When Kelsey returned to Kentucky from Uganda earlier this year, I could tell that she experienced something special. So special that at times, words failed to give her justice to aptly describe her time spent there. I could tell that the time she spent there was only the beginning of something more. When she did her best to describe her experience, there was always a sense of longing to return in her voice.
When the opportunity presented itself for us to spend a few months in Africa this summer, I had to put a lot of trust in Kelsey and the BFR team. I had to trust that my time here would be as meaningful, and that my skills could be an asset here as they said it would be. In the understatement of the day, I tell you that I would rather be here, at this moment, than any other place in the world.
There is so much to share with you about my time spent here, about our daily life, about Smile Africa in general, the programs we are implementing, stories to share about the resiliency of the human spirit, Kelsey and the widows, the malnourishment program, and humor that has brought me the deepest belly laughs I have had in a while.
But maybe that will come in the next post, in this entry I want more than anything, to introduce you to a couple of the special people I have met and highlight a few stories. So grab your coffee or tea and sit with me as I tell you about a few of my new friends.
Okay, well hold on a second, I do have to tell you a little about Smile Africa to set the scene. Everyday we walk 2 miles from our housing to the gates of Smile Africa. Smile Africa is on the outskirts of town in Tororo, and serves as a home for about 60 children and as a day program for about 200 other children. Smile serves as a safe location for the children to be for the day; the children receive basic education, and they also receive two warm meals a day (Often, the only meals they receive). It is within the gates of Smile, on their 3 acre plot that I have met children that have changed me for the better.
My new friend David is 14. David is a bit sick and has been experiencing some unwanted side effects from medicine. Because of this he has been staying home a few days a week from school to adjust. During the few good hours he has each day, it is not uncommon to see him pushing a wheelbarrow around and filling it with it trash that the some of the 200 day-kids leave behind. This week during our mentoring program, David told me about a few short and long-term goals he had. One of David’s short-term goals was to do pick up trash each day to help keep Smile Africa beautiful. One of David’s long-term goals was to become a doctor. He also told me about the practical steps he plans to take to become a doctor. Trust me, I am not here to offer anyone false hope, and I would hate to affirm a dream for a child that may not come to fruition, but David can do this. I believe that through the resiliency he has shown, and the practical steps he is already taking that I will soon return and David will be at the top of his class on his way to helping others. Study hard David!
On the path between our housing and Smile we pass two “bike shops.” Each happen to be located under a tree, and have one or two mechanics on duty. I am not sure how these shops are established, or if they simply become the known spot to go for assistance for your bike problems.
I began chatting with a guy named Godfrey who works at one of these shops. Godfrey has a weathered face that shows the hardships of working outside for many years in the heat of Uganda. He liked my bike and a few of the simple tricks I showed him, and so we began our friendship. I saw some of his tools and decided to return the next day with some of the extra tools and tubes I brought. I don’t tell you this to toot my own horn of my “good deed” but that it was something as simple as a used wrench and a tube that gave this guy a little bit more hope. Godfrey and I now wave or shake heads as I pass in the morning and in the evening each day as I ride or walk to Smile! The other day I didn’t see him out there and as Kelsey and I were about 50 feet passed the tree I heard a whistle and turned around to see him giving a two-handed wave above his head. It was like he was saying, “Come on man, you know I am around here somewhere, you better stop and chat next time!” Keep wrenchin’ Godfrey!
For homework last week in the mentoring program, one of the leaders, Sylivia, assigned each dyad to create something together. We didn’t give much instruction, but we wanted the pairs to work on something together, and basically create something out of nothing. Here are some pictures of what some these groups came up with and how creative these youth are. There were 20 foot jump ropes made from weaved banana tree leaves, there were dolls for the toddlers to play with, there were functioning brooms made from grass and bicycle inner-tubes, and there were soccer balls made from bags, tattered t-shirts, and who knows what else. I was so amazed by the originality, and the inventiveness of these children. They didn’t buy a single item, didn’t use Google to search how to do it, they had each other and that was enough. I love it!
So Chuck Norris is also famous here. You know all the Chuck Norris jokes right? “Chuck Norris counted to infinity – twice.” As a result of the rough acting skills that are shown on TV here, a few of the older children, Isaac, Simon, and Juma (14 and 15 year olds) thought that Walker Texas Ranger was a true reality show. They were dying to know how Chuck Norris could live after being shot. They told me they watched him die on TV but then the very next week he would be back being the Texas Ranger fighting the evils of society. I almost went along with it saying that only Chuck Norris can do this, but decided against it. I smiled when I broke them the news that Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee were both great actors, but they were not real-life depictions.
There is so much more to share- more compelling stories and many more people to talk about. Come back and read more updates as we are crossing the border to Kenya this week. Also, feel free to shoot me or any member of the BFR team a message if you have questions. Maybe you feel a tug to come join us here and meet some of these people on one of the trips this year, listen to that and trust me, just as I trusted Kelsey, that your help is needed and you will be an asset here no matter what your skill set includes.
Grace and Peace-