I am a member of Messiah Lutheran Church and have been for over 22 years. I can remember when we first started talking about and supporting a village in Uganda. We had Christmas offerings dedicated to them. I also remembering rolling my eyes and thinking – we have our own “needy” people to take care of. We have lots of people who need help in the US, in Missouri, even in our own county – why are we sending so much money to Uganda?? I did not want to be a part of it.
God had a different plan……..
As they started showing more and more videos of the kids and the poverty and their dirty little faces and shoeless feet, something started to stir in my heart. I tried so hard to suppress it, but it just kept creeping up.
Then, one night while sitting in the bar of a restaurant listening to the music and chatting with our Pastor I told him my feelings. He pulled me to the hallway and we sat on a bench and he said, why don’t you go? On a mission trip???? To Uganda???? No thanks. He then said for me to list my top three reasons why I would not go. As I firmly stated each one, he shot them down, one by one, sometimes with scripture, sometimes just with “Pastor Chuck” wisdom. I promised him I would think and pray about it.
Of course the songs the next day at church really all seemed to be pointed right at me.
I get in the car and EVERY song I hear is about being the hands and feet of Jesus, or here I am Lord, send me. It was maddening!
The next Sunday the video was again about Uganda and I found myself almost sobbing. My husband John was like – what is going on? I told him my dilemma and he said – just go.
So, I went. I have never been the same. Part of my heart was left in that hot, dirty village with those shoeless, smiling, happy kids.
The people were so joyous, the kids just wanted to hold my hand and sit on my lap. The poverty I saw in every place we traveled is like nothing I had ever seen. Yes, we have poverty in the US – but not like this, to this degree. My heart broke for them, just as God had planned. I realized they are God’s children, just like I am and my girls are and but by the Grace of God, I could be in the same situation.
So, long story short – we have sponsored multiple students over the years and currently have two – one in high school and one just starting her school journey. My extended family now sponsors students – 7 altogether plus our 2. I have been to Uganda on 11 trips now. I have many friends there that are near and dear to my heart.
God didn’t stop there – I now work for Hearts & Hope for Uganda. A nonprofit that helps coordinate partners here in the US with villages in Uganda to develop relationships and transforms lives of vulnerable communities. We start a school sponsorship program, install wells, build schools, latrines, dormitories, fund small businesses, and take care of medical needs. We build relationships by taking mission trip teams over to let them experience what I did so many years ago.
We are – with God leading us – creating hope for those who need it.
I have been at Hearts & Hope for almost 10 years now! Been to Uganda 11 times and literally donated thousands of dollars to a place/mission that used to make me roll my eyes! John has been to Uganda and I have even taken one of our daughters – with the next one planning to go also.
So, be careful what you tell God that you want “no part of” - it is his plan – not yours or mine and He certainly changed my plans.
My hero Akram
When someone from a privileged country comes to Uganda, they become very aware of how blessed they are to have so much material wealth, but that is only the beginning. Access to healthcare is probably the most understated blessing we Americans possess. Sure, there are clinics on basically every corner in Uganda, but going further into the village and even affording to take a motorcycle taxi to that clinic and pay the fees for treatment becomes too big a burden.
This reality was presented recently when we were told by one of our sponsorship coordinators that a little boy named Akram had injured his foot and wasn’t healing. He was playing with a bicycle and his foot got stuck in the spokes and was badly injured.
Little Akram is a special little boy who melts the heart of everyone he meets with his timid smile and playful demeanor. He lives with his ailing grandmother who tries to care for him but is not always well suited for this energized 6 year old. We were very worried for him since we were told it had been 2 weeks since the injury happened and the grandmother was treating the wound with “local herbs”. Being a nurse I knew immediately that his wound would be badly infected, however, seeing the rotting black flesh on this little limping angel boy was almost too much to bear.
We immediately took him to the medical clinic (only a 20-minute drive) and the doctor said he could have become septic any day. The wound had to be debrided, cleansed and he was to receive IV antibiotics for a week. I took Akram's little hand and headed to the room where his wound would be treated, unfortunately without any kind of pain medication. As his tears streamed down my arm, I had to hold back my own tears as his cries echoed throughout the entire clinic. What settled my heart was the knowledge that this care was possibly saving his foot, if not his life.
