Embarking on this journey was very exciting. We felt that God hand-picked each person for this mission. There were so many different personalities and professions that we knew God had something great up his sleeve, and we were right.
We started the trip with an overnight team bond in Dubai. We headed out on a Desert Safari that consisted of dune bashing (explanation coming soon), camel rides,
henna tattoos, cultural dances and authentic Arabic style food. Ok so the dune bashing…. We were in SUV’s speeding over and down the sides of sand dunes. I promise you, it has been a long time I have laughed like I did when we were dune bashing. It was such am exhilarating adventure. After about 45 minutes of that ab and arm workout we headed into the camp to take on the camels. Now if you have never ridden a camel let me just give you this bit of information- they sit down for you to get on and off. Seems great until you feel like you are going to face plant into the sand on the way down. Luckily we all survived the dismounts and no one fell off the camels. 🙂
We ended the day under the stars of Dubai eating amazing food and watching traditional dances.
The next morning we had an early start to a long day of traveling. The team arrived to Entebbe, Uganda loaded up and started the trek to Tororo. We were greeted in Tororo with an amazing Ugandan meal and quickly hit the sack.
Monday started our first full day of mission and boy were we ready! Our morning devotion got us started on the right foot and we were ready to go. Arriving into Smile, we were greeted with smiles, songs and tons of precious, half naked kiddos. We hopped out of the van and were given a tour of the grounds by Michael, American turned Ugandan supervisor of Smile (more on his story at a later date). As we toured Smile, we were accompanied by a few kids here and there but one stood out…Ochieng, lovingly know as the “Mayor of Tororo”. He was with us every step of the way and by the end of the week we could see what a bright young boy he is.
After the tour, we jumped right in playing with the kids. As a team leader, it made my heart so happy to look out on the field and see all of the team engaged in one way or another. Some playing soccer, some holding babies, some playing games, and some teaching. It was a beautiful thing to see the budding of new relationships with these kids, especially on the first day.
Later in the afternoon, Pastor Ruth wanted us to meet another volunteer that comes into Smile from time to time and she just happened to be there this first day. Lacey and I introduced ourselves and began getting to know her. Leigh is from Israel and is volunteering with some of the women at Smile to teach them how to make aprons. Through conversation we discovered that she was there because of her husband’s job, he is director of transportation for the local stone quarry. This immediately jumped out to me, because my husband is in the stone business, so I know all about quarries, not a normal occurrence among girls- or even guys for that matter. Anyway- long story short… this was a HUGE connection for us, as we were trying to find materials for the very costly wall fence needed at Smile. So, I gave her our number and hotel location and asked if she could bring her husband by. (Skeptically thinking this would be the last conversation her and I would have.)
We finished up the day, headed to the hotel, ate dinner together as a team, had a team breakdown and then headed to bed. I had just felt myself drift to sleep as I heard a knock at the door. Now as a team leader you are sure to get at least one knock on your door a night so this was not unusual. What was unusual was the burning desire for me to remain in my bed with my eyes closed. It had been a very busy past couple of days. So then there it was again….”knock knock….Britney”. Then just like that Leigh popped in my head. I immediately jumped up, fought with my mosquito net to get out of my bed and made it to the door. Sure enough, it was one of the hotel workers informing me that there were two people downstairs waiting for me. I ran back in the room yelled for Lacey as she jumped up, fought with her mosquito net and quickly got herself together. We ran downstairs to find Leigh and her very intimidating Israeli husband sitting next to her. Long story short…again…. we discussed the needs of the fence for Smile and he made a few phone calls, crunched a few numbers, shrugged his shoulders a million times and said he would do what he could do. He also said he would come tomorrow for a meeting at Smile. Wow! What an amazing thing. What a divine appointment of God. Lacey and I immediately headed back upstairs giving thanks to God for making that wonderful connection.
The next morning we started very early by climbing the mountain…. I mean..Rock of Tororo. The team worked together so well and the views were breath taking. We could even see Kenya from where we were standing. That was a neat thing for me, especially since we have so many beloved friends and family there.
After the rock we changed out of hiking clothes and hit the ground running at Smile. I feel like today was the game changer day. This was the day that we spent a lot of time listening, teaching and modeling behaviors. We did small group hygiene lessons with the kids, Be Well meetings with the youth and one on one discussions with teachers. Today there were NO babies sleeping on concrete. We had them strapped to backs while teaching, in our arms and clinging to us like life support. We also put into action the lessons that we taught. I think the words “Kuja Washa mocono” came out of my mouth about 600 times. (this means come wash your hands) And let me just tell you it worked! I had hundreds of sweet kiddos running to be showing me their freshly washed hands. What joy this brought to me.
We also were able to meet with Helick (intimidating turned super nice Israeli man) and the mayor of Tororo….not Ochieng, the actual mayor. 🙂 To see 2 American girls, holding Ugandan babes meeting with 2 Ugandans, 1 American/Ugandan and an Israeli about getting a fence for Smile just felt so surreal to me. How God orchestrated something so perfectly and uniquely. Not to mention that we would soon be talking with a Hindu man about the materials. I love to see God connect unlikely people to fulfill a purpose that is so beyond our own understanding or capability. How he uses our different walks of life and religious back grounds as tools for his divine purpose. The meeting went very well and ended with a few more connections of people and a promise of providing the transportation needs for the materials, which is a huge blessing in itself. Please join us as we pray for the materials to be provided or discounted. We should know soon the outcome of this.
