Posted by: tonyalatorre | March 26, 2015

A great tree grows from a single SEED.

Yes! We have orphaned children in our home. This is a fact. Would you believe I have never once heard one of our kids mention they miss their parents. They don’t talk about losing them. They aren’t stuck on that part of their lives. They don’t think it is unusual to be an orphan. Not one has ever said, “I miss my mom and dad.” I haven’t figured out why this is so. As a culture I don’t exactly find anyone who labors over their past problems like we do in America. Most people are fully engaged in the now and not too worried about tomorrow. The past, well, it never seems to come up, unless you sit with me for too long. I love to ask anyone I meet about what it was like whey they grew up, what their family is like, and to collect all the details of their childhood experiences that I can extract. I don’t mean to be nosy, I don’t judge, I only want to understand the culture better. Most people are used to me by now, and if they don’t like it I figure they are welcome to avoid me all together.

 

Kids in their sports uniforms. Fred and Musa go to boarding school we miss them during school time!!

Kids in their sports uniforms. Fred and Musa go to boarding school we miss them during school time!!

When I compare the skinny, gaunt eyed little children we found with their jjajjas to the vibrant, intelligent confident children they are now I can hardly believe they are one in the same. It is fun to periodically ask them what they want to do when they are adults. Some want to be auto mechanics, others teachers, and many doctors. Can you see that our cars are in the shop a lot, they spend a lot of time in school, and they visit the doctor often? No one wanted to be a dentist, or a dog trainer.

 

They LOVE the beach

They LOVE the beach

These children are all seeds for our future generations. We are investing deeply to get them well grounded in God’s ways so they can take it where they work, to their spouses, to their children, and children’s children. We need to get ourselves prepared because just like our American kids, they will all of a sudden be ready to launch from Kirabo Seeds. Craig and I often discuss what will we do as kids age out of our home. This is their home, but someone will take their beds so we better make sure they know how to be independent and self-sufficient. We need to begin teaching them how to manage money, the basics of doing a good business, and how to work hard. Mostly I am concerned that they believe in the virtue of practicing honesty.

 

Lawrence and Justine Our friend Auntie Judy from Texas treated our kids to a visit to the beach last weekend.

Lawrence and Justine
Our friend Auntie Judy from Texas treated our kids to a visit to the beach last weekend.

Ideally I hope when our first doctor looks for a job we are able to add a medical clinic to our program! I hope when the first teachers are ready to put a chalk to the blackboard we have set up a school. However, the one who wants to be a pilot needs to know we don’t plan to buy an airplane. And we are not opening a zoo. (Sorry Desire)

 

We gave the kids and staff tetanus and Hep B shots. (I look away too)

We gave the kids and staff tetanus and Hep B shots. (I look away too)

The children who have grown up in our program are the future leaders for Uganda. We hope they will help us grow and expand our ministry. Trust is a great obstacle to our growth now. But with our own children we will know who they are like none other. And I can only hope they will want to help others like they themselves were helped. We shall see. I have no expectations. They are free! I just hope they want to participate.

 

Justine's first time on the beach. There's lake Victoria nearby and they visit now and then.

Justine’s first time on the beach. There’s lake Victoria nearby and they visit now and then.

 

Way back before I was Mama Tonya I fell in love with the culture and people of Uganda. I admit I got an education on the darker side of it and while the ugly parts are real, they’re not set in stone. It doesn’t cause me to lose hope for the future generations. I believe God wants us to stomp out the dark and fill it with light. So I answered God’s tug on my heart with, “sure I’ll do something, just show me the way.”

 

This purpose I carry with me while I live, eat, sleep, breathe and love what I can touch now is my great relief. There is something bigger than me, more important than “mine” and beyond my comprehension. I have to trust God with big problems and issues because I don’t have a boss or answer. It is simply, yes, no or wait. But I know I follow an all knowing God who has a great plan for Kirabo Seeds as we reach the orphaned children in Uganda and I’m just so thankful to have this work to do.

 

Rhona wearing Kira's outgrown bathing suit. So cute. Hard to believe she was that sick skinny dirty little girl we found.

Rhona wearing Kira’s outgrown bathing suit. So cute. Hard to believe she was that sick skinny dirty little girl we found.

Another privilege I have is to welcome others who are called to this cause to join us in the ways that God shows them. In the past few months we have been so blessed with committed helpers to further the cause. I am excited to see what will happen next. It’s going to be an exciting year and I look forward to introducing the new projects as they unfold. Meanwhile we welcome supporters to join us in various ways so if you are interested in joining the cause let me know! It can be as simple as sharing children’s bibles with us. Two weeks ago I asked for children’s bibles and my dining room table it piling high! It’s so exciting to receive boxes at my front door heavy with bibles. We’ll take new or used so let us know if you want to do a collection. Some child in Uganda who never hoped to have its own book can own the most important one of all time. Did you know the bible has always been the bestseller? Yeah, the New York Times just doesn’t bother to mention it any more.

 

And an unbelievable thing just happened: I joined Instagram. Haha. Follow us! I’ll share pics of the kids in Uganda with daily photos I receive from the team. username: KiraboSeeds

Children's Bibles! We'll always welcome more of these. There are more kids than we can count who would like a bible!

Children’s Bibles!
We’ll always welcome more of these. There are more kids than we can count who would like a bible!

Posted by: tonyalatorre | March 13, 2015

Orphan Care isn’t a rescue mission.

Orphan care isn’t a rescue mission, not like we think.

We who help orphaned kids are not the great savior who swoops in and pulls a desperate child out of the world’t worst living conditions. (According to the book I believe in, that would be Jesus.) There’s always someone worse off. And our efforts for these kids aren’t supposed to be about ourselves.

Some media campaigns don’t help arrest this myth because they always show sick, disabled, pitiful looking children. There’s only one place I’ve been to in Uganda where children look like that, and it’s at the orthopedic hospital after or before surgery. The very beautiful thing about experiencing this culture is that these children may have nothing or very little, but there’s so much zest for life and joy in the moment that I feel embarrassed with the carelessness about my own abundance. I want their joie de vivre. I want everyone I love to have that ability to be joyful in the moment they occupy. This tangible, educational, non-circumstantial joy is a magnet that pulls me to Uganda. I cannot resist to return, to commit, to invest, to remain, to let it change me.

 

This is Justine and Phiona.

