Friday, November 25, 2011

The end is nigh

Today was a big day in lots of different ways. We are busy preparing for the new team coming - all 28 of them! The rooms are the back are nearly ready, the house is just about set (still trying to fix things that were not completely right or finished) and menu is being planned. So, in between events there were things to do. However the focus of this has to be on the two events.
First there was the Thanksgiving Service/Party at Hope Community. I had been told not to arrive until 11.00 and a bit before that time I received a call to suggest that 1.00 would be a better time to arrive. Thank you headmaster - it was time well used. Then, we arrived - the guest of honour and 'the Mr' (as compared to Pastor Ron and 'the wife') were duly announced.
It is an amazing experience to be the guest of honour, one that I definitely choose to shy away from. However, it was a wonderful time. It truly was a thanksgiving time as the event was also about the Scripture Union club at the school. I really do love these people so much. I feel so much at home.

The students performed a number of wonderful dances that had obviously taken time to prepare and were done extremely well. An event like this has a totally different nature to anything that I have experienced in Australia. There is a certain relaxed feel with a strong element of formality included. There is a definite agenda. However, performances are somehow not formal. That is not to say, they are slack, because they definitely are not. I think it is much more about the relaxed nature of the performers. They are not performing as if their lives depended on it but are performing well. There is no falseness in it, what you see is what you get. It is not about meeting a particular standard, but about dancing well. I hope I have captured the essence of it in these statements. A Senior One student spoke. She used no notes and spoke really well, it actually brought tears to my eyes. There were so many that thanked me, thanked Ron and me, and more. I think the nicest thing was that there is an understanding by some that it is our faith that has brought us, it is the outworking of our faith that means we do things and that the honour is to God not to us. It is also hard to be in the position of receiving thanks for gifts that others have given. It was recognised that this was the case but definitely considered to be a result of us. The best thing I think is that the school is developing, it is meeting a need in the community and it is seeking to show students more about God and His ways. One of the things that was also significant was the real sense of what a friendship Ron and I have with Rachel and Robert. It is one that will continue here and in Australia. It is one of mutual respect. It is a friendship with so many different aspects and common bases. I think the best thing is that we share the same faith which has drawn us to a common cause of helping others. This event will always be held close in my heart and mind. I am thankful for being able to teach at the school and I will never be the same because of it. It was lovely to hear the different things about me that have made a difference in the school. Enough, the talks and entertainment were followed by lovely African meal. Rice, meat in soup and chicken, truly delicious. I am wondering if my tastebuds have changed - a calzone last night was too rich and I loved the African meal!
Back home, bit more work and preparing for the next event. This was Ron's idea and a good one. We have had some very faithful workers build this house and we wanted to have a celebration of their work and honour them. Ron thought a bbq was a good idea but unfortunately we have had real trouble in finding a gas cylinder we can buy. We can exchange but not buy - hard to exchange something you do not have in the first place! Strange phenomena but this is Africa after all. Anyway, the workers love pork so lined up Robert to get some pork for us, made sure we had a good supply of sodas and some sausages. Throw in some coleslaw, grilled tomatoes, cooked chips, fried onion and you have almost a bbq. With the new deck complete we were able to meet up there. In total there were 14 of us (though Rachel had to go with a sick child) and shared a lovely time. It was so nice to be able to be there, on top of one of the buildings and share a meal. These guys, and Lucy, have truly become our friends. We see them almost every day. I can be peeved that there are nearly always workers in the house but when they are working at the village I somehow seem to miss them. Not only did we have main course, we also shared a wonderful cake Lucy had made and some icecream. The power remained on most of the day so the ice cream stayed frozen. This was so nice - a rare treat for us and probably much rarer for the workers. I know one in particular does love ice cream. Again, the most significant thing was the talking. One spoke of how he will always remember. Another spoke of Hopebuilders and the opportunity. These guys truly are part of the Hopebuilders team - they are working to break the cycle of poverty in their families and also to build things for their country and people. Robert Kafeero did a great job of talking (as usual) but in doing so shared the gospel, using our lives as an example of it being worked out. Our prayer has always been that people would know Jesus through our lives and our love. I think these guys do know that the reason for us being who we are is Jesus. It is hard to describe how special it was, it was simple, there was not a lot of fuss but the guys really appreciated it and a number said how they would never forget it. It will be so hard to say goodbye to these people. We will be back and we will be faithful in praying for them but it will be so different not to be here. Communication from here back to Australia is not the same for them as it is for us. Fortunately, we know God is in control both sides of the water and that this year has been planned and guided by Him and so is the future.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Full weekend

Well it is Monday night and it has been a very full weekend. Sometimes I just reflect on days and think I must write about that. I am sure that I will forget what life is like here, though even as I write I know I miss different things that have made each day 'interesting'. This weekend was very busy with many a huge variety of happenings.
