I was amazed by the persistence of the human spirit. I have witnessed some miraculous things on my recent trip to Uganda. I am struck by the perspective I received from a culture that is very different from ours.
As a pediatrician, I hear countless parents tell me that they can’t get their kids to listen to them, can’t get them to eat their vegetables, can’t get them off their computer, or can’t motivate them for school. They fear for their safety, so don’t let them out of their sight.
Now imagine waking your child before sunrise so they can do their chores before they walk an hour or more to school. Sending them off to school without breakfast or lunch, because you can’t afford to buy food. Allowing your child to walk miles along a busy road to and from school without parental supervision in all kinds of weather. Having them eat gratefully whatever food in placed in front of them. Seeing genuine gratitude in a gift as meager as a blanket, a soccer ball or a finger-puppet. And through it all, hearing no complaints, no eyes rolling, no whining.
I never hope to have the experience of not being able to provide food for my children, and surly am not advocating for that. But I am clear that most American kids are overindulged. There is a happy medium of allowing our children to have difficult experiences. Letting them gain a sense of hard work and accomplishment in achieving something. Allowing them to gain some independence by going out in the neighborhoods on their own to explore and learn. Allowing them to miss a meal or two if they do not like what you are serving them. Not granting them every wish they have, so they learn gratitude.
Some of the best food, I have had was made for me by the Mommas in Uganda. They made it with their hands, a knife with a broken handle, a pot and fire. No Pampered Chef, no Cauphalon, no Cuisinart. Yes, it was not always served right on time, but it was always appreciated when it was served. Most of the fancy things we want for in this world are truly unimportant. Giving of our selves, and sharing our love and talents outweigh it all.
In Uganda I saw parents waiting patiently hours to see me without complaint or protest. While back in the States, I strive to stay on my schedule as best I can, there are things that are beyond my control. My point is to be grateful for the easy access to our medical system. While these moms’s lined up because they had a rare chance to see a doctor in their village, you have same day appointments and 24hour on call availability. So if you have to wait 15 minutes or even an hour to see your doctor, remember you are blessed to have such easy access.
Along these lines, my trips to places where there are no doctors have taught me valuable lessons about the strength of the human immune system. My observations are that all young children struggle with frequent illnesses: American and Ugandan alike. They are being exposed to many of the pathogens that they will see for the remainder of their days, so the immune system strengthens itself during these young years: ie. you are sick a lot as a young child and not as much as you get older (I think most appreciate this phenomenon). I wonder if we American doctors and parents treat too many of these common illnesses, thus prolonging the building of immunity for our kids. Maybe we should let our kids keep that runny nose a bit longer before we treat it with another round of antibiotics; maybe it will make their immune system stronger. It is just a thought.
These are a few lessons that I have learned from my Ugandan experiences to share with my fellow American parents- (and young fellow travelers who may be parents one day).
3 days in Uganda. That is all we have left here! These past 2 weeks have been full of community outreach. Cleaning the medical clinic, passing out mosquito nets to families and setting them up in their homes, giving gifts to schools, decorating (and doing art repair…I am not good at that) on book bags, and hanging out with some girls at Dorcas Vocational school. Kaihura has one of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen, but has a lot of poverty stricken people.
Yesterday, I had the privilege of waking up at 5:00 AM and walking about 4 miles to school with a boy named Chris. Some others on the team walked even farther. While we were honestly grumbling a little bit with it being so early, none of the kids walking to school never complained. Chris happily walked with us to school. No rush, at a nice pace. I couldn’t believe it took him an hour and twenty minutes to walk when my mom would drive me only 5 minutes to school. But he never complained. None of them seem to ever complain.
I complain when I feel too hot. They don’t have air conditioning. I complain when I am tired from school. They walk to school, study all day, some don’t eat, they walk home, do chores, and study. I get cranky when I am hungry. Some kids only eat dinner. And they still don’t complain or worry. They just see it as life and go with it, relying on God to provide what they need. I have learned so much from these people and now I have 3 days until I go home and go back to life as I knew it. I am praying I do not become quick to fall back into my ordinary routine. I hope I keep a little bit of the Ugandan I have gained in me.