This is Justine and Phiona.

I will even admit when we were waiting for our own adoption to finalize I imagined this meek child who would forever be grateful for the mire God lifted her out of and for the soft cushion where she landed. Ha Ha Ha Ha. If you know our Kira, that’s never how anyone would describe her. Diva doesn’t even touch on her sense of style or attitude of entitlement.

Children are children, orphaned or privileged. They are survivors. They will do whatever they need to do to get by. They will push boundaries and get away with as much as they can do.  And quite often our help comes too late and they will disdain us for our tardiness, or we will miss important clues, cries for help, further announcing our uselessness. They’ll learn very early to be self-sufficient and our help will be refused even if they need it because pride is a great wall of protection.

 

Kiah and our kids during devotion

Kiah and our kids during devotion

At Kirabo Seeds, it has taken years for our children to actually trust us with the secret hurts in their hearts. They have let us in and believe we want to help guide them in the direction God has for them. This is rare. In some children’s homes I have visited the kids remark they do not trust their caregivers at all. Trust is our first and primary goal. If we don’t have their trust we can’t really affect change. They could just tell us what we want to hear, welcome what they need from us, take what they can get from us and run as soon as possible without ever looking back.

I don’t want Kirabo Seeds to be a chapter in these children’s lives that they will look back on and think, “how did I ever get through that?” What horror! I might suggest many children’s homes are over stuffed with kids and under staffed so the children feel alone, misunderstood, and overlooked. We are aiming for the heart and soul of every individual child. That’s why we have a staff of seven with only seventeen children. This is why they go to school, but have a tutor. They have a regular counselor. They have two uncles who serve as father figures who live in our home. They have Aunties who are mothers to them down to the essential problems involving emotional and social turmoil. Our staff listens carefully to the children and take them to see what God says in the bible about every little issue. And if I’ve learned anything while parenting for over 22 years with five of my own children, it’s that God has answers for every life issue in his word. Our children get music lessons on Saturdays! They have computer lessons. They go to a good church where their Sunday School teachers know and love them. They have pets. And they remain connected in a significant way with their grandparents and extended family members. And they have God given sponsors who help them meet their goals with prayer, love, financial support and social interaction.

IMG_2009

If you ask every single child in our home how they feel about living at Kirabo Seeds they will tell you as they have told all of us many times, “I don’t know why God chose me to be able to live in this home. I thank God every day I get to be here.”

For us westerners I would like you to know what their list of thanks looks like on any random day. They say things like….”I can’t believe I have shoes to wear”…”When the rains come we can ride in the motor car.”… “When I grow I get new clothes to wear.”…”I no longer worry about being hungry. There’s always so much good tasting food every day.”…”I know I am loved and understood.” … “I don’t have to labor hard for the food I eat.” ….“I am learning so much about God and his word.”… “I feel safe when I go to bed at night.”…”I feel safe when I leave the compound.”…”I know I can be anything I want to be.”

 

Lawrence on the first day we met him compared to now

Lawrence on the first day we met him compared to now

It doesn’t happen very often that I get teary eyed about these children because I’m no longer romantic about orphan care. But writing that list reminds me of how many children out there can’t say these things. And that makes me profoundly sad, to where my eyes burn, my mouth purses and my throat clenches. I ask God, what more can we do?

And honestly when I watch American television (which I quit doing soon after starting up Kirabo Seeds…for many reasons) or when I’m in a public place with an abundance of Americans, I feel even worse. I don’t want to live in a world where we think only about our needs, our wants, and ourselves. This is why it’s so important to our organization that we have sponsors who desire to reach out and help the children. We offer them the opportunity to make a difference in children’s lives. Living in America, I know I need to do this, there must be others who do too.

 

how would you like to do all your laundry and dishes this way?

how would you like to do all your laundry and dishes this way?

Orphan care is not a rescue mission. It’s a significant commitment to something outside ourselves. It’s connecting with someone’s suffering and as it helps us to learn to persevere, which builds our character and that leads us to hope in what God can do. And this brings us to HIS love which is abundant when we open ourselves to it. In fact there can be more love flowing than we know what to do with, which is how I am personally able to continue with this work. This is God’s love working through me. I am so relieved to be an open channel and see lives change. Because this is happening through me I have peace.

If you are feeling the draw towards Kirabo Seeds, the unique way we help orphaned children and you are sure it’s God pushing you then let me say there’s a place for you here in our sponsor program. We have a couple kids who seriously need to know they are loved. Since the turn of the new year we’ve had a couple sponsors drift over to new causes in their lives. I don’t take it personally, but the children do. I don’t want to tell them they’ve lost a sponsor until God gives us an even better replacement. I’ve never directly asked someone to sponsor any of our children. I only share what we do, who they are, and if that stirs up something in hearts then people respond, if not I let it be. We only need the people who are willing to commit and love the children. And as the main “fundraiser” for this organization,  I trust God to bring what we need. I don’t drive it, schedule it, or manage it. I honestly rely on pure faith that He is our provider. And He is. We’ve never missed a payment or come short since opening our doors, despite opposition. Thank you God.

 

these big boys LOVE to play monopoly

these big boys LOVE to play monopoly

If you feel you’d like to help a little without making a big commitment we need that too! We are hoping to collect chidlren’s bibles to give to the children in the community who come to our home the first Saturday of every month for a day of having great fun learning about God. We are hoping to collect enough bibles to give to every child! (our favorite is : the Jesus Storybook Bible) Maybe you have a group of friends and the kids between all of you have more bibles than they need! We welcome the excess!

Email me ( tonya@kiraboseeds.com )  and I’ll share the details of how to simply have Amazon send us children’s bibles that I can haul over in our suitcases! These bibles will get into the hands of children who don’t have toys or books. They would never expect such an extravagant gift as a bible, but we can make that a reality. Will you say yes?

the whole group

the whole group

Posted by: tonyalatorre | February 22, 2015

Escaped!

I had to escape my family and take 24 hours alone to write the updates and newsletters from my January trip. It’s not that I procrastinate it’s simply that there’s one of me and so many interruptions when I attempt to think, write or maybe even create something. This crazy family life we have is NOT something I complain about. No I celebrate our special brand of nutty and hectic in our LaTorre jar. However, I needed to escape them all to get some writing accomplished. In seven hours I was able to do what I haven’t been able to put out in a month. I’ve got two more hours before hitting the road for home so I’m going to try and squeak out this blog about the happenings at Kirabo Seeds.

