It’s hard to feel close to someone you have only ever seen in a photograph and who lives far away in a country on the other side of the world, I get it! Sometimes when I would get our sponsor child Whilifred’s letter I would quickly open it, chuckle at his childlike comments and questions like “Do you grow any crops” or “ What is your best dish”, put it on my kitchen bench and stumble upon it a few weeks later buried under a pile of bills, notes and crumbs. When it came time to write back to him I would sometimes begrudgingly sit down for 5 minutes and franticly search my brain for something relatively interesting to say that would fill up the 20 lines on the page in front of me. Pathetic, I know.
Then we moved to Uganda. Seeing as though Whilifred lives here too we decide to contact the Tear Fund New Zealand office and see if it might be possible to make the 7 hour journey to his village. After hearing back from them we set a date and last Monday October 18th we met the little boy in the photograph.
We arrived at the Project Office in the rural Kashongi Village and met with the warm, helpful and competent staff who explained to us in detail what they are doing in the village. When I first laid eyes on him I burst into tears. Here, standing in front of me, was this beautiful, precious little 12 year old boy who was not just a picture. He had a beating heart, dreams and desires, he has things he wants to do and be, he feels sad and happy, he was so...human. It suddenly struck me, he was real long before I came here, I just didn’t care enough to think about that. He is not just a picture, he’s real.
Being the touchy feely person I am I was all over him like a rash Hugging him, kissing him, holding his hand, inspecting him from head to toe, pinching him to check he was real. Although he didn’t speak much English, our translator enabled us to talk freely with him about everything from his favourite subjects in school to what sports he enjoys, to how he was born with just one eye.
When we went to his school to visit his classroom and see his desk, he was a celebrity, through and through. All eyes were on him. Photo proof attached. He was bouncing around with joy, so happy to have white people in his school, holding his hand, loving him, and him only.
The most heart warming moment for me was when we visited his home. Whilifred showed me his family’s photo album. It contained pictures of his brothers, sisters, mother, father and their life’s most precious memories. There were not many pictures (cameras are hard to come by) but you can imagine how I felt when I saw my picture in there. There was Tim and I, sitting on a fence at our friends house and yet also sitting in his family’s treasured album. How many times had I wondered if he even got my letters, let alone photos and gifts. Not only had my letters and photos made it, but they took pride of place. Humbled is an understatement.
We brought some gifts for Whilifred, a Mancheseter and Aresenal Soccer Jersey, soccer ball, coloring in markers, a Superman shirt and a Soccer book for him to write and draw in. Can you tell he loves soccer? We gave his family some rice, soap and candy. You can picture the look on our faces when his mother then turned around and gave us a gift that had taken her two weeks to make. It was a beautiful handmade bowl and will take pride of place in our home once Customs inspects and de-fumigates it.
The thing that made me the most sad during our visit was not the fact that he was living in a relatively poor area, or that he was born with just one eye. Rather it was the fact that, as our Compassion Leader told us, only one or two sponsors visit each year. Sure, we send our money in and barely even notice its gone, but asking to connect with this child on the other side of the world - that’s a bit too much to ask. It never occurred to me that when our child writes to us 4 times a year and we seldom reply – he wonders why.
If you sponsor a child, my prayer is that you would engage. Engage with them, think about them, make their photo big in your house – give it pride of place, write to them with joy when you get their letter. They are WAITING for your reply! A letter from you, even a sticker from you, is a treasured item – worth far more than you realise. Each thing you send is beloved by them. It takes pride of place in their mud hut house, it adorns the walls, it captivates them. You are SO much more important to them than you realise. You are the reason they are in school. Your support is invaluable and is giving them a chance to make something of their lives. Perhaps even take it one step further and consider making your next holiday destination his or her hometown!
One reason people are sometimes hesitant to sponsor a child is because of the reasonable fear they have that corruption and unaccountability occurs in 3rd world countries. Well, after visiting the actual project, standing on the soil, meeting the children that are only at school because they are sponsored and looking through the well ordered and organised office files of our sponsor child...I can recommend and proudly stand behind the excellent, professional and honest work Compassion and Tear Fund are partnering together to do in Uganda. These are two organisations we trust.
One of the things I have been struck by is the enormous disparity between the daily life experiences of people here compared to people in the West. This is something that I find really difficult to express but I think it is important to try. I’m writing this blog to record the challenge to my perception of what a normal life is like, that has taken place during my time here.
There’s a boy in my rugby team here at Hope High School called Moses who has genuine talent. I think he would easily get selected on most high school 1st XVs in New Zealand despite only having played the game for a couple of months. The other day he told me his fascinating story. It highlighted for me the rich world - poor world gap.
