Recently I was asked what my ultimate goal was in traveling to Uganda, what I hoped to accomplish while I was honest. And to be honest it’s really quite simple. But before I tell you let me tell you a little about Uganda.
Uganda is home to 2.7 million orphans – more than anywhere else in the entire world. The reason there are so many isn’t entirely because they have no parents. The reason there are so many orphans is mostly due to the fact that 85% of women in Uganda are abandoned. They’re abandoned by their husbands which is “shameful” to their families. In turn this leads their families to abandon them. On top of that most businesses will not hire women with children because they are considered unreliable. There are no babysitters or childcare here and if you have no family there is nowhere to watch your kids. The result: no income. With nowhere to turn, after having been abandoned by everyone they love, the widows then abandon their children.
When the director of missions for HEAL ministries came here in 2012 she thought she was coming to start an orphanage. But during that first year she realized that it wasn’t an orphanage that Uganda needed. Uganda needed something that was going to help the abandoned women – help them find a job or start a sustainable business. She wanted to empower the women, she wanted to give them hope, she wanted to help them. So she started going into the slum and teaching a bible study twice a week under a big tree. She taught the women about Jesus Christ and his redeeming love. She listened to their troubles and shed light into their life.
Before long she opened the James Place which was founded on James 1:27 “religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after the widows and orphans in distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by this world.” Which now has developed into the most beautiful place. When you walk through the gates the first thing you will notice is all the children running around. Currently, the James Place provides free childcare to 50 children. But it’s more than just childcare. Did you know about 40% of children in Uganda are malnourished? HEAL combats that by feeding the children 2 healthy meals and snacks throughout the day. They give them a bath everyday to not only keep them clean but also HEALTHY! And if a woman has her child in childcare she has to have a full time job. On top of all that all the childcare workers are abandoned women themselves who HEAL has cared for.
If you walk to the back of the property you’ll find the women. HEAL offers both English and Business classes free of charge. English is the official language for Uganda and in order to find a good sustainable job you must be able to speak it. The Business Class teaches women how to run a successful business. The first Business Class that graduated came up with the business plan for making rugs. Rug making is another program that HEAL sponsors. HEAL provides the ladies with all the material they need and then helps them sell their rugs! Did you know 1 rug sold can pay rent for a whole month, a semester of school fees, or a month of groceries? These rugs are providing for them. They’re keeping their family together. Jewelry, pottery, sewing, and farming classes are also taught at the James Place. And Friday all they Ladies come together to have a bible study.
So now to the question, what is my ultimate goal? Really, it’s quite simple: to love and help wherever I see the need. If I’m being honest there’s not a ton I can do in just 2 months. I’m not going to change the world. These ladies have faced years of brokenness and I cant come over here and just fix everything. But fixing was never my intention or goal – which I’m thankful for because these ladies here don’t need me to fix them. They just want and need what every human desires: acceptance and love. Here, love can take on many different forms. “What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. The feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has the eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That’s what love looks like” according to St. Augustine. And ultimately that is my goal, to love as unconditionally as humanly possible.
A few of the kids waiting to come in for kids camp!
I tucked myself into bed last night and my first thought was “Gosh, I’m hungry.” Normally, if I were home right now I’d hop out of bed, waltz down to the kitchen and pick one of hundreds of snacks. It’d probably be goldfish, let’s be honest, but I might have chocolate ice cream instead depending on the mood I was in. I remembered that I had dried mangos and granola bars in my suitcase but I really just wanted some goldfish. Why didn’t I remember to pack goldfish?
Just as I was getting a little frustrated that I didn’t pack goldfish I stopped myself. Here I was a little bit hungry and I was complaining that I didn’t have goldfish. I had about 60 granola bars and 2 large bags of dried fruit but not goldfish. I wanted to slap myself upside the head and shake myself “Sarah Kate, you are in AFRICA, there are over 66 million kids who will go to bed hungry tonight and every 4 seconds a child will die from it.” It broke my heart. How could I be so selfish? And to add insult to injury I had just eaten 4 hours ago, not 12 hours or even a countless number of days.
The little boy in the red had only a large shirt to wear – nothing else. Yet he’s still happy!
Instantly I started thinking of the kids I had met earlier that day. They came rushing in the gates with tattered clothes and smiling faces. Full of energy they ran around the James Place so happy to be able to jump rope and play soccer. Later we sat them down to teach them a message and gave them a hard boiled egg and glass of water. As we passed the food and water out one of my team members leaned over and told me “for some of them this will be the only thing they put in their mouth all day.” ONE HARD BOILED EGG. That was it. All of the sudden I wasn’t hungry anymore.
I rolled over to my other side listening to the rain again. Not only did I have food but I had a roof over my head and a dry bed to sleep in – more than many people around me. I closed my eyes and counted my blessing just like I would count sheep until I fell asleep.
Lisa and I drinking coffee on the tire hill
“Cockadoodle doo!” the roosters crowed back and forth. Roosters are known for being competitive (naturally, since they’re boys) and this morning they seemed to be in the longest battle. Last night, I was fortunate enough to go to bed at 9:30. God gave me a little blessing, but I’m sure it’s because he knew the roosters would be having a crowing match of a lifetime at 6 in the morning. I rolled out of bed, thankful for my 8+ hours of sleep, and got ready for the day.
As I stepped down on the cold tile floor and grabbed my skirt, I wondered if our bags would get here today. First off, this was the last clean pair of clothes I had. secondly, today was a shopping day and I needed a place to store my Ugandan goods. Friday’s at the James Place are for bible study and selling goods. Many women come to hear God’s word and sing songs of praise. Every few weeks (it’s on a rotation), they are able to bring their jewelry to sell to the mzungus (aka white people).
The morning sun felt nice as I walked back to the crafts shed to see what jewelry there was to buy. Thoughts of my mom and my sister went through my mind; obviously, I was going to get something for them. As I walked up, I saw a blue three-string necklace and a green one that matched. If you knew me and Betsy, then you’d know that these necklaces were meant for us. I snatched them up, exchanged money with the smiling lady sitting behind her mat and carried on to see the other beautiful jewelry. About 20 minutes later, I walked out of the shed as a happy lady with a full bag of goods. I promptly pulled out my sisters necklace and wrapped it around my neck. I knew it wasn’t hers yet, but it still made me happy to know that at some point it would be.
We came down the hill to find a few ladies gathered on mats getting ready to sing a joyful song. There was a little baby who was only a week old and a little girl standing close. The baby was cute, and I wanted to play with the little one. I walked over to the cutie in a green dress and stretched out my arms to see if she wanted to come play. A little half-smile came across her face and she walked over into my arms. I picked her right up and popped her on my hip. We twirled around and she laughed and laughed, but more ladies had gathered and the singing was about to begin so we had to calm down a little bit. The music brought joy to my soul. As my new little friend and I danced around, she grabbed ahold of Betsy’s necklace and let out a contagious laugh. It brought happy tears to my eyes listening to the child laugh, the ladies sing, and the thought of Betsy. We settled down to hear the message. Today was going to be a good day.
Little Girl hold on tight to Betsy’s necklace