 

School in Uganda

School in Uganda

I won’t spoil the surprises in the newsletter I just wrote for all our supporters and sponsors. This will get in the mail this week! Mostly I’m eager to share photos and snippets of the kid’s lives in Uganda. We all use the “whatsapp” to communicate. It is a free app that allows free texting anywhere in the world. I can text with everyone on the staff all day every day and keep up to date without breaking our bank. I receive photos almost every day. There’s nothing better than finishing a good ride and waiting for my horse to have his reward of a 15 minute grass graze AND be able to see photos of the kids at Kirabo Seeds.

At Christmas one of our sponsors gave the children a day at wonder world amusement park! They had a great time.

At Christmas one of our sponsors gave the children a day at wonder world amusement park! They had a great time.

We are hoping to collect Children’s Bibles to share with all the children in our community who join our monthly outreaches. Many have accepted Jesus as savior but none have their own bible. If you would like to share please email me and I’ll answer your questions. tonya@kiraboseeds.com

We were invited to join Sozo's children's home for a day camp at Lake Victoria

We were invited to join Sozo’s children’s home for a day camp at Lake Victoria

 

They had a super break but returned to school early February. Our kids in America think they have it so hard going to school at 8:30 and getting home at 3:30 five days a week. Well the students in Uganda go to school at 6 in the morning and don’t get home until five in the evening. AND THEY GO TO SCHOOL HALF A DAY ON SATURDAY.

 

this picture came over whatsapp from Kenny. It's hard to see but the kids are all enjoying a movie screened onto a wall during an outreach

this picture came over whatsapp from Kenny. It’s hard to see but the kids are all enjoying a movie screened onto a wall during an outreach

After school they have a tight schedule preparing for the next day at school. They have to iron their uniforms, help with cooking, laundry and feeding the pets. They have a devotion time of bible study and at least an hour of home work each night. They eat dinner and rush to bathe and be in bed in time to get enough sleep before they do it all over again.

meal times

meal times

 

This is why I don’t visit when they are in school. I would never see them. On Sundays they enjoy seeing their friends at church. Funny enough they are all good friends with children in a neighboring (larger) orphanage. They also go to the same church. Hard to believe what a small world it is but David, one of our favorite drivers from Kira’s adoption, helps manage that orphanage. They hired him before we could get him. He is a good catch!

 

chores aren't so bad when you can share them with friends

chores aren’t so bad when you can share them with friends

After church on Sundays they get to relax and play and we allow them to watch a movie. The break is gone before they know it and they start another busy week.

 

meal time at Wonder world

meal time at Wonder world

All of the children are in school now. It’s a little lonely at home without Rhonah or Justine about the place. Maybe God will bless us with little ones again some day. We hope so!

rhonah and justine started school. Can you believe they are the same age? Good nutrition makes a big difference. Justine will catch up.

rhonah and justine started school. Can you believe they are the same age? Good nutrition makes a big difference. Justine will catch up.

 

Last Friday was the first anniversary of Boniface’s death. It was a somber moment when I awoke and remembered the great suffering he endured and our sorrow from losing him. We ached for so long after his death. The staff experienced great stress and emotional trauma after burying him. We fell to pieces for a little while. We all did. Losing a child, a brother, a friend is the worst pain I’ve known. One year later we can all reflect and see how God held our hands and helped us heal. It gives us the opportunity to pause and think about our life after death. We are promised to be here for just a short vapor in the breadth of all time, yet eternity with God the creator is offered and free and real. (because we believe what the bible says is true) We know for sure Boniface gave his life to Jesus and accepted salvation. We have all come to know the peace of believing this is true. While we miss him here it is good to know for sure in our hearts that he is not suffering HIV any more. He is free and happy and forever this way. For me, and many others who knew him, it has intensified our desire to share the message of Jesus’ salvation with others. It also allows me to experience less anxiety about the end of this life. I know where I am going is far better. I’ll go without regret for how I spent my “vapor” here on earth. I spent it for Jesus.

 

devotion time on a nice day.

devotion time on a nice day.

 

Posted by: tonyalatorre | January 21, 2015

Keeping animals teach the children compassion.

There’s a small grey mouse making himself at home in my apartment. The crumbs on the floor are sufficient to sustain him. If I brought our cat from the children’s home to spend the night she would have a present for me in the morning. I remember to feed her, so she loves me.

We shop at a supermarket here that has almost everything that I could find at home. Well, the basics anyway. So while shopping with Robert I went looking for mouse traps. The section is full of rat poison and glue traps. I told Robert, “the rat poison is too dangerous to use when pets and children are around.” He said, “yes a while ago my 15 year old brother was living in the village with relatives and he ate rat poison not knowing and he died.”

This is a good reminder of why we employ animals at our children’s home to work for us! Pretty is a good hunter. Auntie Julie hates cats, but she welcomes Pretty to come and do her work by keeping the rats out of her sacks of food. And Samson, our german shepherd, is the reason we have not had a single robbery during the night. There are incidences of many houses around us who have had thieves come in and steal valuable things. But no one will come close to our home because at night Samson roams the compound freely and he is trained to guard.

 

Pets are quite uncommon here. It is difficult enough to feed and care for the numerous children that come to a home, let alone animals. But for our children’s home I insisted that pets are good for learning responsibility, compassion, and they are also good for the aching heart.

samson

samson

 

Samson wasn’t trained to be able to mingle around everyone during the day. He stays in his house. This makes me sad because I know his breeding and intelligence was wasted by this arrangement. He’s a great dog. There’s no one to teach anyone how to effectively train a dog to be a good companion. One time Robert and I took him for a walk in the neighborhood on the leash. He was great! But there are neighborhood dogs that are wild and a pack of them came to confront him. I was terrified of a dog fight with rabid dogs so we never did that again!

 

For Christmas last month Craig gave me a puppy! His name is Arthur Fonzarelli, we call him The Fonz, and he is a chocolate English Labrador. We have spent much of our attention and effort training him to be our best companion. I really miss him now as I am losing a big chunk of his puppyhood. I am an incurable animal lover.

Fonzarelli

Fonzarelli

 

We have two cats now at the children’s home! Pretty is older and no longer plays with the children. So Robert bought them a new kitten, and they named him Coco after my cat that ran away. This little kitten looks like her. This is the teeny tiniest cat I have ever seen. He makes himself at home among the children and is comfortable being carried, handled and loved.