After the meeting, I grabbed Nick and Craig and we headed into downtown Tororo to grab some more water for the team. As we were walking along, we stopped outside of a store for a moment and my eye caught a man ahead on crutches. My wheels started turning and I immediately remembered a conversation with Ruth. I turned to the guys and said “I think I know that guy.” I ran up to him and asked if he was David. He looked confused and responded “Yes…. and you are?” I quickly introduced myself and told him we were working at Smile and made the connection of how I knew of him and his organization. He started an organization called Crutches 4 Africa, in a nutshell, they distribute mobility devices to those in need all over Africa. They just received a container full of mobility devices to Tororo right as we arrived. Anyway, we chatted for a few minutes and he asked if we would possibly be available to help for an hour or so the next day. My answer was SURE! Just let us know how we can help.
We finished up with the water and went back to pick the team and right as we were pulling in the sky fell out. I swear in Africa it is either dry as a bone or it is monsoon raining and boy was it raining. We managed to get the team into the vans along with all of our soggy bags and made it back to the Crystal despite the crazed rain and hail storm. Yes, you read correctly- hail.
Wednesday morning started bright and early ready to help Crutches 4 Africa. We arrived to the container and immediately jumped in organizing and labeling thousands of crutches, canes, walkers and wheelchairs. After organizing and labeling, the assembly line of counting and restocking the container began. Pretty cool to see Africans, Americans and passerby’s jumping in to help this wonderful cause. We got a lot of work done and even had a great time doing it.
We grabbed some lunch and headed back to smile. Let me tell you if I have ever felt like a celebrity this was the day. When we pulled in the compound those kids were rushing toward the van singing, chanting names, and high-five’ing. It was incredible to see the amount of joy that was on their face as we rolled in. We spent the day following up on the lessons from Tuesday and saw vast improvements with the kids.
We were also able to provide some physical therapy to some of the toddler kids that are unable to walk, communicate or thrive due to malnourishment. The distinct difference between my 3 year old and these 2-3 year olds is night and day. There were so many times throughout the day that I found myself with tears in my eyes thinking about how this could happen. How these sweet babies could be neglected like this. What gave me hope….places like Smile. Smile was providing 2 meals that were healthy and clean meals that were not contaminated by the local brews. It also gave me hope that we were able to offer education to the nurse there and the siblings of the kids.
Siblings in Uganda are not like siblings in the US, in fact, they are more like mini mothers and fathers. It is a common occurrence to see 5, 6, 7 year old kids taking care of babies. Making sure they are fed, bathed and taken to and fro Smile and home. Can you imagine? I have a 10 month old little boy and a 6 year old nephew, as much as I adore my nephew, there is no way I would ever let him just take Everhett anywhere out of my presence. This is all day everyday at Smile. Takes chores and responsibilities to a whole new level.
We ended up staying at Smile late today and were very glad that we did because we got the opportunity to hang out with some of the boarders at Smile. Many of the kids that live full time at Smile are former street kids that have no parents. It is so encouraging to see what a positive influence Smile is making on their lives. They are so well mannered and you can see that they are working toward a brighter future for themselves.
We were also able to distribute new uniforms that were donated by another Memphis-based non-profit called Agape North. Check them out! They have an incredible one for one program. It made a HUGE difference to these kids and teachers. We are very thankful to their role in this mission. Those kids felt so much pride when they were wearing those shirts.
We headed back to Crystal, ate dinner, had some team time and prepared the supplies for tomorrow.
Waking up this morning, we knew that today was going to be a tough day because it was our last day on the field. We were glad that we had the day to be with the kids, teachers and leaders at Smile. The team dove right in playing games, dances and keeping the kids moving, while Lacey, Craig and I started our meetings with Pastor Ruth, Gerald and Michael. We were meeting about the website, social media, branding and bringing Smile to the next level. What an exciting meeting it was. We were able to all put our heads together and make a very distinct plan for their growth.
Lacey and I then went to work with Mama Tereza on some of the new designs of the merchandise and explained how we wanted to process to work. In the past, we had worked with Martha, Pastor Ruth’s mother, who tragically passed away in September. Pastor Ruth suggested Mama Tereza would be a great transition and we could not be more pleased. Once Tereza realized we wanted to not only pay her for her work but then match what we payed her to feed the children she was beyond excited. It was so amazing to explain that SHE was doing this. SHE was feeding these children twice a day. SHE was providing nutrition just by using her gifts. She just kept saying: I am so happy.
That made us happy. God is an amazing provider.
This was a great way to wind the day and the time at Smile down. We worked so hard with all of the kids and leaders and loved the chance to empower the women to feed these kids through their beautiful art.
Around 6pm we headed straight to Pastor Ruth’s home for dinner so there was little time to resonate with the fact that our time at Smile was finished….for now at least. Arriving to Pastor Ruth’s home was like arriving home at Thanksgiving or Christmas. There was family everywhere and the most delicious food. Everyone was laughing and playing and side conversations were going in every direction. It was the perfect way to end our time in Tororo.
Friday was the day that we would all become true adventurers. We headed off to WHITE WATER RAFT the NILE RIVER. Yes that is correct my friends, the Nile River. The one you read about in school when you were kids. The one that I thought had piranhas, crocodiles and dirty, icky water…..Lucky for me all of those things were false. It was absolutely beautiful! Now I can honestly say that there were a few times that I was so scared I could do nothing but laugh but it was such an amazing adventure. We had a blast being with the team and seeing God’s creation in such a real way. I think it is funny that God created such beautiful and exhilarating things for us to take part in. He knew that we would have this innate need for adventure and He provided it for us. We finished the day with no injuries, some fierce sunburns and great stories to share.
We stayed the night at the camp and had an opportunity to have our final team breakdown under the stars near the river bank. It was such a bittersweet time. It was great to hear from the team but sad because this meant the trip was really coming to an end. I think the best part for me was seeing that so many sparks had been lit within the team and I know that each of them will have a place for helping others for the rest of their lives.
I feel beyond blessed to have been a part of such an incredible team and such a true likeness of Christlike behavior.