India orphans express their love and concern for Hurricane Harvey survivors

Children of the Peace Gospel India girls home and boys home recently heard the news of Hurricane Harvey devastation in Houston. I told them about the storm and showed them images that appeared on their local newspaper’s front page, and they were shocked. I asked them to express their feelings through artwork, and here are some of the results. Toward the end of this post, you’ll also see some of the younger children expressing their love through their smiles and the simple handwritten message offered by their teacher.

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More Rural Uganda Wanderings

A recap of my final days in the Mayuge District of rural Uganda. A look at the Peace Gospel International high school project, a glimpse into one of our classrooms during Chemistry, a walk through surrounding villages, soccer practice of the high school team, meal time, laundry time, dorm life, our women’s empowerment program during seamstress training, a look at the realities of water collection in the district, and finally, a sunset over Lake Victoria on my final day.

At the high school project, the newest building is almost complete. It will be the main building of the school with new facilities for the official chemistry lab, more classroom space, a library, and more administrative offices. The school has an enrollment of almost 250 students, most of which are boarding students.

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Rural Uganda: Mayuge District

Deep in southeastern rural Uganda, near the intersection of Lake Victoria and the Kenya border, you will find a humble primary school in a village called Mairinya, usually not listed on any maps. The following photos document the joy these children get from their daily weekday classes and fresh breakfast and lunch that is provided lovingly by the dedicated staff.

Peace Gospel International has three schools in Uganda, one in urban Kampala (blogged about the previous two days), a rural high school (our biggest effort which has taken years to establish), and then, last but not least, our humble rural primary school which, along with its beautiful and gracious neighbors, is the focus of this blog post.

I love this little school as it’s kind of the little school “that could.” Despite a dire lack of resources and underpaid teachers, the school thrives, and the children are ecstatically eager to learn. When I look at their tattered school books, their handwriting and the comprehension of the subjects (based in English) is nothing short of miraculous, given their circumstances. This little oasis of education is proof that where you create an opportunity to learn, fill it with love, and fill stomachs with fresh meals, anything is possible.

We have big plans for the school, including security fences, a water well, new classrooms, more teachers, better latrines, and kitchen facilities. Learn more about the needs and how you can help.

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Kampala, Uganda Day 2: Katoogo Slum Colony, ‘She Has Hope’

My second day in Uganda brought me back to the beautiful people of the Katoogo Slum Colony where Peace Gospel International operates a school and nutrition outreach in conjunction with local leadership. Today I was able to be around to observe breakfast and lunch being served to our nearly 200 students, which is quite a feat for our school’s team to accomplish each day!

The Children’s Hope Center of Kampala is a new project of Peace Gospel, and although we lack the funds to adequately maintain the outreach, we’re doing the best we can with the limited funding available. That’s why you will see quite rudimentary facilities in my photos. As well, as mentioned in yesterday’s blog post, the school has been prone to flooding and that’s why the floors look roughshod. We are in the process of raising the level of the school to prevent further flooding. Funding is being sought from donations to provide more classroom space, more desks to replace ones damaged in the recent floods, and relief funding for stockpiling of food staples, which have doubled in price due to recent food shortages in Uganda. If you might be able to chip in toward our goal of $5,000 to shore up immediate needs, we would be grateful.

After lunch was served, I took some more photos of the classes in session, and then wandered around the colony meeting more of our amazingly resilient neighbors you’ll see in the photos after the school shots. They deal with so many challenges, yet most are able to maintain their smiles. Life is definitely hard in the colony with so many hazards present, not to mention unemployment, crime, and disease. Sewage waste accumulating in stagnant pools scattered throughout the colony and trash strewn about everywhere has created several health problems for the residents.

In brighter news, our new Kampala ‘She Has Hope‘ rehabilitation home has recently launched, being modeled after our Kathmandu, Nepal rehabilitation home. You’ll see some of the girls we’ve recently brought into our new home, and them enjoying their craft-making classes. The goal is to equip them with all the skills they need to enter the workforce as empowered citizens, fully realizing their potential, restoring them to a life full of hope.

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Kampala, Uganda: Katoogo Slum Colony, Children’s Hope Center

My day began late as I was recovering from travel and an intense couple of weeks shooting in the Holy Land. I made my way to the Katoogo slum colony in the southern part of Kampala, Uganda with my Kampala Director, Joseph. I’m here reviewing programs of Peace Gospel International and our human trafficking response program known as She Has Hope. Working in partnership with Joseph, a few years ago we started a “Children’s Hope Center” in one of the rougher slums of Kampala. The colony is plagued by flooding, stagnant sewage, and no trash collection. Plastic waste is strewn about the colony along with what smells like and appears to be toxic waste materials in the standing puddles that the children walk through barefoot without a second thought.

In the midst of these scenes stands the Children’s Hope Center, an education and nutrition outreach of Peace Gospel International. We started the center as an after-school care program but a couple of years ago transformed it into a full-blown primary school with about 200 students enrolled. We have faced several challenges at the school, mostly from damage caused to the humble facility during flash floods. As the colony is at the base of the Gaba hills approaching Lake Victoria, the area is flood prone.

We are in the process of raising the level of the school and adding additional classroom space, but fundraising is always a challenge and so we are just piecing it together as funds are provided. Our goal is to get the school to a level worthy of accreditation and open up seats for families who can afford tuition as a means of sustainability like we have achieved with our rural high school here in Uganda.

I arrived toward the end of the school day, so the younger children had already been dismissed. But I got there in time for lunch, and then enjoyed observing afternoon classes with the older students. I also had the honor of guest-teaching the 5th grade English class! After school dismissed, I took a walk around the colony to capture some scenes of the environment for you to understand what kind of conditions we’re dealing with here.

