Blog

Days for Girls -Lorie

She arrives wearing a bright orange T-shirt and carrying an overstuffed brightly colored backpack. Both the members of ACCT and the children from Matugga are curious to see what is inside this backpack. We take our seats in a circle around her filling more than 24 chairs. She introduces herself and starts the presentation with a question. What is hygiene? She asks. We look around the circle at each other waiting for someone to give her an answer. One of the girls speaks up somewhat timidly and the presenter brightly encourages her with her answer. She expands on the concept of hygiene and the lecture continues in a question and answer fashion actively listening audience participation. We cover topics including feminine hygiene, puberty and body changes for both boys and girls. She presents these body changes in a very positive fashion and makes us all feel good about our own bodies. With clear and concise visuals, we talk about the menstrual cycle in detail. We also discussed how babies are made. Next, she talks about personal safety and encourages the young women to pay attention to their surroundings and to speak out if something bad happens to them. We take a short break to stand up and move around and realize that half the day has past already.

When we resume our session, she opens the backpack and begins to pass around pieces of red and blue flannel. Next, she passes around chalk and then needles and thread. We are going to sew our own feminine hygiene kits by hand. I am a little bit surprised to see that all the girls know how to thread their own needle and tie a knot and can start sewing. I quickly do the same however unfortunately I was not listening closely to the instructions and I have to take out part of my sewing. The girls around me look at me somewhat sympathetically and continue with their sewing. We make the pads first and then we talk about the shield and the special plastic that is included with it. Finally, we sew a drawstring bag. It has been a long day of lecture and instruction but the session was also very informative and effective. I’m pleased that the girls have learned so much and the instructor has been so thorough in her presentation.

We had a presentation like this for the young women at Matugga and the young women at Buwala. We look forward to more sessions which will include soap making and also a presentation for the boys.

Days for Girls has started a program in which they send an instructor out to the local communities to teach how to make the kits and also marketing. This will be a wonderful thing for the young people in our homes to learn.

IMG_5644

July 9th – Bob Nickel

Day 7 was another very full day. We got an early start from the African Hospitality Institute (AHI) and drove a few minutes down the road to the Gateway Youth Ranch.  We did hepatitis B vaccinations with the kids and then we did a medical clinic.  It lasted longer than expected and I was reminded about a lesson from medical school: common things occur commonly.

We got a late start to the community clinic which worked out just fine as the church service was just concluding.  We set up the clinic in the churchyard under the trees as we did last year, and the villagers brought out benches from the church.  The community clinic also lasted much much longer than expected.  We worked through lunch and ended just after 6 PM.  We estimated we evaluated about 250 adults and children.  I personally had the pleasure of examining 46 kids and 3 of their mothers.  I ended with a couple of challenging children, an 18-month-old with Down syndrome and a 12-month-old with severe spastic quadriplegia who had opisthotonus and bilateral cortical thumbs (signs of marked brain damage).  He was markedly malnourished and was unable to breast feed adequately. Although I made referrals for both children, their problems illustrated the limits of what we can do in our clinics and the limits of resources for children with developmental disabilities in rural areas of Uganda.

After the community clinic, some of our group headed back to the ranch to take pictures of the boys, and Ginger and I headed back to AHI so I could visit the clinic there and talk with nurse Florence.  I was escorted to the clinic by Maggie, Director of AHI.  She was somewhat pessimistic about that clinic being a resource for the youth ranch due to the limitations of its budget and limited medications on site.  The clinic is open 24/7 and has a staff of 2 nurses. Their salaries are paid by the Africa Children’s Mission.  After talking with Florence, there did appear to be the possibility of collaborating with the clinic.  Florence has been trained in dental care by a US dentist and is able to do dental extractions.  Maggie agreed dental services there were very good.  Only the children of AHI students receive free care at the clinic.  Others are charged for procedures such as dental extractions and for medications.  So there appears to be the possibility of ACCT collaborating with the clinic by providing the limited financial support needed for the clinic to provide dental care including extractions when necessary for the boys at the Gateway ranch.

IMG_5540     IMG_5541

At the end of the day, we all gathered for a late dinner at AHI at about 8 PM, said goodbye and thanked Maggie, and then headed to our rooms.  We had to be up early the next day as an international student group of 37 was scheduled to arrive at AHI that morning.

