Africa Part 2

If all went according to plan, I went in to work early this morning and got to skype with my little Ugandan children.  I’m so excited to see their sweet faces.  Thanks technology!

But you know what I’m more excited for?  To see their sweet faces in person.

That’s right folks – I’m going back.

Africa Part 2: coming summer 2013 🙂


generous hearts

christmas donationsThe kids ministry at Hope Community Church, where I attend, decided that it would be awesome to collect Christmas presents for the kids at my favorite orphanage in Uganda.  I went to all the Sunday school classes and shared a little bit about Rafiki Africa Ministries and showed a short video with all the kids in it, and invited the Hope children to bring presents for the Rafiki children.  The kids were all super excited about it, and had lots to say.  I loved their enthusiasm and was so encouraged by it.

But the moment that touched me the most is when I was visiting the first grade class (who I taught last year in Sunday school and adore them all) and after we took a picture for a Christmas card, one little girl came up to me, took a bracelet off her wrist, and said, “Do you think the orphans in Africa would like my bracelet?” and without hesitation, she put it in our donations box.

I loved so much that this sweet little one’s heart immediately was so filled with love and generosity, that she gave up a bracelet off her wrist.

Merry Christmas, Rafiki Kids – know you are loved by these kids in Minneapolis who have never even met you.

Goodbyes Suck. Planting Trees.

This is a post that I intended to put up long, long ago.  But I never wanted to write it. But yesterday I finally sat down and made a photo book about my summer at Rafiki Africa Ministries.   Then I saw on a current Rafiki volunteer’s blog that she is heading home in two days, and it reminded me of how hard it was to say goodbye and transition back to life in the states.

Turns out, I eventually had to come home from Africa.

I love Emma, Don, Carol, Jerom, Esther, Annet, Brenda, Oscar, Fauziya, Joel, Joshua and Cocus like they are my own children.  Saying goodbye to them and not knowing if I would ever see them again was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  It was the kind of sadness that translated into physical pain.  I felt like my heart was being squeezed tightly and then ripped out of my chest.

To sum up non-eloquently: saying goodbye sucked.

What encouraged me was the reminder that God is using all sorts of aunties and uncles in these kids’ lives.  He is blessing this ministry with volunteers who are coming to do His work in different seasons.  And none of our work is in vain.  We might not be there in person to see the fruits of our labor, but that is ok.  And with this great thing we call technology, we can still watch these kids grow up through Rafiki’s blog, facebook page, and monthly newsletters.

Andrew Peterson wrote a song called Planting Trees that I think captures this idea really well.  Basically I cry when I hear it.

I would like to share with you a video that captures my time in Uganda really well.  I don’t often take the time to watch videos on blogs, but I would love it if you took a few minutes to watch this one.  Not only does it include video of my time there (which shows Africa so much better than still photos) but it also includes the song Planting Trees, so you can hear it!

Planting Trees

We chose the spot, we dug the hole
We laid the maples in the ground to have and hold
As Autumn falls to Winters sleep
We pray that somehow in the Spring
The roots grow deep

And many years from now
Long after we are gone
These trees will spread their branches out
And bless the dawn

He took a plane to Africa
He gathered up into his arms
An orphan son

So many years from now
Long after we are gone
This tree will spread its branches out
And bless the dawn

So sit down and write that letter
Sign up and join the fight
Sink in to all that matters
Step out into the light
Let go of all that’s passing
Lift up the least of these
Lean into something lasting
Planting trees

She rises up as morning breaks
She moves among these rooms alone
Before we wake
And her heart is so full; it overflows
She waters us with love and the children grow

So many years from now
Long after we are gone
These trees will spread their branches out
And bless the dawn
These trees will spread their branches out
And bless someone

Little Rina

The Rafiki kids attend Little Rina Nursery and Primary School located within a pretty short walking distance of the orphanage.  While we were in Uganda, each member of our team had a chance to volunteer at the kids’ school at least once.  I went several times in my first few weeks in Kampala and it was interesting to say the least.