Once the wound was cleansed and dressed, we paid the bill (only around $30) and bought him clean, new socks and shoes to wear to protect his foot.
Upon returning to the village he became happy little Akram again and I even caught him dancing later that day when music was playing. The joy in this boy's heart is extremely special and contagious. He faced so much pain over 2 weeks and suffered greatly at the clinic, yet still danced with glee a few hours later. Akram is my hero. He proves that no matter the hardships, no matter the pain, at the end of the day, life is worth dancing for!
A Beautiful Celebration for Butogonha
Butogonha dedication day - a day that will be memorable for a long time in the minds of all who were present for the school dedication. This village was in a dilapidated state just 2 years ago, roof collapsed in after a storm and students unable to afford even a pencil. That is now juxtaposed by the beautiful, new school compound and hordes of students who greeted us with a parade before the school dedication – with full brass band and an acrobatics team included!
The whole community came together to say thank you to the Hearts & Hope team and we want to extend that thank you to all who made this possible in just 2 years. Thank you to Kim Salls for having a vision for these students and enabling that vision to be fulfilled. Thank you to Messiah Lutheran for coming together and sponsoring so many sweet students that now fill the classrooms! What a joy and blessing it was to witness this whole experience.
To give you all a better idea of the “before” story of Butogonha, formally known as Namwendwa, here is an excerpt from a journal entry that one of our US staff members wrote on her very first trip to Butogonha (and Uganda!).
Unlike the strong, furnished Hearts and Hope schools, the school in Namwendwa was a rickety, stick-structure with dirt floors and no sign of furniture, let alone textbooks or other school supplies. Instead of clean uniforms, many of the children were wearing shirts that were ripped and torn, revealing bellies bloated by deep hunger. As I looked around the smiling faces and sparse structures, my mind couldn't help but start to wander.
The people of Namwendwa are strong, beautiful, intelligent and resilient people. The other villages I'm coming to love have overcome similar difficulties and continue to develop and improve. While I don't know whether or not I will get to see Namwendwa develop in the next few years, I am thankful to bear witness to even this moment.
Looking through my western eyes, it's easy to get stuck on what is missing. I forget to revel in how MUCH of the most important things are already here - love, compassion, community, intentionality, deep relationships, resourcefulness, creativity, spiritual depth, generosity and natural beauty. Things that some of my American friends have only dreamt of and never fully experienced. Depth even I've only dreamt of having in my own life. Thanks to the progress in the other Hearts & Hope villages, I’ve seen what can happen when you place even the smallest resources into the hands of those who are eager to use them. The investment is amazing.
There's no real way to tell what will happen in Namwendwa or many of the villages just like it, but I have hope that change is coming, that transformation is already taking place.”
Indeed, the seeds of transformation were planted, and have now bloomed into something beautiful for these beautiful children and the future of the whole Butogonha community.
Day 5 & 6 - Kamuli & Mbulamuti
After the team experienced the first 4 villages in the Jinja region and Eastern region, it was time to move North to the Kamuli district. This is where we have the villages of Kamuli, Mbulamuti, and the newest partnered village - Butogonha!
Kamuli and Mbulamuti impressed us with their obviously higher enrollment since the lockdown ended. There were SO many bright, smiling faces who greeted us when we arrived to deliver the packets. It was such a contrast to the “covid days” when the few staff who could travel to Uganda would show up to sparsely populated classrooms and would have to track down many students who had temporarily moved during covid. Those dark days were over and the schools were back to business as usual, with a much higher number of students! This is in large part due to the home based learning that Hearts & Hope was able to fund thanks to the sponsors support! Many surrounding primary schools completely shut down and did not offer any options to continue learning. It was obvious through what we saw that our goal was a success - the goal being to keep the minds of the students working and open even while the doors of the physical classroom were locked.
The packet delivery was a success in each of those villages and the sponsors who came on the trip were delighted to see their students faces once again!
Also, thanks to some wonderful donors who purchased goats on our website, we were able to hand deliver 7 goats to some vulnerable students in Mbulamuti. This will truly make a difference in the lives of those families who can breed the goats and pay it forward to another family once the goat gives birth. The gift that keeps on giving in the form of a goat - beautiful!