New Friends – Chris and Austin

This is an exciting time for the Amahoro Children and Community Team (ACCT) because our programs are growing, the services we provide are improving, and our circle of friends and partners is expanding. Each trip has its breakthroughs, and one of our breakthroughs this trip was connecting with people in Uganda who have expertise in areas that we have been working on. The idea is to find a person or an organization in Uganda that can continue working on certain projects, even when the ACCT team is back in the US. This continues the process of improving the lives of the children and adults we work with, and breaking poverty. We would like everything to continue even in our absence.

One organization we connected with on this trip was Days for Girls in Kampala, Uganda. Days for Girls focuses on feminine hygiene and reproductive health education. We have been working with Days for Girls in the United States to bring feminine hygiene kits to Uganda for the past four years. However, a few years ago, Days for Girls opened an office in Kampala and we were interested to see what we could do together. We met with them and had them come to each of our children’s homes to teach the girls about feminine hygiene, and to teach them how to sew the kits. The instructors did a wonderful job and the information was very valuable to the young women at the homes.

IMG_5371IMG_5372

 

 

 

 

 

 

We also connected with The Youth and Community Health Counseling Initiative (YCHCI) a community-based organization that focuses on health education and providing HIV testing and counseling. Josephine and Livingstone from YCHCI came to all three of our clinics and did HIV testing and counseling. They have the appropriate confirmatory tests, referrals material and counseling materials. At the three medical clinics, they found an HIV prevalence of approximately 1-2%. This is the same as what we have found at our clinics in previous years. However, they told us about an HIV testing outreach that they had just conducted on the islands in Lake Victoria near the town of Iganga, where they found the HIV prevalence rate to be approximately 70%. It seems that Uganda’s HIV prevalence is not evenly distribute among all communities, but is instead focus particularly in certain communities, for example certain fishing communities on Lake Victoria.

DSC_6687

Another group we worked with was The AIDS Support Organization (TASO). TASO is an NGO for HIV/AIDS education, counseling and treatment. Along with medically focused programs, TASO also does communities outreaches where they focus on educating communities about HIV/AIDS. These community outreaches are often lead by the TASO Music and Drama group, which is made up of people living with HIV/AIDS who want to do their part to stop the epidemic. They presented a few songs containing stories and information about HIV, as well as a testimony from one of the group members about how she became infected, and how she is taking her ARVs and making the most of her life now, and they also presented an educational and entertaining skit. The children and community members at Matugga were very engaged in the presentation, and they seemed to be learning a lot from it.

DSC_6295DSC_6305

We also met with William the head of Heifer International in Uganda. They have many wonderful projects in Uganda and we hope to partner with them in the future to strengthen our agricultural and sustainability programs, and to help teach the children animal husbandry skills.

We have started making a connection with Peace Corp Uganda. We are exploring the possibility of having a Peace Corps volunteer who would teach at the Amahoro school and could provide some guidance and advice for the school.

By coincidence we also met Dr. Franklin. He is a Ugandan trained physician and has a business called Medical Missions Uganda. This organization provides free health care to the vulnerable communities in Uganda through monthly medical camps and community clinics. They also work with international medical teams to hold medical clinics in the field in Uganda. Franklin believes it is important for us to get temporary medical licenses, and he is probably right. Medical missions Uganda can also help us get the medical supplies in country and they can help us set up tents that will work as our exam rooms during our medical clinics in the field. We have learned so much in 5 years of medical clinics but we still have much to learn and a great deal of work to do. With like-minded friends in Uganda anything is possible.

DSC_6267

4th of July and the Slums -John

We arose early and were soon on the road to the Matugga girls home. When we arrived, we were awed by the new two story school building. The main structure is complete with only finish work needed.

