Thursday, January 6, 2011

Visiting More Orphan Homes

This morning, the van left for the village with most of the team at 8:30am. Sue and Charles began the morning having their meeting with the UNRA engineer regarding the Katiba curve land. It was a promising meeting and we managed to describe the terrible road condition of the short road that leads to the ACT office in the village – at this time, almost impassable. He promised to prioritize the repair of that road! Also, things look promising for the lease of the land to us.

The rest of the team went on to Muko. Ashley and Holly began their visits to orphan homes. Again, in each visit, we attempted to get more information about the orphans and their lives that led them to Muko HOPE. One story was particularly sobering to all of us. One of our orphan girls had been born to a woman whose husband had recently died. The villagers did not like this woman who was ready to deliver a child at any moment. They chased her to get her out of the village. She took shelter in a banana plantation (field) and delivered her baby girl. She was so distraught thinking the villagers were coming to kill her that she buried her infant baby girl (alive). She made a bad decision is how the Ugandans describe it. Some other women villagers saw her do this and severely beat her and the aunt of the child rescued the baby girl. She is now thriving and healthy and in the home of her aunt as her guardian. We will inform the sponsor family of who this child is upon our return.

Concurrent to Ashley and Holly visiting homes this morning, Bill worked with Alexander setting up a system for inventory of the handcrafts on the ACT laptop. When Charles and I finally arrived from Kabale, we all took Dale to the ACT gardens to work with Tito. He had really done amazing things in the gardens. He has trained the orphans in the planting and maintenance of the gardens. When it is time to harvest the crops, he distributes them to the orphans and their guardians. He is growing cucumbers, radishes, lettuce, Kale, beans, beets, etc. Most of these crops came from the H.O.P.E. Seeds project that we sent. Dale had a productive afternoon working with Tito learning more about his challenges and sharing her knowledge as a Master Gardner.

Bill, Generous, Alexander, Charles and I struck out to try to cover more of the orphan homes. We managed to get to 8 homes in the afternoon. Pretty amazing considering how far apart they live and how much we had to climb to their homes! Between all of us, we managed to visit 24 of the 59 orphan homes. It is hard to describe how difficult it is to reach where they live. One example, a young girl (about 14) brought her brother, a Muko HOPE orphan to the orphan distribution on Tuesday. They live in the parish of Kaara which is a three hour walk to get to the ACT office! We gave them some money to buy food for their journey home. 6 hours of walking to and from the office to receive their sponsor gift and the dental assessment. These Ugandans are so resilient. At the same time they praise God for their blessings. What a witness to all of us.

We met back at the ACT office and packed up all the baskets we had purchased the day before to bring back to the US. Alexander came to Kabale with us so that we could purchase a bicycle for him. He was denied his permit for riding the motorcycle due to his having lost an eye in a childhood accident with a stick. He had already paid all his fees and simply lost them. He is incredibly dedicated and hard-working and since he could not ride the motorcycle, we decide to get him transportation like we did for each of the volunteers in the 7 parishes. Sue and Christopher and Alexander went at dusk to purchase a bicycle. It was an adventure but we managed to get him a good mountain bike. He was thrilled! It is strapped to the top of the van and we will take Alexander and the bike back with us tomorrow morning to visit the ACT office for the last time.

We will leave Muko for Queen Elizabeth Park to spend half a day seeing lions, giraffes, etc. in a very different part of Uganda. From there we will leave on Saturday at noon to travel back to Kampala arriving very late. Sunday is our last day devoted to purchasing more fabric, packing everything up to leave and hopefully visiting Father Bruno at Milagro Hospital in Kampala. He is apparently admitted with some neck problems. We will hopefully be able to visit and pray with him before leaving for the Entebbe airport for our long journey home.

We miss you all and are anxious to be home. At the same time, we talked at dinner tonight about our sadness of having to say good bye to such a loving, welcoming people.

Taking Electricity for Granted…

I missed sending you posts for two days due to a power outage in Kabale. Let me try to catch up. Wednesday we accomplished many, many things. The van with Christopher, our driver, left Kabale at 8am with most of the team. Sue and Charles stayed in Kabale for an 8:30am meeting with the Engineer from the UNRA (Uganda National Road Authority) who, as it turns out, was sick and cancelled. We purchased a generator for the ACT instead. It became apparent that with the laptop, video camera, digital camera, printer (which we brought this time) and cell phones, it made no sense not to replace the broken generator so that this equipment might be fully utilized when needed.

