Thursday, October 27, 2011

Life at the Center for Champions

So we’ve been in Rwamagana, which is in the Eastern Province of Rwanda at the Center for Champions for a week now. Tomorrow we say goodbye once again to the kids we’ve met (they’re leaving for break) and then the next day we end practicum and head back to Kigali. I haven’t updated much on what we’re up to now, since we only had 10 days here and it’s been plenty busy but I’ve been enjoying where we are. As much as do long to be in Hoima, I thank God for bringing us to the Center to meet all the kids that we have, they truly amaze me. The Center for Champions is a community for street youth and vulnerable children who haven’t had an opportunity or ability to receive an education. Most of them are orphans and were part of a child headed household. They come into this program and get to catch up on their education, many live in the dorms on the compound and they participate in a myriad of things set up by the Center. It’s funded based on sponsorship, so it’s been pretty neat being on the other side of sponsorship with helping the kids write their sponsors and sending them updates/pictures. Our time has consisted of a few projects: sort, label and set up the library, plan a worship night, bible study, etc. But our main purpose has just been to spend time with the students each day and get to know them in the short time we have. I’ve learned to never underestimate or take fore granted time you have in a place, even if it is few. It’s been a difficult lesson but I am constantly being amazed by how much love these kids have shown us and how we’ve built friendships, even in such a short time.

Basically my days have consisted of at least 3 hours playing basketball, an hour or so juggling the futbol or playin a futbol game, jump rope, art room, time spent in the library and of course some time spent just talking and hangin out with the kids. It’s been great, all of us girls fit in great playin sports each day with the guys. Since it’s the rainy season here, we find our greatest battle to be against the massive amount of mud we encounter after a ridiculous downpour. Yesterday, me and Hannah went out on the field (which is straight up mud after a hard rain) and played Frisbee for a good hour or so. We walked out barefoot since your shoes will basically be destroyed if you try anything else. Two other guys went out and joined us and we slipped and slid all over the field as we played. My hands and feet were painted an orangish tint from the dust soaked earth. We were dirty but we didn’t care. And even after semi-preserving ourselves and our clothes, we ended the night with a hardy mud fight and a terribly cold shower. The days have been good to us.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

look a little deeper

For three nights now I've been dreaming of Hoima. This morning when I awoke it took me a good 30 seconds to realize where I even was. We arrived back in Kigali after a 9 hour long bus ride from Kampala. It's been a good thing to have a moment to stop and really think about everything that has happened. From the time we were told we were being pulled out of the country we were only given 24 hours to pack our bags and say our goodbyes, processing the situation was almost impossible in the rush of events. This time has been good. Our brains have had a day to slow down and unwind. A day to untie the knots that are constantly balling up inside. A day to think.

I've thought a lot about the decision that was made. It's still hard not to feel a lot of anger about it, it's a process I know. I think a lot about everyone we left. I think if it was dealing with only us, it might be easier to let go but it is beyond that. A whole community is affected by our quick evacuation. We had staff that had been planning well in advance for the two upcoming programs. National officials and government workers who were meeting us at the refugee camp, expecting a team of people. Now Pastor Danny is left to clean up after a sloppy decision of a pressured man. Teachers also who were going to be given a vacation during our one week take over are forced to resume as usual. And the one that gets me the most are the HIV women we've spent our time with. We know that even after the staff explains why we had to leave, they still won't understand. Women who have been abandoned in so many ways throughout their lives have been abandoned once again by people who've claimed to love them. You just have to imagine how it must feel, especially when the understanding just isn't there. It looks as though the Americans are just peacin' out at the first sign of danger. Where is the camaraderie in that? It seems as though are lives are considered more valuable than the lives of our brothers and sisters, solely by where we were born.

For us Americans it seems like the best decision. Better to save the name of an organization and shy away from "risky" decisions than to consider the lives within a community. This mentality of running at the slightest sign of danger really sickens me. I am reminded how the most powerful nation has responded in the past. What was the response of the one country that had the influence to change the events of the genocide in Rwanda? They removed themselves completely and waited until it was too late to act. We were too busy bent on whether or not we could put a dictionary definition to the actions that had taken place. Beyond that, I am just astonished how easily we buy into the hysteria caused by the media. Obviously one small ripple in the North means a tsunami for all of Uganda, right? A problem for one city doesn't mean the whole country is in danger. That's stupidity. How much longer are we going to allow ignorance to be our crutch and excuse with these issues?

