Today was our final day in Ogoloi.
I think we would all agree it was our best day in Ogoloi, and yet by far the hardest. It is amazing just how much intimacy can be formed between kids who speak aTeso and adults who speak English over just four days.
The day was far more casual than all the others.
No agenda, just casual games and hanging out with the kids. Our team also broke up as usual, each engaging different kids in different ways.
- Matt actually spent most of the morning with Simon (the communications director for CHC in Uganda) speaking with the older boys from the CarePoint. They discussed responsibility, changes in culture and how women and men interact etc….boy stuff. The kind of stuff that boys in Ogoloi dont get to discuss because so many of them have either lost their dads to AIDS or to war.
- Jen and Tyra helped the cooks prepare and serve the meal. They both got a kick out of the fact that the cooks (who work for several hours every day over hot fires mixing giant pots of posho told them that they (Jen and Tyra) were incredibly hard working.
- Ally spent time with Sarah, one of the Disciplers and took a tour of the surrounding region, visiting the “swamp” about 10 minutes away, and with the group of kids that have fallen in love with her guitar and music.
- Jess was up to her usual antics, hanging with her clan of girls who think she is the funniest person on earth, not understanding that she is in fact the silliest person on earth. (If you take issue with this I have 4 days of video footage to prove my point)
And I wrapped up some video interviews with the Hope Chest Ugandan staff, and spent most of the day hanging with my own little clan of boys that have adopted me as their buddy.
We hung out at the well, a couple of minutes walk from the CarePoint, but after a few minutes the boys decided to take me on a journey to visit their homes in the grassy planes surrounding the CarePoint. Not wanting to disappoint, I decided to take them up on it. It got a little freaky when I realized that I had been taken hostage by a group of 7 year olds in the middle of the wilderness with no idea how to get back. Did I mention that I cant speak more than 10 words of aTeso….and their English is about as good?
After our first journey we decided to go a little farther into the African bush to see more of their homes. Watch the joy in their faces, and pride, as they tour me through their homes.
After lunch, we prepared to distribute the gifts we had picked up for the kids from the donations that came in over the last few weeks. We were able to purchase a new treated mosquito net for each child, a new pair of school shoes, a toothbrush and toothpaste (generously donated by local Iowa dentists), as well as sanitary pads for the girls and underwear.
We were also able to hand out the photo albums that many of the sponsors had sent us. These were an absolute hit, and the kids sat for hours afterwards showing each other pictures of their respective sponsors and American families.
The day ended with a tone of complete bitter sweet emotion.
I suspect there was a lot of emotion in our team going into this day, knowing that it would be the last we would spend with these kids before moving on to Bukedea (the other CarePoint about an hour away that we also sponsor).But we were unprepared for the humbling effect that handing shoes to kids who have never owned a pair of shoes in their lives can have on you. You cant prepare for giving someone a free toothbrush and realizing that you have to explain what it is because they have never seen one.
But mostly, you cant prepare for finding out that two of the kids we had been playing with all week, who had been eating meals at the CarePoint – are in fact not eligible for the gifts (or technically even the food) because the death of both of their parents occurred weeks after the children at the CarePoint were profiled and selected and they are not in the program. There are dozens of kids that attend each day, to play, and to eat, so there are always kids around that are not sponsored…but these kids were in dire need.
Thomas (about 3yrs) and Florence (about 6) currently live with their fathers aunt (great aunt) near the CarePoint. Their mom apparently lost her mind and ran away from their home never to return after their father committed suicide by drug overdose. These two are darlings, incredibly cute, but there is a sadness to the little girls eyes that reveals much.
We realized their story right as we were wrapping up handing out the gifts, and the girls on our team didn’t take it real well. We joked about the fact that “their eyes were leaking” (pronounced “licking” in Uganda) but it was no joke. There is something particularly jarring about holding a child in your arms that you know has recently experienced the loss of both of their parents, and who has no one around who actually cares for and loves them.
