Saturday afternoon nine foreigners spilled out of the vans at the Ugandan boarding school where Peter and Victoria attend. A hundred and fifty energetic children curiously received us. We were greeted with staring eyes by children clumped in groups with wonder. Some were bold and latched onto us immediately stroking the strange soft hair that grows from our arms and touching moles with intent interest. Others observed intently from afar memorizing every detail. My curly red hair and blue eyes are strong attractions for curious children. My husband’s straight rough stubble on his chin gave the children some cause for question and giggles. Kira’s American accent was a big attraction. How could this obvious Ugandan girl be able to talk like that? Kira enjoyed her popularity and made many new friends as the young boarding school girls asked her questions about America. They eventually inquired, “How did you get a mzungu mother?” She looked at them like they were crazy, “I don’t know she’s just my mom.”
Mzungu is a label us fair skinned foreigners are given the minute we step off the plane. We can’t escape it or argue with it or complain about it. Like it or not, it is what we get. It means “white person” literally. Yes, it’s racist, but Ugandans smile wide, open their arms and sing “mzungu” to us with a welcoming tone. If I let that bother me I can do no good here. I find it is useful to respond to an offense with good humor. The concept of Mzungu has a disturbing and complicated history between the foreigner and the native. Without writing the dissertation about it, basically, our mzungu presence is assumed to mean we come to give.
It is complicated for a foreigner to come to Uganda and share effectively. Of course we can’t know that until we have shared ineffectively for a long time, finding ourselves licking wounds and wondering where it all went wrong. Assumptions and expectations often occur unconsciously. It takes some life experience to identify them and realize how they complicate relationships. Often we can journey far into a relationship before we realize we have opposing expectations and false assumptions of mutual understanding. Sometimes relationships break, and sometimes they repair.
From the conception of this children’s home the blessings and resources have overflowed in abundance. God provided more than we need so it became our duty and pleasure to share with the community, yet organizing this task was arduous. I’m saying the love, wisdom, and compassion overflow and that needs to be given away. The “outreach” tag is common and we practice it by trial and error.
Through the years in this ministry we have tested many ways to share. My mzungu presence triggered all sorts of false assumptions and expectations. It wasn’t until Irene’s leadership and passion for sharing was given opportunity did we begin to understand how to be effective. People may need clothes, food or donated school fees, but what they really need is love and belonging. Irene gives love and provides a sense of belonging without even knowing it consciously. She has a talent for sharing. She gathers neighbor kids to our home for devotion time as often as she can find them. She arranges to take games, songs and teaching to the boarding schools with so much passion and energy that others are inspired to share. Something about her invites children to share their deepest concerns and they find in her a listening compassionate ear. They come back to her for her caring, not for her cookies. When Ugandans see her no one expects her to hand out bags of sugar or to pay their children’s school fees. This is why it is vital for our ministry to practice equipping the Ugandans to help other Ugandans, and keep the mzungu more invisible.
Irene gathers all the boarding children with a few games like musical chairs and tag. Her bright smile and dancing eyes are their sugar. She invites Angela to lead some songs of worship with her beautiful voice. And the big boys join Ronald playing the drums as accompaniment. Though there is chaos among the boarding students Irene finds ways to keep them engaged and participating. She selects one of our KS kids to teach from the Bible to all of the children. Dickson was given the task to teach for us all. He is in his first year of secondary school and recently earned the honor of being first in his class. He is a smart kid. On his own he chose to teach about the different ways to get wisdom for life. He gave examples of how we can learn from our parents, from God as he guides our paths and how he answers our prayers. And he showed us in Proverbs from the Bible the abundant teachings of wisdom for life. His final instruction was, “get wisdom.” (Good idea.)
We were so proud of his confidence, his initiative, his thoughtfulness and his willingness to share. Right there is how we teach the children in our home to practice leadership in their communities. We might only have 18 children in this ministry but they will take what they have learned and been given in our home into the community. This is how we will reach thousands. What we invest with tenacity and intention into these 18 children will be taken to their places of work, to the families they develop and be passed down through generations.
I get chills imagining how they will take what they have been given through Kirabo Seeds and use it for the good of others as a way of showing their gratitude to God for what He has done in their lives. That’s all I can hope for as all of us share our resources and hearts into this ministry. To all the people through the years and currently who help us support these children and give them these opportunities I hope you too feel the blessings that come from sharing. We thank you, and we invite others with this heart to join us as we continue to grow this ministry.