We spent our last Saturday in Uganda with our Kyengera Orphanage. George and Irene picked us up and we followed Alitia and Adams for an hour to get to the village. They were prepared for our arrival this visit and we had much work to do rather than celebrations to make with them. After we received the most energizing welcome from the children, as well as from Pastor James and his wife Rebecca, Adams gave George and Irene a tour to explain the situation to them.
Irene has her degree in counseling and she hopes to specialize in counseling children living with HIV. She was eager to come to Kyengera and see the work that needs to be done, and hopefully she will spend some time there with Alitia and Adams working with the kids. Many of the children are orphaned from HIV, and it will be necessary to test them to see which ones have it so we can get them the medicines. George has a great business mind and it was helpful to have him involved in developing some of the plans for the future of this orphanage. He is smart and honest and I know I can trust him. In some ways he will be here for me when I have gone home.
On this day it was mandated that the children of the community not be admitted to the orphanage because we wanted to begin to understand who exactly is without any parents, who has a single mother and who belongs to the pastor and staff. The pastor has nine children! He’s taken in two from relatives who have died. Can you imagine? So we organized the children in the church so that Irene could list each child’s name, conditions and general health appearance. They each had their photo taken which looked to me like it was painful. As soon as they stand before the camera they take on a somber look as if they are facing the high court of the land. No silliness on my part would produce a smile. In general none of the children have signs of malnutrition with a distended abdomen or orange in their hair. There are some skin issues, they are thin, and everyone has tooth decay. Donny has promised to do a drive for tooth brushes and toothpaste to send back for the children. It’s a desperate need! I hope we can find a dentist for them. Alitia plans to develop the beginnings of a medical profile for each child so when we can bring a doctor with us we won’t have to begin from scratch. We can safely assume not one child has been immunized! This is critically important to put on the top of the need list. It is good to see there are no runny noses, no coughing, or oozing sores on any of the children. One boy sprained his arm and they were trying to decide what to do with it. I said it needs ice, and they nearly laughed in my face. No one has ice anywhere near this place. I never thought ice would be something I shouldn’t take for granted.
While the assessments were happening in the church building Adams took us to see where we will soon be putting our chickens. A woman who is a member of the church lives just around the corner and she has buildings available for us to use so we can have one hundred laying hens, a rooster, and one hundred free range chickens for meat. She offered to let us use this facility in exchange for us cleaning up one of the rubble rooms that needs finishing so her four children can have a room of their own to sleep in. This is such an ideal situation! We need to renovate just a little bit. We hope to be able to buy the chicks this week. Jordan has purchased nearly all of the laying hens himself as a gift to these kids so they can eat eggs. It was a joy to hug the woman who was so gracious to us, and I told her I was so thankful for her generosity that I will buy her family brand new mattresses for their new rooms. They seriously leaped in the air and had a celebration. A sleeping mat here is solid foam, and costs about twenty dollars. I am sure she will get a few free eggs as well once our chicks begin laying.
Next we went around another corner to visit the woman who has cows of her own. She is also a church member at Pastor James’s church in the orphanage and she has said if we buy cows we can keep them on her land with her cows. In exchange we need to build a milking stand so the cows can be held still while milking. That seemed like a fair trade to us! I just love the bartering atmosphere here. You help me with my problem, and I will help you with your problem, and we will all become good friends in the process. There was no sense of anyone trying to get rich in the situation, we are all just trying to get by, and this is a way I can see God at work. As soon as I smell greed I am suspicious, but so far, everyone has a heart to help these children who have no one on earth looking out for them but those God sends. I am again so thankful I am one of those he has sent.
This woman had a little dog that looked like a maltese/shihtzu mix tied to a tree. It was the first pet I have seen! There was also a german shepherd lying on an oval patch of grass in the middle of a dirt walk way. It looked like someone made the grassy spot for his bed. Dogs are so funny about finding a little bit of comfort. The shepherd is kept entirely for security purposes. But the little dog is a pet, and she had four inch mats hanging from her like dread locks. I was horrified. George and I began to search for scissors and explain to them it is painful for the dog to keep these hanging on her. I went to action and began snipping off all the mats. The dog became testy with me and had enough after thirty minutes of losing his patience, so I had to get interpreters and convince as well as teach the family to keep him free of mats. I wouldn’t leave until I saw them continue to work on taking his mats off. He was a nice dog and responded happily to the family’s touch. They need to take good care of him.
So, in one week’s time we have located a place for the chickens, the cows, and begun assessing the individual condition of the children who are actual orphans. This is fantastic progress. There is a large animal vet who accompanied Emily on one of her cow shopping expeditions with Adams, and he has found two cows he thinks will be excellent for our new “family”. Emily is going to go have a look at them today. We sincerely hope that the cows will very soon be placed in their new pasture and the children will begin drinking milk right away. My next hope is we can find some land to use to grow food. There are enough workers to make it happen, they just need the place to get it started. Once this is in place, we will have eggs, milk, chicken meat, and freshly grown food. That sounds fantastic to me.
There is one more problem I believe needs solving before I leave Uganda. The sleeping condition of the orphanage is appalling. My stomach turns just thinking of how I am going to describe it to you. In fact, one of the main concerns I had when I first visited the orphanage and went home with swirling emotional concerns was the horrible way they sleep. Let me say, there is a rectangular room with one tiny window. It is all raw brick walls, and a dirt floor. It is hot inside, and the smell is suffocating. There are three ancient mattresses one metal bunk bed and an old sofa frame that is carried out into the courtyard during the day. The worst part is the children have been urinating in their beds for who knows how long. During the day they bring the mattresses out in the air to dry and this is considered taking care of the problem. I can’t even stand next to one of those mattresses without getting sick from the smell so I almost lose it at the thought of these children sleeping on them.
Adams and Alitia have been gathering craft items from the village women in Kyengera so I can bring them home and sell. There are beautiful woven baskets and interesting, artistic jewelry in the collection. The women have donated all of the items so we can sell them and buy new sleeping conditions for the children. But Emily and I decided we cannot wait until then. We will go mattress shopping with George this week and buy eight new mattresses to cover the floor. Long term we plan to be able to sell enough goods to buy a welding machine. The older boys will be taught how to weld metal, and how to make bunk beds. This way they can make three tier bunk beds for the children, but also have a skill so they can make beds for the community to sell and earn income for the orphanage. The goal is to have them self-sustainable and this is one excellent solution. Thanks for the idea Adams! We hope by selling the items we will able to purchase all of the equipment.
First, however, the children must be taught not to urinate in the bed. We are going to dangle new beds and sweets before them in exchange for them to learn to be consistent with using a pee pot at the door during the night. The latrines are a walk away in the dark and I don’t blame them for not wanting to go there half asleep. We will give them a treat (hopefully pineapple) each morning they do not soil their bed. And when the mattresses they have are no longer soiled they will get new ones! Hooray!
Some day I dream of them having a room and bed that feels safe, clean, comfortable and secure. It’s not too much to ask. When we bring a team here in the future we will haul sheets and blankets.
It was a long, emotionally tiring day with the kids, but we were so satisfied with the progress made in just one week. We feel the heavy load of much work to yet be accomplished, but there is no loneliness in this weight. We are all together in it, and God is over it all. He has been providing helpers and resources, and will continue to provide until his precious children are cared for and given opportunity to fulfill their potential for His glory. We have a great faith that all of the conditions will improve and these children will be not just fed but also educated. One step at a time. One home at a time. One child at a time. Thank God!