 

lydia and coco

lydia and coco

We have two ragdoll cats at home. Last week while I was here in Uganda my cat Indy was diagnosed with FIP, a fatal illness. He stopped eating and so Craig had to take him and have him put to sleep. I wailed here alone all night at the loss of my friend. And I couldn’t share with the people here how much it hurt my heart because I would be laughed at for crying over the loss of an animal. Our cultures are so very different.

 

Indy and Jones. Indy is on the left. He is gone now.

Indy and Jones.
Indy is on the left.
He is gone now.

There are bunnies everywhere. Last July we got two pet rabbits, a boy and a girl. And since then they have been giving birth to countless litters. The children let the rabbits roam on the compound all day long and then at night they chase and catch them to return them to the hutch. If one is not caught Samson is surely to have a meal of fresh rabbit, and we have learned this the hard way.

 

the new kitten, coco

the new kitten, coco

The bigger boys go out to the pasture by the well and collect greens to feed the rabbits. It’s fun to see the rabbits chasing and leaping in the yard among the children. Sometimes a rabbit lingers in front of Samson’s house, and it drives him crazy.

 

Kira had a fun time collecting bunnies to put into the hutch for the night.

Kira had a fun time collecting bunnies to put into the hutch for the night.

I am convinced that learning to care for animals helps to create a less selfish person, and we aim to raise compassionate, sensitive, responsible children.

Posted by: tonyalatorre | January 21, 2015

A new child joins Kirabo Seeds!

All around me bougainvillea is blooming. The bright pink paper petals stand out among the dirt, decay, chaos, debris and strewn trash. The beautifully dressed women on the streets in colorful clothing carry their heads high and walk with dignity. I marvel at the African woman. Her strength, resilience and perseverance inspire me. When I think about the girls we are raising in our home I am thankful for the gift God has given me to go inside and observe the making of this African woman. I hear the untold secrets. I know the fears, I sculpt the confidence and I instruct the boundaries for her life. Even young girls carry secrets in their hearts of abuse, hardship, and despair. Even so, they are hard wired to overcome. And they do.

 

We have a new little girl who has joined our family, another flower. We are honored to cultivate her delicate life and protect the fragrance of her bloom. Her name is Justine and here is her story.

 

Justine

Justine

During Christmas break Kenny had to cross town several times to help Ryan get treatment for a severe case of malaria. Ryan’s jjajja is friends with Kenny’s mother. She is the most appreciative jjajja in our group for the way we are influencing Ryan. She knew a lady in her church that accepts unwanted children from the goodness in her heart. She told us about this young girl who recently was given to her.

 

It was Justine. Her parents are now both dying of AIDS and they are too sick and feeble to care for her. They have no relatives who will do it so this lady took her into her home and the parents gave her official custody of her. Ryan’s jjajja told her about our organization and the good we are doing for children so the care taker was eager for us to have her if we would take her, knowing this would be her best opportunity for a good life.

 

Phiona and Justine

Phiona and Justine

When Kenny told me about this last Friday I said, let’s go get her. I didn’t have to think, I just knew she was for us. We’ve been praying since Boniface died to bring a new child to our home. So Kenny went alone, drove hours to reach her. They had to find the local council and sign official papers with witnesses. After much travel, and many hours, Justine was a Kirabo Seeds kid, just like that.

 

Kenny went to visit her parents to let them have the peace of knowing she will always be in a good safe loving place. When he found them and they saw him coming with the girl and they bolted to get away. They feared she was being returned. It makes me so sad that she had to experience this.

Angela and Justine

Angela and Justine

 

Friday night at 11:30 Kenny arrived with an itty bitty girl with a neatly shaved head asleep in the passenger seat. She was clutching a bottle of soda Kenny bought for her. In my nightdress, I unbuckled her and picked her up. As sleep fell away she looked at me and for a moment I feared she would react to seeing a mzungu. But she smiled, she likes mzungus. She looked around and did not show any fear. I gave her to Auntie Julie who took her into the apartment with the other girls.

 

We surprised the girls. We didn’t tell them she was coming, in case something went wrong. They were overjoyed to have another little baby doll to care for and love. Christine began to give her dolls and Justine’s face lit up. She loves baby dolls. In the middle of the night Phiona found Justine at the sink in the apartment washing her doll.

 

sleeping justine

sleeping justine

The next day she joined the family at the house. She was calm, secure, happy and blended in the first day. When she’s hungry she ate, when she was tired she laid on the sofa for a nap. She didn’t cry, she didn’t show fear, but she was happy all the day. She has the best manners of any child who has joined our home. She kneels to greet adults and answers politely. She even speaks English to answer me when I say “how are you”, she responds, “I am fine”.

 

She’s always in Angela’s lap or playing with Kira and Rhonah. Now it is fair to say Rhonah is a little jealous. She isn’t interested in sharing her mama Julie. It seems that Justine is gravitating towards Phiona. Rhonah told her, “if you put on my shoes I will beat you and send you back to your mother.” Bold little girl!

Judith was cooking all over the kitchen a long time with  Justine clinging to her back.

Judith was cooking all over the kitchen a long time with Justine clinging to her back.

 

Rhonah will be four in April and last year at this time when we got her she was the size of an infant but she grew quickly. Justine is four already but she looks like she is two. So big Rhonah thought she could bully Justine. When she pushed her she was surprised Justine pushed her back and knocked her down. That was the end of Rhonah’s superiority. She no longer challenges Justine. They settled their struggle and have already nestled into the beginning of a friendship.

 

I am thankful to help another child. It is my life’s greatest joy and causes me to praise God with tears and thanks. Justine will begin school in two weeks with Rhonah. We will be searching for sponsors for our newest flower. If you are interested in helping Justine have an education, medical care, nutritious food and clothing please contact me. She needs to know God’s people love her and support her. All of our children in our home experience the miracle of God’s love by knowing he sent sponsors to them who love them and pray for them. The children thank God in their prayers every day for the support they receive from their sponsors. I am hoping someone would like to do that for Justine.

Posted by: tonyalatorre | January 19, 2015

Joy in a Mama’s face whose child’s life was SAVED.

