We Built Something Today

Today was a big day…
Like all the other days, it’s simply impossible to update you all on everything that occurred. But there are a few highlights that I am extremely exited to update everyone on.

Land Purchase

First off, we finalized the land purchase today with the local committee and the chairman of the LC1 (the local government that oversees all local transactions and social governance). The local leadership took a walk and mapped out the boundary markers together before signing the contract and “addendum”.

The 2.5 acre portion of land was acquired for 2.9 million Ugandan shillings which is approximately $1,100 and will be the future site for the CarePoint as we begin developing the infrastructure.

Part of the agreement is that the community will work to clear the land  of the bushes and shrubs to prep for construction…their contribution to what the CarePoint is providing to the community in general.

They are all excited about the purchase and despite some discussion about wanting the site to remain in its current location, there is a general consensus that this will be a better solution given the goals we have in mind. It has been very fun to watch over the last couple of years to see how the community has first watched, then asked questions, and now is proactively getting engaged in what is being accomplished in Ogoloi. This last week has been the real beginnings of true transformational change in the community as a whole.

MicroFinance
In addition to this purchase, the community met to continue discussions on implementing further steps on the Micro-finance plans we are working on. This will involve creating a small community savings group, where members will buy shares in the group in order to fund a loan pool. This will then be made available for short term loans to members for business or entrepreneurial loans. These are short term loans (mostly paid back in a month) that allow people the opportunity to make a few steps forward in their endeavors in ways that they could never afford without this kind of loan. The repayments on these loans are almost always at nearly 100% (when conducted correctly) because the loans are made to community groups who place a lot of pressure on each of the members to follow through on their commitments in order to ensure that the community loans can continue. As the pool grows, increased loan amounts can be made. The goal is not to continue the loan indefinitely  but provide the community to get a leg up with some income generating activities.

We will be very excited to launch this initiative, and these small locally operated financing groups can make lasting changes in communities like these. Next steps will involve providing training from local professionals in micro-finance on both the facilitation of this system, and some basic business coaching. Little things that we take for granted like the concept of profit, interest, and managing money which are many times entirely foreign to many rural Africans. Ok, some of these concepts might be novel to some Americans too 🙂

For a good introductory read on Micro-Finance I would recommend “A Billion Bootstraps” pictured to the left.

Here is Alissa pealing potatoes at
John and Emmanuel’s home.
 
Home Visits

A few of the team members headed out for some final home visits.

Alissa visited the home of Naume Akajo who is sponsored by Jason and Jayme Kupka. She is very excited to update them on the visit. This is also the home of Kyle and Hannah’s boy – Emmanuel Otingiro. Joe Schafbuch headed out with Mark to visit the home (hut) of Lazaro Ebenyu – sponsored by the Ames E-Free middle school core group.

And Matt and Damon visited  John Kasekende. Each of these visits carry a long list of stories to tell that I simply can’t capture the weight of in a blog. There is an incredible bond formed between these kids and their sponsors when we visit their homes, and it gives me great pleasure to see more and more of our sponsors making the trip to visit these kids.

Honey, We Shrunk the Kids
Well, not really, but we did pull from our bag of “lets keep these kids occupied” tricks the giant soccer balls that we had used in a parade last year and brought along for kicks (it’s late, and if you got that pun its because you too have a base sense of humor).

And….they were a huge hit. The expressions on the kids faces were priceless, and I would buy a dozen more if I knew where to find them.

Jordan demonstrated the moon walk while dribbling

We played an extremely chaotic game of soccer with carefully selected teams that dissolved into a frenzy of random hysterical kicking within, I don’t know, maybe 10 seconds of the game.

And we found out that ridiculously large soccer balls are inappropriate for use in a game of dodge ball with 6 year olds. No matter what any of the team tells you I want to set the record straight now and tell you all that I had no intentions of making Jordan’s sponsored child do a full back flip 3 feet in the air.

Dresses donated by Vilinda Gleason

Lunch was served for the kids and right afterwards we were able to hand out the t-shirts and dresses that were generously made by Vilinda Gleason and some of her friends. The kids love receiving these gifts.