But the reality in places like Ogoloi is that this is the case more often than not. Even if these kids have living parents, in most cases (for the kids in the CHC program) the remaining parents are bed ridden with HIV or are abusing the children. We encountered kids who were being kept home from school to tend to the family animals, kids whose parents simply abandoned them, and kids who are living with the cold reality that they themselves are HIV+ by no fault of their own. And many, many kids….who just never get hugged. Or noticed.
The happy ending to this story is that we were able (with little to no convincing at all) to get the CHC team to agree to add these kids to the sponsorship list immediately to ensure that they are getting cared for as much as possible. For all of us, but I think especially for the women on our team, it was really hard to leave them behind today…but we trust the CarePoint staff to step in and become involved in their lives.
As we were handing out gifts, I also realized that one of the boys who I have grown closest to (Geoffrey – pronounced Joffrey and see in the video of us taking a tour of the wilderness), is also not on the program list at this time. He was when we first visited the CarePoint in June but was dropped because he was not around when the re-profiling was done. I looked a little deeper into his situation, and found out that he was in fact living with one of the other little boys Aunts (Paul was the little guy in the green shirt on our journey). Pauls parents are not around either, but Geoffrey had lost both his parents and was living as a double orphan with Pauls Aunt (completely unrelated to Geoffrey) and was not in the program. He sleeps on a mat on the floor of the Aunts mud hut under the same mosquito net as Paul, 2 feet from Paul’s Aunt and Grandmother.
As we handed out the shoes, all I could think about was him, sitting on the other end of the CarePoint, wandering why he was not receiving anything. I imagined the feeling of abandonment an 8 year old must feel knowing that your dad died and that your mom ran away because she “went mad” and didn’t want to deal with you. And then the sense of abandonment you might feel when your friends get shoes (even the one you live with) and you don’t. I simply couldn’t hold myself back.
So, knowing that there would be some extra shoes and supplies from those we had purchased, I wandered across the village as the team was wrapping up the distribution, and found Geoffrey. I asked for his hand and led him towards the team. He was beaming…but he always does when I single him out. I think he knows that he is my favorite, and in no other place in his world is that the case. We marched hand in hand towards the supplies, grabbed a mosquito net, a toothbrush and toothpaste, and tried on two pairs of shoes to find a fit. His face was absolutely glowing. I know I am probably wrong, but I like to imagine that he was glowing more because I came and got him than because he was getting his first ever pair of shoes. It was an amazing moment.
Better yet, we discussed Geoffrey’s situation with the Hope Chest Uganda team and we are adding him to the sponsorship list so that he can fully engage in the program…and he will not have to wait for anyone to sponsor him…because he is accounted for! And part of the growing de Bruin family.
It is because of experiences like those above that we partnered with Children’s Hope Chest in the first place. Not only is the opportunity for us to actually come and spend time with these kids readily available (and even encouraged), but as the ministry partners we have a lot of say over how we handle the profiles and kids. It’s a great partnership and I couldn’t be more pleased with the Ugandan team at Ogoloi as well as the Uganda directors, Joseph and Simon.
Our goodbye today was sad, but we are incredibly encouraged by the progress that has been made even in the last few months in Ogoloi. Even since my last trip in June there is a massive change in the kids, and the fact that God has provided sponsors for all 120 kids (now 123 J) means that the CarePoint can begin funding more initiatives to help the kids with school and their personal situations.
So, tomorrow, we leave Soroti and Ogoloi for the little town of Bukedea, a trading point in the middle of nowhere (most of Uganda is in the middle of nowhere) where around 230 kids are eagerly awaiting our arrival. Of the 230 kids we have just 30 sponsored at this time, but that was the case in Ogoloi just 6 months ago too. And God came through.
So we will spend 3 days with at the Bukedea CarePoint, getting to know the kids and the Widows of Teso (an organization of widows that facilitate this particular CarePoint) in order to be prepared to come home and find new American families for them.