This was my first time to the Gateway Youth Ranch. The home for the boys used to be a rented building in a part of Kampala called Mengo, which, despite being close to the city, had a soccer field for the boys to play on. In the 4 years since my last visit to Uganda, the boys home had been moved to a new building a couple of hours out of the city. This location of the home gets the boys away from the vices in the city and allows them plenty of space to run free. I couldn’t stop myself from crying when I first arrived at the Gateway Youth Ranch in Nakasongola. The happiness bubbled over as I sat with the kids, watching the performance. We were celebrating the completion of a new dining hall, and Caleb decided it would be great to bring the kids from Matugga together with the kids from Gateway. Seeing all of our children together was moving. To see how many children we support and to know that these children would be otherwise homeless inspires me to continue to contribute however I can. This is a mission that I can support with my whole heart.
We walked into the celebration with the sound of applause. This was uncomfortable because of the racial dynamics, particularly my desire to not be seen as “white saviors”. However it was meant to be a way of honoring us, so even though it was slightly uncomfortable, the sentiment was kind. We sat on one side of the dining hall while the community members sat in a section further away. Across the performance aisle was a section with all our kids. The group performing was lead in part by David, who was one of the kids that came through the Amahoro homes. He is now a skilled performer.
After the first performance, I asked Caleb if I could sit across the way and chance the hierarchy of our sitting arrangement. A cultural performance group performed songs and dance in distinct cultural customs, while the children in the homes also got a chance to perform. Grace read a poem, played a drum, and even graduated from sewing school. I was able to give the announcement for the sewing school that everyone who graduated was getting a sewing machine. Once this statement was translated into Luganda, a celebration broke out with a number of the women jumping up and down and calling out with joy and excitement.
A young man who I had found through the Africa Yoga Project came to the Youth Gateway Ranch to do yoga with the community. He went by three names: Mukisa, Jackson, and Scott. His friends called him Scott so I tried to follow suit. Though he arrived early in the day he had to wait until the very end to give his yoga class.
The vision of the Africa Yoga Project is to make yoga more accessible to communities throughout east Africa. They provide scholarships to train teachers in the area and then require these teacher to continue to teach free classes in the community every week. The Africa Yoga Project pays them a small stipend for every free class they teach. Mukisa told me that he likes to teach classes in the slums because he grew up in an environment like that and wanted to give back to these kids. His personal mission was to empower youth through movement and mindfulness and to make these services accessible to anyone.
The yoga class started with inviting everyone into a circle and doing a song and dance to get everyone on the same page. Then Mukisa transitioned into teaching standing poses while I buzzed around the circle offering supportive assists. Before Mukisa/Scott started teaching I made it clear that I wanted him to be in charge and I wanted to support him as best as I could. I loved all of the assists where I could hold someone’s hand. It was wonderful to see their faces light up as I affirmed that they were doing a wonderful job.
At the end of the day Mukisa offered to continue coming back to the Girls Home in Matugga and to continue to teach free dance or yoga classes to that community. Mukisa used to be dance performer and knew a number of people on the performance team at the celebration as well. He appeared to be keen on supporting the community on a regular basis.
The party ended down with hours of dancing. Betinah was my patient teacher and wanted to work with me as I learned a variety of dances to the Ugandan top 40. Eventually I had to step away as Gladys wanted to be held and I saw there was a lot of trash to be picked up. I taught young Gladys the importance of picking up plastic bottles and she cradled up to four in her tiny arms as I carried her to the trash can made of recycled bottles.