Saturday morning dawned, no chance for a nice sleep in, big miss here - do like a good sleep in, especially when that means not needing to be up and going by 7.30 am! Nice normal breakfast, don't think there were even any interuptions. Then, big clean up, get organised for the day. The house needed a bit of work and there were people coming to film in the afternoon. The workers arrived, gave them the mandatory cup of tea and 'escort' (something to go with the cup of tea that often constitutes their breakfast). Clean up, they head off, the painter arrives but he has just had chai so doesn't need anything of me. Ron heads into town to pick up some pipes. Floor swept, with the broken handled broom (thank you workers). Floor mopped, fortunately not in the local way, with a squeeze type mop (thank you Trudi - though it does have a new head). Clothes washed in the local way - yes I can manage that thank you to all my Ugandan friends who are constantly amazed that I can. Beans prepared for the workers' lunch. Finish off and change ready for the 10.00 preschool graduation.
Of course, we are punctual, it is a graduation after all. Well, it was great to be welcomed by our children. Some unfortunately not attired quite in the manner I would have liked but never mind, they were happy. We waited outside for quite a while, the music inside was just too loud! No, we are not that old, the room has bad acoustics and sound systems are not quite of the same standard that we are used to. Then, Robert arrived and we decided to check out the classrooms at the preschool. I had seen them but the other two hadn't. All in the way of planning for the future school (what school you say - save that for another blog post soon).
We were seated, still waiting but entertained by Jessica needing some assistance. First an insect bite on one shoulder that was growing but I managed to stop hurting. Then, she returned with another bite! Quick trip outside to remove any insect remaining and found a biting, flying ant type thing. Ouch!
The proceedings were great when they finally started. The children from all the classes performed and of course we (us as representing the Village of Hope) had students in each one. Even a little fashion parade with little ones in the local gomaz. Lovely singing and dancing and then the awarding of the certificate to the graduants! Yes, in gown, hat and all. Funny for us but a lovely formal ceremony for the children.
Ron got to give a little speech on behalf of the parents. At first it was announced as going to be on behalf of the teachers! He had thought of making a big announcement but without having met with the appropriate people and the headteacher of Joy Primary sitting there in the audience (as a parent), only alluded to it.Nice having someone important to be with as we got to eat first. Big bonus when there are so many people there. Though let me say, catering on a big scale here is done in an amazing way. The food is almost always very similar but they managed to make it nicely, keep it and serve it for hundreds without much fuss at all.
Oh, that's right I forgot, it started to rain during the ceremony. That meant that when the generator failed (because of course the power was out) that it was very hard to hear people and it was quite dark inside as well. Then, there was the issue of the hole in the ceiling and roof so a bit of a flood but not too bad fortunately, people moved easily out of the way.
The rain did stop but knowing that there was lots of mud to get through we piled the 9 preschoolers from the village into the car and took them home. We quickly dealt with a few things at the village but no time to really stop as we needed to get back to our house.
On arrival we were greeted by one of the workers who informed us we had visitors. They were the group coming for the filming of a video! Well, it was three of the group anyway. Still no power, plumber used up the solar trying to test the new rainwater pump from the tank (yes it is in and good). Tried to chat with Anita but my battery died too quickly. The visitors stayed and waited and then gave up on the others coming so left. Cup of tea, essential ingredient of the day.
Ron hopped back in the car and went off to pick up the last two children for House 5. Not a trip I envied him as it is bad enough normally but with the rain the road would also be slippery. He left me to finish preparing my sermon for Sunday. However, of course someone else came to visit to discuss things with us, well me since Ron wasn't home. Then, a bit of time preparing and Ron came and picked me up and back to the village I went. It was so good to see Wyclif and Peace. They both looked happy to come though when arriving at the village they did become a little overwelmed. A wet afternoon with lots of mud made for children who were very excited and these two had come from quite a deserted lonely place. I endeavoured to get them appropriate clothes from the container and make sure all was well. Ron then took the workers home while I was finishing off. Supervision of a couple of houses evening meal was needed. One child missing - not sure where, Robert sent off to investigate. We found out later that he was actually only in the farm!