As we were departing we were able to visit the house of Betty in Mbulamuti. She is a recent graduate from our program who has cerebral palsy and had a very rough life before she was sponsored and placed in a special school. Now, she owns her land, her house, and runs a tailoring/clothes shop to support herself. It’s always wonderful to see her! She also surprised us with the news that she recently gave birth to a baby boy named Nicholas, who is absolutely beautiful. We wish her all the success and happiness in the world!
The team has one final village day in Butogonha, the newest partnered village with Hearts & Hope. They’ve been planning a big celebration as they dedicate their newly constructed school! We can’t wait to see the students, the structure, and the transformation of the whole community!
Day 4 - Butangala
Oh, the village of the dancers!
Each time we visit Butangala, there is a new dance, song, costume and performance which impresses us more and more! In addition to the dancing there was a local cadet corps which showed us their marches with long sticks (in place of show guns).
This village truly loves their students and fosters a sense of pride among the students through various school activities. One recent way they did this was by introducing “houses” in which all the students would be assigned and could take part in competitions and reach goals together. Seeing the students dressed in the 3 brightly colored “house” shirts was adorable and the dignity was written all over the student’s faces!
The new dormitory is another shining element of Butangala that has attracted many students from the surrounding area. Which means enrollment is up and the school is being supported by their own community. The girls who live there couldn’t wait to show us their beds, which they had all decorated and even had a competition to see who had the “best” made bed! It was hard to choose for sure, but in a possibly biased move, we chose the bed with photos of their sponsor prominently displayed.
It has been raining every day in the villages and this meant the speeches were cut short, but it didn’t stop the packet process.
Two of our team members, Heather and Teresa, were so excited to finally meet their students face to face!
Teresa & Yusif
Teresa sponsors a secondary student names Yusif whose had a rough life from a young age. He was 8 when he returned home from school to find his parents had left and abandoned him. Luckily the church leaders helped as much as they could to house him and get him in school. Now he attends nearby Pilkington College.
Teresa is such an important factor in Yusif’s life, and you could see it all over his face as soon as they met. She is family to him, perhaps the only family he has, and equally, Teresa was bursting with love and excitement to get to meet the boy whose letters have made her cry for years.
The bond shared between them is so special and it was a blessing to witness their first in person interactions.
Heather & Abdul
We also got to go to the house of Heather’s student, Abdul.
She was greeted with loud shouts of joy and praise from Abdul's mother and after touring the small mud structure, she shared her gratitude with many gifts.
Heather returned to the bus exclaiming “I got a chicken!!”.
The chicken then joined the team on our way home, although I’m unsure if it was as filled with as much delight as the rest of the team after such a wonderful day!
Nalwire has always been a very special place to visit and during this trip that fact was no exception.
It is on the border with Kenya and has a completely different environment than the rest of the Jinja villages. The houses are all dry mud structures with grass thatched roofs and the community is one of the most impoverished of all the ones we serve due to its remoteness and dryer climate. This, however, doesn’t impede on their joy and incredible kindness to us when we visit!
It is in a sort of transition stage where there are SO MANY children enrolled and going to school, yet they are still patiently waiting on the permanent school structure to be constructed to accommodate the school's needs and ensure room to grow. It was nevertheless wonderful for the team members who have been there previously to see the improvements with the nursery structure, playing field & sports equipment, and all of the recently purchased land.
Soon and very soon, this village will be absolutely thriving once ground is broken on the permanent structures!
Two of our team members had very special moments with the children.
Alison was introduced to a special young girl named Susan who was the only currently available child for sponsorship - one of the ones on the outside looking in.
It took Alison about 3 secs before she decided that SHE would sponsor Susan, and when the staff told her the news, Susan immediately kneeled down (the way they show gratitude) and gave Alison a HUGE hug.
It warmed all of our hearts to know that this little one would now be receiving an education and even had the opportunity to meet her sponsor face to face- truly a special gift to both of them!
Next, Mary was able to visit the home of her sponsored student named Jolly. We try to always visit the homes of some students during our visits and when we’re able to take the sponsor to see where their student sleeps at night, it is even more impactful.