When Boniface died last year from complications of HIV and chicken pox I became a mother who has lost a child. I don’t wish that heart suffering on any parent alive. Helpless but not hopeless I asked God, “please God allow us to help children without hope to get treatment to save their lives.” In response to losing one child we desire to save many.

 

This was Boniface before we lost him February 2014

This was Boniface before we lost him February 2014

Without actively searching for this opportunity to help Irene brought the case of Jimmy to my attention simply for me to pray for him. She counsels HIV victims at the Wentz medical clinic in Kampala. This clinic is run by the same organization that runs Kira’s baby home. Jimmy was born without an anus and the sloppy slit in his abdomen was constantly infected and he was suffering great sickness. I didn’t hesitate, I knew this was God’s answer to my prayer! I considered for a moment sending a personal check but I felt God put his hand over mine and I understood I was to step aside and allow him to work through the hearts of others.

 

After I blogged about this sweet mama and her boy three times the amount we needed to care for his treatment was donated. That’s when I asked Irene to keep a look out for another case where we could help save the life of a child.

 

Jimmy at the doctor

Jimmy at the doctor

So we were able to help Justin get head surgery. He was a street boy, a run away, and he was struck by a motorcycle and his skull was pierced. Wentz goes out to the community to do medical mission work and they found this boy there without any care. A local boys’s home allowed him to stay with them and we were able to take care of all his medical needs. Now he is fully recovered and well!

Justin before he received his head surgery

Justin before he received his head surgery

 

On Friday I visited Wentz medical center with Irene. She introduced me to the administrator there and we arranged to make a partnership. When they find cases where a life saving procedure is needed and there’s no hope of any help they will present the case to Kirabo Seeds and we will see if God will move and provide the necessary care for a child. I believe He will.

 

justin now!

justin now!

I’m thrilled to be able to expand our ministry in this way, just one child’s need at a time. We will be so blessed to know at the end of each day we helped save a life.

 

On Saturday afternoon we picked up Irene and drove out into the slum of Namawongo to visit Jimmy and his mama. She was so eager to meet us. I wanted to hear her story and watch her face light up as she told it. I wanted to assure her she had God to thank and not this mzungu.

 

this is Irene crossing the bridge in the neighborhood over the sewage

this is Irene crossing the bridge in the neighborhood over the sewage

Third world conditions don’t bother me at all. I’m quite accustomed to the sights and smells. It’s a bit uncomfortable being the only white person to walk through a neighborhood where they never see one. People stare, they stop and gawk, eyes follow me, whispers in the local language are exchanged. I am friendly, I wave and smile and carry on, but I don’t like the attention. It wasn’t hostile in Jimmy’s neighborhood like I have encountered in others. ( I had my body guard Jack with me in case it did get hostile and I always carry pepper spray!)

 

Her home is at the end of the aisle to the left of the chicken coop.

Her home is at the end of the aisle to the left of the chicken coop.

We followed Mama Jimmy through the maze of the worst conditions I’ve ever seen. An open rut of sewage and human waste snaked through the entire area. I had to cover my mouth for fear of tasting the smell. I gagged. Tears swelled in my eyes at the thought of children growing up in these conditions. After sliding between buildings to the left and right we entered a narrow passage the size of a hallway in my home where several doorways held a flimsy curtain blowing in the breeze. Laundry hung over our heads creating a shade from the hot bright sun. At least a dozen people and children were gathered to see the mzungu who was expected. There were women doing wash on the stoop, snapping peas, a baby squatting playing with a sitck in the dirt, and stone hard teenage faces staring.

 

Mama Jimmy

Mama Jimmy

Mama Jimmy invited us into her home. It is smaller than my clothes closet, which is Texas sized, but still, she lives in it with her three children. She used to run a shop but she sold everything to help Jimmy get some medical treatment. Now she washes clothing for people to try and feed her children. This home was clean, organized and it had a loving peacefulness there. I have been in enough places in Uganda with the spirit of darkness hovering to feel the difference.

 

Her face is beautiful. She never stopped smiling and she couldn’t help but giggle the entire time because she was so overjoyed to meet us. She told us how she suffered finding help for the boy for years. She lost all her joy and all her hope as he continued to get very sick. She was out casted for his dirty problem and had to spend much time away from her two daughters to get him help. Leaving the girls alone made them vulnerable to men taking advantage of them. One man tried to get to the older girl but she escaped. So when Irene told her she found an organization to take care of her medical needs she was overjoyed. And she says she hasn’t stopped praising God and thanking God.

 

Mama Jiimmy on my left and Irene on my right

Mama Jiimmy on my left and Irene on my right

Truly she was not looking me in the eye and telling me thanks, she was sincerely lifting her hands to heaven and giving the glory to God. That’s what I came to be sure she knew and she already had it. The last thing I want to do is take away credit that is due to God.

 

I’m sure she was hoping for me to help her with all the other issues in her life that have great need. I know the list is long. I try very hard not to support the image of the mzungu who passes out money and erases all the problems. It doesn’t work. I’m prayerful and waiting to see how God will respond to her need. Perhaps there’s a way some day to loan her the funds to start up a business again and she can pay back. Perhaps Jack could help Jimmy go to school with his bread baking business. We shall see and discuss it as an organization. But I don’t want to be known as the mzungu who passes out shillings. That only breeds more dependence and helplessness. That is not how Kirabo Seeds operates. We seek to help up not hand out.

 

jack and jimmy

jack and jimmy

It is well with my soul to see with my own eyes how God is using Kirabo Seeds to do good work for children in desperate situations. If this cause moves you too please respond the next time a life saving opportunity is presented! The blessings you will carry in your heart all your days will far exceed the sacrifice you make.

Posted by: tonyalatorre | January 18, 2015

A child needs to trust some one.

We are nearing our three year anniversary with these children. And we are amazed to see how well they are developing and growing into fine young people. Our hard work is showing great fruit. When Craig and I started Kirabo Seeds we didn’t have a model to follow for our home. We had our own ideas about how children should be raised and how a home should be run. We understand the holistic needs of a child and we designed our home to meet all of them. We felt like sojourners in the wilderness. We figured if it worked for our five kids, it would work for 17 if we had enough help. We have a full time staff of seven for our seventeen children.