I honestly can’t believe it is already Tuesday. My time here has flown by, and I don’t want it to ever end. I know that when I leave here, I will be leaving part of my heart behind. I got the wonderful opportunity this past weekend to stay with all the kids for twenty-four hours while the mama’s got to go stay at a hotel and just have a rest day off. At first I thought this job would be easy. I mean I babysit all the time- how much different could it be? Well, I was very wrong. After changing about 15 dirty diapers (and when I say dirty I mean DIRTY), getting no sleep, and playing with the kids all day, I have so much respect for the mama’s that work there. They work all day and a lot of the night for not a lot of money. I am very humbled with how hard they work, especially since they don’t receive much credit.
While here I have made friends who will last forever. I have become close to many of the kids, but especially a girl named Margret. Margret is four years old and doesn’t speak any English at all. Somehow I still have created a special bond with her, even though there is a language barrier. Everyone time I see her and motion for her to come to me, her entire face lights up with a smile as she runs towards me and holds her arms up for me to pick her up. She is missing one of her two front teeth, and her smile is the cutest thing in the world. I am sure if someone were to look at my face at that moment, I would be grinning from ear to ear also. We also do this thing where one of will scrunch up our nose and shake our head and then the other one will do it too. Even though we don’t have conversations, just the feeling of her head snuggled up against my chest means the world. Last night, I held her while she fell asleep in my arms. While holding her I had to hold back tears because I know I will be leaving her in just a few shorts days. However, I know that I have made a forever friend.
My time in Uganda has been life changing, and I will never be the same. I have experienced so many new things here (including getting the African flu- I woke up this morning with about a 102 degree fever and the chills). I have been so humbled while I have been here, and I realize just how blessed I am to live where I do. I take things for granted at home all the time, and after this experience I will be forever grateful for what I have. Most people say that you go to Africa to change lives. However, I went to Africa and it changed my life, forever.
These last three and a half weeks have been magical. I got to experienced something that many people fail to go through in their life time. That is a change in their soul, the way they hold themselves and what they take for granted. I can’t help but think about the fact that if I was sitting at home and I was hungry, I could just walk to the pantry and pig out or hop in my car and drive to Chick-Fil-A. Kids here just don’t have that and its almost upsetting. There are children that I met that seldom know what it’s like to be fully satisfied. When I go home, I will be able to see all of my friends my boyfriend. There may be little change in my social life and how much I drive around and where I drive to but I will always have the thought in the back of my head saying that not everyone can do this.
At home, I tend to get upset or mad over very little things. Some of which are if my mom forgot to leave me money so that I can go out, when my car runs out of gas, or my brother is just being annoying. I think that when I get home, I won’t be so quick to roll my eyes or yell. I will remember that some of these beautifully happy and wonderful people don’t have a mom, a brother and certainly not a car. The most amazing thing about then id the fact that they are the happiest people you will ever meet. The children’s face who light up when they see us or because we have then a composition notebook or a pack of loose-leaf paper. It seems like the more things that a child has gone through, the happier they are; which amazes me. This trip has humbled me to no end. I can’t wait to get home and tell everyone about my adventures in Uganda. I will see you all in only 5 days. I miss you and I love you all!
This morning a clinic outreach was held at the new Clinic for the first time, while construction swirled around them. As I stood there watching this group of people from the surrounding countryside receiving care in this new clinic I reflected on the journey that lead to this moment. From the first contact with this small village of Kaihura and the organization of Bringing Hope to the Family as a result of an illness experienced by Steve Cobin (one of the Founders of EU), to the Adoption of Jane by Dirk and Paige (also founders of EU), and the various missions trips through the years, the fundraisers, the conference calls, mountains of emails, the cultural misunderstandings, and all the effort that has gone into creating this place. I am humbled by the love of the people who have poured into Embrace Uganda, their love, treasure, and time. Most of All I am humbled by a God who has planted his Love in all of us, as he calls us deeper into that Love.
As I turned to leave the clinic toward my lunch waiting at Faith’s house (our host) I started to think about the people who this clinic will serve. There were grandmothers too old the grandchildren at their feet, old crippled men looking out at me with clouded over eyes, mothers with terror in their eyes for rocking their sick babies, none of who would have a lunch waiting for them. A number of who had probably walked for miles to get there. All, who would go hungry that day to go to clinic. There is an ocean of need.
So as I ate my lunch and listen to the thunder roll across the verdant landscape, I am so thankful for what I have, and most especially thankful for what I can give.
John Sibert Sr.
