Majorine is one of our primary sponsorship coordinators and during this break from life normality her job is extending way beyond her job description. Maj handles the coordination of a special type of sponsorship for a young boy from Butangala named Pius. Pius is a 10-year-old boy who is hearing impaired and unable to fully speak. His sponsor is supporting his education in a special school for the deaf in Kampala, the capital city of Uganda, where he is thriving.
When schools temporarily closed due to COVID-19, Maj went to gather Pius to take him back home to his village where he resides with his grandmother and 6 other people with disabilities. He lives in the village of Butangala which is about a 3-4 hour taxi ride away from his school. However, upon getting Pius, the government announced a shut down of the roads and banned all public transport. This left Pius stranded and Maj to care for him during this quarantine as she lives in Kampala near his school and was able to get to her home before the total lock down began.
Fortunately for Pius, who at home is often sent out to beg for food to eat and doesn’t get much devoted attention, this was a huge blessing as he now has regular food, shelter, and most importantly – a loving caretaker. As for Maj, she shared that her family treats Pius like a prince and enjoys his company tremendously. His smile is contagious and he makes every day meaningful. Even better is Maj and Pius set up a routine where she helps with his school lessons and his speaking skills are improving day by day. They also have leisure time where Pius enjoys watching cartoons and playing games, a rare commodity for this special boy.
It is so comforting to know that our sponsored students in Uganda have our staff who see them all as family members and would give anything for them, jumping in to help them in the face of a global pandemic. We thank our sponsors who support vulnerable children in Uganda like Pius. We thank our staff in Uganda who are so dedicated to the well-being of each student. Lastly, we thank God for giving us this positive story of love and unity in an otherwise unclear and low-spirited time.
As the world continues to be at a complete standstill, we all have more time to think about the things that are truly important in life. As we settle the fear and anxiety of the unknown and the yearning for our “normal” lives to return, it is valuable to remember how important those around us are and have always been. While our “communities” are much tighter these days or are limited to a computer screen, their worth is no less significant.
As our staff distributed soap to our students and their families, we learned that one family was using sap from a tree to wash their hands. They were so fearful that they and their families would get sick, they resorted to whatever soap like resource they could find. Needless to say, they were immensely grateful when our team pulled up with large bars of hand soap. As our team was leaving the village they were reminded from a parent that “a friend in need is a friend indeed.” When we as a community, locally or around the world, need assistance, the people that show up are truly friends to be treasured.
I think we can all look around our communities and not only be reminded of how lucky we are to have the support we do, but to remember to be a friend to others around us in need. This is just another instance that displays how united the human race is even with such obvious cultural differences – we all need each other.
Many people are curious as to how the Ugandan way of life is different from what we experience in the US? As you can imagine, the answers are numerous. This is no less the case when we consider life during a global pandemic.
The majority of Americans are rattled by a life stuck at home where they can no longer enjoy some of the simple pleasures that going out brings. Many Ugandans are being forced to stay home by their government for a reason they don't fully even comprehend. While many Americans can no longer enjoy their favorite restaurants or may have to buy the "off-brand" version of their usual groceries, many Ugandans are faced with potential food shortages and lack even a daily meal for themselves or their children. While many of us are deeply affected by the damage our economy is currently facing, we are supported by a government that is trying its best to come up with solutions for the American people. Meanwhile, in Uganda people who venture out into the market or gather too close to one another are beaten by the local police. In a place where the strength and bonds of family and community are the foundation for the success of the society, how do you keep people apart?
Hearts & Hope is trying to find the best ways to help in this rapidly changing situation. We are regularly asking our staff for recommendations and updates and speak to them daily. Nicholas, our head of operations recently shared with our US team just how dire the situation is becoming in Uganda. We learned that although the people in the village may have heard of Coronavirus, they know very little about what it actually is, how it is impacting our world, how to protect themselves and their loved ones, and how to prevent it from spreading. In an effort to keep them safe and informed, our staff and local leaders took to the streets late last week and in a matter of a few of days provided all our sponsored students with hand soap, education on proper hand washing techniques, and information about COVID-19 and how to prevent its spread.
