Wildlife Abounds

Well folks, this summer I’m not going on a crazy safari adventure with my sister (although she still managed to do that without me). But Africa has still delivered many exciting encounters with nature.

There are the many giant cockroaches that scurry about. The worst is when I’m stuck in the bathroom with one running towards me. Best case scenario is when you have small children around you who will kill it and dispose of it for you and only require a sticker as payment.

I still wake up to the sounds of roosters, goats, and crazy monkey-birds near the compound, and our van regularly has to dodge long-horned cows that are meandering down the roads.

We saw adorable baby goats while visiting Watoto’s Suubi Children’s Village. And cute little piglets at Amazima. IMG_2730IMG_2723

I went on a boatride on the Nile and sat watching monkeys play in trees, a Monitor lizard sitting on a branch, and then to my horror watched a cobra slither nearby. I mean, we had a small amount of water separating us from sure death-by-snake, and it had no interest in our boat, but still I was definitely ok when we moved on down the river.

Perhaps the most exciting wildlife is the giant rat that lives under the staircase that leads up to my room. One night while I was sleeping soundly in my bed Uncle Hunter and Uncle Godfrey (also known as the compound heros) spend a full hour killing that nasty thing.

So Rachel, when you think about seeing rhinos and giraffes and orphaned elephants wearing plaid jackets, know that I too had awesome animal adventures this summer. That is basically the same, right??






Love Does: Restore Leadership Academy

If you have read Bob Goff’ Love Does, you are familiar with Restore Leadership Academy. It is an incredible school that is located just outside of Gulu in northern Uganda.

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While we were in Gulu, we had one morning off from scheduled events. My friend Kailey suggested that we get a couple of bodas and just go for a drive out of the city. This sounded like a brilliant idea and I jumped on board. We mentioned our plans to the interns at Krochet Kids and they suggested that we take our bodas to Restore and gave us the phone number of their friend who works out there.

Their friend gave us the go ahead to visit the school, but ended up not being there herself. She said we could look around and that two guys would be there soon and could answer any questions.

Can I just say that this school is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been? It is on some beautiful open land overlooking a gorgeous valley. The buildings themselves are lovely. Kailey mentioned that the profits from Love Does are helping build the school. Several buildings are finished and several others are in-process.

We were able to chat with a student for a bit. He is graduating this fall and hopes to attend University and study political science. He may have invited us to come back for his graduation ceremony. It was so sweet!

Restore believes that the way to change Uganda’s future is to raise up the next generation of leaders for Uganda. I believe that their school is one of the best in the nation. In addition to a rigorous curriculum, the students also go through a discipleship and leadership development program. It was inspiring to talk to the students and hear that they truly believe that they can do anything with their future – be doctors, lawyers, and politicians, making a real influence on Uganda.

As we were checking out some new construction, we saw three mzungu guys walking towards us. We were told to expect two, but eventually figured out that the third guy was actually one of the guys who started the school with Bob Goff and has served as the country director. He totally downplayed his role, telling us that he had been over in Uganda before but currently was just back visiting friends. It was surreal to get a tour and hear about future plans from the head guy himself!

I really want you to watch this video: it is beautiful and will be worth your time.

Rise Uganda – Restore Leadership Academy from Join the Lights on Vimeo.

Also, let’s not forget how epic the boda boda right to and from Restore was. It is 30 minutes out of town on Juba Road – which leads to South Sudan and is SOOOO dusty. It is really quite incredible how filthy we got. Well at least how filthy Meagan and I got. Kailey looks like she just got ready for the day and is sparkly clean. I don’t know how she did it. The ride was so fun and SO beautiful. The views along the way prompted me to say, “God, You did a good job on creating Uganda.”

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Sweet Moments

The other day I was sitting on the floor with the kids and I had 4 children sitting on me and a couple more leaning up against me – ready to swoop in and steal a spot if someone got up.  One of the kids, I think it was Esther, looked up at me and said,

“Auntie Laura, you have so many kids on you.  It is because we missed you and you came back.”