 

devotion time

devotion time

As time goes on the children are realizing they can truly trust their Aunties and Uncles. We have taught the children to open up and talk about everything on their hearts. It took a long time to establish this trust and openness but finally it is securely in place. This is everything to the children. They can talk about all the dark secrets and hurts in their past, and they can share the little social squabbles that disturb them at school now. And they know they won’t be teased, ridiculed or disciplined for these feelings. They are safe with us. This arrangement causes the children to trust us when we teach them God’s way for their lives. It’s beautiful.

 

christine

christine

Since we have discovered every child has suffered some sort of emotional trauma, apart from losing its parents, we decided to employ a professional counselor. Irene is the wife of our good friend George Lwanga. She is smart, resourceful, organized and well educated. She comes once a week and gives group counseling as well as individual counseling to the few who are most traumatized. They trust her and open up to her unlike anyone else. They draw pictures for her to help her have insight into their hearts. They share deep secrets. They share what their obstacles and struggles are in their daily walk. She helps them navigate their way.

 

they make me so happy

they make me so happy

As she reports to me how the children are doing we enjoy speaking the same language of psychology and human emotion. She tells me she counsels many places where children are orphaned in the care of Aunties and Uncles. In no case has she found children who trust their Aunties like ours do. If there is no trust in them, and no real parents, imagine how utterly alone these children are. That makes me so so sad. We want our children to have the deep love they would get from parents and we provide that at Kirabo Seeds. Our children receive it and now Irene can see how fine our children are because of it. They will heal. They will be strong and they will have healthy relationships in their lives as adults.

 

Irene

Irene

I thank God for working through us to reach these children with his perfect love. It has taken an unbelievably vast team to influence these children. Not only do they have the staff here in Uganda, but our family in America and all the sponsors and supporters who give sacrificially so these children’s lives can be whole. I get overwhelmed with emotion as I see the growth of these children.

 

devotion

devotion

One practice we have in our home that stands apart from any home we know is that we gather as a group in the garden and have a devotion EVERY DAY. The staff has a schedule where they teach a bible lesson to initiate the children to talk about their thoughts, ideas, feelings, and social situations in regard to these teachings. We enjoy the best conversations with the kids during this time. Except for Ryan, he always falls asleep and when he is caught he is required to stand on his feet until he awakens. It’ funny as he wobbles himself awake. These discussions remind me of the good talks we have at our dinner table every night with our children at home. It takes an enormous effort and structuring to be ready for devotion every day at 5:30 but we make it a priority. In the same way in America it’s not easy to get everyone at the table together at 7:30 each night, but we need this time together to touch base and feel the togetherness, support and love from one another.

 

Fred doesn't have great feeling in his feet and so he gets wounds without realizing. Julie cleans his wounds.

Fred doesn’t have great feeling in his feet and so he gets wounds without realizing. Julie cleans his wounds.

I am encouraged when I watch the faces of the children absorb the wisdom from the teachers. They soak it in and turn it over and over in their minds until it makes sense. They ask good questions giving examples of how the teaching is not easy to practice. And we all discuss ways to practice wisdom and problem solve to God’s satisfaction. It is marvelous. As a result of these discussions the children are found making better choices in their lives with friends at school and with one another at home.

 

discussions

discussions

Now here’s my favorite part. When the children all went home to their jjajja’s for holidays each of them gathered their friends and gave devotion like we have in our home. They sang praise songs, talked about a bible lesson and asked questions. Then they finished with prayer. Now that is the fruit from our ministry. Not the numbers, not the school grades, not the outward appearance, but this fact that they practice outside our home what they learn inside and they share it with other children.

 

Thank you God for showing us the way to run this ministry even though in the beginning we felt as if we were wandering alone in the woods. You brought us here God. All credit and praise goes to God. We are just working for him. Oh, I do love my job.

Posted by: tonyalatorre | January 14, 2015

“Mama, Hate is a bad word.”

I haven’t seen one mosquito since arriving in Uganda the other night. It’s the dry season. It’s hot. Not Texas hot, and definitely not Arizona hot, those are two extremes this equator zone country hasn’t experienced. But it’s hot enough to run midday for shade and thank God you are a girl so there’s air circulating under a loose skirt. It’s also good to work in a country that doesn’t care how much upper body skin is exposed, not that I am exposed, just that a tank top isn’t vulgar.

kids helping to cook

kids helping to cook

It’s good to be home again. It’s great to start a fresh new year with Kirabo Seeds. I choke on a hard knot when I see how grown the children are becoming. Especially Rhonah who joined us one year ago, she’s our miracle child. She was three in a one year old body and now she’s every bit the young lady who will soon be four. She and Kira are proclaimed sisters, inseparable and silly engaged in girlie play. Rhonah is a confidant, talkative, sassy little sweetheart.

Kira talks all day long about the two colors of ice cream she uses to describe skin tone, chocolate and vanilla. They say mzungu, she says vanilla. Same thing to her. They say black and she scrunches up her nose and nearly stomps a foot to say “chocolate”. And she’s right, chocolate is more accurate and she uses her new puppy Fonzarelli as proof. (chocolate English lab) The race riots of America don’t translate here. No one understands the gunpowder hidden in the words black and white. It’s a relief. The subject offers no tension anchored in hate. It’s easy to breathe.

puzzles and games

puzzles and games

The children buzz in harmony as they move through chores laughing and chatting in their strange mangled “lugenglish”. Smiles flash, limbs swing and feet race. They are happy, confident and secure. All of them give positive reports of their holidays spent at home with relatives and friends. At the same time they were happy to return to our home at Kirabo Seeds. The staff seems fresh and amiable, energetic and engaged. Indeed it is a fresh start and we’ll pass on the bumps we took last year and seek open wide road this year. We are ready!

I need some positive action like I need oxygen. I realized when reading the bible one morning after New Year’s that I felt as if I’ve been to my own personal war for the first two years of KS. And the second two years were spent getting by feeling the post traumatic stress disorder. And now, gratefully, I see I am coming back. I feel the quickening of my old self, the energy, desire, passion, enthusiasm returning. I listed all the obstacles  and disappointments we faced on paper last night and when I finished the list I was sobbing. I feel as though God hauled me out of the dark pit of depression and I lie gasping for air on the rim as one awakening from a heavy, realistic dream. I find perspective, feel alive and then realize for the first time how far in the pit I went.

preparations for cooking

preparations for cooking

I hate that pit. Kira would correct me for using that word if she could read. Hate is a bad word if you are talking about people, but when talking about depression I choose it every time. I was first depressed as a teenager and when I got out of that pit I vowed to figure out how to never get in there again. After one pregnancy I slipped in again but not too far and not too long. This one was deep dark and scary. I’m a veteran now. I know the things I must do to stay out of that hole. The first one is to call it what it is, depression, and then feel no shame.