School is SO much different in Uganda.  As a teacher from the States, it was a tough adjustment to visit this school – both trying to teach and watching the teachers do their thing.

Teachers, especially at the nursery school and primary school level, don’t need a lot of education.  Class sizes are HUGE (this school had 36 in their “kindergarten” and that was incredibly small by Ugandan standards).  Resources are minimal: no books, no hands-on manipulatives, no computers, no electricity, etc.

You add all those factors together and the education system is not much to write home about.  It was definitely a “learn about this new culture, don’t try to change it, and respect the teachers for doing what they can with what they know” type of a moment for me.  And a “be thankful for the minimal resources that you do have” moment too.  My school might not have a lot by American standards, but by Ugandan standards I teach in a magical palace filled with fairies and elves.

Despite that, I’m so grateful that our Rafiki kids even get to go to school – the ministry (and any family that wants to send their kids to school) has to pay school fees each term for each child.  So if families can’t afford school fees, their kids don’t get an education.  That breaks my heart.  I want every child to be able to learn.

Going to the school itself was always fun – all the kids would attack you, shouting, “Mzungu!”  until their teachers told them that was rude and they could call me Teacher Laura.  Which they did.  And even when I hadn’t been teaching there in a while, I would go pick up my kids after school and all the other students remembered me each week and ran up shouting, “Teacher Laura!” and asked me to sing the 5 Little Monkeys song with them.

The being left alone with a class of 36 four and five year olds of whom I had no control over – not quite as fun.  But I figured if I managed to keep them from climbing on the tables (too much) and running out of the room (too much) and quiet enough that they couldn’t be heard from a mile away, it was a success.  (This might be slightly different from my classroom management philosophy of my own class in the States…)  But they loved learning new songs – and obviously these kids needed to know quality music such as the Months of the Year Macarena, so reaching deep into my teacher bank of kids songs and fingerplays was a good go-to tactic when the real teacher was no where to be found and I refused to get out a stick to help control the chaos.

Just sing louder than the madness surrounding you… (good advice for really any situation in life)

The kids at Little Rina were awesome and I loved getting to know them.   And while I didn’t enjoy drinking the porridge for breakfast/snack each morning, I did enjoy sitting with the teachers while they took their break and chatted (and I choked down the thick white gloppy beverage that everyone else guzzled like it was Christmas in a cup).  The teachers are all SO nice.  They would also ask when we were coming back and encouraged me to move to Africa and teach with them.  At one point during one of these breaks, a teacher asked me why all the Americans wanted to take so many pictures of school.  I finally fessed up that I was actually a teacher in America, and so I took lots of photos because when I went home, I wanted to be able to share with my kindergartners what school is like in Uganda.

This brings us to the point of this post.  In one of the nerdier things that I have done lately, I put together a little “educational video” about the schools in Uganda – specifically Little Rina – that I showed to my kindergartners today as part of our communities unit.  Afterwards we passed around my banana leaf ball from Africa and each shared something that we noticed in the movie and discussed how it was the same or different from our classroom community in Minnesota.  It was actually a pretty cool discussion.  And while I won’t make you sit in a circle and pass around a ball, I am an equal opportunity film-maker, and I wanted to give you the opportunity to watch this ridiculousness so you can learn as much as the kindergartners.

Highlights of the movie showing include the children waving back at the child on the playground who waves at my camera and excitedly talking to their friends about how the kids in Africa are watching us.

love & giggles

This evening the plan was to make a ridiculous mini-documentary about school communities in Uganda for our kindergarten communities unit.  But then I got to looking at some of my other video from my time in Uganda and I kept watching these three – Don, Carol, and Emma dancing around and saying “I love you” in both English and Luganda and I figured you would probably want to see it too.  I love them so much.  Seriously – this will be the cutest 57 seconds of your day.  You are welcome.