I've found that throughout all of it, it hasn't been the removal itself that I've found to be so frustrating but the thought process behind it. Thankfully, the goodbyes to me weren't as painful as I know they were for the other three girls who have just fallen in love with these people. I know these people and have already had the surprise and pleasure of being reunited with them. And when I had to leave, I had more peace and confidence than ever that God has seen the desires of my heart and will continue to meet them in the future. It was still difficult saying goodbye, just as it is to know you will be apart from your family for the time given but I have hope for what the future holds.

I want to leave you with a little video that was taken during our time in Kapapi. I never got to write much about our week at the health clinic but I hope this gives you just a glimpse of what makes it just so hard to leave...

Sunday, October 16, 2011

forced to leave

this morning my heart stopped. I hoped it was just a glitche, but morning soon turned into a long day which will now continue into the next two weeks.

Let me explain…
This morning us four girls were called from our deep dreaming into the kitchen for a quick word from Pastor Danny. Our tired eyes from a night of poor rest carried into the next room as we were finding difficulty functioning outside our beds. We sat down, still half asleep and were told something we could have never imagined… the program was pulling us out of Uganda immediately. The words spilled out on the table in disarray and at first we did not believe. We were hoping Pastor Danny was just joking with us as he almost always is. But this time his voice was different. We all stared at him trying to comprehend that giant of a sentence. We tried to get our bearings, simultaneously asking if he was serious. Then he began to explain that Grace (our practicum field director) had called him early in the morning, informed him of the decision and would be arriving shortly to discuss with us about our removal that would happen the next day. My tired eyes still were not adjusting. We were briefly informed that because of the US military presence in the North, there has been concern of our safety from the program director and sending universities and with that, they were evacuating all the practicum students in Uganda. I think at that point it started to hit us as tears of frustration carried down our faces. How can people with no actual on-ground assessment make such an vital decision? We had only twelve days remaining with a week at a refugee camp and teaching at the school.

We are safe. In fact, we are more than safe and that is where our tears flowed from. Being removed from a place where there is absolutely no threat or reason to be evacuated was and still is beyond devastating. Beyond that, I have been utterly disappointed and frustrated with how the Go ED has dealt with this situation. Those relaying the information to us about this decision were equally as confused and distressed, only taking orders from the director who had no actual contact with our site director or us students. Imagine the disrespect to the family that has kept us and cared for us, as well as the staff of UAOG as no one had even been informed about this process of decision making. Frustration doesn’t fully describe what is felt.

Our promise of two more weeks with this wonderful family of people was now cut short. We cried seriously as we imagined having to say goodbye, leaving our work unfinished. A week would no longer be spent at the refugee camps, no more time with the kids at Precious Children and no time to even say goodbye to all the women we’ve built relationships with in the time we’ve had. This was it. No warning to any of these people we’ve invested in. We carried ourselves to church, upset, devastated and partly in denial that this would be our last time at Victory Family with the people we’ve already grown to love. I think people were slightly confused as to why all of us girls were crying during the whole service. It was hard knowing that we’d have to part so abruptly from all our friends. All of a sudden all the wonderful things were just so bitter. Hearing the kids laugh made us well up with tears. Having church members greet us made us wipe our faces. And oh my, singing together made me seriously ball. It was a sadness of a different kind. We sang “I’m so glad to be a part of this great family…” None of us held back our tears during that. I smiled while I cried. These people changed my heart once before and now they had only grown that love all the more. I laughed as I cried too because their joy caused me to do so. Somehow I couldn’t help but smile as we sang and danced together, even though I was shedding tears because I knew it was over.

After informing the congregation and staff of our unexpected departure we quickly planned a barbeque dinner for a small sense of closure. Tonight we roasted duck and pig. I’ve never laughed so incredibly hard and felt such an overwhelming sense of love and belonging. It’s pained us all to have to explain the situation and how we have absolutely no control. We told them, if it were us, our hearts are saying “If we are to die, we are to die together.” Unfortunately our hearts do not have a say in the decisions of our leaders. After eating, we sang together and shared so much laughter it was almost painful. We ended the night each by explaining the impact that we’ve had on one another and how we truly had become a family. They gathered around us and prayed over us, all praying together. This really brought the tears as each of our hearts melted and were completely humbled by these people. We are really loved here.

Tomorrow morning we are forced to pack our bags and leave for Rwanda, something we are not willing or ready for. The pieces of our hearts that are grafted to these people are being painfully torn.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

I'm home!

Wowzers! I apologize that it has been a while since I've been able to write you all, we've been so busy that I've found it difficult to sit down and write about everything that has happened. Also, power here is pretty scarce so my computer spends most of it's time dead, unable to be charged....