When you think of the word “summer,” school does not come to mind. But in Uganda, the seasons are flip-flopped and right now it is winter. It sure doesn’t feel like it because of the heat, but it is. With winter comes school, which is where we journeyed today. Waking up at 4:45 is never fun but the kids that walk to school have to do it every day. We headed out around 5:45 and drove to the designated home with a girl named Grace who attended Kaihura Parents School. She has to walk a little over an hour to get to school, which meant we had to as well. Setting out on the dirt road at 6:30 meant it was dark and a little chilly. Our group arrived at school at 7:30, with school starting at around 8:00. We had assembly from 8:00-8:50, which was full of fun news and speeches; we then broke into our classes. I was assigned to S2 (Senior 2) by myself. Nothing like walking into a small room with 100 staring Ugandans. The lone Mzungu, that’s me. I sat front row and listened in on what I immediately knew as Chemistry (why me). In school I didn’t get Chemistry so well so I knew this was going to be bad. After our break we had a nice drawing class with pointy leaves. I never realized how terrible of an artist I was. I can’t even draw a leaf. Oh well, I knew I wasn’t going to be an art major anyways. After only twenty minutes, I gave up on my drawing. Time began to run very slowly as I began to think about everything I would do when I got home on Saturday. After I finished daydreaming, I snapped back into reality and found everyone else just about done with their artwork. All of their drawings looked like a Picasso compared to mine. I sat alone and sipped on my water, waiting for lunch to finally come. 12:00. 12:15. 12:30. 12:45. 1:00. Finally! Lunchtime. My stomach was going earthquake/dying whale mode on me and I was starving. It began thundering and lightening during lunch and I predicted that there was going to be nasty weather. After lunch we worked on some geography and grammar, but the rain hitting the roof was extremely loud and distracting, but thankfully we left at 4:30. As I walked home I was reminded that Grace had to walk another hour down the long dirt road alone. This experience really made me thankful for transportation we have back home. These kids all have to wake up early and walk every day to school. I really learned to appreciate what I have back home. I miss it back home, but I only have another two days before I leave. I miss you Mom, Dad, Joel, and Danielle so much. I love you all and I will see you soon.
Ps. Danielle, I saw Bella this morning. I love you
Today, I was woken up at around 4:45 A.M. to go to school with a student from the village. In the beginning, I was not exactly to most happy person ever… I ate breakfast quickly, and got in the van to ride to the students house. When we arrived, it was still pitch-black outside. The student, named Chris, walked out the door to greet our group. When I saw him, I was shocked to see him with a smile on his face to greet us.
That really made me think of how ungrateful I can be. To see how happy someone can be to wake up knowing he has to walk for about one hour; and I get angry that I have to wake up at 7 to sit in a car for three minutes? I was amazed how he just got ready for his day, and left with no complaining; and again I was thinking how I complain about driving to a school three minutes from my house, and he didn’t even think to complain that he had to wake up even earlier, and walk for over an hour to go to school.
After about an hour or so, my team arrived at Chris’ school. I was pleasantly surprised to see how good of condition the school was in. I was thinking that it would be run down, or very small. When I saw it was actually nice, and even new, (2006) I was very excited for the boys and girls who go there. I was excited because I had seen how bad the living conditions of Chris were, and was glad, and thought he deserved a pleasant place to go. Overall, I am glad I could take the experience to visit the boy’s school. I think it will change how I wake up in the morning, and how I appreciate how close I live to schools all around me. I also think that taking in the footsteps of an African high schoolers daily struggles will help me with how I view school, and how important it really is in my life. I would like to thank my parents, for working extremely hard so they can afford to send me to an amazing school, and to be able to drive me. I would also like to thank this organization, Embrace Uganda, and Faith Kunihara, for giving me the opportunity to go to school for one day and realize how fortunate I am to have a life so amazing.
Well, God blessed me with two more weeks in Uganda than I was supposed to have, and I cannot be more thankful. Because of this, I knew there was a reason for my time in Kaihura. And I think I’ve figured it out.
Here in Kaihura, there is an orphanage called Home Again. Over the past few days, I have been overwhelmingly blessed with time to meet and begin to know the children that live there. One child defines Home Again orphanage in my mind. Her name is Paige. Paige is a happy four year girl, and when I first met her, she was covered in lunch. Her smile was so genuine that I immediately swooped her into my arms. I then, too, was covered in beans and posha but was too happy to care.
