and myself joined in to help. So we swatted down and caught white ants by the hundreds. I would be glad when they landed on me as it was easier to add them to the pots. White Ants are, well, quite stupid. We put them in the pots without any lids and they didn’t fly away. I jumped on the counter in our house to get the ants closest to the overhead light. A young girl gave me a piece of clothing to swat them down and they anticipated each one that fell to the ground to add to the bounty. More and more were put in the pots until our arms were tired.

The kids put the pots away for the following day. After school on Monday they prepared their snack – they sorted the ants and began to cook them over the coals. The young girls had a pot and so did the young boys. They stirred and cooked until they were a bit crispy. Then we snacked on them. A unique snack that after eating I could still smile about.

Yes we have after school snacks here at the Children’s Village, just not warm cookies and milk.

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A Walk in the Bush

Saturday – a more relaxed day and chores do not start at 5am or even 6am. In he afternoon the interns and the other consultants went to visit some of the kids who now study at a nearby boarding school. As I haven’t previously met these former full care kids I decided to continue to my sewing project and go for a walk. I asked many of the younger (elementary school) kids if they wanted to go with me. My plan was to go on my usual 2 mile walk in the Neighborhood. Oscar however had another idea and we decided to take a path going back to the school another way. The shortcut through the bush weaved among many yards, around mud huts with grass roofs, and the kids ducked under laundry to continue on the path. We were pointed the way to cross over the stream. As with any good trek there must be an obstacle to make the adventure complete.

We came to the stream, or more of a muddy ditch and the the choice needed to be made about crossing. Oscar ran and jumped it with ease. The girls walked to the edge and considered it. I asked if they wanted to walk back to the road, a wavering yes by one or two by the girls, and then another boy jumped. It was time for me to make the leap and lead the way. A run and jump and one of my feet landing squarely in the mud to my ankle Laugher all around. More jumping and a hand lent to help dear little Beatrice and we were all over. The children laughed and the walk continued as my toes squished with each step in the mud and water soaked sneaker. Finally as we all reached the school building I asked them to wait.

A line up, each inching forward to get an edge. Ready, Set, Go! We raced the final 200 feet home as the rainstorm began. A perfect Saturday adventure in Uganda.

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You’re all Fat

Saturday I was sitting with a group of girls. I was helping one sew a skirt by hand. She is about 8 and we were putting a simple stitch in to make a seam (thanks Mom). If I didn’t look at them, rather focused on the sewing, they kept touching my skin and each freckle. If I happened to look up they would suddenly realized I knew they were studying me and possibly could feel them touching me. I let them stare at my skin and run their hands over my white arms as I sewed. Then they informed me “you’re fat.” Thankfully I had already had a conversation with Jimmy one of the fantastic National COTN staff. He had informed me that it’s a complement in Uganda to be called fat. To be be fat means that you look good, healthy, nice, etc.

Without a doubt I’m sure you all look wonderfully fat today.

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With Joy from Uganda

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Pictures from Uganda

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Girls Group – Uganda

Though I’ve been working on the Child Profiles that were a primary task of my trip I’ve also been connecting with many of the girls. They are full of life and joy and range from ages about 5 to 17. As students get older and pass their exams the cultural norm is to head off to a boarding secondary school, which COTN continues to sponsor for the children. This week national staff will go to visiting day for some of the boarding students. They are preparing special food to take to them.

As I prayed it became clear that running some girls groups/meetings could work out really well. So Tuesday night we prepped the P4,P5,and P6 girls. They are adolescents (late middle school – early high school girls). We decided on the topics to discuss and the idea of talking about boys was met with giggles. They also want to talk about feeling very sad or angry, the future, and we plan to lead them in some exercises to help them talk about their God-given strengths and abilities.

Yesterday Chelsea, who is an Intern/Consultant, and myself headed in to meet with 11 girls. We were armed with some activities, and candy. Our first meeting went well and we plan to meet with them again Friday and a couple of times a week during our time here. Though there was sadness when they talked about losing parents there was also joy as they talked about dreams. In this group of girls there are many many who want to be accountants, nurses and doctors. They want to learn to drive, fly to America, and to have many children they open their home up to. They are hardworking girls, fully of life and hope.

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My Ugandan Neighborhood

My new neighborhood, a Ugandan village. I wake up on Monday morning ready to work. It is rural Uganda however and it takes a while for the daily chores and tasks to be completed. The children in the COTN Children’s Village start getting up at 5:30 and 6am. There is water to be pumped, food that must be prepared, clothes to be washed, floors to be swept, beds to be made, and most importantly a time to have for prayer and devotion. I woke to Kumbya being song at 6:30am one morning and other mornings the children and staff sing songs to God as they work. But if music and pots clanging don’t wake me up the roosters are like the back up alarm clock.

I have started working on the child profiles and getting just a glimpse of the children’s stories. Parents who have died to HIV/AIDS, grandparents who have been unable to care for their grandchildren, parents lost to the Barlonyo massacre (the word alone is difficult to write), parents who have committed suicide, or some who have abandoned their children. I need much more information from the teachers, Mamas, counseling staff, sponsorship coordinator, and interviews with the children themselves yet I feel that I have a plan that will hopefully get much accomplished. After connecting with many of the adolescent girls I’ve decided to run some counseling groups with Chelsea, an intern who is in school for a master’s in counseling. She is excited and we have some fun activities planned with the girls for the next couple of weeks. The girls also seem very positive about the idea of meeting together.

The past few days I have woken up early to take a brisk walk. It’s not a common sight here in Uganda, they don’t walk for exercise rather they conserve their energy and walk with purpose as so much of their day involves physical labor of some sort. (It’s quite possible all the pumping of water I’m doing must work some muscles that would rival any gym workout) As I head out just before 7am the sun is rising children are starting to arrive to school. The song that is playing on my headphones is God of Brilliant Lights by Aaron Shust. As I walk around the school the children are shy and try not to stare at the white person exercising, however the do. If they are more bold they practice their English and wish me a “Good Morning.” As I walk down the road past one of the local wells I exchange greetings with children, mothers, and men and women on bikes and motorcycles. This afternoon I also went out for a brisk walk which turned into a run as Guito, a village child who attends the school, grabbed my hand. He would not let me slow to a walk rather we ran to his home. Thankfully it was only about 1/4 mile away. It was a mud hut with a straw roof. He entered it to grab a stool and have me rest (clearly I looked like I needed it). I offer thanks for the rest and get up continuing my walk. I’m greeted by name by a woman from the church who is riding her Borda (motorcycle) down the road. Then a number of primary school boys begin following me, clearly talking about the white (Muno) person walking, and from the shadows I can tell they are attempting to imitate how I walk. At one point I turned around abruptly startling them and we all break out in laughter. They are like any other elementary school boys full of curiosity and mischief.

I look forward to more days to see and talk with my new neighbors. As the brilliance of God’s light is shining here in Uganda, breaking through the darkness, may it also be as brilliant in your life as well.