I apologize for the delay in writing…things have been crazy and busy recently, but that’s really not a good excuse. Thank you all for the emails and birthday wishes yesterday. I really appreciate the people who are staying in touch with me, even though I know I do not always respond right away. I feel blessed to have so many good friends all over the world. Thank you!
The boys just completed their first week back at school. They are all excited to be back in a more structured routine, and so far they seem to be enjoying their studies. Two of them managed to skip a grade, so they are having to work extra hard (and they need a lot of help with their homework every night). But it’s wonderful to see how focused they are on their education. With the boys being in school most of the day, my schedule has changed drastically. I am enjoying the flexibility of being able to get out more, but miss spending time with the boys. We had such a good January together and they have become like my brothers. I still see them every afternoon and evening, and we’ve been doing lots of music together, but our time is more limited since they are at school most of the day and then have a lot of homework each evening. I will be helping out with three different organizations each week, Bright Kids Uganda, Cherish Uganda and Sure Prospects. All are amazing groups of people really making a difference in kids’ lives, so I’m honored to have the opportunity to help out. I have already started working with the first two organizations, and will start at Sure Prospects (a school for children with disabilities) after the elections.
Bright Kids Uganda is in walking distance, so it’s very convenient for me to go there whenever I have time. It is a children’s home run by a Ugandan woman, Victoria, who has the most fascinating life story. As a young person, she ran in the Olympics in Beijing, then she became the first woman sports journalist in Uganda. After getting tired of that, she spent a few years as a member of Parliament and then finally worked for the president of Uganda as a chief commissioner. She won “woman of the year” in 2008 and has lots of medals, photographs and newspaper articles to prove all of this. It is incredible to hear her tell her stories and I would love to help her write a book. But for now, I’m just going to be spending my Tuesdays with her…she wants me to help in the clinic because they had to fire one of their nurses. I explained that I have no experience in the medical field, but she said that didn’t really matter. So we’ll see what that entails. The past few weeks, I have been helping her pack up the kids for boarding school. About half of her kids are boarders, so it was a lot of work. Did I mention she has over 50 kids there? And that she’s running the place on her own? Yeah, she’s quite a woman! The other specific task she wants me to help with is to homeschool one of her girls, Gloria, who has cerebral palsy. Gloria’s situation isn’t good right now. The school fees for a child with special needs are really high, and Gloria would need a personal assistant and special transportation to and from the school, so it is impossible for her to attend school until they find a sponsor that will pay for all of this. She has a wheelchair, but it is broken, so she can’t leave the property. Victoria can’t even afford to buy pampers, so Gloria spends a lot of time sitting in her own urine. She can’t walk and has a lot of obvious medical needs. She spends her days outside in the dirt. They feed her when she’s hungry, but other than that she really does not get the attention and care that she needs. I don’t think there is any ill will on Victoria’s part. She’s just overwhelmed with all her kids, and poor little Gloria is being neglected. So I have decided to make an extra effort whenever I go there to spend time with Gloria. She is such a beautiful, sweet girl.
The other organization I am volunteering with once a week is Cherish Uganda. It’s just a few miles down the road, so it’s an easy (although painfully bumpy and dusty) boda ride to get there. Cherish Uganda is a really incredible place and I’m so excited to be involved in their school. Their focus and mission is helping kids who are HIV positive become successful members of the local community. They have 40 children living in 4 house communities. They have an organic garden, a farm with chickens, cows and pigs. They are working towards becoming 100% self-sustainable! They have solar power, rain water harvesting, and even composting toilets! It’s really fascinating. They also have their own primary school. This year for the first time, they have opened the school to around 100 kids from the local community as a way of promoting social inclusion and including the surrounding families into their mission. I will be teaching art there one day a week. Their school is a primary school, but many of the kids are older than you would expect (up to age 16). This is because of their past circumstances including their sickness, loss of parents, and not having the school fees to be able to afford an education. They are such happy kids, and are really looking forward to learning art. The first project we are going to work on is a tile collage, where each student will paint one tile and we’ll plaster them onto the outside of one of their buildings to make a big mural. I think it’s going to be really successful!
Last night, we had a party here at NewstART. We were celebrating three birthdays and Eric’s graduation. In honor of the occasion, two chickens were killed. I also baked a cake in the charcoal oven, which was incredibly delicious (and not at all burnt…much to my surprise). We had a lot of other food as well and it was a fun night. Apparently, it’s a tradition in Uganda to compliment the whose birthday it is. So each of the boys said what they liked about me. It was really sweet. I was happy to celebrate with such a great group of guys!!