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Mustached Spies.

Moses is continuing on in the tradition of being an outlandish story-teller.

This week we read the story of the spies going in to scope out Jericho.  While we might have sent a few too many spies, at least we were historically accurate with their facial hair??

But seriously.  It was hilarious.

And honestly, I’m not sure anyone was actually listening.  Because the mustaches were a lot to handle.  It was great.

Gulu: World Vision

World Vision is probably one of the most heart-wrenching, yet awesome places we visited in Gulu. It is pretty much just because of God that Tricia was able to get us in to see it and hear about their work in Gulu.

World Vision is and has been committed to the reception, rehabilitation, and reintegration of formerly abducted children in northern Uganda. What that means is that as child soldiers are rescued or escape from the LRA, World Vision helps them recover and return to life. It was established in 1995 to help formerly abducted persons from captivity by the LRA. Since that time, over 19,000 people have gone through their program.

We sat in a room together that had a mural around the top of the walls. The first painting showed a happy family living life typical to the Acholi people. The next painting shows the LRA coming in and kidnapping, murdering, and burning building. Next, a line of children who are tied together with ropes are showed walking through the bush. Sometimes the children were able to escape; other times they were rescued by the military. The children (or adults, depending how long they had been in captivity for) are brought to World Vision. They are first assessed for physical needs. Most are treated at the hospital for bullet wounds, other injuries, or disease. Many of the girls who are discovered to be pregnant from rape. After the hospital, the children return to the World Vision center where they receive help for psychological trauma, and the World Vision team works to reunite them with their family. World Vision works to document their stories, and provide food, clothing, and medical care. As you can imagine, there is a lot for these former child soldiers to deal with, including but not limited to: depression, PTSD, poverty and stigma at home.

Psychological support includes individual and group counseling. As parents are traced and found, the parents are also counseled on how to accept their child back as well as how to react, respond, and handle their children. World Vision is a Christian organization and also provides spiritual counseling. Art therapy is used to help the children process through their experiences and open up about their fears and memories. We were able to look at some of the drawings the children did during their art therapy sessions. Some pictures were of what life was like before the war or what they hope their life to be like after. Other drawings completely broke my heart: a child should not be able to draw a machine gun with such accuracy. Soldiers, helicopters, guns, prisoners, and blood were the reality of so many children for so long.

When a child was mentally and physically ready, they were reunited with their family. Sometimes families and communities would not want to accept the person back. Others were welcomed home.

Even though the war has moved out of Uganda, there are still returnees from the DR Congo, Central Africa, and South Sudan continue to get support from World Vision.

Shortly before our visit, several former child soldiers had escaped the LRA and had arrived at World Vision. These formerly abducted persons were all in their 20s and 30s – they had been kidnapped between ages 8 and 12 and were held captive in the LRA for 10-18 years.

Funding for World Vision Uganda is dwindling, as there are not many returnees anymore – they may not be keeping their doors open for much longer. As we left, I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the work that World Vision has done, and also considered how life might be today for those who escaped the LRA. How do you recover from trauma that intense and long lasting? I feel like by our own human strength we cannot move beyond it. I’m glad we have a big God who can redeem lives.

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Gulu: 31 Bits & Krochet Kids

Another place we visited is 31 Bit. It is a Christian based company that identifies vulnerable women in the community and gives them the opportunity to have a job making beautiful beaded jewelry as well as making Bible studies available. They bring in the husbands every now and then too so that they can begin building relationships to impact the whole family.

The jewelry they make is seriously incredible. And I met a girl who is from Woodbury! My first Minnesota connection! Loved it 🙂

We heard about their organization and then we also walked around their compound to see the women at work. Below I have some pictures the women rolling beads, and a woman adding another coat of varnish to the beads.

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The third place we visited is Krochet Kids – the have a similar model to 31 Bits except they make crocheted products instead! I think they also have a mentoring program. (It is kinda hard to keep everything straight if I am being honest, but I’m pretty sure it was them). It was especially exciting to visit because one of the girls on my team is hoping to intern with them next year.