The difference between seeing the happy faces at the school to then seeing where the child spends the rest of their day can be a stark contrast yet is significant for the team and sponsor to witness the reality of poverty and why we do what we do to help these children rise up with education.
Jolly and his mother were so happy to see Mary that she gave her a special gift - a live chicken! This is a token of their gratitude and is oftentimes one of the most valuable possessions that the family owns.
The gift of sponsorship and its reciprocal transformative nature was demonstrated so clearly in Nalwire! Everyone left with content hearts and a motivation to continue working alongside Nalwire to ensure their continued expansion and future success for the sake of those children and the entire community.
Day 1 and 2 -Kainhogoga and Nakabango!
Kainhogoga - February 12th
The team has arrived! After a long, yet smooth journey to Uganda, the team awoke in high spirits ready to experience all that Uganda had to offer. After two whole years with no mission trip, the communities and students were eager to welcome us. We started off visiting one of the most energetic student bodies who always cure any remaining jet lag from the journey - Kainhogoga!
They quite literally BOMBARDED the team with love and hugs - so much that one could hardly get off the bus and be able to take a step. It almost makes us feel like celebrities, except the students are the ones we all have traveled 8,000 miles to see. THEY’RE the stars and the reason for so much happiness.
The introductions and the welcome dancing put an immediate smile on our faces. The joy and pride the students displayed in performing for us was symbolic of the relief and gratitude they felt now that school has finally fully resumed and the lockdowns in Uganda are finally over. They had even decorated their school hall with streamers and fresh flowers! It was a blessing to witness!
Nakabango - February 13th
In Nakabango we were able to gather with the women's group and make Valentine's jewelry together. Since our team is comprised of all women, it was a very empowering time to share stories of strength and connection with our fellow sisters!
Our team member Mary had some friends from home donate some funds to help out the students on the Messiah soccer teams in Nakabango. Eric, who is the coach and mentor of the teams, bought schoolbooks, pens, and math sets for the whole team. This was a huge blessing for them as many of the players come from struggling homes and can’t afford the school materials. The team also received many soccer donations from back home and were thrilled with new shoes, balls, shin guards, and socks! Thank you to all who donated!
The most special sight to see so far was the sponsors who finally were able to return and see their students. We all know how fast kids seem to grow and the students here were no exception. It was almost melancholic to see some of the grown faces and feel like we’ve missed out on such a long period of their development. Yet seeing them in fresh uniforms with proud smiles brought a sense of immense satisfaction after 2 years of worry and uncertainty. The sponsored students are back in their element and knowing they are in school, receiving quality education, gave us all a feeling that “every little thing is gonna be alright."
How can we explain the feeling of the final packing night before a mission trip - nervous butterflies, sheer panic, and utter glee seem to sum it up nicely.
Hearts & Hope is taking their FIRST team in 2 years back to see the students and people in Uganda that we serve. It has been a LONG time coming, but there is no doubt that it will be worth all the struggle it takes to fly 8,000 miles away during an ongoing pandemic - the FORMS, the TESTS, the MASKS, oh my!
once we arrive, we will be visiting 7 villages and delivering sponsorship packets to nearly 1,000 of our sponsored students! The team is ready to go and the students are (more than) ready to receive us!
With schools reopening again after 2 years of lockdown, the first mission team on their way in mere hours, the launch of a new website experience for our sponsors, and the extended trip for our US staff, 2022 is looking to be the most exciting year yet!
Stay tuned for updates from the field, mission team, and from YOUR student when the team returns home! Thank you for your ongoing support and we appreciate prayers for a safe journey!
Witnessing Our Why
As we woke up on day one, we couldn’t believe we were in Uganda again. After 2 years of unknowns, canceled flights, and two lockdowns from the pandemic, the US team had safely arrived back to our second home.
The week was full of very important meetings with the Hearts & Hope staff (US and Ugandan) and the staff from the Lutheran Church of Uganda (LCU). The LCU are charged with running the schools, implementing projects and, more importantly, sharing the love of Christ with our students. As Hearts & Hope continues to grow, It is always so vital to hear updates from the field and envision improvements for the coming year.
We also had a few days of village visits in between long meeting days. This refreshed our spirits as we were reminded of the “why” we were all here in the first place - the children. Our “why” was especially evident in the village of Butogonha.