Moses was born in a rural area of Uganda. His father had more than one wife. He was raised by a woman who he thought was his mother along with 7 other kids. He found out later that his mother had moved to Kampala shortly after he was born. Moses’ family was too poor to send him or any of his siblings to school so he worked digging in the fields and herding cattle. When he was 7 years old his mother came back to see him. She unsuccessfully tried to persuade Moses’ father to let her take him to Kampala where he could go to school.
A couple of years later she returned and took Moses away from his village (without the father’s knowledge). Shortly after this they heard that his father had died and Moses was accepted into a Watoto village. Almost immediately he had an audition to join a choir that was to travel the world promoting the work done by Watoto. He said:
“They told me to sing, so I sang a song I knew from my village. They told me I was going to America.” Evidently he had a good voice. Before the age of 10 he had never been out of his rural village community. He said he had seen planes flying overhead but thought they were small (like a duck). They rarely saw cars and he had only seen a few White people.
So he was taken to Entebbe Airport to fly out on their tour. He told me he was amazed by the size of the planes and couldn’t wait to get on one. Once the gates opened he was first across the tarmac to board the plane. All of the kids had been given a sleeping pill to help them sleep through the night but his had no effect. He sat with his eyes wide open for the entire leg to London.
They continued on from London to the States. Within a month of leaving his home village he was in the metropolis that is NYC. I cannot imagine how this must have been for him. Even telling me about it seven years on, he was almost shaking with excitement as he described JFK airport, the sky-scrapers, the traffic and the people. From a world of mud huts, no electricity, no running water and one meal per day this must have seemed unreal. American cheese and ranch dressing made him want to throw up but he was more partial to burgers. As he only started school at the age of 11 he is now in his first year of high school as a 17 year old. (Jo don’t read this part) He raises rabbits and has promised to give me one- and not as a pet.
Not surprisingly his goal is to become a pilot.
Helen and I have struggled to adjust from our usually comfortable lifestyle. We often miss having hot running water or a washing machine or an oven. Yet when we compare ourselves to the locals we still live in abundance - even here. I wonder whether we will quickly forget to be grateful for our lifestyle back home. Most likely. Still I think our time here has been an excellent challenge for my perception of what we need to live or what a normal standard of living is.
Ask any Ugandan what their favourite thing to eat is and you’ll usually hear the word Chapati at some point on their list! Chapatis are a delicious African flatbread that is prepared most weeks in many Ugandan homes. Cheap and relatively easy to make, the ingredients and process appear simple, but getting them to come out perfectly takes some practice.
1 large packet of Flour
½ Litre Oil (approximately)
2 finely grated carrots
2 finely grated red onions
2 cups of hot water
1 or 2 pinches of salt
Optional: One stalk of finely chopped spring onion
This recipe will make 34 Chapatis
In a large bowl, add flour together with carrots, red onions and 3 tablespoons of oil. Adding a little bit of water at a time, mix the ingredients together to form dough. Knead the dough for 10 minutes or until it does not stick to your hands. The secret to really soft Chapatis lies in the kneading. The dough must be smooth and just the right softeness - medium.
Divide the dough into equal portions, roughly the size of a golf ball. Roll between your palms, applying a gentle pressure, till the balls are smooth and without cracks. Once completed, lightly brush each piece of dough with oil and then sprinkle a pinch of flour on top.
Sprinkle flour over the bench where you will be rolling the chapattis out. Use your rolling pin to push the dough into round flat circles about 5 inches wide. Flip the dough as you roll and make sure you add flour if it is sticking to the bench or the rolling pin.
Heat a pan on a medium flame and put one tablespoon of oil in the pan. Put the rolled out Chapati on it to cook. Use your hands to stretch the chapatti to the width of the pan so that the chapatti is as thin as possible. Take either a spatula or an empty flour bag and fold it down from the top to the bottom making a shape like the one in the picture. Slowly press down on the chapati as you turn it.
The Chapati is ready for its first flip when you begin to see raised bumps on its surface. Use a spatula to turn it on to its other side. Remove from the pan when both sides appear golden in colour.
Serving Suggestion: Chapati is best eaten warm and can be used to accompany any lunch or dinner menu. Alternatively, add an omelette with your chapatti, roll up and eat.
We’ve reached the halfway point and I don’t like it.
I am so enjoying my time here that I find myself wishing we could stay longer.
It’s really weird to think that I (of all people) would want to stay in a land of powercuts, unpurified water, deathly driving skills, mosquitoes, and worst of all no Kit-Kats...but yet somehow I do! It’s hard to explain what I love about Africa so much. There are just no words for it. If you’ve been here you know what I mean. It moves you.
