Beautiful Faces

My life here is full of beauty.

These are the beautiful faces of the vulnerable and orphaned children here at Rafiki.

These are the faces that will break my heart to leave behind, but will always fill my heart when I think of Africa.







Emma (Emmanuel)











Ggaba Special Needs School

We spent the morning at Ggabe Special Needs School.  It was a smidge tricky to find.  Our journey involved turning around three times, consulting two boda boda drivers, and eventually the school’s director had to come find us and we followed him there.  It isn’t our fault though – we were given many wrong names for the school and there were no signs off the main road.

We arrived just before the kids’ porridge break, so we stood around for a big while they enjoyed their porridge.  The special needs school is actually just two classrooms of a big government school on the same land.  While we waited, a crowd gathered.  It was only a matter of time before Jessica began to entertain our audience with songs and games.  She is awesome. 

We also played games at PE with the kids from the special needs school, did some painting, read them a book, and taught them songs about Jesus.

obstacle course time

Then when we were done, we took Allie home with us!

the team with the kids – Allie, my temporary roommate is on the far right. We like her.

The kids were awesome and it was a fun morning with them.  I felt the saddest for one boy, Brian, who is probably 8 or 9 and he is deaf, but doesn’t seem to have any cognitive disabilities – just a lack of schooling.  I really want him to be able to go to a deaf school and learn to communicate!  We have a girl on our team who has been involved with the deaf community back home, but unfortunately African sign language is different from American sign language.  Pray for him that he gets the education he needs!

Bad Manners

Molly – this post goes out to you, as I know you think my kid lectures are hilarious.

 All kids have off days, even the best of kids.  The kids here are generally really well behaved, but last Friday they didn’t have school and they weren’t the best listeners. Changes in routine like that can be tough for kids.  We decided that even though Friday is supposed to be movie night, most of the kids hadn’t really earned it.  Sorry kids!

I sat them down and explained to them some of the poor choices that they had made that day and why not all of them would get to watch the movie.  I was pretty easy on them compared to some of the lectures I’ve given my kindergartners, but I think it got the point across when I called on four children to get their pillows and watch the movie and then sent the rest of the kids to bed.

The next day, Joshua kept talking about how Auntie Laura doesn’t let kids with bad manners watch movies.  So apparently now I am the keeper of the movies and the watcher of manners…

Just so you don’t think that is the norm of the kids – here are some pictures of the kids being cute and behaving well!

Joel’s “facial hair”

Annet, Brenda, and Fauziya showing off their new sunglasses

Cocus and is sweet shades


“We are not a tourist attraction”

This weekend when we did our Bible story rotations, we decided to do it on Jesus’ miracles.  Jessica taught them a Bible verse (she is amazing at thinking of catchy songs that they love to sing).  The girls inside did it on Jesus feeding the 5,000 and my group learned about Jesus walking on the water.  We did a craft to go with it.  One of my favorite parts was that two neighbor boys came also and did all the activities and lessons and Bible memory with our kids.  Although when Richie took a couple pictures of the group, they said, “no pictures – we are not a tourist attraction”.  Sorry kids – you are at our house.  And we take pictures at our house.

Another favorite part is that Emma put the fish that were supposed to be in the ocean, in Jesus’ hands as he walked on the water.

the disciples were so scared – they thought they saw a ghost out on the water!

“I want to give Jesus a kiss” (um, what?)

Making Pumcakes

So I think I’ve shared that on Saturdays, we’ve started making dinner.  Not only are we cooking for 25 people, something none of us do regularly at home, but we are cooking need to be creative as the ingredients and/or kitchen appliances and materials available might be different from what is at home. 

This Saturday we had made pancakes.  Pretty simple right?  We even got a box mix from the grocery store.  I mean, sure some of the directions were in Arabic, but it was in English too, so we thought it’d be super easy to pull together.

I think that each week when we cook, we manage to overlook some detail that we needed to plan ahead for.  This week the issue was the milk.  The milk here is in bags, which reminds me of my Grandma Karsjens’ kitchen in Iowa.  One bag is usually in the fridge, while the rest is kept frozen.  A small, yet oh-so-important, detail.  We had two giant mixing bowls with eggs and vegetable oil in them.  We just needed to add the milk and then the mix.  We then realized the error of our ways.  Most of the milk we needed had yet to be taken out of the freezer.  Whoops!