So, why did we not investigate? We needed to get home because the new couple to look after Suubi House had arrived and Ron had just picked them up. There had been some phone calls in the afternoon I forgot to include! So home to help settle Juliet and Sam, Precious and Blessing into their accomodation. Oh supper! Poor Ron was sent out to find something at Begembe that would be suitable for them and I made a tuna casserole for Ron, Nicholaus and me.
After finally finishing everything the power finally returned and there was a chance to find out how life was in Australia. Final preparation of the sermon and off to bed. Another day gone.
Sunday morning, after a reasonably good sleep up we get. Oh dear, no internet - power but no internet! It was obviously a problem with the supplier but a bit frustrating. Hence there was plenty of time to be ready for church. We had invited the new couple to come as where we go was her church before they had returned to the village. Tiny problem with muzungu time versus African but safely on the way with the extra family. Had a lovely time at church though after speaking to Pastor Robert prior to the service and Ron mentioning about talking about this year at church I was a little overwhelmed by the thought of leaving. Imagine, twelve months ago I was feeling almost the same thoughts and feelings prior to coming! I truly have two homes.
Just prior to the time that we would need to leave to get to the other church in time we had a phone call telling us to take our time. There was no rush as the pastor would not be there for a little while. We delayed and arrived about 10.35 after picking up Nicholaus. The singing part of the service did start at about 10.55 and then the pastor came just after 11.00! Consequently the sermon did not start until after 12.15. It went well. Then, off with the pastor for a quick bite to eat. Fun times, we went to a 'pork joint'. There on the verandah out the front were about half a dozen guys with stubbies on the table, and we went there with a pastor! This is significant simply because alcohol is so abused here that Christians do not drink at all. Well, we tasted some lovely pork (it was a little overcooked for which both the pastor and the chef were very apologetic) but served on a huge metal skewer. It was fun.
Into town to buy some much needed things and to pick up a water container to hold water for the aging, sick father of the two children brought to the village on Saturday. Home quickly to check on things there, out to Kakira to pick up documents and to deliver the container. Briefly home and then on to the village for supper.
This is always a highlight of our week. We get to eat a meal with the children of two households and their mothers. This week was no exception with a lovely meal and good company. After supper comes devotions and this too is a real treat. Last Sunday was no exception. Testimonies were given. "Thank you God for this place and that we are not chased from school like so many. Thank you that we are able to live here." or "Thank you that we are all well for our exams". Or, just looking and seeing these new children so happy and accepted. One child reads a story from the bible and another translates. This too is just such a lovely thing to hear them able to translate with confidence after learning English for such a short time. So many things to be thankful for here in the village.
After devotions we went up to the admin centre and spent some good time with Robert and Millie. So much to share and so little time. Then, finally home to find that the internet was working and so obviously we needed to check how things were back in Australia. At last into bed, another weekend filled to overflowing with so many experiences.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ignorance was bliss!

Yesterday, we went for a trip up to the other orphanage we visit and help. We took with us a girl who is going to be able to pass on donations and make sure that things are travelling well there. It was a stark reminder of the vulnerability of children. We had had a phone call on Friday or Saturday to say that food was running short but were unable to go up until yesterday (Monday). We did think that there were other sources of food but also made sure that despite other things happening that we did make it. We found the children not having eaten properly since Saturday lunchtime.
In Australia many people join in the 40 hour famine - going without food for 40 hours, though it has also developed into going without other things rather than food. These children did not have the luxury of a barley sugar (in fact they would rarely if ever get sweets anyway) and yet they had not eaten a meal for more than 48 hours.
There are so many different slants that I could take on this. Let me think through just a few. Well, really this orphanage is not our responsibility, we have done a lot for them and so whatever we continue to do is a bonus. I could happily argue this if we were not talking about vulnerable children, but unfortunately we are. We have not promised them anything but by the very fact that we know of their need means we need to do something. For those of you who think I might be beating myself about it, I am not but I am cross.
