Thursday, October 28, 2010

[Will You] Start With One?


(I write a monthly column for my town's newspaper back home. I'm so thankful for this opportunity. I know this looks long, but I think you'll be intrigued! Thanks to Aisha and Richard for sharing their stories! Please carefully read the last few paragraphs and consider "starting with one"! So here's the article--because the above is just a screenshot, so you can't really read it.)


As is the case in any culture, the children represent a future generation who will one day lead their country. For the African country of Uganda, the alarming reality is that the children face unspeakable challenges such as extreme poverty. 10,000 of this nation’s children are “street children,” lacking a stable home and begging on the streets. To state the obvious, this street life prohibits them from receiving the tools (an education, for example) needed to one day lead their country.

You may be tempted to toss this newspaper aside right now, thinking, “I wish I could make a difference in Africa, but…” and then insert a string of excuses. But -- what? You feel you lack resources? You believe you can’t meet such an overwhelming need?

After reading this article, I hope you’ll discover that you can certainly offer hope to Uganda’s children, starting with one life.

During my nine months in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, I am volunteering with Dwelling Places (DP). DP’s founder, Rita Nkemba, recognized that Uganda’s children at-risk are the future generation and decided to take action. Formed in 2002, DP exists to change the lives of street children, abandoned babies, and families living in the slums. DP’s goal is to find a safe, loving home for each child on their program. Currently, more than 300 children are supported by Dwelling Places.

I could quote statistics about street children until I’m blue in the face, but most likely the numbers would quickly escape your mind. If you’re like me, your heart is stirred by personal stories, and you’re more likely to share a story with your friend than a quoted statistic.

When I first met 17-year-old Aisha, she was energetically singing songs on our bus-ride to the River Nile in Jinja. At first glance, she appears to be your normal, social teenager. Yet her childhood , before she was rescued by Dwelling Places, was anything but normal. At age 12, Aisha had not learned to write her own name because she never had the opportunity to attend school. Aisha grew up living on the streets, along with her siblings and mother.

“Life on the street is very difficult because you face many challenges.,” recalls Aisha. “We slept on the streets, and at night we looked for boxes to cover ourselves.” Aisha’s mother became pregnant with triplets and gave birth to them on the streets. The babies fell sick, and the mother rushed them to the hospital, but due to the unsanitary conditions on the streets, two of the babies died. Young Aisha was the one begging for money on the streets to pay her siblings’ hospital bills.

After an exhausting day of begging under the blazing African sun, she only made about $1 to $2. When she was twelve years old, Aisha found a job serving drinks in a Ugandan bar, which is not an ideal situation for a young girl. It was at this point in her life that Dwelling Places discovered Aisha and brought her off the streets.

“When I began Dwelling Places’ catch-up school, I wanted to give up, because the four-year-old kids could write their name, but I could not even at age 12. Auntie Maureen (DP staff) encouraged me, and I slowly learned!” Five years ago, Aisha could not read or write; today, she is a motivated student who is excelling in a prestigious high school.

While spending time with Aisha last week, I inquired about her dreams for the future. With bright eyes and a huge smile, she answered: “If God helps me become a doctor, I’ll be treating the poor. I also want to take care of street children. Like Mama Rita, I would build a big home to give the kids a place to be happy, like Dwelling Places did for me.”

A four-step Holistic Care model is used when moving a child from the streets into a loving home. This is a process that can take anywhere from several weeks to two years, depending on the individual. “Rescue” is the first step; DP’s social workers make connections with impoverished children on the street or in the slums. When brought onto DP’s program, the child begins step 2: “Rehabilitate.” DP brings the child to live at their Transitional Rehabilitation Center. Here, the individual learns basic daily living skills and also participates in empowerment and counseling programs. If necessary, the children are enrolled in DP’s interim school until they are caught-up with their appropriate grade, in which case they enroll in a local school. In step 3, “Reconcile,” the DP staff traces the child’s family and then strives to improve the child-to-family relationship. DP’s Family Empowerment Program encourages the family towards self-sustainability by helping them begin income-generating projects. If the child lacks a responsible relative, then the options of foster care or adoption are pursued. “Resettlement” is the ultimate goal, and even when the child is placed into a caring family, DP continues to financially support the child until the age of 18.

Richard’s life is another story of hope.

At age 20, he displays remarkable insight and maturity because of his experiences. We’ve been friends for several months, and last week I had the privilege of hearing his story while we took advantage of a mango tree’s shade on a hot day.

When Richard was just a toddler, his father threatened to kill Richard’s mother. Perhaps displaying God-given wisdom, young Richard urged his mom to flee, so the two of them fled to the slums in Kampala. They later found out that Richard’s father was indeed planning to kill his mother the next day; it was a miracle that they ran away when they did.