While we tried to think of a plan, Jessica held the milk bag over a pan that was heating up on a burner.  It was not the most effective thing we tried.  We heated water over the stove and then poured it into the sink where the milk bag could defrost from the hot water.

you might think this was an ineffective attempt because this picture makes it look like the water barely reaches the milk bag. which is only partially true.

We tried the defrost option in the microwave.  At risk of the bag melting, eventually we decided to just try normal microwaving, since nothing else was working as fast as we needed it to.  This worked really well until the power went out.  This happens fairly often, but this was one of the worst timed instances we could think of.  Until Jen came in and told us a circuit had just blown and the power wasn’t actually out.  PTL.

a sight that caused panic in our hearts until we learned we could switch the power back on…

The kids were super confused by our meal, and kept asking, “What is this?”  “Pancakes.”  “What is this?”  “Syrup.”  We also taught them to say, “Breakfast for dinner”.  We couldn’t decide if they actually liked it or not, but the next day they couldn’t stop talking about the Pumcakesthey’d eaten the day before and asking to have them again.  So I think it was a success.

we love pumcakes!

Watoto Children’s Villages

Two days ago, I shared with you about the Baby Homes that Watoto has.  Today we will learn more about the actual Children’s Villages!

There are over 2,000 children in the Watoto Children’s Villages.  We went to two of the villages.  The first was called Bbira and the second was called Suubi.

The guide told us that they only take in double orphans – orphans that have lost both parents.  But I’ve been learning here that it is so difficult to get the full story on the orphaned and vulnerable children.  Even at Rafiki they find out months or years later that the child’s story isn’t what they originally thought.  Because of this, Watoto has a grace period once they bring a child into their program – it can be up to three years and within that time, the child’s parents can turn up and get their child back.  After that time is up, the child is in Watoto’s custody.

The villages have quite a bit of land.  Each child lives in a home with 7 other kids and a house mom.  The moms are always widows and are committed to taking care of the kids for life basically.  Ideally there are four boys and four girls.  In each house, there are two kid bedrooms, a living room and eating area, a kitchen and a bathroom.

the boys’ room

The houses are all arranged in circles of nine houses called a cluster.  This is intentional to give the kids community to grow up in.  The village is the child’s home forever if they want it to be.  They can come back when they are on holiday from University and they can come back when they graduate if they can’t find work somewhere.

a cluster

Both children’s villages are in areas without running water.  They collect and pipe water within the village, but they also create a water source for the local community to get water, which I think is pretty cool.

Within the village is also a school and a church.

a primary classroom

Teams come from churches and organizations world wide to do construction.  Most buildings have a plaque on them sharing who built it.

Suubi Village has a secondary school called Hope High School that is producing some of the country’s top scholars, which is super cool.  The campus was SO nice and was on a mountain top type area – in every direction the view was incredible and it is so quiet and secluded.  They not only have an academic school, but vocational training as well.  The vocational training includes carpentry and welding.  In this program they create the furniture needed by the schools and the homes.  We got to listen to the students’ worship team rehearse for church the next morning.

a small glimpse of the Hope High School campus

Melvin, our guide, told us that the children all have equally horrific pasts, and they have a social work team that meets with the children, assesses their needs, and helps them move past the trama in their past to move forward and have a new and transformed life.

Each of these children have 9-12 sponsors to make possible their new lives in the Childrens Village.  The children also have the opportunity to go on one six month tour with the African Children’s Choir, performing world wide and raising awareness, money, and sponsors for the program.  Choir number 54 just got back from touring in the United States.  They came to church on Sunday to be welcomed back.  Some of the chaperones on the trip grew up in the Watoto villages as well.

African Children’s Choir back from their tour


We were all so overwhelmed on this tour.  A couple weeks back, a speaker at church talked about the people who are on the other side of our obedience to God.  Back in 1992, Gary and Marilyn Skinner listened to and obeyed the Lord speaking in to their life and began this ministry.  Thousands of lives have been transformed because of their obedience to His calling.  God is working in powerful ways here in Uganda and it is amazing to see a small glimpse of it.

If you want to learn more about this ministry or learn how you can sponsor a child, click here

“Laundry” with Laura

They do have a laundry machine here, but it is a rarity to find it empty, so I’ve been washing my clothes by hand.  And let’s be honest.  I use the words, “washing my clothes” loosely.  I’m not convinced that any of my clothes are actually clean.  They smell like detergent, but my poor hand washing technique probably doesn’t do much more than that.