Butogonha has been visited by Hearts & Hope many times in the past. In 2016, Hearts & Hope installed a clean water well for the community after visiting and seeing them gathering water from local ponds shared with livestock. We also visited them several times on mission trips and it was always a favorite village for the team members due to the incredible energy and hospitality shown to the teams. During the last mission trip we took there, in February 2020, the village and school had deteriorated as students could not even afford pencils and the structure had collapsed in a storm. One mission team member was devastated by what she witnessed and became determined to help this village in any way possible to get them back on their feet. It was discussed with the LCU that if this school was going to survive, it needed a solid permanent structure. The team member graciously agreed to fund this project. In partnership with Messiah Lutheran Church in Weldon Springs, MO, who further committed to sponsoring the children to go to the school, the village of Butogonha was instilled with hope for their future once again.
Flash forward to April 2021 and Hearts & Hope held 2 sponsorship drives at Messiah, hoping to get some of the very first kids sponsored. We were elated when in just 2 weekends, over 90 kids had been sponsored by members of the congregation at Messiah. Without the incredible hearts of the mission team member who funded the school and all the people who felt called to sponsor a child there, this village and school community would have been victims of poverty and ultimately met their demise.
With this fact ingrained in our minds, we visited the school last week to distribute sponsorship packets to the children there for the first time! We knew it would be an exciting day for everyone. What we didn’t anticipate, however, is the immense transformation we witnessed as soon as we pulled up to the school. The whole team simultaneously yelled “woooooow” as what once was a dilapidated, half fallen structure made of sticks, was now a brick structure with 3 classrooms for the nursery students and the completed foundation of the larger, primary school structures. In addition, from what was about 10 children present in 2020, came HUNDREDS of children and parents to celebrate the day and share gratitude for the school, singing and dancing loudly all the way.
To say we were moved is an understatement….but wait, it gets even BETTER!
After the sponsorship packet distribution was through for the 100 sponsored students, something amazing happened that made all of the team fill with emotions. It started with one, a child came up to a team member and gave her some eggs, as a thank you gift for her sponsorship. This often happens as the parents want to show their appreciation, and share some gifts, even with what little they have. It truly demonstrates how grateful these people are for the gift of education. While this might happen with one or two students, in Butogonha, the gifts never stopped! From the time packets were over until we boarded the bus to leave, we all received bag after bag of avocados, oranges, cabbage, corn, jack fruit, bananas, cassava, and even a live chicken! Boy do these children appreciate their sponsors! We were overwhelmed at their generosity and upon leaving the village, both our hearts and hands were quite literally FULL.
Hope & Vision Restored for Muzafaru
He lost his right eye due to a severe and untreated infection for which his family had no resources to handle. He is raised by a single mother who, after the eye was lost, did everything she could to pay for a prosthetic eye for her son to not be rejected by his peers. That eye, however, was cheaply created and did not fit properly.
This resulted in the prosthetic eye falling out, breaking, and the boy losing his hope of appearing "normal", after already losing his eyesight. Fast forward to November 2020, when our sponsorship coordinator reached out to us after visiting his home with more sad news - his other eye was now showing signs of serious infection spread from the previous socket, which never received the correct treatment. This meant he was in danger of complete blindness if left without help.
After working tooth and nail to pay for a prosthetic, the mother again was left with no money or confidence that she could help her son get the treatment he so desperately needed.
Hearts & Hope promised to do all we could to save his vision and eradicate this infection once and for all. Thanks to some charitable donors, we were able to raise funds for his medical treatment in a matter of minutes. In addition, the donations allowed for the purchase of a new and professionally produced prosthetic eye, along with glasses to improve his remaining vision. Muzafaru can now go to school with his head held high and can participate in his studies fully with his improved eyesight. We are so beyond grateful for those who gave to this cause for the sake of this young boy's future. It is inspiring to witness people come together and support the needs of a fellow human 8,000 miles away - truly this is the human family in action.
If interested in helping future emergent cases like his, you can donate to our medical fund here
Hearts & Hope is a nonprofit organization focused on unlocking the potential of people in Uganda through relationships with people in the US.