When I am in America working for the cause of these orphans here in Uganda I feel like such an odd man out. People look at me strangely and say, “wow, that’s the most unusual thing I’ve heard this week,” When I am here in Uganda it is comforting to meet so many other people who are passionate about helping these people, and I know I am not in this alone. With that also comes the realization that my group of orphans are only a drop in the bucket of children here with desperate needs. Everywhere we turn there is another group of kids who gathered at a church because they had no where else to go.
I visited an orphanage that is under construction by a family in Dallas Texas. We drove way out into the country and up a hill to this twenty acres where they have a big church, four school rooms, a boys house and a girls house. They began building this compound before they even had the kids to fill it. Unfortunately in this country, that’s the easy part. This organization is setting up an adoption program for older children so it does not really match the purpose and vision of what we are thinking to do with our kids. Their place is so very western in its amenities, which makes sense because these children will take this step as a preparation for the sort of life they will have in America or Europe.
I am hoping and praying that when we build that we keep it rural Africa, and not introduce all the western conveniences to them, at least not right away. This is not because I am romantic about seeing children at a well pumping water into a yellow jerrican. Instead I believe we are raising strong Ugandans for the future and they need to be prepared for the sort of life they will be able to live independently and able to work and provide for their own family some day. If we give them simple luxuries from the western way of life they will go forward into their own lives and step way back and this is hard to do and not so fair for us to set up for them. My concern in this is that it will splatter black paint on their contentment. They will complain. I don’t want that to happen. They should be given an excellent opportunity to learn and grow and earn the luxuries themselves when they are able to provide them. This will make them feel confidence they otherwise might not know.
Melissa Busby is staying here at the house with Herb and Ellen Cook, and we’ve become good friends. I am linking her blog to my blog roll on the side bar. She has been here for ten months waiting for the embassy to grant the visa to her little two year old Mercy. It’s a complicated case and unfortunate that her husband and two girls have been home without her this long. Melissa though has an attitude that makes good redeeming use of her time here. She’s been doing a lot of ministry. She has met an orphanage called Oasis a few weeks ago that is in such poor condition it reminded me of the way it was for our kids before we “adopted” them in January. Melissa has been investigating and helping and setting what she can straight for these 70 kids and I can see in her eyes what I have often felt. There’s a strange mixture of comassion with 8 cylinder drive and a ferocious festering anger over the injustices. But it’s not a stuck in the corner sort of situation, we can move forward, we can make a difference, and progress is possible. But there’s always the struggle.
When the team was here we spent an afternoon at Melissa’s orphanage and our medical team gave them all checkups and administered medicines. We were able to move seventy children through our process in under three hours. The nurses sent the few healthy ones out to play and Cindy and Don examined and helped those who were suffering. There’s a lot of suffering here. One little boy’s right arm was three times the size of his left, and he’s been terrified that he will have to have it taken off. Cindy asked him about the medicine he’s supposed to take for his heart and this sweet nine ear old choked out, “I was taking my medicine but stopped when my mom died because now there is no one to give it to me.” I saw Cindy stumble with this, and I had to look away and swallow hard. We were cramped in a room the size of an eatin kitchen servicing all these kids, it was hot, smelly, and raining outside. Children were crying and there wasn’t happy face to be seen. Another two year old girl sat on Cindy’s lap and when Cindy said what is the problem, she answered, “my head hurts and I am hungry”. We all lost our appetite after that.
We left about 150 bottles of vitamins, and two large sacks of prescriptions for these kids. Melissa had to find a nurse to be available several times a day to make sure the medicine was distributed correctly and carefully. The inside issues of this orphanage seem to mirror all that happens in this country and it is the source of the steamy anger we all blow out our ears.
Dare I elaborate?
Perhaps I’ll give just the flavor of what we learn… on a large scale the government knows they can get foreign support (lots of it) because they have so many orphans. That is good news except the support they receive doesn’t solve the problems of extreme poverty for these kids. It makes the rich richer. To throw a bone and provide something to say, they offered “free public school” to help children like that. But this meant they constructed the schools but left the poor people to staff it and supply it. So actually the community still has to pay a lot for their child to attend school so the teacher can be paid and supplies given. There is usually a hundred students to one teacher. Adams said he has seen schools like this under the tree because the building was too small, and he even said he saw school take place IN the tree branches. Can you imagine? Our kids went to a “free” government school beginning in February before we found the sponsors to send them, and Adams and Elitia had to sell many personal things to pay for them to go there.
In the middle level, the pastors know if they have an orphanage to support they can travel to America and raise funds to help. But, all the money does not find its way to the needs of the children. I will let you guess where it goes. And a pastor here who has traveled to the US has bragging rights and status others do not have. It’s like getting a degree behind the name.
On the street level, I learned from meeting Veronica when I inquired about the young girl I met at her place with the new little baby and the two of them were living on the streets. Veronica said she never returned after I gave her a pack of diapers and money for food. Veronica offered to have her baby get the opportunity to go to a baby home for adoption but the girl disappeared. We learned later that this girl uses the baby to draw up sympathy so she can beg on the street. Without the baby she can’t keep that business going.
I suppose I have made you as angry as Melissa and I can get about the injustice. But I can make a difference. I know it because I am. Working with Adams and Elitia gives them accountability to me. They give me receipts for all they do with the money I send, and I come to make sure the children are prospering. Even our small operation was not without the problems I have mentioned. Craig and I send money every month to pay food bills and when they bought the food they were astonished it was not lasting the full month. So they put Daniel Mugabo, one of the older boys, in charge of the food store, he measures and weighs portions for each meal prepared. And they put a heavy duty lock on the food store door. Well, when the lock appeared the pastor had a screaming fit threatening to knock it down. I suppose we know where the food was going now. He was using it to pass out to everyone with need (which IS everyone) and this made him feel like the big provider and good guy in the community. But really, he was taking away from the children who don’t have parents to provide at all. (and we feed him and his family every bite they take)
For now the problems are under control. I know a major part of my role in this orphanage is to make certain that the funds I raise go directly to the children. Partnering with Adams and Elitia and their organization “Another Life Intl.” makes it easier to do because they have the same goals as we do: help the children first. And they are here to discover and prevent more pilfering problems.
When we move our children to the new land we will separate the two ministries that are cohabitating on a postage stamp currently. Pastor James is and was pastor of the community church long before these children showed up. Adams and Elitia have been providing for the children and we, Kirabo Seeds, are here for the orphans so when we go, Pastor will remain with his church and the community he serves. We will look for a pastor to serve the children specifically at that point. One thing I know, is that Rebecca is my sister, and I will never be able to visit Uganda without looking in her eyes and knowing she is well. We plan to help her set up a business she wants to run so she can earn some money for her family. She’s such a remarkable woman, and by knowing her my life has been touched with a sparkle.
Taking care of orphans in a foreign country isn’t an easy job. Yet despite all the struggles, secrets, conflicts and clashes it is the most rewarding work I could ever imagine doing. All I have to do is see the healthy smiles of these children, and leaf through the journals I brought for them, and I know there is nothing on earth or in the spirit world that can stop me from improving their lives and helping them reach the goals they write about on those pages. And I know God is both in front of my work, and behind me when I am feeling discouraged. Working for that kind of boss is heavenly.