The End of the World
By Tim Schreck
Recently I took a journey of a lifetime, travelling to rural Uganda for 2 weeks. This was a “mission trip” through an organization called Orphans of Teso created several years ago by the two brokers at my CENTURY 21 Signature Real Estate office. Since 2015, I have sponsored a child, one of 650 serviced by this organization, and when the opportunity came to meet him in person, I went! (Orphans of Teso provides support through an international non-profit called Children’s HopeChest which operates 16 “CarePoints” in Uganda. Our organization is the primary support base for 3 of those CarePoints.)
Having no expectations other than stories I’d heard, I took off on 1/2/18 with three other hardy souls, driving to Chicago, then flying through Brussels to Entebbe, Uganda. Two long flights! First one was a piece of cake, second was polar opposite, and I’m thinking “if I can’t deal with these 2 kids in the row behind me, how will I ever deal with 650!!” We landed at 11PM in Entebbe @24 hours after takeoff, greeted by our driver Syedi and whisked away to our hotel, to wake the next morning on the shores of Lake Victoria. Very cool and very beautiful.From there the journey began; first up, a drive through Entebbe and the heart of Uganda’s capital, Kampala. So many people. I mean sooooo many people, walking, carrying things, on their phones, riding motorcycles, selling stuff. Along every paved road, someone is selling something, generally from a very small shop. Lots of cell service and money transferring businesses, but also, pineapples, clothes, tires, half-a-goat, lumber, security gates, bedframes, sofas. In one section of the city, there were 2-3 blocks of shops just selling used bicycles, from delivery/utility to pre-training wheels. We were told the bikes came from the US.
We arrived in the city of Jinja in time for lunch, and our savvy driver found the place “safe” for visitors (IE Caucasians). I think they do look for spots where food issues can be avoided, which tends to be where all the other people like us go. That restaurant was the last place I saw a white person for the next nine days, and I’ll just add here, I NEVER felt unsafe, never felt threatened, never felt anxious during the entire trip. But it is an unusual perspective to be the clear minority for a while.
We travelled in a 3-row van, accompanied by about 4,000 similar vehicles which operate as the bus/taxi service, and 10x more motorcycle “putt-putts” also offering ride services, sort of their version of Uber. The paved roads have or had at one time a yellow center line, but today it is one nationwide game of chicken out there! Between walkers, motorcycles, bikers, vans, goat herds, the occasional larger bus, and service trucks, all us foreigners were thrilled to have a skilled driver at our service! The gravel or dirt roads were even more exciting, but it’s so funny how by the end of the trip sort of a non-issue. Syedi had us covered!
Our primary purpose of the trip was to check in at the three care points, spend time supporting the staff, and most importantly, interact with the kids. Joe, one of the brokers from CENTURY21, does this on an annual basis, and the rest of us tagged along. The Care Points are a place for kids who qualify (orphaned in some way) to receive 1-2 meals/day, some skill training, medical/health awareness, counseling, love and discipleship. They go to public or boarding schools, and have the CarePoint for other needs. Many live with a guardian or someone in the family who has agreed to take them in. Most have experienced loss of one or both parents due to war, AIDS, typhoid, alcohol, or simply abandonment.
The morning we arrived at the first care point, Bukedea, we were stopped in our tracks about ¼ mile from the front gate, and our van was swallowed by a crowd of children and adults, so excited to see us! So we got out of the van, and were swarmed by kids who wanted to hug us, hold hands, sing songs, welcome us. I walked to the CarePoint, with a local band playing their songs and dancing with a half-dozen young ones holding my hands. We spent some time seeing the various skills development projects including sewing, making soap for sale, aluminum casting, and a bakery. Not only future skills for these kids, but self-sustaining funds for the agency.
At playtime, it felt like there were at least 150 kids playing three games of soccer, volleyball, baseball, jump rope, tag, and “take my photo” all on the same field. It was absolute madness for this old man used to reclining with a sip of wine and my favorite programs!! Jeez! And as soon as one game would stop (or they destroyed the volleyball), 38 kids looking at you wondering “now what are we gonna do.” I had some anxieties the first day or two, but got to where, just sitting around and guessing which hand held the rock could entertain for 30 minutes. It was so great!! At times I would see a few of them whispering and looking at me, so I would say “yes, you may touch my ghostly white arm” at which point six sets of hands were rubbing the hair and pushing on the pink spots.
The same things happened at the other two CarePoints, Ongongoja and Ogoloi…warm welcome, games with kids, impressive accomplishments. The primary difference I experienced was at Ongongoja, which translates to “the end of the world.” This was the area of most evident poverty and challenging circumstances for many of the kids. This is the farthest north area of Uganda where war tore the very fabric of the community to shreds. And yet, the people were warm, receptive and welcoming, the children laughed and interacted easily, and hope was in the air.
The child I sponsor, Martine, lives in Ongongoja and I had the opportunity to meet him and visit his home. Martine is pretty smart and on track in school, he is the oldest child in his family, and in one of his first letters to me he said one of his favorite things to do is fetch water for the family, in 20-liter containers, 1-2 miles from his home. If they’re lucky the water comes from a well (in our travels we saw many children along roadsides dipping their containers in nothing more than mudpits.) When we arrived at Martine’s home, we found his mother waiting for us with a 6-month old child. As the CarePoint staff explained to us, Martine’s mother had “concubined” in order to have a man in the home to provide support. But when the baby came along, the man left. This is the 4th man Martine’s mother has brought into her home in his 15-year lifetime. There are 9 children in the home.
If you’re still reading, I really appreciate it! This trip was so full of experiences I never dreamed I’d have, and even today I wonder how the kids are doing, if they had a meal last night, if they feel safe in their homes. I know they feel safe at the CarePoints. I think it’s a rare opportunity to be involved in an organization like this, to see the work that is being done, and to experience in person the value of that work. There are still 25-30 kids looking for sponsors, so if you’d like to know more, or even sponsor a child, Click HERE!