The kids greeted us with “happy 4th of July” wishes, letting us know they wanted to wish the USA happy birthday.  Signs and drawings by the kids commemorated the holiday.  They were excited to show us their clean and well made up sleeping rooms. Since our last trip, a large cistern was added for fresh rain water collection. The sewing center was moved to a temporary tent structure until the school building is completed. At that point we anticipate the sewing school to be moved to a room in the new school building. Two ladies from a nearby village were teaching sewing skills along with minor machine repair. The sewing machines are new Singers but with treadle like your grandmother had.  After viewing the schools, we were guided down the road (with a child on each hand) about a mile to see the goat herd and new kids.  The day ended with hugs, goodbyes and a traffic filled drive for several of us to attend the local Rotary meeting. The meeting was fortuitous as it was the annual installation of new officers for the year and it was also attended by the local bishop.  We were introduced as the Oregon contingent and we were careful to credit Caleb as the person responsible for the ACCT group. After a brief meal, we returned to the guest home.

On the following day, July 5th, we enjoyed breakfast at the guest house and then took the bus to Kampala where we stopped by several pharmacies looking for deworming medicine for the kids in the slums. We arrived in the slums just in time to witness our feeding program— the Amahoro organization serves 3 lunches a week for around 40-60 kids of rice and cabbage. We are considering adding eggs for additional protein but the costs will double. After assisting in feeding the boys, we walked through some of the slum and the poverty was unimaginable. At the halfway house supported by Amahoro there are 10 – 20 boys sleeping in a 12′ x 12′ room. Its small and crowded, but at least it’s safe. Although the tour was uncomfortable for us, it was a necessity to understand the depth of their impoverishment.

IMG_5381IMG_5391IMG_5417IMG_5423

The Unvarnished Truth – Dennis

They were anxious for our arrival because that would mean that the all- important plastic bowl with beans and rice was one step closer to reality. These boys who had been abandoned or forced to leave their starving families somehow survived each day immersed in the filth and squalor of the Kampala slums. “Coach,” the remarkable figure who works tirelessly to provide support, hope, nourishment and an opportunity for survival, employs his strong voice and powerful personality to call the group of 40ish boys to order.  After introducing us, the strange “muzungu” visitors, Coach directs his “officers” (older boys in the group) to distribute the steaming bowls to the eager young men, who, surprisingly, waited patiently for their portion and protested loudly if someone attempted to short-cut the process.  Several boys pointed to a solitary lad in the back row who seemed to be very lethargic and confused.

IMG_4359

They wanted to make sure that he received a meal.  We are later told that he is probably among those who are suffering the side effects of their addiction to inhaled jet fumes.  The boys ate quickly and began to scramble away along the muddy eroded paths.  Several stopped to thank us and offered a fist bump sign of friendship.

Three meals per week are provided to this group by our organization.  Any other nourishment must be acquired by any available means. The reality of this unspeakable poverty leaves us in despair yet inspired to do more…something to sustain and perhaps elevate the boys in their desperate fight for survival.

Buwala -Jamie

Just like at the other children’s homes we visited, the smiles we were greeted with at the Buwala home made our hearts sing. As I exited the bus, I prepared myself for the influx of hugs, smiles, and eager hands that I knew was coming. These children and young adults were so ready to give all the love they had to anyone who would accept it. Rose and Paul were smiling broadly and beaming with pride. Immediately, I had three kids on one arm and two on the other as they giggled at our silly Muzungu clothing or shoes, or whatever is was they were mumbling in their local language.

We were seated under a canopy and each age group of children performed a piece.
Paul and Roses home is run more religiously than Matugga or the Boys Ranch, which coincides more closely with Paul, who in addition to managing the Buwala children’s home, is also a Pastor. The dances and songs they performed were beautiful, and with active encouragement from Rose, the audience was welcomed to join.

Our group appeared more comfortable when we had roles to play, and our performance of The Hokey Pokey and The Lion Sleeps Tonight helped show the kids (and the community) we are equals, and that we’re all humans.

DSC_6632DSC_6642

It’s an odd, slightly unsettling feeling, to be revered upon entrance. I hadn’t given these kids anything besides a hug and my attention and already they acted like I was of a higher standing. I asked Lauren how she felt about it later, and she shared the wise words of Caleb, our most adored leader, who said it’s okay to have power; it’s okay to accept the privilege they give you as long as you use it for good.

We held our third medical clinic at the Buwala home and we saw many patients. In addition to the clinic, one of my personal favorite parts of the day was seeing the wonderful pig enclosure they had built on the property. The pen had shade for each pig, as well as a drainage system to help promote their hygiene. While I would recommend a few things to help with the pigs’ health, they had done a brilliant job with its construction. The piglets were very cute!

