Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Home from Uganda

In early 2010, I began planning for a mission trip to Uganda with my friend of 35 years, Carolyn Griebe. This mission was Carolyn’s 3rd since her husband Marty died in 2006. I noticed Carolyn’s joy and enthusiasm when she spoke about Hope 4 Kids International and her trips to Uganda. She contributed part of Marty’s life insurance money to build the 1st indoor kitchen for Smile Africa—an orphanage and school that feeds more than 400 Karamonjung children each day. (The Karamonjung tribe is a disdained group known for cattle rustling and many are nomadic.)

My daughter Kelley and I  left San Diego in late June. We met several “team members” in Amsterdam and the remainder were waiting in Tororo, Uganda for us to arrive.

My first impression of the team was that it consisted of mixed ages—some in their early teens and others in their late 60’s. Some had been to Uganda multiple times and others like me were newbie’s. We were of mixed races and descents and we traveled together in an old Toyota bus (the only air conditioning was an open window). We ate our breakfast and dinner meals together. While some team members who had been there before worked on specific projects, some were there to help and observe in any way they could.

Every morning after breakfast we met for family time. Here we talked about our impression and experience of the prior day and learned about the opportunities for the present day. Tom Eggum, president and founder of Hope 4 Kids has organized mission trips for nearly 40 years and he is as down to earth and committed as any individual I have ever met. His sister Rachel Eggum Cinader and her husband Robert have dedicated their lives to the Ugandan’ people by starting Hope 4 Women, a division that helps empower women to become self-sufficient with businesses of their own and raise their dignity through tea parties, day spas and celebrating women.

I immediately learned that Hope 4 Kids International strives to restore the dignity stripped away from innocent children and families that are suffering through extreme poverty and disease. They are committed to providing access to clean water in every community they serve along with providing relief to poverty-stricken villages caught up in the global AIDS crisis by building hospitals, medical and dental clinics and establishing emergency medical funds. Their strategies are designed to help these villagers become self-sufficient through these life-saving programs. They do so by providing help, dignity, joy and love.

Although the group is faith based and we started each day with prayer, I was drawn at the very beginning by the words in Mathew 25:34-36 when Christ is talking to his disciples. He says “…Come, you who are blessed by my Father: take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me…”. We did each one of these things during the 2 weeks we were there.

Of the four principals that guide Hope 4 Kids, the first is to provide help (health). H4K is not a big bureaucratic government aid program. It is a group of individuals who have consciously decided to help others less fortunate and in our case aid Africans in Uganda about the basic fundamentals of living. Over 52% of infants under age 5 die from preventable diseases—malaria, dysentery and measles. Other children succumb to water borne illnesses. Individuals and churches have provided funds to dig over 65 wells to make clean water accessible to villages in Uganda. While we were there, we participated in dedicating 3 new wells. Building community latrines away from water sources seems fundamental to us, but new to many villages. Supporting a village by establishing “Victory Gardens”, fish hatcheries, chicken egg laying co-ops helps a village become self sustaining and able to barter for other fundamentals.

Another way to help is by sponsoring a child or woman. Although education is compulsory, only 25% of children go to school. I met my sponsored daughter Esther at her village in Juba. Esther is a 9 year old girl in P4. She is a child of God with a smile showing beautiful white teeth. The day we met she received her first goat. The goat will help her family’s financial position and the sponsorship will help her stay in school and obtain her education. I also sponsored a woman-- Miriam. As a widow with AIDS and the funds I committed for a year will teach her a business skill (making jewelry, sewing, etc.) and allow her to support her family again.

The second principal is Dignity. Our team took over 1500 pillow case dresses and that only made a dent in the number of little girls who need a dress. Watching a little girl cover up the rags she was wearing with a new, clean pillow case dress was so gratifying. Many of these innocent baby girls bowed, smiled and covered their eyes as they cried with joy when they received this gift from the Muzungu (white person).

Another way of providing dignity was to have tea parties, spa days and makeovers with the women in the villages. Many of these women work in the fields hoeing, weeding, watering and tending to their multiple children. They carry water back and forth from the nearest water source, sometimes 5K or more one way. We would arrive in their village for a dedication and set up chairs with a plastic bucket partially filled with water. After punch and cookies, we would polish their fingernails, apply lipstick, wash their crusty feet, apply oil and finish with a foot vibrator. We gave them a small container of beans or rice and a new hoe. For one short afternoon, these women felt special and joyously sang, chanted and thanked their white sisters and brothers in Christ for the special honor they felt.

The last two principals are Joy and Love. Years ago I remember my Dad telling me that during the depression they were so poor that his mother put cardboard in his worn shoes. They didn’t know they were poor because everyone was the same and they had a special joy that came from existing each day. The Ugandan’s know this special joy and love. Little did I realize that they gave me more Joy and Love than I could ever give them. My heart and tears flowed over while I was there. With the gentle touch of a poor child’s hand, a woman who hugged so hard she squeezed the breath out of me, I am reminded these people had blessed me—not the other way around.

Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians: 2:10, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

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