The team arrived in the village and with great organizational skills separated the Muko Empowerment Program Women into three groups: one listening to Dale give a demonstration on accurate sewing techniques for making the sewn handcrafts. Holly spent time with them at another station, practicing cutting the cloth into the appropriate size squares with the cutting boards and instruments we brought last March The on to Bill (SIFE) who talked with the women about how the project was going over all. It was well-organized and flowed fairly smoothly. Many of the women brought baskets and beaded jewelry they had made and we purchased many baskets from them to bring back for sale in the US. I was amazed at how much better their skills were and the quality of the baskets. From the training we provided them 6 months ago, they had learned to make their own natural dyes from materials they found in the area. The baskets are gorgeous with beautiful natural colors.

At the same time that the MEP women were working with Dale, Bill and Holly, Ashley struck out with Alex, our Operations Manager, to begin visiting some orphan homes. Alex had arranged for us to visit 35 homes which turned out to be a near impossibility due to the road conditions and the distance the orphans live from the roads and office. They were able to visit 6 homes that afternoon. There are video tapes capturing the orphans and their homes and families we will be bringing back to the Sponsors.

I finished assessing the ACT office for the purchase and improvements of it. I spent time with Richard exploring the possibilities for the site and we have drawings and measurements to bring back to the ACT Facilities Team to begin working.

In the afternoon, we all piled into the van and Charle’s car to drive to Juna Amagara and see their school. For those of you who have been here last March, it is way past Habuhinga Hill and was quite a journey on the roads! Ben, their Director, is truly a vision-inspired person. He has built a campus of a senior high school on property he personally purchased that is about at a 45 degree angle. The building continues to climb and climb up the mountain. He gave us the grand tour.

We left there to “just pass by Habuhinga Hill”, one of the properties we are interested in for possible agricultural projects. As it turned out, we climbed up Habuhinga Hill on foot and met the “bataka”, the neighbors and many others. They had met with Charles Tuhaise the day before and negotiated letting us use the land instead of their using it for grazing. The land belongs to the government. The government had instructed us to get their permission first. They were ready to sign their papers when we arrived. Charles had a few forms but not the right ones. So, this will take place at a later time.

Following this, we moved onto Rev. Julius Kyarikunda’s house and the Ikamiro Church of Uganda (Anglican) and the clinic that has been entirely funded by St. John’s Episcopal. In 2008 when the team installed the solar power in the newly built clinic there were cheers of excitement. This time we all cheered to see the running water in the clinic with at least one sink in each room of the clinic. We also learned that the solar-powered vaccine refrigerator we installed in 2008 was still working great. In fact, the government health facilities nearby had lost power several times and they stored their vaccines at our clinic!

After visiting the clinic, we climbed a fair distance to see Sharon Kaata’s home and gardens. Sharon is an ACT-Muko Board member and grows, apples (a relatively new crop in Uganda), avocados, and mushrooms! It was a delight to see.

ACT is already widely recognized all throughout Muko Sub County now. Everyone we pass acknowledges us and what we are doing. That is important. We continue to build a name for the organization including with the government officials in Kabale.

We arrived in Kabale very late once again – around 10pm – for a late dinner and to bed at midnight.

We are blessed by God’s grace and guidance. Everything we are trying to accomplish somehow manages to get completed in a place that takes 10 times as long to do anything! We thank God for that.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Wow, What a Day! Part 2 (due to power outage)

Before all the orphans arrived, we managed to measure the ACT office building in preparation of purchasing it and improving it. We took pictures of the room and I sketched the back lot and showed the incline and what we will have to deal with to improve it. The very dedicated ACT volunteers arrived and we distributed their wonderful tote bags and flashlights to them as gifts. They were very happy and the leader shared they plan to be dedicated to our mission into the future.

Holly and Bill conducted a focus group of about 10 of the village men to determine if and how they might be engaged in Muko Empowerment Program. Many men do not have the opportunity to earn wages. We were so pleased that hey were most excited about the possibility of using some of their existing skills as well as receiving additional training from ACT in carpentry, brick making and carving. Holly and Bill did a fantastic job in leading this effort and I know were also pleased at the outcome.

Speaking of outcomes, our devotion today was so very perfect for our day. We read it aloud in the van on the way to the village and it allowed us to be relaxed and enjoy the process and not only be stressed about getting to the outcomes. Couldn’t have been a better devotion.