What is comical is that we have helped out with the laundry at a couple of sites we have visited.  I never thought I’d be sitting outside, washing clothes by hand while the random chicken wanders by.  But that is life here.  Pretty cool.  After we help out, the African women are so sweet and they say, “well done!” when what I think they should really say is, “good try…”

Baby Watoto

Watoto Church, which we attend here in Kampala, runs several Children’s Villages in Uganda.  We went on a tour of a couple of them on Saturday and it was amazing.  There was so much to see and we learned so much about the incredible work that they are doing, that I think I will be dividing our tour into two separate posts.  Even then I’m not sure I can do it justice.  But bear with me.

Today I’m going to tell you about the Babies Homes.

The first one we visited was called Bulrushes, and it is here in the city of Kampala.

the entrance to Bulrushes

It is in the city because the sick infants as well as the premies live here so that they can quickly get medical attention if needed.  The child to adult ratio is amazing.  There are two babies for every nanny.  The facility itself is just beautiful.  The exterior was so clean and beautifully landscaped.  The inside was also clean, well-maintained, and spacious.  It was also gorgeously painted.  We all want their decorator to come and paint our babies’ nurseries one day.  Or maybe just the walls of our homes.  We were delighted that we got to hold babies and even feed them while we were there.  Melvin, our tour guide had to drag us away.  We just wanted to stay there all day.  This facility was amazingly nice in Uganda, and we think it would be considered really nice in the United States as well.

I can bring this one home with me, right??

There was a cozy four season porch with babies napping and a verandah overlooking a small toddler playground area.  Just like the babies home we would visit in the afternoon, it had a calm, beautiful, and serene atmosphere.

At the end we learned that it is called Bulrushes because the first baby was  named Moses, and so Bulrushes is a reference to in Exodus 2, when Pharaoh’s daughter found Moses floating in a basket among the reeds (which are apparently sometimes called bulrushes) so that was pretty cool!


We visited a second babies home that was much further away from the city.  It is located at Suubi Children’s village, and it was also just gorgeous.  Unfortunately we arrived during nap time, so there was no baby holding for us here.  We got an in depth tour though, and were once again amazed at what we saw.

Suubi Baby Home

The nanny to baby ratio was a little bit higher here, since these babies don’t have pressing health concerns, but it was still a really good ratio.  There are typical children here and children with special needs.  Children can live at the Baby Home until they are around 2 years old.  They are then transitioned into living at a Children’s Village.  I thought it was really cool though that they have a time period in between the two homes where they are transitioned into not having a nanny by their side all the time and learn to be a little bit more independent.

a group in the UK donated this room to the home. incredible

Another really cool thing is that the vision of the ministry as a whole is to raise of leaders for the next generation.  One girl who recently graduated college and actually just got married is a great example of this.  As you can imagine, formula for so so so many babies is really expensive.  This girl did research on a solution to this, and learned that goat’s milk is similar to breast milk, and she created a plan for the village to have a goat farm and in this way provide milk for the babies.  She presented it to the leadership of the Watoto Children’s villages, and they decided to put it into practice.  They now have a goat farm, and since the babies have started drinking goat milk, not only have costs gone down, but less babies are getting sick.

Goat farm at Suubi Village

check out the view!


diaper wall!

Cars! Thanks Auntie Kelsey

Auntie Kelsey, who was here last summer, sent the movie Cars to the kids.  They were SO excited!  We made construction paper cars, which the kids played with, and then watched the movie.  I taught the kids how to snip the corners of a square to make it into a “circle”.  Yay for more cutting practice.

Anyways, the kids shouted thank you to Kelsey, and I’m pretty sure that she heard them from Texas, but just in case, here are some pictures of the kids so excited!  They loved it.

Don, Joshua, and Carol

Thank you Auntie Kelsey!

Watching their new movie

The kids were all so excited!

Monkeys, Butterflies, and Prayer

On Tuesday we went to Prayer Mountain.

Prayer Mountain is a a moutaintop space that has been dedicated for prayer.  It is a pretty cool place.  Some people camp out up there for an extended time of prayer.  Some people come for just a short while and then head back down the mountain.

Our Team: Saidel, Richie, Jessica, Esther, Jen, Bianca, Me, Taylor


Hey little guy! I’ll be seeing some of your friends in a few weeks on safari!


We spent the morning there praying individually and as a group.  It was really great to get the time spend some extended time with Jesus.  Going to prayer mountain mid-trip was a great refresher for all of us.