I am cross because I know that there should be food for them. I am cross because I do not like to see people, especially children, feeling like there is not hope for them. I am cross because there is corruption in this country. I am cross because part of me did not want to know the realities and now I do. I am cross because I cannot solve the problems of this country. I am cross because these children should be safe and properly cared for in an orphanage. I am cross because people have let them down, and we probably in their minds fall into that category.
There, I have vented some of my frustrations. I now know the realities of life here for so many. Children in an orphanage are reliant on people taking care of them and when there are no means then they miss out. Children in villages are reliant on neighbours and kindly people helping where they can. Children in our village are so fortunate, they have many people that see them as their responsibility and would make sure that they always had food, shelter and love.
So, what do we do? The first answer for me has to be to pray. To pray for wisdom each moment of every day. While we are here we can help those who are hungry - or give a small amount of money to buy water (Something that happened this very evening) when we are presented with the situation. However, the cry of my heart is for people to recognise the need for change.
Many people think that change can only happen through governments but it has to start with people being willing to put their faith into practise. Those who call themselves Christians must not be willing to cheat, to steal and to not look after each other. In saying that, I know the same thing happens in Australia but in different ways - faith is meant to be put into practise. I was shocked yesterday when a friend, who can be called a peasant as she has no source of income but grows her own food. She told me that because her maize had ripened early, people had stolen lots of it! This seems so low.
There are amazing differences in crime here. I have rarely seen someone who I thought would do me any harm. However, there is so many little things that people just expect to happen. Corruption is rampant from the lowest position to the highest. Just today Ron read at least two examples from the newspaper citing aid being removed due to funds not being spent on what they were intended for. So, each person has to stand up and not be involved in this corruption at any level. One day I handed out lined paper in class for an exercise to be handed in. I counted the pages and knew there was at least 80, one per student. However, as students handed them out we were short. Why, because students had taken more than more and hidden it! About 20 students must have done this, they then handed them back when they realised others did not have. This exemplifies to me that change has to happen with children, they need to know it is not all right despite what they see happening all around. The expression "This is Africa" or "This is Uganda" is not all right when it implies that this is the way it is and the way it will always be.

Enough ranting. The main purpose of this blog post was to identify the fact that before I came here and built up relationships with people I could give to help but I was really ignorant. I was ignorant of the real picture. A statistic and the sight of a person struggling is hard to see on the television. To know someone in that position is entirely different. It makes that small luxury so much harder to pass off. It means that I will not and don't want to forget these children both in the village and those outside. They are precious and need to see, feel and know God's love shown to them in the most practical of all ways. Then, they can see an example worth following, one of goodness not corruption.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Changing times

We now have only six(oops now only five) weeks left here in Uganda before returning to Australia. It is a time of change for us and trying to hand things over. We have really tried to do this all year but now the need is much more urgent. The hard question is: "What happens when we are not here?" For a lot of things that is easy, we have made sure or are making sure that people are in place to do jobs that we have done. For example, the new village managers are in place and doing a good job. While we are still here we are able to overseer their work but by the time we have left, they will have been through most of the stages of the village with new children and teams being the main ones. We leave the village in good hands with Robert Kafeero still overseering and Robert and Millie very capably taking the reins. There are other things though that we cannot hand over. Each week (often each day) people come to our door. They are needy people, in need of food or money for their rent.
A large part of our mantra this year has been "is it sustainable". Yet, here we are having done some things that are not sustainable. Are we unhappy about what we have done? No, of course not, you cannot be unhappy about meeting peoples' immediate needs for survival. However, it is frustrating, depressing and difficult to consider that these people we have got to know (lots of these not very well) are not going to have food. Fortunately, the season is good and so many people we know are generous with their harvest. Though the quandary still remains. I suspect that we will just continue to support people here who are supporting those in need. In that way we are empowering people to do good. Fortunately, we know of people who are able and trustworthy to do this. It is amazing to meet people who given money for someone else will put aside their personal needs (for basic necessities) to do what is meant with the money. These people challenge me. How often do I hear in Australia, "Oh, but it is important to look after your needs, if you don't what will happen to the ministry". Trust in God has to grow. This is true both sides of the ocean.
In Australia, people are reluctant to give because of their own needs and we do not trust God to meet our needs. In Uganda, people have a need and can justify taking something that is not theirs from someone who has much. This of course is not by any means always the case in either place but simply statements about the challenges that each one of us face no matter which country we are from.