We continue to learn each time about what sort of gifts are best to bring so that everyone is able to receive something, and sponsors are able to contribute. I would absolutely love to be able to pull off some sort of small care package for the kids in August (the same for everyone in each age group). I am thinking perhaps small bags with items like toothbrushes, pens and pencils, school notebooks, maybe a small Hot Wheel car for the boys etc…

To accomplish this we would need some help from some of our sponsors around the country (actually around the world) to help plan and facilitate this. The kids would love it.

Kids in line for lunch

A Tearful Goodbye

As the shadows began to lengthen, and the day began to draw to an end we all began to feel the tension of knowing that it was time to say goodbye. The kids gathered under the mango tree and our usual “seats of honor” were positioned in front of the children. We were then serenaded with songs and dancing by some of the older girls with music accompaniment by one of the older boys on Jinny Foldoe’s guitar from last August.

After the songs, there were a few “short” African speeches by the local community leader and Pastor Moses (the Caretaker for the CarePoint) before the kids and community began bringing gifts to us and placing them at our feet. I have blogged about this before, and I maintain that this is one of the most difficult and humbling experiences that anyone can live through, but I am learning to truly celebrate with my African friends in their generous acts of love back to us.

We received a few chickens, as well as bags and bags of ground nuts, potatoes, a half dozen eggs, and my personal favorite…a huge bag of passion fruit (known in my home country as granadillas).

The team each took a turn to say a quick goodbye and thanks to the kids and community…

The team under the mango tree for our goodbye
Damon giving some closing remarks in front of the kids 🙂

And then…it began. It was time to share some final African handshakes and hundreds of hugs. I have no idea who started it (Tyra), but whoever it was, (Tyra) began crying while we were all saying our goodbyes, and somehow, the tears spread like a wildfire through the group. Within a few minutes there were literally about 50 sobbing children being comforted by various members of our team (mostly also crying), community members and the Hope Chest staff. I’ve never seen anything like it. There are always tears, but this was something to behold.

It is clear that the relationships that are beginning to form with the kids are deepening to entirely new levels. As I was being hugged by sobbing kids, grandmothers, and even a few crying boys, I received numerous tear filled requests to send greetings to their sponsors…by name. A few…

Jessica Hansen…your little girl literally clung to my side and begged me to ask you to come back and visit again. Hanna de Bruin…Rebecca asked me to tell you she misses you (I know, she hasn’t met you, but I wasn’t going to argue). Morgan DeVries…Eunice made me promise to send my greetings to you, and I may or may not have told her to expect you in August :). Rick and Marsha Swenson…Josephine brought me the baby and asked me to send her greetings to you and to Jen. And Jen (my wife)…I had more girls than I can even try and remember ask me to assure them that you would return next time, and to send their love and greetings to you. It was all incredibly moving.

It was a sad goodbye (they always are).

We Built Something Today
I have learned a lot on this particular trip to Ogoloi, and there has been much progress. But more than anything I have been blown away by what we have been able to build during this trip, and over the last several trips that we have taken. And I don’t mean buildings or schools or hospitals.

Whenever I mention to people that we are headed back to Uganda they ask me if it is a mission trip. I always avoid saying yes or no (a conversation for another time). But they almost always also ask if we are headed there to “build something”. It’s an American question! It means that unless we leave something physical behind that we accomplished nothing. We go on “mission trips” to “build things” for people who can’t help themselves….right? Oh, and of course…to hand them tracts and tell them that Jesus loves them.

But Building “things” is really not our goal here.
Our goal is to BUILD PEOPLE.
Our goal is to BUILD RELATIONSHIPS.
And in this, the “good news” of the “kingdom of God” is demonstrated and expressed through agape love…where one man might lay down his life for another.
And without a shadow of a doubt, I can tell you, that this is being accomplished.


A Few Big Updates
Although these decisions have not yet been finalized, there are a few kids that required special attention that I wanted to mention.