This time I feel valiant like a survivor. I find confidence from practicing courage to hope for this feeling of freedom form the sucking energy of the black hole. And I consider risking going in the pit to help the children here as a worthy cause to face my greatest fear. (the bottom of the pit of depression)

kira loves the new kitten at the house

kira loves the new kitten at the house

The good news is:  I feel like writing again. The bad news is: I don’t trust my filter. Case in point: I just told the world a dark secret: I was depressed. I do believe hand in hand with God, little by little, I’ll find my way back. Don’t pity me. Celebrate with me. One last word about depression: In the dark, at the bottom it is good to KNOW it’s just me and Jesus and that’s all I need. I will remember there’s nothing to fear with Him.

devotion

devotion

The children asked me in devotion last night: If you forgive someone isn’t it the right thing to allow them to come back to work with you? Such a great question! This question came after a long session convincing them revenge belongs to God alone. Our job is to forgive and continue on the journey he has planned for us, remain in his will according to the bible.

So I checked myself. Have I forgiven my enemies? Deep breath. Think. Feel. Answer: Yes.

Now does that mean I call them up and offer them a job? No and that’s because God gives us wisdom. Forgiveness is for the freedom in our heart to experience how much God forgives us and to enjoy the benefits of the Christian life among suffering. It is to identify with Jesus. He was sinless yet he took on the sins of the world and suffered separation from his father. He was beaten and cursed and forced to drag his own cross yet he forgave. I have never suffered that much. No one ever will.

But when it came time for Jesus to ask someone to take care of his mother after he was gone did he give that job to those who cursed him? No. He asked John a trusted friend.

Just because I forgive those who stole and cheated doesn’t mean they won’t do it again. What a fool I would be when it happened twice and people say, “didn’t you learn the first time?” Actually, yes I did learn the first time. And when God says he’ll give you wisdom if you ask for is, believe me, He does.

Forgiveness doesn’t erase consequences. But it does replace the bitterness in the heart with peace and that’s priceless.

taking out the trash uganda  style

taking out the trash uganda style

Posted by: tonyalatorre | January 1, 2015

Happy New Year from Kirabo Seeds

Blessings everyone as we begin a New Year helping the children in Uganda at Kirabo Seeds home. Everyone at Kirabo Seeds has enjoyed nearly two weeks holiday, including Mama Tonya. The children spent their holidays at home with their Aunties or Jjajjas. We sent them along with a Christmas chicken and some cooking staples. The children enjoyed wearing their brand new outfits for Christmas. Thank you to all of the sponsors who gave generously to be sure the children were able to wear new clothes to celebrate Christ’s birth. The staff in turn was able to return home to their families to rest, relax and enjoy reunions.This is the one time of the year they are all able to take a good break from the hard long hours of caring for 17 children every day. I hope in 2015 we are able to add a second week of rest to the schedule.

The children remain on holiday from school until the end of January. I have a stack of letters they have written their sponsors in my email box. I’ll forward them next week so you can all enjoy their scanned hand written notes decorated with stickers. I’ll continue to handle the pen pal correspondences using email. The children have been taking computer lessons for over a year so this is an excellent way for them to practice their skills. When I travel in the past it has been fun to provide everyone a letter or two from sponsors but unfortunately not every child gets one and we are at risk for feelings to be hurt. When we use the computer it will be a more private task of writing. We won’t see anyone comparing, counting or competing with this activity. We all know how kids can be and they are no different on the continent far away than they are in America.

Our rabbits have multiplied many times this year. ( I think they are eating them…that's why they grow them there…)

Our rabbits have multiplied many times this year. ( I think they are eating them…that’s why they grow them there…)

This has been one of the more rewarding aspects of working with the children in Uganda. The methods of parenting Craig and I learned from the bible as we raised our children apply to the children there in the same way. They need unconditional love, appropriate boundaries, positive reinforcement,  consistency, consequences and safety to talk out heart troubles. All of the children performed well in school last year and all were promoted to the next class. In Uganda, as students pay for education, the school earns more if they don’t pass a student! So it is easy to imagine many students are held back. Our staff is absolutely determined that our children become the best students they can be. It is the fast track out of poverty in Uganda and we all have high hopes for these kids.

 school success for all

school success for all

I look forward to my trip to Uganda in a couple weeks! I haven’t seen the children since August. Kira and Jack will travel with me as usual and they too miss their brothers and sisters. I will visit the two young boys we helped with medical care. Thanks to so many who helped us provide for these surgeries these two boys are well on their way to a normal life. I hope in 2015 Kirabo Seeds can provide funds for more life saving surgeries for children. I am sure God will work in his mysterious ways to show us what’s next. I count it my greatest blessing in life to be able to serve our great God in these ways.

this is how we wash up the dishes

this is how we wash up the dishes

Our most pressing prayer request for 2015 is to find a suitable home to move the children. Our landlord sold the house we rent now and we were supposed to move by the end of January. We searched all of November and December but we couldn’t find an affordable and suitable location. The search process there is absurdly random and unorganized. It’s much like using a metal detector on the beach hoping for a lost piece of jewelry. In despair I asked Robert to have a meeting with the landlord and the buyers to see if we could get more time. The new owners agreed to give us eight more months! They appreciated the work we do and gave us the time to provide well for the children. It will take Robert all of his time searching and exploring neighborhoods to find us a home big enough, with separation for the boys and girls and of course, on that is affordable. So we hope you will remember this problem in your prayers.

rhonah before and after

rhonah before and after

I must say 2014 was a challenging year. Chicken pox flattened the children in waves right from the start, taking our sweet Boniface in February home to Jesus. After the funeral everyone sunk low into a deep sadness and many strange occurrences of coping mechanisms developed causing all of us to dash to and fro to put out behavior fires. Our van collapsed after spending way too much of our precious funds to save it over and over. Our new car arrived but had a bad crash when Kenny swerved to miss a street kid who ran in front of it. One of our children had to be returned as we learned he indeed has a family who can provide for him. One of our cleaning girls was caught stealing from the home and had to be fired. Finally, the two court cases we have endured for years drag on and on like a dripping faucet that keeps you awake in the middle of the night.