The kids at Precious Children
Well! I'm almost unsure of where to even begin, so much has happened since I've arrived in Hoima. Saying I'm happy to be here doesn't begin to describe how unreal it is to be back. It feels like I've returned home. Seeing all the familiar faces has made coming back so sweet. Not only that, now I have three other friends/classmates of mine joining with me on this great return. The place is just as I remember and even better!

Holding on for dear life in our mode of transportation-a truck bed
Well, let's see... This last week has been a bit of a whirlwind. Each day we'd do morning staff devotionals at the UAOG (Uganda Assemblies of God) Rescue office aka the school (Precious Children), it's kind of a common place that we all gather together at.
early morning devos
Then after our devotions we go and work in the school with the teachers from like 9-11am, then after time at the school we head out to do home visits with the HIV positive women. UAOG Rescue has a program called Restore Hope where women who are HIV positive come together as a community to learn to live life positively with their illness and situation.

So every week the women come to a gathering at the office where they sing, play games, dance, share laughter and hope with one another. Beyond the once a week meeting the staff of UAOG Rescue goes out and does monthly home visits. Because we're came for our practicum they've focused this week on the Restore Hope program. Each day we've gone out in two groups to visit 3-4 women in their home and to hear their stories, pray and build relationships with them. It's been unreal.
praying over a woman during our home visits
Part of the Restore Hope project is that they give micro loans to the women that have preexisting businesses so that they can save money and create sustainable projects. So as we visit we get to chat with the women, hear their stories and then see what they do for their different projects.

this lady grew mushrooms for her sustainable project
Being gifted papyas after our visit
picture sharing time!
a woman who sold the most delicious chapati for her project
After our home visits we grab some lunch and then we are on our way to do HIV/AIDS prevention in the Secondary Schools. It's been stretching as we learn about the issues surrounding the AIDS epidemic here in Uganda. It's hard to describe the norms and mindset here. It's not something that's easy to reverse, that's for sure. Sometimes my heart gets heavy when we go to the schools and we're faced with the vast problem of promiscuity among the students. Regardless, I am thankful to be apart of this team that is bringing awareness and light to these issues.

handing out books of hope and Bibles at the schools
Becca during the HIV prevention
game face-small group talks
Then after HIV prevention we return to the office for either Praise and Prayer Meetings, Worship Practice or just a time of debriefing and planning for the next day. We begin early in the mornings and go late into the evenings, so whenever we rest it is certainly sweet.

all the women from A Day To Remember
Then on top of all our daily activities we've been planning for a special event that happened yesterday. It was a 6 hour program for the HIV women called "A Day To Remember." We rented out a hotel, provided lunch and made an entire afternoon just for them to relax and truly feel appreciated. This was pretty significant, especially after hearing each of their stories. These women who already have a life-threatening disease are usually the only ones left to care for their family, so you find them toiling each day just to provide so their children can survive. Many of the women are 50+ and still spend countless hours digging in the fields. All of that to say, they never really get a break. Then on top of that, they have to battle each day through the social stigma surrounding HIV as well as all the burdens that come with life.
painting the women's nails during A Day To Remember
We had this special event where all the women dressed in their best gowns and came for a day to remember. We painted their fingernails, ate lunch, sang worship, had a dance competition, brought in comedians, had hulu hoop competitions, and played games with balloons.
Balloon contests
Singing worship for the women
After all the laughter, fun and joy we shared between one another we spent the second half of the evening ministering and lavishing love on them. We did a skit about baggage, led more worship, prayed with one another and then finished off the night by washing their feet.
Foot washing
 Man, that act of service was probably one of the most powerful and most humbling experiences yet. All of us girls and the staff just sang worship songs as we sat each woman down to wash her feet. It was incredible to see how loved those women felt. And for some, it was the first times we had really seen their faces light up. The program was really more than I could've expected and planned for. Each of us girls put in some heavy planning and a late night to make the program happen and honestly we were so surprised at how well it went. God is so faithful to honor our efforts.

After a long day and an incredible time with the women I was informed that the next morning I would be preaching at Pastor's church -Victory Family Church. I thought he was joking. Apparently he wasn't. Hah. Anyways, that was this morning and I spoke about having abundant joy in suffering. Many of the women from the program showed up too! I was so thankful. I'm certainly no pastor but it went well and I was thankful to have the opportunity to share.

preaching on joy
To end a tremendously long post, next week we spend at the medical clinic in the village. I believe we're doing household surveys and then holding a free clinic. I'm sure this next week is going to be filled with new adventures!