Back to the topic, though the above discussion is not such a great diversion. We are going back to Australia. How have we changed? Is it going to be hard to go to the supermarket and be tempted to buy everything we have not had this year? Are we going to take on the norms that were ours before we came? Have we changed? Will we be able to slot back in? Then of course there are decisions that need to be made and work to be done back in Australia. So many things occupy my mind.
Just today, a week after starting this post, we have had the privilege of bringing some new children into the village. The village is again changing. Less children than anticipated due to unexpected circumstances but needy children none the less. In fact, one of the children when we have visited him in his previous home appeared to lack all the essentials of life, most particularly love. He is a lovely, finely built little boy who clung to us when we visited. He had poo down his legs until the aunt was told (by others) to bathe him. She had her own child, and to be fair life is very tough where she lives and so he was just a burden that she could not bear. Both of us have been moved greatly by his situation and pleased that we could be a part of bringing him into the village. So, today as he came - bringing absolutely nothing except the clothes he was wearing. Due to the weather conditions it was necessary to take the car to pick up children. Hence, after picking him up and the mother doing a great job of being there for him, she had to leave to pick up other children and he came with me to get new clothes. During the process, this silent little boy held my hand and walked with me. After a while he suddenly spoke, in his language but he spoke. Then, he spied the slide and went to investigate. His little legs struggled to climb the stairs but he managed to nearly reach the top and then he stopped. A little hesitant but as he started to climb he had for the very first time, that I had seen, a smile. A beautiful smile, this is home! A little help and then a bigger girl to stand at the bottom, he had his first slide. It is hard to describe the joy of being part of this. Suddenly this little boy has a future, a hope and a safe place to call home. Then, when Ron arrived back with other children this little boy ran to him and again smiled. Too special! So, what are we doing - we are leaving and yet building bonds. We have learnt about attachment and the difficulties for little children who have not bonded properly early on. Are we just adding another problem for these children when we go? Much as I would like it to be about me and what I like, it has to be about these children. Hopefully, we are doing this right. We did spend some time with them today but we also left them for most of the afternoon to settle with their new mother (who incidentally is doing a fantastic job). We are like the grandparents - they are not always around but they are part of your life. We are not leaving here and going back to Australia for ever. Hence, we will continue to be part of their lives. Interestingly, that is what Fiona(one of the first children) said to me today. "You are Jaja (grandparent). You are so happy, smiling with your arms folded looking at them." She was right - it was such a lovely thing to be able to see, the older children checking up on the little ones. The old and the new mixing. The new mother holding one child with another sitting at her feet. Truly a beautiful picture. We treasure these moments but know that we are leaving these children in safe hands.
Today, we also went with Rachel to visit some other needy children. It was a bit of a drive but through magnificent countryside. Along the way we saw some beautiful houses and also some terrible mud houses. Rachel told of the circumstances of some children that she had previously brought into a different orphanage from here. Then, we came to the destination - only a little off the beaten track - enough so for Ron to be reminded he was missing the 4 wheel drive weekend from church in Australia. A little group of houses around a flattened social area with an open-air shelter as well. There were lots and lots of children and we were directed to a small mud hut. Rachel and the others went in while Ron and I stayed outside. The place was very small, in fact all the houses in the group were, and in reasonable repair for mud huts but the horrible part is that in Australia children have better and bigger playhouses than these. There were two little girls being looked after by a very aging grandfather. He was not managing, he did not even have anything for them to eat tonight and the only way they continued was through the help of neighbours, who from our perspective were only just a little better off. Such a sad picture, two orphans, with a grandfather who obviously loves them very much but with only the use of one hand, blindness coming, so no means to provide for them. He wanted us to take them straight away and it was very tempting, instead we gave him some money to at least provide some immediate needs and the process will be continued.
We will leave but the momentum continues both sides of the ocean. Here, the work continues with children and mothers being found, houses being built, and people's lives being changed. In Australia, people are packing a container, teams are preparing to come, people are donating money and time to make things happen. These children have become our children (or grandchildren) and we are responsible. We will go back different people but perhaps most of all we will go back knowing more of the heart of God, to feed the hungry, to help those in need and to be less concerned for those things that have no lasting value.