We had a very fun dinner at a small hotel in Kabale which turned out to be quite an adventure. We arrived at about 7:30 and finally were served at 9:30 after 3 complete power blackouts. Kabale town is without power tonight. As a matter of fact, I am writing the blog on my laptop and will upload it in the morning if there is power again. Ashley and I ordered hamburgers for fun and we waited until almost 10:00 for ours to arrive. We were all famished because we had eaten a peanut butter sandwich for lunch in the village. When they brought it to the table for Holly and I we all burst out laughing. The hamburger was the size of a White Castle burger. Most of the team had already finished eating and as soon as she set our burgers down, the power (generator) failed again and we sat in complete darkness. We laughed so hard. Couldn’t possibly be we are somewhat fatigued and “slap happy!”

Back to the dark hotel and to bed. We hope each of you are well and happy and enjoying the blog. We miss you and miss our lives at home but are once again being so loved by the Ugandans and experiencing such a grand partnership. May God bless you now and tomorrow.

By the way, it takes too long to upload pictures so we will share them when we return.

Wow, What a Day! (Tuesday)

We were so blessed today as we met with the orphans officially for the first time. They were supposed to arrive at the ACT Office by 9am but we knew better! They started arriving at about 10am and continued through noon. We were so organized for the day’s events that everything went very, very smoothly. We hired a tent yesterday to be set up in the ACT Office front yard because we have had intermittent rain most days. We created stations for the orphans to move between and had about 12 people helping manage the flow.

The first station the children came to was a “dental area” we created with Dale to perform dental assessments on each orphan’s teeth. She did a great job with a huge amount of patience. Holly stood by as her assistant, handing her gauze squares, rubber gloves, toothbrushes and floss and taking a photo of each dental assessment for each orphan that we plan to share with the Sponsors. Standing by interpreting for Dale to the orphans and guardians was Alexander, the ACT MEP Manager. At the same time, he was carefully taking notes about each child’s teeth as he listened to Dale. At the end of about 4-5 orphan assessments, Dale would stop and take that group of orphans and their guardians through a demonstration of teeth brushing and flossing as well as handing them new toothbrushes and floss. Dale decided not to bring toothpaste because she feared that when they ran out of that and had no more, they would cease to brush their teeth and brushing alone will help. All in all, there were not too many major problems in their teeth. Most of the orphans have really serious placque build up having never had their teeth cleaned and not having good dental hygiene. One orphan has a tooth abcess and there were several with fairly serious orthodontic issues. Charles volunteered to talk with his sister in Kampala who is a dental assistant to see if she could mobilize some volunteer dental assistants to come to Muko to do teeth cleaning. Dale estimated it might take an hour per orphans to get their teeth clean. All in all, the orphans were very brave. We had a few of the youngest really get upset and we decided it was not worth upsetting them to do it so they bypassed this station.

Next the kids came to the second station where we distributed their sponsor gifts and then took their pictures with their sponsors (some had come alone) and then another picture with one of team and Alex, the Operations Manager. From there we worked from a document listing which homes we were going to attempt to visit tomorrow and Thursday. We asked those orphans and guardians whose homes we will not get to, to meet with another one of our team and a Ugandan translator to do an interview and ask some of the questions that all of us, especially the sponsors, have been wanting to know. Some of those were, the condition of their home, who else lives there, is the sponsor a relative, what happened to their parents, what do they like about school, and so on. We plan to combine the dental assessment and the interview and/or the home visit and pictures with the sponsors upon our return. To be continued...

Out of Electricity and connection for 2 days

We have just gotten power back and I am trying to upload an older post from Tuesday. We have not been able to add to this blog. AND, we have been in the village each day for 12 hours each day. I am posting this short message in an effort to tell you we are just great but cannot communicate!

Stay posted....

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Worshipping Our Lord

Good morning! It is early morning on Jan 3 and this will be a day spent in Kabale at our hotel - the Cephas Inn. We will be meeting with the ACT Muko board this morning and lunch and then meet with the ACT staff this afternoon to plan our activities the rest of the week. It is important to organize events because it can be very chaotic without specific planning of who will do what.

Yesterday was our first day in Muko. It was such a wonderful greeting when we arrived. The staff was ready and waiting and some of the orphans were there to greet us as well. We got to see the new room with desks and shelves built for Tito, the Mobilization and Agriculture Officer and Alexander, the Muko Empowerment Program Manager. They are very, very excited about their space!