DSC_6702

Caleb’s Village – Chris

There are many reasons why we are drawn to do service work in Uganda. The need is very pressing, the people are friendly, and English is an official language which is useful for our ability to serve. Among our reasons for working in Uganda, Caleb Rukundo is a key factor. To me, he is the modern-day George Mueller. Imagine if you had lived during George Mueller’s time, wouldn’t you have wanted to work with him? Every year we ask Caleb, “What can we do for you?” And every year it is something for the kids: a dinning hall, a dormitory, a kitchen and now a beautiful new school. This year Caleb said, “come see my home village”.

Caleb didn’t mean to become separated from his parents. He was 7 years old and strong and independent, but hungry. He was one of 12 children and sometimes his family didn’t have enough, so one day he went off to find food. He got lost and ended up wandered as a 7-year-old nearly 200 miles to Kampala. He was “rescued” and put to work in a boy’s home. He was given an education but had to work hours a day in hard physical labor. He became the top student and earned scholarships which made it possible for him to attend one of the best secondary schools and ultimately Makerere University.

He decided he wanted to dedicate his life to help other children that have become separated from their families, as well as orphans and other vulnerable chidlren. He has started 3 children’s homes for orphans and vulnerable children, including children that have been separated from their families. The homes aim to, “Rescue, Rehabilitate and Resettle” children. As an adult, he returned to his village and they were, and still are curious “why he does so much for others? He should be doing something for his own birth community.”

Caleb’s village is a considerable distance away from the Amahoro projects in central Uganda. It is only about 75 kilometers from the border with Rwanda. However, we decided to make the trip out so southwestern Uganda to experience Caleb’s village, meet his family, and serve in some small way in his village. We got to meet, sing and dance with the villagers. We also got to meet his mother and several of his brothers and sisters and sit with them in her house. After meeting Caleb’s family, we hiked to the top of a nearby mountain. At the village, we also attended two schools, including a school Caleb attended as a little kid.

There aren’t many day trips worth driving 4 hours there and back for. This was special and certainly worth it. Our first stop was with Paul Natuhumuriza at a school he is running. He is attempting to establish a high quality modern school in a very rural area. He looked and acted so similar to Caleb that when he asked his 100+ students, they thought Caleb was his brother. Educated in UK and somehow with a kindred spirit and farming excellence Paul was doing everything right. His school thrived, he had chickens, pigs, turkeys, bee hives and goats all doing well. Probably the best setup we have seen. The kids help take care of the animals for the school. In turn this raises money for the school to pay for the teachers, buildings and supplies.

Our next stop was to visit with Caleb’s family. On a beautiful grassy knoll his mother, sisters and brothers all have separate clean cute and airy homes. His mother was obviously proud her lost boy has returned and done well.

IMG_5686IMG_5694

When Caleb was a small boy he used to play on the mountain behind his house. He wanted us to hike to the mountain top to see the views. Caleb said that, “It would be an easy hike, and would take maybe 45 minutes”. It was exceptionally beautiful, but most of our group might differ on the easy and the duration. We hiked down the mountain to the center of his village. For many it was there first time seeing Muzungus (white people).

 

IMG_5725IMG_5729IMG_5738

We met the school children at a nursery school near Caleb’s family home. We distributed exercise books and pencils to the students and handed out 150 mosquito nets for the community and the students. We also gave medicines out for any obvious ailments. Caleb wanted to wait a year before overwhelming them with a full medical team. The community spontaneously broke out in song and dance. Caleb eyes were watery, apparently it was an old song about a boy returning home to do good for his people.

IMG_5717

A Little Boy – RaeLyn

I met a very memorable child at the medical clinic we held in Ntutti village near the Gateway Youth Ranch. He was carefully unwrapped, like a present, by his mother. Tiny, underweight, his face marked by a skin infection and his small body arched and stiff, caused by severe brain damage. Despite these challenges, he was so obviously loved. His mother was concerned about a fever, and his difficulty eating. Did she know how sick her little boy is? We provided medicine, a malaria test and a few suggestions…so little. We watched as she carefully rewrapped her beloved son, carrying him as a small bundle on her back. Our hearts breaking as she slowly walked away, we wished we could do so much more.

