Uganda: Part One
Several weeks ago, I shared the exciting news that LWB has decided to “live up to our name” and help orphaned and impoverished children beyond the boundaries of China. Over the next few days, I want to tell you about my August trip to Uganda.
In particular, I want to introduce you to the children from a village in the far southwest corner of the country, a stone’s throw from Rwanda, because I know they will touch your heart the way they have completely stolen mine.
Uganda is home to over two million orphaned children; over a million of these kids have lost their parents due to HIV. The vast majority of Ugandans live in rural areas and earn their living from subsistence agriculture, with half the population living on less than $1 a day.
The country’s health indicators are among the lowest in Africa. Preventable diseases – including malaria— take a major toll, with almost 7% of children passing away before their fifth birthday. So many signs over the last few months had led me to believe that Uganda was a country where we could expand some of our most successful programs.
I flew into Kigali, Rwanda as it was far closer to my destination than using the national Ugandan airport in Entebbe. About thirty minutes after crossing the border by land, I found myself driving the final dusty road up to Karukoba Village, located high on top of Buzoba Hill in the Bahara Subcounty.
Approximately 120 rural families, including 300 children, live in this area, with many being orphaned. This is a farming village whose primary crop is sweet potatoes, but a lack of water and overplanted soil means the agricultural yield is meager. As we pulled up to the top of the hill, over 100 children were waiting to greet us.
The people in Karukoba village are from the Bakiga tribe (“people of the mountains”). They call themselves the toughest, hardest working people in Uganda due to their challenging life. They must run down cliffs to fetch water, dig through hard, rocky soil to grow crops on terraces, and gather wood which they carry on their heads to use as fuel.
The women, of course, do all of this while carrying babies on their backs and children on their hips.
Because of their stamina and strength, the Bakiga people say they have the most energetic dancing in Uganda, with which I was warmly welcomed upon my arrival. (See the dance here: https://youtu.be/vNKBvJcvqZs)
The Bakiga tribe are now almost all Christian, divided evenly between Protestants and Catholics. The language in the village is Rukiga, and very few villagers are fluent in English, even though it is the national language of Uganda. This has caused issues for the tribe as far as bettering their lives, as if they travel just 50 km away, no one can understand them. Only 9% of children in this rural region are educated beyond elementary school, and 40% of children receive no education whatsoever due to both their family’s inability to afford school fees and the great distance to the nearest public school.
Karukoba village has no electricity, so the entire region is pitch black at night with the women cooking beans and posho (corn meal mixed with water) over open fires.
With no electrical lights, the stars on top of the hillside at night were a sight to behold, which unfortunately I wasn’t able to capture on my camera no matter how many times I tried.
The homes in the village are mainly a mix of mud houses with grass roofs and small concrete houses with tin roofs.
To build a mud house, you first build a frame of twigs and sticks, and then mix the red dirt and water together to pack around the frame, finally covering the mud with sorghum husks. A mud house can last five to ten years, while grass roofs must be changed out yearly.
Access to water is a critical issue for the village, which I will write about in a separate blog post as it has impacted my heart so deeply. Children can spend two hours in the morning and two hours at night, every single day, simply fetching water on a steep dirt path in order for their families to survive.
I was extremely blessed to get to spend four wonderful days with the children in this village, and over the next few days I want to introduce you to some of them individually. They live in the most meager conditions, facing challenges to their most basic needs that few of us have ever endured, and yet their joyful singing and welcoming laughter echoed down the hillside. I hope you will take the time to watch this short video of a few of the children (Elizabeth and Elasmas) greeting me on my first day there. (See their greeting here: https://youtu.be/aLB8vYT8i6s)
Tomorrow I would like to tell you a little bit about the man who invited me to visit his village and the work he has begun there to lift these beautiful children out of poverty. I know if we all come together with caring and compassion, amazing things are going to happen.
~Amy Eldridge, Chief Executive Officer