The team split up to attend four different churches. Dale attended Muko Martyr's church, Sue attended the Pentecostal church with Charles, Ashley and Holly attended Muko Church of Uganda (Anglican) and Bill went with Christopher, our driver, up to Ikamiro Church of Uganda. We experienced wonderful, praised-filled worship with lots of singing and drumming. I think Ashley and Holly experienced the longest service - a bit over three hours.

We met again in the Muko marketplace and had lunch with our partners in one of the Muko Martyr's classrooms. We then proceeded to two tents outside to hold the interfaith worship service again organized by ACT. We estimate there were 300 people there. God blessed us with a perfect day with sunshine and 75. Many church choirs sang and performed. The highlight for us was the drama by the Muko HOPE orphans! There were about 10 of the orphans who performed a skit. They were amazing little actors. They seem to have so much more confidence since they have been attending better schools. We videotaped the whole skit and are very eager to share that with the sponsors at the presentation.

I had prepared a sermon for the service but it went for so long that I simply prayed for the work of ACT in Muko and Michigan. We finished at 6:00pm. After some sorting of things in the office for the week, we returned to Kabale and had dinner by 8:30pm.

It is becoming very apparent that the people in Muko of different faiths are grateful for the interfaith services and the coming together by faith that has never happened in Uganda. What a good outcome of the work of ACT. The pastors/priests seem to be close companions in our work together and shared their parts in the service as well. I remember just a year ago when David Pierce was introducing them to each other and promoting coming together for God's Kingdom and our work in Muko. They are all very, very engaged on the ACT Muko board.

Our daily devotions have become an important part of our journey. I hope each of you have been blessed by the devotions as well as you go about your day. God bless you all.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A Day of Wedded Bliss

Today we awoke, loaded the van and traveled to a village about 2.5 hours from Mbarara. We stopped at a Petrol station at a crossroads to wait to meet up with Richard and Generous. The,re Sue, Holly, Dale and Ashley donned traditional Uganda gowns to wear to the ceremony! As Ugandans came and went at the Petrol station, they cheered at how beautiful and Ugandan we looked! We killed about 2 hours waiting for the groom to show up. We had been told that the introducing ceremony of the bride to the groom, the final stage of three stages of marriage, was to begin at 11:00am. The groom showed up at the station at 1:30pm and we finally left for the bride’s home some 50 km more.

We drove way into the hills in the mountainside to a home in a village much like Ikamiro. We all pulled over on very narrow muddy roads to have the wedding coordinator instruct the whole group of 35 or so guests from the groom’s side. We stood in the rain and mud as he instructed us when to walk in and when to sit and stand and so on. Then we all got in our vehicles again and drove a bit longer to the bride’s home. There we found about 7 multi-peaked tents set up! It was a huge party. The coordinator told me at the meal that he estimated there were about 500 people there! The ceremony was way cool with dancing and haggling between the families over the bride and groom – all in great fun! Us girls even participated when Generous did her part of the ceremony to go to the other side of the tent to identify the bride. We then danced/walked around the tent. It was GREAT fun. I can’t wait to share more and pictures about the event. Our team presented a gift to the bride that we bought in Mbarara. It was a thermos and some glassware. Then they asked me to say a few words to the crowd about our team and the work. Soon after we left there at about 7:30pm.

As it turns out, we were supposed to be at Lydia Komugisha’s house in another village about an hour further by 6pm for dinner! We got there at 8:45pm. She was so incredibly gracious. Lydia is one of the ACT-Muko Board members and a social worker. Can you even imagine being almost 3 hours late for dinner at someone’s home! From there we drove into Kabale and finally arrived at Cephas Inn at 10:15pm. Oh dear. So tired. It feels good to be here now where we can even unpack a bit and stay for 6 days. Tomorrow we will worship at four different churches splitting up as a team. The four churches are pastored by ACT-Muko Board Members. The villagers will prepare a lunch for us and then we start the ecumenical worship service at 2pm. This is still a very new event for the Ugandans to come together as different denominations and worship together. ACT is very proud to have promoted this as part of our work. Charles Tuhaise and I will be preaching at the service. Oh, David Pierce! Where are you when I need you!

We hope you had a relaxing and warm New Year’s Day. We are feeling a bit homesick but are rolling up our sleeves to begin the real village work tomorrow!