I was actually talking to my old boss the other day and she was asking me what I miss most about NZ? I said wearing heels. It would just look ridiculous if I was to pop some on here. The dirt and the mud for starters, followed closely by the fact that I don’t already stand out enough by being the only white person wherever I go!
My job has been a mixture of all things PR. Some days I am a journalist heading out to a location to write a story about something happening in the life of Watoto. Other days I’m a photographer getting the shots for that story, other days I’m doing media training with a children’s choir that’s about to head out on a worldwide tour. You can check out the stories I’ve been writing on www.watoto.com/news . I’ve also been keeping close tabs on the Restore Tour and all the amazing reactions that is getting as it travels the States and Canada. You can check out the new and improved website on www.restoretour.com . This week I’ve been working on the Christmas Publicity Plan and the Global PR Plan for Watoto. Next week Tim and I are doing PR and Media Training for the 20+ strong media department. I feel very honoured to be trusted with such jobs and am trying to use all the previous knowledge I have obtained to give Watoto the best I can offer.
Speaking of the best on offer...The Discovery Channel came to life when we went to Kenya a few weeks back with our belated flatmates Colleen and Henrik. It was SO much fun! Everything about Kenya is just so green and beautiful. Zebras, Deer and Giraffe are not just inside the game park but roaming the countryside as well! Our journey into the Masai Marra from Kampala took 17 hours due largely to the unmistakably large pot holes that lengthened our journey considerably. Seeing 16 lions devour a wilderbeast was the highlight of the trip for me. We must have sat there watching them for about 2 or 3 hours. It was fascinating to be within a metre or two of something I have only ever seen on the Discovery Channel! We just missed out on seeing a cheetah with her 6 cubs, but the 55+ other species we saw made up for that!
I don’t know if you’re like me, but being here I have noticed that I am rarely just content with doing nothing, and it bugs me! I seem to always be looking for what we are doing next. For example, today is a Saturday, I am writing this blog. I have nothing to do after this. This is what most Saturday’s are like for us. Back home, I would have about fifty billion things on my to-do list, almost half of which would remain undone until the following Saturday. Yet here I have all the time in the world and I almost resent it. How bad is that! I can remember days in NZ where I would have done ANYTHING to have an hour of quiet time to read a book or feel no pressure to do something or go somewhere! My weeks were so full and busy, weekends jam packed. Now, I have no plans, ever! Weekdays are free, Weekends even freer.
Usually I would have cleaned the house on a Saturday. Here – I don’t own a vacuum cleaner and if I want to clean I get a bucket and throw the water on the concrete floor. Takes 5 minutes. Usually, I would have gone shopping on a weekend, here – the only ‘shopping’ available is a 45 minute drive away and consists of knockoff Nike and Adidas clothing and second hand bras. Why do I find it frustrating to have nothing to do on the weekend? Why cant I just relax and enjoy the fact that one day I will be so busy my head will spin and that just for now I should enjoy having no plans any night of the week and nothing to do on the weekend. Tim and I have both been convicted lately that we should not waste a second, not wish this free time away.
So for me it’s wishing away empty time slots, for you it might be wishing for when you do get empty time slots! Or wishing for the next best thing like a better job, car or cute pair of shoes – then you will be happy. You get the idea and so do I. Furthermore, I’d like you to know that I’m making a commitment to enjoy the second half of our time here far more than the first. To appreciate this special and unique phase of my life because I know it’s something to treasure, not waste away.
With that thought in mind and the fact that we only have 9 weeks left here, the words of a Brooke Fraser song have been rolling around in my head “Child what will you live to do, what have I left for you? What will we leave behind?” One of the things that has touched my heart most whilst I have been here is the meeting of four precious little girls. Let me tell you about them.
Keep in mind that Tim and I live in a Watoto Village that is filled with about 1000+ Africans. We and eight other white people live and work here full time. Needless to say, wherever we go we usually have a small crowd following us, just to see what we’re up to.
Anyways, one of these girls is a little 3 year old who loves to ‘spot’ my whiteness from afar and run towards me at full speed from at least 300metres away. I gave her some fairy wings that my goddaughter Mya helped me pick out before we left for Africa. She wears them every day and everywhere. They were white and sparkly, they are now brown and dusty but she does not even notice. She is now a full time fairy and that’s all there is too it. Esther and I hang out together most days now. She is also my companion on weekends and Tim and I take her to church on Sunday. Esther also likes to do things that I do, for example, if I am sitting with crossed legs, she trys to cross hers. If I am showing someone how to do gymnastics, she tells me she would like to exercise with me and do some too. If I need to go the bathroom, guess who also does!
