From Urban to Rural Uganda

Catching my blog readers up on a Uganda post I never published from January.

Moving from Kampala’s overwhelming urban slums to the serene yet rugged beauty of rural Uganda, you quickly get an idea of the spirit of those who live here. If you were to experience it, one thing would be clear to you: the Ugandan people are deeply creative, kind, hard-working, street-smart, and hospitable. You would see that Uganda’s most valuable resource is her people. If you’re seeing this post, you’re the kind of person who can respect that education gave you a chance to gain knowledge that allowed you to utilize your God-given talents. If you stop and think about it, you can’t help but realize that if given a fair chance, these beautiful people really could change the world to make it a brighter, more hopeful place. And they would arrive on such a world stage already equipped with a clear advantage in leading us toward such hope— because they have learned that success is not defined by excess; success is defined by joy, contentment, and resourcefulness. When you’re here on the ground, you don’t really have much of a choice in the moment but to throw all the theories and charts of how to solve world poverty out the window. Sometimes, it’s as basic as here are hungry children, you’ve got a few dollars, buy beans and rice, make them as tasty as you can and feed them so that they can focus on the teacher and not their hunger. My heart is yet again moved by these rich souls who have so much to offer us who are the “soul-poor” of the West. I’ll be sharing more in the days ahead. It’s my honor to get to be your periscope into this beautiful world of smiles, hope, and gratitude. I know that my posts over the years on this topic probably get redundant to some onlookers, but for those of you who enjoy the perspective, I’m happy and blessed that somehow I have the honor of continuing to provide it.

Rural Uganda: Bugadde, Mayuge District

A day (and life) in photos. There was an essence of life present in their expressions. A sort of oneness with the earth and each other. A grandmother gathered her grandchildren and asked me to take their portrait. (We want to remember our togetherness). A family was grieving the loss of a loved one yet invited me to sit with them. (We find comfort in the simple presence of others during times of loss). A man told me how he had lived in the same thatched hut home for 29 years. (We all want to feel grounded). A woman was eager to tell me of the twins she had just given birth to. (New life brings the joy of hope and a belief that life will be better for them). Both cooks and kids smiled as over 200 were fed for a back to school celebration and prayer time on the Peace Gospel rural campus. (Provision brings joy in the hearts of the grateful).

Rural Uganda: Kafu Village, Lake Victoria

In the small town of Kafu, Uganda, located on the shores of Lake Victoria just a 20-mile boat ride from the Kenyan border, you will find some of the most beautiful smiles in all the world. All you have to do is give yours first. That has seriously been a theme I have noticed on this trip to Uganda. I cannot recall smiling at anyone on this trip who did not smile back. There have been times in these days where it almost felt as if I was on a movie set and all the locals had been paid to play the role of extras cued for “ok here he comes, smile now!” At the Peace Gospel rural boarding high school, we have received several primary school graduates from this town and were visiting some of the families of the students here. Despite their joy and contentment, there are still several challenges the residents of Kafu face. The main water sources here are from open wells and the lakeshore, both of which are at high risk for contamination. 75% of all diseases in Uganda are a direct result of lack of clean water and proper sanitation. The number one cause of death here is from diarrheal diseases. To get to the closest major town with any serious medical treatment options takes about two hours on the bumpiest, muddiest roads I’ve ever traversed. I often talk about the contentment and joy of the poor that comes from their simplicity and communal lifestyle. And that is without doubts very real and inspiring. But there remains the undercurrent of disease and the cycle of poverty and corruption that is crippling this nation. The key is to improve infrastructure even if it means just drilling more closed wells and to focus on affordable, quality education for the next generation. Slowly, I believe Uganda can get there, with a little help from her global good neighbors. Their smiles tell me it must be true.

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.

Click/tap on any photo to start a slideshow.

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.

Click/tap on any photo to start a slideshow. 

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.

Click/Tap any photo to start a slideshow. 

Uganda: Education and village life in Mayuge District

Thanks for stopping by to view my final summary of images from this trip to Uganda. In this set you’ll find more classroom scenes from the Peace Gospel rural high school that serves this part of Muyuge District. Peace Gospel is in the process of upgrading facilities yet again, to reach our final phases in obtaining accreditation for the school. The school includes boarding facilities, a kitchen and canteen, chemistry lab, and several classrooms. In the expansion currently underway, a library and computer lab will be included.

The high school offers the possibility for local rural residents to send their children to a nearby high school versus sending them to boarding schools in faraway towns. The school’s ability to charge a modest tuition to those families who can afford it allows us to offer scholarships to several orphan students who would otherwise never have the chance to go beyond seventh grade. “Primary Seven” (roughly equivalent to a U.S. seventh grade level) is usually the last easily accessible government education level available in the rural areas.

You’ll also find some scenes from our neighbor’s homes we visited near the main campus. For those of you uninitiated to Peace Gospel Uganda, when I refer to the “main campus” I’m referring to the Peace Gospel campus which contains the rural clinic, high school, farmland and women’s craft business development school.

Next in the set you’ll see photos from the Peace Gospel rural primary school. This school, located in a tiny village called Mairinya on the eastern edge of Mayuge District, not far from the Kenya border, offers a primary education from 1st to 7th grade. Before we started the school there was no access to education within a reasonable walking distance of the village. The school averages about 200 students who are all on scholarship to attend free of charge. They receive a fresh cooked breakfast and lunch each school day. The campus there also includes its own farmland, providing more fresh organic ingredients for our students’ meals.

After our visit to the rural primary school, we had the delight of visiting some of the local residents in neighboring villages. We also encountered many smiling faces along the winding dirt road that took us back to Jinja. I love this area dearly. I hope someday I can stay longer to document more of these super-simple villages with their gorgeously handcrafted mud huts and beautiful smiling residents.

Mayuge District, Uganda

[Note: I’ve been trying to upload this for 3 days so ‘today’ is not really ‘today’]

Today we made our way from Jinja to the Mayuge District where Peace Gospel International operates a high school, a rural clinic and a women’s business empowerment program. Mayuge District is located in eastern Uganda on the shores of Lake Victoria near the border of Kenya. The Ugandan school year kicks off in late February but it takes some time for all the students to register, especially in an election year. National elections were held last week and local elections are going on this week. We expect around 200 students to enroll this year once everything settles after the election security implementations.

There is so much activity on our main campus. A new school building, our largest building to be constructed on campus yet, is going up and should be ready soon– a major step needed in reaching our national accreditation. We also have several new latrines either just finished or still under construction, a new kitchen and a canteen from which the students can buy snacks at affordable prices (an effort to reduce the temptation to leave campus during the day). Not to mention the new solar solution provided by a grant from the Total Foundation. Among meeting other electricity needs, this has afforded us the ability to power a water pump from our well, thus providing running water on campus! Around campus, you will also see many children from our women’s business empowerment program playing while their moms practice their craft making skills in classes provided on campus.