Growing up in the slums has been extremely difficult for Richard. He recalls that his mom walked two and a half miles each way to her job at a factory. The little money that she made went towards an education for her son. Here in Uganda, all education costs money. Richard remembers, “My mom would tell me, ‘My son. I didn’t go to school, and your brother didn’t either. Now you’re the person to make the change in our family. I’ll do the best I can to send you to school.’”

“Life was very, very hard. I grew up sleeping on a cement floor, no mattress. And we couldn’t afford for me to eat at school. So I remember coming home and crying from hunger. All mom could afford was to buy me two small donuts (10 cents each), and that was my dinner. I would eat that, and it would have to last me until the next evening.”

When he was fourteen years old, Dwelling Places did a slum-outreach near his home, which is how he became enrolled on the DP program. With DP’s help, Richard successfully completed his remaining years of schooling. Last year he graduated from high school, and although DP can no longer financially support him, Richard has aspirations of beginning and completing university.

In the meantime, Richard is currently volunteering in the Dwelling Places’ office. He is grateful for DP’s positive impact on his life and is giving back to their ministry.

My respect for Richard grew as I listened to everything he has endured throughout his life. He is currently living with his mother in the slums, so he is still fighting to completely overcome poverty. This young man recently decided to strive towards becoming a social worker in order to positively impact children at-risk, as he once was.

Richard is enthusiastic about sharing his story with all of you. He sat across from me and earnestly shared from his heart, “By choosing to help one child in Africa, you are actually helping a lot of children. Because that one child may grow up, see that there are children who are still suffering and feel they should do something.”

So let’s get practical. I want to extend a call-to-action to you, the reader.

1) Consider sponsoring a Ugandan child through Dwelling Places. Sponsorship is more than just writing a check each month. Rather, it’s a relationship with a child—an opportunity to motivate him towards positively impacting his society.

Not sure if you can financially sponsor a child alone? Consider networking. Gather a few friends, your classmates at school, or a small group from church and together you can offer hope to a child.

Choose to sponsor the child in one (or all!) of the following categories: food, housing, or medical ($25 a month for one category) or education ($30 a month).

I know finances can be tight, but you may discover a frequent indulgence that can be eliminated. For example, coffee! A medium Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks costs around $4; drink one less latte a week, and you’re well on your way to sponsoring a child!

2) DP’s founder, Rita Nkemba, will soon be traveling to America and will be in Pennsylvania in mid—late November. She’d love the opportunity to come speak to your church, small group of friends, or wherever you’d like. I’ve been privileged to work alongside of her, and I know you would enjoy her first-hand accounts of rescuing children from the streets.

Please send me an email if you want to take action on either of these opportunities.

You may not be able to single-handedly change the plight of Africa. But I’m asking you: will you start with one life?



New sponsor! [and prayer request]

Hooray for people who are willing to sacrifice and sponsor a child! I screamed out of excitement today in the office when I received a Facebook message from a friend of mine at LU. Last night she was challenged by a sermon on generosity. She remembered my blog post from a few weeks ago where I mentioned sponsoring a child. My friend shared,

"[sponsoring a child] has always been something I've wanted to do, but I have always used the excuse of 'I'm a poor college student.' So anyway, the Lord really challenged me to contact you so I could start sponsoring a child in Uganda! Let me know how to choose a child."

That completely made my day, because when God provides sponsors for our kids, it's worth all the stressful moments here in the PR office!

How can you resist these darling faces of a few of our kids?
That reminds me....20+ of our kids will be "resettled" in December! The goal of our organization is to find a safe, loving PERMANENT HOME for each child. Living at an "institution" is not the ideal for a child. Many of our kids have been at our transitional home for quite a while (even a few years), but in December most of them will be placed in foster families or resettled with their relatives (if they have loving relatives who can support them.)

Please pray for our social workers as they are working on finding families for our precious kids. And pray for the kids as they transition from their friends and comfort zone (Dwelling Places) to a NEW home. That can be incredibly challenging for young kids!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

"autumn" happenings...

Despite the fact that the weeks are FLYING by (not a good thing in my book!), October in Uganda has been awesome. However, I wish I could experience some Fall loveliness right now. Ya know--pumpkins, colorful leaves, sweaters, jeans, apple cider, crisp autumn air, pumpkin bread, fall-scented candles, the usual Fall decorations on our back porch (my mom's a decorating pro!) Autumn is my favorite season, so I'm a bit jealous every time I log onto Facebook and see 20+ statuses that contain words like "drinking a pumpkin spice latte" or "getting ready to go to the corn maze."