I really enjoyed going out and chatting with the ladies as they were crocheting. They do beautiful work.

That night, Meagan, Kailey, and I went out with some of the current interns. It was fun to meet some new people and hear about their lives in Uganda. One of my favorite parts of the evening is when Meagan confessed to the media intern that she follows him on instagram and had totally recognized him at the restaurant the night before. He then asked to look at my phone case and confessed that he had been looking at it from across the restaurant the night before. Don’t worry – we are all instagram friends now.

The next day there wasn’t any programming scheduled, so the three of us were able to go back out to Krochet Kids and Meagan got a chance to shadow the interns a bit. It was so fun!

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Gulu: Living Hope

On Wednesday we visited a few different organizations that work with vulnerable women in the community.  Their general goals are similar: economic empowerment, trauma counseling, medical care (especially for HIV positive women), discipleship, and job skills.

The first place we visited was Living Hope – it is a ministry of Watoto Church.  Their facilities were beautiful.  The women there have easier access to their HIV medical and other medical care, learn about Jesus, receive counseling and discipleship, and childcare for their kiddos while they are part of the program.  The women can learn different skills that they can take with them when they leave.  A couple of examples include making peanut butter (that is used at the Watoto Children’s Village) and sewing.  The merchandise they make is sold by the Watoto Children’s Choirs when they go on tour.  It is super quality stuff.

We were greeted exuberantly in the Acholi way with high pitched shouting that I can’t really describe with words.  One thing I thought was especially awesome about their program is that when the women graduate from it, they are given tools to continue to earn money with their new-found skills.  For example, if you learn to sew you get a sewing machine to bring home and continue your trade.  image_4

Hawaii Day

Jessica and I planned some Hawaiian festivities for our favorite little Ugandan children.  Because really, why wouldn’t you have a luau in Africa?

I brought supplies to make leis (which went surprisingly better than expected) and Jess made up some hula moves to teach them.

After some Aloha fun, we played water games and broke out the water balloons.  My favorite game was Uncle Hunter’s version of Duck, Duck, Gray Duck.  The person who was it carried at cup and dripped water on each head until they dumped it all out on someone to chase them.  If you got caught, you stood in the middle and got water poured on you.  Hilarious!

During bathing time, the kids were raving that this was the best day.  And let’s be honest: it was.


A Walk Through Gulu

After we arrived in Gulu and settled in to our hotel, we walked through town with some guys from Gulu who work for ILA.  They were able to share stories with us of how the war impacted their lives and also show us some places in town that had specific histories related to the war.

The LRA would kidnap children from their homes at night.  They may force children to just leave with them, or even to kill family members and then come.  The children would be roped into a line and march together the army.  To help protect the children, night commuter stations were set up on guarded properties.  We visited the bus stop as well as other land to see where children would walk (sometimes for hours) each day to spend the night in safety, to walk hours back to school or their homes.  One of the guys with us did this for five years, and was actually kidnapped multiple times but was able to escape each time.

The guys shared with us some of the lasting impacts of the war.  Many young girls were raped and had children at a young age.  Families were forced to leave their land and go to IDP camps for safety.  There now are land disputes as some family members have passed away or other people have settled on what was their land.  In the IDP camps, immorality resulted in disease outbreaks including malaria, typhoid, and now HIV running rampant.  This doesn’t include the psychological effects of living in fear, being raped, being kidnapped, seeing friends and family killed, or being forced to be a child soldier yourself.  Yet to walk the streets of Gulu, you wouldn’t suspect it is full of people affected directly by a recent war.  The Acholi people are welcoming, hospitable, kind, and resilient.  For as much tragedy as there is, it is also a place where God is redeeming and restoring lives.  We spent the next couple of days visiting organizations that are impacting the lives of families in Gulu and helping them find healing and empowerment.

They make sandals out of old tires #recycling

They make sandals out of old tires #recycling

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