And then of course, there’s Hope. She is featured a lot on this blog. This little bundle of joy is due to move to the Watoto Village soon. She will meet her new Mum and brothers and sisters and start her journey to becoming a future leader of Uganda. I am looking forward to seeing who she becomes.
Enter the third girl. A few weeks into our stay here I was hand delivered a letter by a petite teenage girl, she wrote to me about her life story and asked me to be her friend. I was really overwhelmed by her openness and honesty and instantly accepted and we continued to write letters back and forth over the weeks that came. Not too far into our friendship she wrote me a particularly poignant letter in which she asked to call me Mother. Cue Tears. I was so blessed by her request. Last week she was dedicated in a formal service at Bbira Village. There was a point in the ceremony where the kids were asked to pick a rose from the back and give it to their Mums. After giving one to her Watoto mother, Ritah then came over to me and handed me a rose.
Finally, Stellah. We crossed paths as she is the only girl on Tim’s rugby team. I liked her immediately. She turned 18 this week and it was so cool to celebrate that milestone with her at our house. She also asked to call me Mother a couple months back. I think the reason behind the request from both the girls is that their biological mothers have died and even though they have wonderful Watoto mums, they are still hungry for someone to talk to every day, someone to love them and have an interest in their lives and their future. I see myself as more of an ‘older sister’ than a Mum. After all, I would have been like what, 8, when they were born!
I feel like all these girls are a ‘Nudge from above’. They are heaven sent and have blessed my life in the most unexpected ways.
Ending on a lighter note I just wanted to list of a few of the rather unusual names we see for businesses here. It’s almost like one of those ‘forwards’ you get in your email. Yet this time, it’s fresh out of Africa and they’re all real names of businesses we spot on our way into Kampala. They make Tim and I chuckle.
God’s Will Medical Clinic
Lazarus Funeral Home
4Pals Hotel - Passion Awaits
Taxi Van called “God’s Choice”
Taxi Van called “Gods Decision”
Give and Take Hardware
Obama Car Wash – Jet we can!
I wrote this story yesterday for the Watoto Website - its up there now on http://www.watoto.com/ but I honestly was so moved by this experience that I wanted to re-post it on my own blog.
Last night when I got home all I could think about was these beautiful children who have had their lives completely changed in a day. The awe and amazement mixed with uncertainity and aprehensivness was so visible as I looked into each childs eye. It is so hard to grasp the reality of the situation when you are amongst the noise and the flurry.
But when you step back and realise what is really going on here...a life completley changed, a new forever home, a Mum and brothers and sisters they are going to grow up with. Noone in the world apart from Watoto that knows where they are....its really...I dont know...i cant think of the right word.
Here's the story...
Arriving at Suubi Village this afternoon, 20 children, originally from a government run center, have finally found their forever home here at Watoto.
Welcomed by their mothers and new brothers and sisters their two week long orientation at Watoto’s Buloba Village came to an end today when their Mums came to pick them up and take them to their new home! During the children’s stay at Buloba, their orientation with our staff included an in-depth look into what their new lives would look like, what would be provided for them and what would be expected of them. To help ease the upcoming transitional period of moving from Buloba the children’s mothers were sure to make regular visits and spend quality time with each child.
The 30 minute drive taken today from Buloba to Suubi was a mixture of anticipation and nerves as the children anxiously awaited the sight of their new village. Arriving at Suubi Village the children’s faces were practically glued to the glass windows as they drove past children happily playing, mothers cooking dinner, boys playing soccer and girls chatting under a tree.
Once the bus finally pulled to a stop the children piled out, took their bags and followed their mother to Cluster 3. Each child was given a new backpack, fresh clothes and shoes and a special blanket. Each mother then took her new children to their particular home and showed them to their room, gave them a place to put their things and helped them to prepare their bed.
Walking around Cluster 3, one little boy was absolutely thrilled with a soft toy airplane that was given to him and was showing it to anyone and everyone that would look! Others were eager to set up their bedrooms with their special blanket and new mattress, whilst some were trying to just take in the fact that the new shoes and clothes they were putting on were theirs for the keeping!
Today was a very special day for these 20 children, and one they will no doubt remember for the rest of their lives. It’s important to remember that the children that are part of this intake have come from a background of extreme poverty, abuse or abandonment. Even though this is an exciting time of change and progress it is also a delicate time where the children are learning to trust and feel comfortable in their new surroundings. Please do keep these precious children in your prayers as they continue to make this big adjustment.