05 November 2011

Watoto / Bethany





It was a full day on the “Rosa Deluxe”. All of the students packed into this 25-seater van that has seen more of the bumpy Ugandan roads than any other vehicle here at New Hope. We call her the “Rosa” and I noticed the “e” in “Deluxe” was missing and that made me smile all the more. The men had to push it fast so the engine would start. I was hoping the driver would think twice before parking it uphill somewhere in Kampala. He knew what he was doing and I didn’t have to worry.

I had been warned already about the music situation since our classmates had made the 9 hour one way trip up north to Kumi last weekend to visit the Kobwin Children’s Center which is an extension of New Hope. Troy will fill you in on that one. Back to the music…they listened to a tape that had only 5 songs on it the entire way to Kumi…and back! So I knew I had 5 songs ahead of me to learn by heart before we returned from our long one-day adventure. The purpose of our trip was to visit other children centers in Uganda to see how they are run. Typically this trip is made over 2 days, but the third center wasn’t able to have us so we crammed it all into one very full day.

We went straight to Watoto Church in Kampala (which I’m told is like the “Hillsong” of Uganda) and from there met up with our tour guide who would take us to the Watoto Children Center about 1 ½ hours away. When we arrived, I was in awe as we drove up the hillside and the lawn was all so neatly manicured and there was just one home after another, all looking the same. I haven’t seen anything so American since coming to Uganda. Each home has a number, and they would need to as there were at least 79 and they were cookie cutter homes, white brick and all the same layout. We just kept driving up and up and we could soon look out over beautiful valleys. It was very impressive. I kept thinking about how much fun my boys would have rolling all over that green grass! Watoto has over 1500 between students and staff. We parked the Rosa and went straight to the baby house. It looked to be fairly new and I felt as if I was standing before someone’s gorgeous mansion.

We were quickly brought inside and divided into two teams and sent in two different directions. We washed our hands and dove right into a room full of at least 10 babies all near 1 year old. Many were in tears. It was lunchtime and the ladies were working as quickly as they could to get their lunch of mashed pumpkin in bowls and ready for each little one. I was surprised how quickly the little ones swarmed to us. I sat down on the floor and had 4 in my lap just like that. They were so quick to come into our laps and one little one just wrapped his little arms around me and claimed me for my short 30-minute visit. They were so quick to copy with little clicking of their tongues or smooching of their lips, quick to be comforted and quick to giggle. I could tell the ladies were taking good care of these little ones. They were not lacking affection or attention. It really was a blessing to come in and pour out love on these babies. So there were two rooms with just as many little ones and I’m wondering if there were more. I don’t know.

We moved on to see the school at Watoto and the trade training. There was a room where clothes (“clothe-ez” as my Uganda friends say it) and another room where a beauty school was going on. I got some great photos of my Uganda brothers with hair extensions draping over their purposefully bald heads! I’m not sure if I had more fun taking the pictures or if they had more fun seeing their pictures…it was great! We all got a good laugh. The school was at the very top of the hillside with many signs that had positive messages all throughout the landscaped yard. The view was absolutely breathtaking and many more nice buildings for classes and dorms for the older kids were on the top of the hill. There was also many more building in process. I learned later that the majority of the money coming in to Watoto is from the choir that tours in the US. They have something going on like the African Children’s Choir and they tour the US performing. They also have a nice wood and metal shop. It was a very impressive place and good to see another center and how it works

After this stop, we all boarded the Rosa and headed back into the city in the rain (the Rosa leaks water too ;)) and on to the shores of Lake Victoria for a boat ride to Bethany House. We boarded the big wood boat with a tarp on the top, all 30 of us, and went out on the rough water for the 30-minute boat ride to where the Bethany House is located. When we arrived they fed us a feast, and we were hungry too! They kept bringing out one pot after another of Ugandan food I have grown to really enjoy. We feasted on matoke (steamed food banana like a sticky mashed potato), rice, boiled potato and cassava (it’s more firm and has more fibers than a potato) and a couple vegetable dishes with cabbage and eggplant and a bean sauce and a meat sauce (which typically has bones like crazy and few pieces of meat). It really was a great lunch and we enjoyed it all the more since we were 3 hours overdue!

So, Bethany House is another children center for orphaned or vulnerable children but had an entirely different feel from Watoto. It was a much smaller scale and is run off donations from people in the US. We visited one family mother who has 19 kids living in her home, the “Grace” home. She was very gracious to have us in and answer our many question about her struggles with so many children and discipline and a father figure and all that. There is only one Ugandan man there who serves as a father figure for all the children in all the homes. He said they were actively looking for men to be involved, but for now he was it. It’s a huge job to be in charge of so many kids and they all come from different backgrounds and they all carry different pain. Overall, the feel at Bethany was so peaceful and serene. I felt like I was really in the middle of the jungle with Lake Victoria at one end and thick trees and bush on the other. We walked on trails through thick bush to gardens and pig and chicken houses. I saw the biggest spider of my life in a tree overhead. His web was massive and so strong. Bethany really had the feel of a little Ugandan village in the middle of the jungle. I really liked it there.

I am so thankful there are people out there who are willing to do this hard work. Now that I have written that, I am reminded that we are all called to do this hard work…to care for the orphaned, the lonely and the strangers around us. What am I going to do with what I have learned? There is no denying that it is my God given responsibility, it’s clear as day when you read scripture.

After getting our tour of Bethany, we all boarded the boat again and had a nice ride back into the city. The water was calm and there were about 10 fewer people on board, but we had a few additional chickens. That is so typical Uganda! There were about 5 chickens with their feet tied together at the front of the big wood boat. We enjoyed the sunset on the water too. I took a picture of one man fishing on our way by and he was ticked at me for sure. He shook his finger at me and said something in Lugandan, probably not something I wanted to hear anyway! Strangers don’t like having their pictures taken without permission…totally understandable. I gave him my best smile and my Ugandan brothers would have defended me if I’d needed it! ;)

We made it back to Kampala and made the long trek home in the dark and in the crazy traffic that a city filled with millions brings. We listened to the same tape with the same 5 songs and laughed and finally slept. I’m really going to miss this time.

I look at the calendar every now and then and panic when I see we only have 2 weeks of class left. Only 2 weeks to laugh with my friends here…Only 2 weeks to enjoy the ladies who work so hard serving us and providing us lunch and dinner and tea and snacks…Only 2 more weeks to thank them for serving me…Only 2 more weeks to give the kids at the Jonathan Family hugs…Only 2 more nights to join them for their game night on Wednesday and laugh with them as we play “The Prince of Uganda” and other silly games…Only 1 more Sunday to worship at Kasana Community Church, where most of the people are local Ugandans and the songs in their language are so beautifully simple and the people dance before their Father and lift their hands and sing from their hearts with so much joy. I am so thankful for our time here. I have seen life with so few things, but the people are rich. They are warm and they seem to know what life is really about. It’s a simple life and I have loved it and especially the people who live it. Thank you so much for making this possible for our family. I am so blessed because of you!




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