I made a website!

I recently joined a (fake?) club that is all about doing new things.

My assignment this week was to watercolor a dream journal.  Because that is something I have never done before.  And by doing new things we can learn and grow as people.

I’m guessing that I was recruited for this club because I did a lot of new things over the summer.  One new thing I did is create a new website for Rafiki Africa Ministries.

You should click here and check out all my hard work!

Well, of course I did have some help…

It is like I always say… it is so much easier to use technology when you have at least three children climbing on you.

Ok, go look at their new website!

We Love Our Sponsors

Sponsorship is what makes it possible for children to become a part of the family at the Rafiki children’s home. Each of the kids has multiple sponsors that help cover the cost of food, clothing, school fees, medical bills, etc.

Without sponsors faithfully contributing $35 a month to Rafiki Africa Ministries, these kids would still be living in a closet in their grandma’s house; walking a mile to get water multiple times a day; suffering from spinal tuberculosis; living on the street; raising their younger sibling; malnourished; hungry; without hope …

Right now there is an empty bed in the girls’ room at Rafiki, just waiting to be filled.  Waiting for sponsors to commit to helping one young girl in Uganda find new life.  Right now there is a little girl in Uganda who needs a home, who needs a family, who needs food, who needs clean water, who needs an education, who needs sponsors. 

The kids love their sponsors so much.

They are so thankful for them. 

We spent quite a bit of time this summer working on cards for our sponsors. 

But what really got to me was watching a couple of the girls receive a card in the mail from their sponsors.

It was a simple card with a cute letter about what the family had been doing this summer, a family photo, and some stickers.

But these cards meant the world to Esther and Fauziya.

They carried their cards around with them all day and showed it to anybody who would look at it.  They kept their cards in their beds and slept with them at night.  Following the example that we had set, they even shared their stickers with their friends if the other child would recite a Bible verse. 

For information on sponsoring a child at Rafiki Africa Ministries, contact the director, Sara Kiwanuka at

The best part though was when I asked Fauziya, “Who is in that picture?”  and she responded without hesitation, “My Family.” 



A person that kept coming up during conversation was a lady named Sherry.  I didn’t know her last name, and still don’t, but I did eventually meet Sherry and she is so fantastic.  She has a ministry called Loving One by One.  Some of the things she does through her ministry is that she runs New Creation Children’s Home (where we taught at the beginning of the summer) and New Creation Centre (the school where we organized books and taught about cockroaches).  She also takes groups on short term mission trips to Uganda to do medical clinics.  In fact, Sara, the director of the Rafiki, and Allie, my surprise roommate, both first came to Uganda with Sherry’s teams.  That is actually how Sara, Allie, and Tricia (Africa Arise – Acholi Quarter ministry founder) all met each other.  Sherry is quite the spitfire – she has endless energy and she has the drive and the know-how to make things happen – which is quite an accomplishment in Africa 😉

Recently, Sherry purchased some land outside Kampala to relocate New Creation Home to – her vision is awesome and includes building multiple homes in the fashion of Watoto Children’s Villages, and having a school, dining hall, a guest house for volunteers, staff housing, etc. all on this gorgeous plot of land.  They dug a well and plan to open it to the community in the morning and the evening.  They not only want to be a blessing and a light in the lives of the orphans they care for, but also desire to be a blessing to the surrounding community.  

The day before Allie flew back to America, Sherry took us out there to see the land.  I guess that she had jokingly called it Graceland, because it is totally by God’s grace that they acquired it, but the Ugandans, having no associations between Graceland and Elvis, loved the name and it stuck.  

The land is at the top of the hill and the view is absolutely breathtaking.  It was so cool to walk around it, having Sherry paint a picture of what it will look like when construction is complete.  Many children from the community followed the van to the top of the hill and hung out with us while we looked around.  We took some time to pray over this land and the ministry, and then headed back to the city. 