Presentable – Theresa

One of the things that has surprised me most is how far Africa has come! I am from the generation of charities showing pictures of starving children dying with flies buzzing around them. They were heart wrenching. Around 1970, when I was 7 years old, I remember when we were given food we would be told, “eat up as there are children starving in Africa.” Africa is beautiful and Africans are beautiful spirited people. They work so hard and never seem to complain. A common misconception is that poor people are lazy, but from what I have seen in Uganda, this is not the case. I even saw a man riding a bike and using the revolution of the wheels to sharpen knives. People also make artwork from pop can tops, and other recycled material.

Instead of wearing dirty clothes and pajamas and slippers to town, they are flawless in the way they present themselves. Women wear a lovely traditional dress called a Gomesi. It is as if to say, life may be hard, but I will put my very best effort into letting my appearance shine. The most shocking thing is they do this with little water and no washing machines. They also have to content with the rich red mud when it rains. Kampala is a dusty and sometimes muddy city, yet people keep themselves looking sharp and still take such pride in how they present themselves. We all could learn great lessons from them. I was also so pleased to see so many of the charities I have heard of actively present in the Kampala as well as the surrounding areas. It is one thing to read about these charities and the work they do, but it is nice to see their offices and their projects on the ground in places like Uganda.

DSC_4534

The Drum – Bob Irwin

“I want to be a writer”, the shy girl explained, after I asked why she was eager to return to her studies, “and I like music and dancing”. I soon discovered young Grace, who I first mistook for being maybe 14 or 15, was in reality approaching her 18th birthday, had now finished her “O” level education (the equivalent of our high school), and was hoping to soon begin her “A” level (i.e. junior college) studies. But for the moment here at the Matugga Home she was helping mentor the younger girls.

“Music?” I asked. “Really!” “And what are you doing now with music?”

“I like to sing,” she replied, “and I like to play the drum.” “I play the drum when the girls dance.” “But we don’t have a drum here, so I play on a pail turned upside down.” “We are even giving a presentation in a few days.”

Images of a young girl pounding on a bucket while other girls jumped around filled my imagination. I had no idea how wrong this image would prove to be.

Being a musician myself (a talent now long dormant), I enjoy encouraging young aspirants whenever I can. On the bus trip back to our guest house that evening I hatched a plan to give Grace the opportunity to play on a real drum by the time the day of the presentation arrived. And sure enough, the very next day, despite a series of wonderfully African changed itineraries, missed opportunities, and unforeseen delays, the lovely Peace managed to get me a fine drum, a lovely African traditional drum, with a cowhide head secured with an intricate webbing of braided cord.

It has been rare in my life to see a young person’s eyes light up as did Grace’s the moment she realized the contents of the large white feed bag I offered to her as a “gift”. “For me?” she asked incredulously. “For us?” “For me and the other girls?” Her smile became even brighter as the realization sunk in.

Grace Blog Photo

Two days later the day of the celebration arrived. And such a day it was. The children from the Matugga home and the Gateway Youth Ranch joined together for a day of festivities; speeches, singing, dancing and feasting. And to the surprise of us all, the shining star of the event was the very same Grace. The shy, quiet little flower blossomed before our eyes into a self-confident diva. First, she led the crowd in a spirited rendition of the Ugandan national anthem. A few minutes later, she launched into an original poem describing how poverty is sucking the life from Ugandan children.

The program continued with a fabulous break-dancing performance by the boys from the Amahoro Boys Home, and then it was back to our Grace, now leading a group of 10 other girls in a rousing line dance set to modern African music that she had choreographed herself and taught to the other girls. And finally, after yet another performance by the boys, came the crowning event. Grace, in yet another quick change of costume, appeared with her brand-new drum, and with a series of incredibly intricate rhythms, led her dance troupe in an obviously well-practiced routine. All we could say was “Who Knew!”

grace-blog-3.jpgGrace blog 2

I think Caleb summed it up best when he exclaimed to me later as we were discussing Grace: “I had no idea!”

I’d like to think the drum helped increase her self-confidence, but I know better. Grace would have shone even with just a bucket. It was just her time to shine. But maybe I’ll take credit for at least an extra beaming smile or two.