outreach…sorry for the poor photo…we did get that camera fixed...

outreach…sorry for the poor photo…we did get that camera fixed…

Even so…our God is greater than all struggles. In 2014 we welcomed Rhonah to our family and she is a smart sweet and much loved child. Kenny joined us full time and brings energy and enthusiasm to the staff. We organized weekly team meetings to develop cohesive teamwork and effective communication. We began monthly outreaches in the neighborhood seeing many children come to know Jesus in our home. We were given a gracious donation to buy a brand new van that arrived late November. Erica has organized our bookkeeping with Phiona in such a fashion that we are crystal clear, accountable and transparent with our funds. Two young boys were able to receive life saving surgeries. Irene joined us to begin weekly counseling sessions with the children, both in gender groups and one to one. Christopher was able to spend five months with Kirabo Seeds and helped us understand the gaps we can close to better do the work of orphan care in Uganda. Many many friends visited to serve our home and love the children. It makes a lasting impact on the way they experience God’s love to receive it from so many from so far away. (thank you)  Only God can accomplish all of that in one year.

I am still and feeling a deep gratitude.

kids praying for the new van

kids praying for the new van

I hope for one more thing in 2015, besides a new home. I hope we can find a missionary couple willing to live in Uganda and manage Kirabo Seeds from there. I believe this will be the key to help us not only grow, but to package what we do and how we do it so it can be replicated over time and space.  I trust God to provide team building experts with patient managerial skills and excellent organizational skills to join our team. I trust God in all things especially this one.

library day on Wednesday when we share the blessings of books with the neighborhood kids

library day on Wednesday when we share the blessings of books with the neighborhood kids

Thank you to all who continue to support us and love us. You are making the difference in the lives of children that will precede you into eternity. If anyone is interested in sponsoring a child in our program, contact me we have room to add you to our fun.

Happy New Year to all!

Posted by: tonyalatorre | December 14, 2014

We can SAVE a child’s life with a little help.

Last month a miracle occurred for a little boy named Jimmy who needed an operation to save his life. His mother was frantic and without help, losing hope by the day. Our friend Irene mentioned his condition to me because she too was frantic for fear the boy would die. Sadly, many many children die every day in third world conditions when simple procedures or readily available medicines could have prevented the tragic loss. I have personal experience with this suffering.

jimmy

jimmy

I believed when I heard about Jimmy’s case that God wanted me to allow him to work through Kirabo Seeds. I considered writing a check myself but that’s really not what I felt God wanted me to do. He had people in mind, help ready and it wasn’t about me at all.

Jimmy and mom

Jimmy and mom

Within five days we raised $3500 to help Jimmy’s case. He received his surgery and now is doing fine. Irene will go visit him this week to get an update for us all. (I have to send the transport money first!)

We did not use all the money for Jimmy’s surgery. We have extra funds in reserve for medical crisis of children whose lives are at stake if they don’t get immediate care. I asked Irene to keep her ear open for such needs. And God used her again. There is another boy in dire need of surgery, his name is Justin. He was struck by a boda boda driver. (motorcycle taxi) There is a puncture wound in his skull that exposes his brain. Let me share his story.

CT scan of Justin's skull

CT scan of Justin’s skull

Justin ran away from his village home near Mbale when he was seven. There is evidence on his body of severe abuse such as a burn scare covering much of his left torso and most of his left hand. The guess is he’s been living on the street for a year in the slum of Kisinyi, which is a harsh place for boys, as drug use and police abuse is common.

This is Justin, 8 years old

This is Justin, 8 years old

On November 27th Justin was struck down by a boda driver. He was left unconscious on the street with a cut up leg, cuts on his face and a penetration wound in his skull. He was taken to a local clinic where a doctor cleaned the wounds and bandaged him. He then spent the night on the street. On Tuesday a representative from and organization called “Doors” became aware of his condition. They have a walk in program for street boys every Tuesday and Justin showed up. A volunteer realized the extreme condition of his head wound, and after much prayer took him to Mulago, the government hospital. They spent the day there with him, and he was sent home with new bandages, antibiotics and a CT scan. (picture above. You can see the hole in his skull). His skull was crushed so deeply that it was pressing against his brain and pieces of it are scattered inside.

sigh...

sigh…

He spent Tuesday night at the Doors home with 12 new brothers. They embraced him immediately. They took him daily to Wentz medical center to get the wound cleaned but he began to suffer seizures. All of the medical staff at Wentz were amazed that he lived through the first night after his accident. They called allowed to God and said, “You must have a plan for this child.” It was a miracle he was still alive. They tested his blood and it was not infected so they treated him for seizuzres. He has lost most of his feeling on his left side.

sorry, I know this is stomach turning...

sorry, I know this is stomach turning…

They visited a neurosurgeon to see if he could be treated in Uganda or if he needed a medical visa to go to the States. It can be done locally and his surgery is tomorrow, Monday December 15.

justin

I have $1750 saved to be able to help this child get the medical care he will need to recover. The Doors organization is local and not well funded, though they have many loving hands to help and people to pray. I’ve sent the first amount that will be necessary to take care of his first surgery and to cover the medical costs accumulated up to now. I am so thankful to all who blessed this boy before he was even hurt! In Uganda an estimate is a difficult concept. I haven’t been able to get a clear idea of how much it will cost to get Justin good as new. But I’m willing to raise what God will send and make sure Justin gets his needs met. We can only pray there will be more to share with countless other children with life saving needs.

justin

If you would like to make a donation to help Justin make a full recovery please use paypal and indicate in the notes: medical emergencies . We’ll make sure Justin’s medical care is available to him. We will provide updates here on my blog. All donations to Kirabo Seeds are tax deductible and %100 goes to help children.

Our son Jack raised $600 above what he needs to pay for the education of the four children he sends to school every year. (He bakes bread to sell and educates four kids who are not in our children’s home) He is donating this $600 to help children get life saving medical care.

We will continue to pray that God will use us to help other children like Justin who needs a guardian angel to get life saving medical care.

image-2

Who knows, maybe we can help reunite him with his family or get him into an excellent home where he is safe, loved, educated and protected from a life on the streets.We trust as the medical staff called aloud to God, that there must indeed be a great plan for this child’s life.

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