Sherry normally drives the kids back to the entrance of the land, and it was starting to rain, so we all piled into the van for a hilarious ride.  I was in the backseat with 11 kids and there were more in the middle seats with Allie, Jessica, and Sherry.  We sang songs, such as the ever-popular, “Baby Jesus, Baby Jesus, I love you! I love you!  You are my Savior.  You are my Savior.  Everyday.  Everyday.”

It was such a fun day – I love hearing about how God is working in Uganda!

Click here to learn more about Loving One by One.

Don’t Drink the Water

One fun thing about this summer (on my list of 5,379 things – I think that this is officially #2,118 on the list) was the opportunity to teach the kids at the orphanage so many new things.

For example, they didn’t have any books prior to this summer.  But really – books aren’t very prevalent in Uganda.  So we had to teach them how to take care of books, how to read a book, and the most important rule so our books didn’t get destroyed was, “Don’t go in the book cabinet without an auntie or an uncle!”

We also got to teach them to use fun art supplies! 

When my sister came at the end of the summer, she had a lot of donations from family and friends back in Minnesota who had been following my blog, wanted to do something to help orphans in Africa, or hadn’t been able to support me prior to my trip.  It was SUCH a blessing – so if you donated items or money for Rachel to bring toys, games, clothes, a CD player, CDs, books, and craft supplies, thank you SO much.  Everyone was super excited.  It was like Christmas.

One request I had sent home was for paint.  So Rachel brought watercolors, fingerpaint, and tempera paint. 

Which meant that I had to tap into my kindergarten teacher knowledge reserves and give some in-depth painting tutorials. 

The kids loved painting so so much.  I have never seen children take such time and care in creating a watercolor masterpiece.  The only thing I forgot was the direction, “Don’t drink the water”.  At one point I looked over and Don was taking a hearty sip of very too-blue-water.  Oops!  But the chagrined look on his face was so worth it.  Hilarious.  

What did you eat?

Since coming home, lots of people have asked me, “What kind of food did you eat in Uganda?”

Well folks, let me tell you!

My favorite things to eat were fresh fruit and chappati (but not together, because that would be weird).

Each afternoon for the kids would have a snack – either fruit or popcorn.  (Don’t get me started on the popcorn – it was DELICIOUS).  And the fruit we had includes watermelon, pineapple, bananas, and mango.  And it all tasted amazing.  I’ve never had a good mango in Minnesota.  Probably because Mango feels so sad if it is shipped all the way from its home to Minneapolis.  But in Uganda it was heavenly.

Chappati is made of some sort of flour and some other ingredients such as egg(?), milk (?), carrots(?), onions(?), and maybe other things.  There is really no way to know.  After the dough is made, you form it into balls and roll it flat.  Then you fry it on the stove.  YUM!

I also really enjoyed African tea.  It is a milk based tea (similar to chai in that respect) and has some spices in it – like maybe ginger?

I clearly should have spent more time in the kitchen so I’d have more facts to share with you.  Sorry!

Lunch was always posho and beans.  If you haven’t had posho, and I’m guessing 95% of you haven’t, it is like a paste made of cornflour that looks like mashed potatoes and doesn’t really taste like anything.

If we were at home, peanut butter and bread was also a lunch option you could make for yourself.  I enjoyed that option except for the week we tried to save money at the grocery store and bought a new brand of peanut butter.  A brand that consisted mostly of sand.  We went back to the usual brand the follow week – it was worth a money saving shot! 

Dinner rotated depending on the day of the week – but it usually involved some combination of the following: rice, beans, cabbage, matoke (mashed plantains), chappati, avocado, guacemole, g-nut sauce (purple and delicious), irish potatoes (regular potatoes), sweet potatoes, chicken, minced meat, and did I mention rice?

p.s. i apologize for these photos of half eaten plates of food.  take it up with jessica – not with me.  she took the pictures, i just stole them for my blog 😉