Thanks to the quick action by our staff, they were able to complete this work before Monday evening, when the Ugandan government announced a 14-day total lock-down where even private vehicles are not allowed to travel. People are still allowed to move around on foot but are not allowed to gather in groups of more than five at a time. This highly limits how people can live their daily lives. Because there was little to no warning, many people were left without basic living resources in supply, unable to venture out to get them, and are frightened about what the future holds.
With such strict restrictions in place, Ugandans are now faced with an emerging issue - feeding their families.
"There is no assurance that you will have at least one basic meal in a day," Nicholas said in a recent phone call. "This is a big challenge since the emergence of Coronavirus has come as a surprise and thus the families didn’t plan for extra food preparation like they would normally do during school breaks/ holidays."
While the president of Uganda said the government would begin distributing food to those in need, no further details were provided. We are working with our staff in Uganda to research potential options for keeping the students & communities we support both safe and fed. It will be our priority to stay on top of these issues and to act in a way that can support these communities in this time of need. If you are interested in helping us in supporting these families, please consider making a donation to Hearts & Hope here. We will continue to provide updates as we work with our staff to implement a support program.
We are praying for anyone in the US who may be struggling with similar issues due to loss of jobs or income and are praying for our friends in Uganda. We want to thank each of you in advance for your prayers for strength to those in Uganda who are faced with challenges that are difficult for many of us to comprehend.
What do you think of when you hear the word home? Maybe you think of your childhood bedroom, your relaxing bathroom, or your kitchen table where many family meals are shared. This past week we did a few home visits where some of the sponsored kids live. The picture painted in the minds of most people in the US when we hear the word home is quite contrasting to what we saw. The first few homes were one-room structures made mostly of mud and sticks. The mothers greeted us warmly as soon as we arrived and generously began showing us around their homes. While US kitchens are often nestled somewhere indoors, the kitchen is usually the first "room" you notice in rural Uganda, as it's often outside the home. Generally, the kitchen is comprised of a firepit, sticks, rocks, charcoal, and a few pots and plates, either a few feet from the structure or sometimes even in the home. The bathroom is also outdoors, although the "toilet" is really just the ground and the "shower" is generally a bucket of water, hidden behind a partially enclosed area. Indoors, there was usually either one or two rooms. A storage room and a "living room," where the family sleeps at night. Beds are made of rolled-up bamboo mats that on the floor when it was time to sleep. Many times multiple children share one mat.
This example of material poverty, however, was juxtaposed with the pride, happiness, and welcoming spirit of the mother who greeted us. “Home” means something very different here. Home means having a community of families coming together to help raise children who can contribute to the wellbeing of said community in the future. It is comprised of many neighbors coming together, gathering what little they have, and contributing to one another. I fear that my home community is so much more focused on material wellbeing that our sense of togetherness is sacrificed. The people in Uganda take great care of each other and when one family unit is in need, others come to their aid with no questions asked.
This aspect was highlighted in the last home we visited. Before we arrived, Mariah, our primary sponsorship coordinator, turned to me and said, “you need to prepare yourself for this one”. That statement was alarming as the homes we had just toured weren’t exactly easy to see from my Western perspective. We pulled up along the main road to a tiny structure made up of coal bags and leaves. The bedroom was the size of a small closet where sacks are laid down and the two share the spot and hope for safety through the night.
They did not have any sort of bathroom structure, so the grandmother and girl have to shower at night with a bucket and try to dodge any light source in order to protect what little privacy they have left. This was the home of a sponsored 6-year-old student and her grandmother. The girl’s father was killed in a car accident and the mother remarried and abandoned the child. A story that is all too common here. The grandmother was very frail, sickly, and therefore couldn’t work. The only way they receive food/shelter is from a good Samaritan across the street. This lady owns a small store and allows the grandmother to sell charcoal for her and in return, she gives them some food to eat. We went to give our thanks to this store owner and we had a great discussion about how we must take care of each other here on Earth and she only hoped that someone would do the same for her if the roles were reversed.
God did not create us alone. Whether our houses are made of mud, coal sacks, or concrete and plaster, the community of people God has entrusted to us is what makes that space home. As difficult as that was to see, it was another eye-opener as to what is truly important in this life: loving one another. Whether that be through sponsoring a child from afar or taking care of your neighbor just across the street. These are the means by which God leads us away from our material homes on Earth, to our spiritual home with him in Heaven.
Hearts & Hope is a nonprofit organization focused on unlocking the potential of people in Uganda through relationships with people in the US.