It is nothing short of gut-wrenching and heart-breaking. I pulled several barefoot children out of the cesspools, trying to warn them that it is not safe for them to play there. As usual, there are endless hazards in the colony like rusty nails in boards, jagged edges of aluminum sheets, glass, and other sharp objects where the children play in the trash piles either barefoot or in flimsy flip-flops. My new friend, the girl in the black and white dress, and I worked to pick up nails and shards to put them in a safe place away from where the children play. It seems futile, but you cannot help but want to try. Needless to say, there are several sick children in the colony. The mothers urge me to take a look inside their shanties to see their ill children, asking me for money to help them. It kills me every time. We can’t save them all, but with education and nutrition being offered to the most at-risk in the colony, we hope to break this vicious cycle of extreme poverty over time.

Uganda is also dealing with a food crisis as last year the country suffered intense drought and as a result, food prices have doubled. Several children were lined up outside our center with bowls, hoping to get leftovers from lunch. Thankfully we had enough to serve most, but we lack the budget to keep the pantry stocked with adequate supplies of rice, cornmeal, and beans, which are all staples of the local diet. Peace Gospel and She Has Hope are small charities funded almost completely by individuals. Any gift you might be able to chip in to help us meet our monthly operating goals would be appreciated and put to immediate use for urgent needs.

Tomorrow, internet willing, I will share with you more about our newest She Has Hope rehabilitation home in Kampala and the craft making classes empowering them to recover from human trafficking. I will also return to the Children’s Hope Center to share with you more about the program there. Thank you for reading and viewing the photos.

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Holy Land Day 6: Pre-Dawn Via Dolorosa, Garden Tomb, Farewell

Our final day of the tour started before dawn at 5am. We made our way into the old city via Herod’s Gate to find nearly empty streets surrounding the Via Dolorosa. As we journeyed through “The Way of Sorrows,” Pastor Chris led us in a solemn progression through what is traditionally believed to be the actual path that Jesus walked on the way to his crucifixion, and the stations there, the actual places the events occurred. At each Station of the Cross, Pastor Chris read us the corresponding scripture describing what happened at that station. We ended at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher a little after sunrise.

Next on our schedule was a tour of the Garden Tomb, a rock-cut tomb in Jerusalem which was unearthed in 1867 and has subsequently been considered by many Christians to be the more historically accurate site of the burial and resurrection of Jesus. The site has some of the most beautiful gardens in Jerusalem, in my opinion. That’s why you’ll see me sharing several photos highlighting the garden in addition to the empty tomb itself. Pastor Chris led us in a very contemplative communion at the completion of the tour.

Next we arrived at the Holocaust History Museum which is always a profoundly moving experience, acknowledging one of history’s deepest wounds. Photographs are not allowed inside the museum so I have simply added a few of the outside architecture to remember our visit by.

Lastly, Christina and Elisa, founders of Breaking Bread Journeys, shared their farewell with us at lunch in East Jerusalem. We are grateful for their vision.

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Holy Land Day 5: Chefs for Peace, Culinary Tour of Old City Jerusalem, Tunnel Tour

A definite highlight of our week was meeting up with Chefs for Peace, a non-profit, non-political organization founded in Jerusalem in 2001 by a group of Jewish, Christian and Muslim chefs committed to exploring cultural identity, diversity and peaceful coexistence through food. Chefs for Peace realizes food— its preparation, sharing, and enjoyment— is a powerful means of creating a bond with others and revealing that which is valued by all three faiths: food, family and friends.

After a morning of free time recovering from our epic road trip the day before, we met the chefs at the Jaffa Gate on Thursday along with the founder of Chefs for Peace, the Armenian, Jerusalem-born chef Kevork Alemian. They then took us on a tour of the old city to buy the ingredients they would be using to prepare our lunch!

But first we visited a famous photography print shop, known as Elia’s Photo Service, the pictures this Armenian family sell are part of a collection of about 3,000 photographs taken by their late father Elia Kahvedjian, a refugee of the Armenian genocide and one of the greatest photographers in Jerusalem at the beginning of the 20th century. The pictures, which had been hidden away since 1947, were rediscovered by the family 30 years ago and serve to help researchers and aficionados of Jerusalem probe its past. For a fascinating article on the importance of the photographs, you can read this article. Several of us bought his book, Jerusalem Through My Father’s Eyes, which is a rare and beautiful collector’s item.

After shopping for some fresh Tahini in the Muslim Quarter along with a demonstration of how it is made, the chefs took us for an appetizer at a restaurant known for their falafel and hummus, Abu Shukri which is located by Stations of the Cross 5. They explained to us the different styles of making hummus and how to eat the various appetizers served.

After a visit to the spice market, we then made our way to the hidden gem of Zalatimo’s Sweets. In a small room with just an oven, a refrigerator, and a few tables, Mr. Zalatimo and his relatives serve up the greatest pastry that the Old City has to offer, an Arab treat known as a mutabak (from the Arabic for “folded”). The flaky phyllo dough type creation is the only food served at Zalatimo’s, and ordering is simple:  “with nuts” or “with cheese.” The shop also includes another treasure: one of the original entrances to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is now sealed off and no longer used.

After we literally ate our way through the Old City, the chefs invited us to learn how to cook with them at the Bulghourji Restaurant in the Armenian Quarter, and then we ate some more.

Next, after a walk through the Jewish Quarter, our tour with Breaking Bread Journeys took us through the tunnels revealing archaeological finds deep underneath the Old City. The Tunnel Tour is in such high demand that you must book it two months in advance. We learned that much of the city was raised from a small valley centuries ago by arched supports, and it is under these arches that many of the tunnels were excavated. We saw the ancient gates to Solomon’s Temple, and learned that one stone of the temple’s western retaining wall weighs an estimated 570 tons.

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