Next month, I'll be traveling to Kenya (Nairobi and Mombasa) with my dear roommate. I'm excited to experience (and photograph!) another African country. If any of you happen to have suggestions for lodging, please let me know...(a missionary family, hotel, etc)..we're planning the trip this week hopefully. Talk about last minute ;)

God is really working here in Kampala; I can't possibly explain everything via a blog. But here are a few random photos and thoughts on my mind...thanks, everyone, for your continued prayers for this beautiful country!

The low-point of October was saying farewell to my dear friend, Carolyn, who was another AIM missionary here. Ever since day #1 of my time in Uganda, Carolyn was here too. So it's weird adjusting to life without her...but I'm thankful for our friendship. I'm blessed to have friends here from all around the world, but there's something comforting about having a fellow American around to share specific humor with, etc. Bonding over "Nice" coconut cookies, Friendship Club, heart-to-heart talks, sharing struggles/fears/dreams, laughing until we cry...yeah I'm missing her!

There's a wonderful Ugandan family who lives in the flat below mine. Each evening when I return home from work, the young kids are outside and greet me with huge smiles and genuine hugs. Love it. They often ask: "ash-uh-lee! Tusambe omupilla!!" (let's kick the ball) I found out they are Christians, which is extra exciting. Today, the mom (Mama Trudy) came up to our flat and taught Grace and I how to make Ugandan cakes (similar to muffins.) I'll let the photos do the talking...

Catching Grace in a silly mood! We get along well ;)

I failed to buy paper muffin holders, so I had to hand-make some out of foil. Wasn't as easy as it would seem!

mmm they were delicious with a bit of Nutella on top! [thank you, HOHC, for your wonderful care package!!!]

On a completely different note, Dwelling Places' newest child is absolutely adorable. He captured my heart from the moment I saw him....a few weeks ago, we rescued him at Kampiringisa (NOT a safe, happy environment.) Let me show you a before and after photo. When we first met him, he was incredibly solemn and didn't smile for at least a week or so. (He's still VERY quiet, but cracks smiles every once and a while!) I believe he was traumatized and in shock from the conditions at Kampiringisa (he lived there for a month :/ ) It's incredible to see God refining him as he comes out of his shell and interacts more and more with the other kids!

Before [day of his rescue]: at Kampiringisa with one of our staff members. Afraid, solemn, hurt-filled eyes...
After rescue: at Dwelling Places. starting to show his lovable personality. hope-filled eyes...

Here's a photo I took yesterday which shows you what my life will be consumed with over the next few weeks: Child Sponsorship letter-writing!! We have about 150+ kids on our program who need to write letters (and Christmas cards) to their about 400 letters. whew!! I somehow landed the role of co-ordinator for this project. Thankfully, I've had some help! We've been working non-stop on this, and we have lots more schools to go to (schools are the most sensible place for us to find the kids....if you want to sponsor a child, it's easy! Contact me.)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

He'll wipe away their tears

Some days I’m overwhelmed by the suffering that plagues the world around me. When I come across innocent people suffering, I’m thankful that this world is not “it.” [How often I forget that simple truth, though! Each day, I need a kick in the pants as well as God shouting the following through a megaphone: “This world is not about you! Your permanent home is still to come.”]

This morning while spending some time with the Lord, I read a passage in Revelation that makes me incredibly excited for Heaven. I love the imagery of Christ stooping down to wipe the tears from the child’s (adult’s) face.

Never again will they hunger,
Never again will they thirst...
For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their Shepherd.
He will lead them to the springs of living water.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
-Revelation 7:16-17


Max Lucado writes:

“The same hands that stretched the heavens will touch your cheeks. The same hands that formed the mountains will caress your face. The same hands that curled in agony as the Roman spike cut through will someday cup your face and brush away your tears. Forever.”

I wish I could scoop up all the suffering children in Uganda and give them the hope of what’s to come: no sadness, no hurt, no pain, no hunger, no tears, no rape, no theft, no sickness, no HIV/AIDs, no LRA, no war, no child-headed families….

Sometimes my selfish heart asks God "um hey, could you wait a few years before you come back for us? Ya know, give me some time to _____ [get married, raise a family, travel, etc.] But when I read His promises (like in Rev. 7) of what's to come, I think of the suffering souls on earth and then can't help but think to myself, heaven can’t come soon enough.





[All images were shot by me in the slums: Jinja, Uganda.]

Friday, October 8, 2010

slums [Jinja]

If I saw the world in Your eyes
Would it help me understand...?


People climbing trees to catch sight of You
Broken and blind, looking for the truth
We're crippled by our fears and torments


Oh, take this poverty
And nail it to the tree
And all that's captive shall go free
-Matt Maher

[Photos taken in the slums of Jinja. I shot the first image but obviously not the second...]