I learned later that Paige had some form of cerebral palsey. So when I heard that a couple living in Germany were adopting her, I was thrilled with the knowledge that Paige would be given a loving home and hopefully the ability to receive some form of therapy. Then Friday afternoon rolled around. I saw a car drive up to Home Again while I was on the front porch and a man and a woman get out of the car. They introduced themselves to me, saying that their names were Grady and Jody, and also saying that they were there to see their soon-to-be daughter, Paige. Completely choked up, I lead them to where Paige was napping, and got to witness a beautiful, God-made connection between two parents and their precious daughter. My current prayer is that every child at Home Again can have that moment and the ability to see a glimpse of God through loving parents.
Mama and Daddy, thank you for being this for me. I love you both so much.
(written on the last day of the first two week team)
My 6:30am alarm went off but I didn’t need it. The roosters had already gone off and all the birds were waking up outside our window. Somehow, the roosters weren’t as annoying as my alarm clock, but even pleasing to lay and listen to. On a hill above Kampala, Agape Children’s Village was beginning to wake up. The air was fresh and cool and a young Ugandan boy was walking along the path outside, singing a praise song. Other children had already begun their chores and the sun was coming up. Day after day, from this village on a hill, is one gorgeous sunrise after another, never two the same.
Today, five of us would begin our journey home. There would be many goodbye hugs, photos taken, farewell notes and more goodbye hugs. Words can’t express how difficult it is to leave our precious friends after we have worked together, played together, loved each other, talked, heard their stories and realized how long it might be before we see them again, and knowing that after the excitement and activity of our time together, their lives will return to the day to day struggles that face them all year long. So much done yet so much more to do. But what will carry us through, and carry them through, is the love the Lord has lavished on us during our time together.
What every single one of our team has heard, over and over again from our friends at Agape, is “Thank you for loving us!” “Thank you for loving us!” “Thank you for loving us!” Powerful words. Humbling words, especially since most, if not all, of us feel that WE are the ones that have received so much love from them. Everything we’ve done, whether services rendered or gifts given, translates to them as having been loved. Both to the giver and the receiver, a holy and awesome privilege. And none of us will be the same. Whether together or apart, the love remains.
. . . At this point in my blog, we are back home in the U.S., but so much of me is still back in Uganda. I find myself wondering, “What are they doing right now? How are things going?” I remember the sights, sounds, smells and feel of Uganda, look through my photos, and relive in my mind many of the experiences we had there, knowing that only a relatively small number of people would be able to say, “Yes, I know exactly what you mean”, because they were there. So there’s the challenge for all of us who went, to go now to any who will listen, and relate the story of loving and being loved by our Ugandan friends. To bring as many as possible along side of us, to help us continue to love them, by providing scholarships for these precious children to get their education, to complete, outfit and staff the medical clinic in Kaihura, to meet the overwhelming medical needs of the community at large, and to reach out to them in whatever way that we can. So please, come help us. We would love to have you partner with us and know the joy yourselves, of embracing Uganda.
Why do I love Uganda? Well some of the quick answers are - I love the chaos of Kampala traffic, the open air butcher in the heat of the day, the morning roster outside my hotel, the motor bike overloaded with Chickens on their last ride, and the clarity of the stars in the sky at night, while the dog barks in the distance!
But most of all the Children……. What can I say!! The beauty of their smiles, their laughter, their warmth, and their heart ache. The hunger for touch, their fear, the questions that reside in the core of their hearts – WHY am I alone, WHO loves me, WHERE are my parents, will I survive? When I meditate on these things, and the seemingly insurmountable problems these questions pose, LOVE bubbles up in me, and I realize that at the end of the day there really is no other answer other than LOVE. We Love by being with those who are alone, We Love by comforting those who are alone, We Love by supporting those in need. We learn to Love by the example given to us by a God who stretched out his arms on a piece of wood and had nails driven through is hands, so that the questions these children ask can be answered.
So I am here to do those things. I am not perfect at Loving by any means. I am not a very good comforter, and I am certainly not good at being with people for that matter (just ask my wife), but as that child’s small hungry hand reaches out for mine, I reach back out in whatever stumbling way I can.
So why do I Love Uganda? because Uganda helps me to learn to LOVE a bit better, by the small hands reaching for mine.
GOD is LOVE.
A few background facts. I am with the second team which arrived on Sat. afternoon safe and sound. We spent the night in Kampala, and this morning we went to church at Pastor Michael Oakawkol’s church, and then drove to Agape Children’s village where we will be spending the next couple of days.
John Sibert, Sr.