Irene

Irene Aolo (sponsored by Megan Davies)
Irene is HIV+ and although she is currently on ARV’s, she is not responding to the drugs well. She has broken out in a skin disease of some sort and we will be getting her to a clinic to see if we can have an alternative drug prescribed to aid in her health and recovery.

Easter

Easter Atubo (Sponsored by Sarah Archer)
Easter is a young teen girl who is suffering from some sort of severe leg rash that continues to surface and work its way up her legs. She is being sent for treatment on Thursday and we will hopefully learn more about the problem before we leave.

Matresses for Secondary School Kids.
A couple of the older boys are headed off to Secondary school and I decided to pick up mattresses for them (they board at the schools during the week and if they can’t afford a mattress they sleep on the floor).

John Elepu, Immaculate, and Sam
And then, there is a family living not too far from the CarePoint that is in a terrible state. Three of the kids are sponsored and attend daily…John Elepu (Teresa Becker), Immaculate Adongo (Century 21) and Sam Oron (Century 21). There are two more siblings as well. The mother has left, and the father is dying of HIV and has recently developed TB. He has pretty much given up living and mostly drinks his days away. The kids are completely neglected. He shares a hut (with half a roof) and plates with the kids so he will likely make them sick as well. They are unable to attend school as they are caring and providing for the family. It is a terribly hopeless situation.

I cannot explain the logistics behind the intended solutions we are considering at this time, but we are looking into a couple of options to help this family in whatever way we can. We may invest in some bulls and a plough for them to use for their land (in the kid’s names), which will give them leverage with the surrounding family members who would then help them plough and cultivate their fields in exchange for the use of the bulls. We are also looking into having the community leaders address the situation with the father again, but we are not sure this will come to much.

Lazaro, Esther and Isaac. 

Lazaro (sponsored by Alissa Dietz), Esther Atalo (Sponsored by Lynn Perento) and Isaac Aditeu (sponsored by Rebecca Gooding) live on a small plot of land about 10 minutes from the CarePoint. The land is a small strip that lies between the land of 3 uncles of their mother, all of whom want her to leave the land.

Ugandan inheritance of land seldom includes woman, and this poor mother of 5 cannot possibly survive on the small piece of land that she currently inhabits. But more concerning is the fact that they are threatening her physically with clubs and telling her that she needs to leave the land. Unfortunately she has nowhere to go. The situation is maddening, and I had joked about buying the uncle’s land from them and telling them to leave. But that’s not an option.

So…We are working to buy a plot of land just a short walk up the road from the Carepoint. It is about 3.5 acres which is just about enough land for a family of this size to survive from the produce. We intend to buy the land in the mother’s name, and she will be asked to make monthly contributions of food to the CarePoint as repayment…a small issue, but a good way for her to feel like she too can make a difference in the community. The land has been negotiated at 7.5 million shillings, around $3,000

Although we are in a position to front the funds for the purchase, and facilitate the transfer as quickly as possible (hopefully in the next 2 weeks), Alissa Dietz, who sponsors Lazaro in this family, is planning to work to raise the funds for the land purchase. I think this is great and am excited for her to see God provide the funds to literally make a change for generations to this humble family, who will have a little place to call their own in a world where land ownership means survival.

Although this kind of drastic action is not typical (we are here for a long term plan to bring sustainable community driven change to the area) in certain circumstances we feel that it is simply impossible for us not to act. Just today a family, including two small kids were hacked to death over a strikingly similar land dispute. It was featured in the local newspaper (Alissa has a copy that I can hopefully post sometime)

Bukedea
Tomorrow we leave the town of Soroti, and our friends 30 minutes away in Ogoloi, and head South for about 2 hours to the small town of Kumi where we will stay for 4 nights as we visit the Bukedea CarePoint each day.

I know that many of you who sponsor kids in Bukedea have been eagerly following the Ogoloi progress, patiently waiting for updates from Bukedea. I am excited to provide as much as I can while we are there. Although the internet access is a little more difficult, I am committed to trying to post pictures and updates every day, so please stay tuned to the Blog.

PS….we have 3 of the kids that we have started profiling already “pre-sponsored”.
Awesome.

 

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