Equally Limited

We traveled through the busy roads of Kampala until we came upon the sign and a single Muzungu (besides myself, of course) standing in the road waiting for us.  He guided us down bumpy, hidden back roads to where the orphanage was situated.  The gates at M-Lisada were covered in a painted mural.  Outside the gates painted with the smiles of children playing instruments, were children playing together.  They stopped to see the new muzungu pass.  Curiosity disturbed them.

I grabbed my camera and climbed out of the car to finally introduce myself to Chris.  The story of how we came to meet in Uganda is an unlikely one.  His mother Pam, sent me a handwritten letter at my day job to see if we knew of any resources that she could use to mail supplies to M-Lisada.  You can read about that here.

I wanted to see what other organizations were doing to help serve the AIDS Orphans of Uganda.

M-Lisada has a different plan than ours.  They are an orphanage.  We are a school.  When you hear the stories of both founders, you can kind of understand why their routes were different in attempting to solve the same problem.

Jackson Kaguri grew up in Nyakagyezi, Uganda.  His family strained to pay for an education that was believed to be the one way ticket out of poverty for all of their children.  Jackson studied hard, excelled and returned to find devastating poverty hanging heavy over his hometown community.  His answer was the answer given to him in his own childhood; an education is key to combating poverty.  The Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project set about building schools and creating a holistic system to keep the children in classes/

Segawa Bosco was a street kid in Kampala.  He and a band of young men like himself longed for the opportunity to learn how to play musical instruments.  That passion united them to combine their resources to gain an education, pool their resources and start an orphanage.  This is the statement on their facebook page…

We are a home for street kids of Kampala, Uganda. We use the power of music, dance, and acrobatics to discover the family within each of us.

M-Lisada is now home to 80 street children between the ages of 3 and 18.  They all participate in some form of liberal arts and raise operation funds through their performances.

I wandered around their home heartbroken.  It wasn’t a sense that they weren’t being cared for.  Just that day, a group of volunteers had arrived with school supplies for the children.  I was excited to watch this exchange.


Children celebrating and cheerful givers recording the moment for those unable to make the journey.

I wasn’t heartbroken because of the facilities.  A home with eighty children will have its challenges but this place was clean, cheerful and full of laughter.  You could see how connected the children were with the staff as they came home, changed out of their school uniforms and came to greet us all.

That was how I met Beatrice.  She came to me proudly with school books filled with perfect handwriting.  I encouraged her by saying that I knew many adults who could not write as well as her.  She was smart as a whip.  A little conversation was all it took to see the light firing in her mind.

After a little while, the children gathered around and started asking me about my tattoos.  We chatted about school and then it was time for the jazz band to practice!

Beatrice then asked to use my camera.  She started snapping away.  This photo was my favorite.

The heartbreak didn’t come from the talent of the children playing their hearts out.  They played jazz standards led by Chris.  Counting, snapping and scatting along with their enthusiastic renditions.  I smiled and posed for another of Beatrice’s photo.

The heartbreak choked me a couple of times and I swallowed it back.  I stood in a tiny room with these two children and counted the beds triple stacked.  I watched them go in and out of the bathroom changing their clothes and putting away their school things.  I saw children standing outside the gate, milling around.

The heartbreak made no real sense.  These children were being given a safe place to lay their heads.  Most of them were in school and many children in the community use M-Lisada like an after school program.  They are doing good work.

At the end of the day, I shoved money in the Directors hand and stumbled out the door.  I could not fathom him thanking me.  I quickly escaped his gratitude.

The heartbreak is the limits.  The limits of my income.  The limits of the world’s generosity.  The limits of the funding.  The limits of the children that they can serve.

The sky is not the limit.

Today, eighty is the limit and standing in their home, that is heartbreaking to me.  I think of the backpacks I help my children clean out.  I think of tickling each of them and barely making my arms touch each of them equally.  I think of the times they fight over sitting next to me on the blanket, at the table or in the theater.

My arms, my love always stretching to the ends.

Dear world,

I wish I could turn you over and shake you out.  I wish our limits measured how little poverty we will allow as a global community.  We can do better and we don’t.  That is my heartbreak.

An equally limited.


Swimming Up-stream

I don’t know what to say.  My senses have been over powered from the moment I arrived in Entebbe, Uganda.  The moment it started to sprinkle rain on the dark drive to the Mugisha home, it made the smell of dust rise up into the air and off of the surfaces all around.  I keep waking drowsy in the middle of the night warm and surrounded by netting to keep the mosquitoes away.  The city streets are so full.  There are people bursting from everywhere.  My camera cannot capture and hold enough.

My hosts keep joking that I am too ambitious and will not see everything I want to by the time I have to leave.  I laugh and agree.  I have always had this problem.  Nothing is new under the sun.

Tomorrow, I will visit another orphanage.  They are not affiliated with Nyaka but almost a year ago, in response to an appeal we sent out to our mailing list, a mother sent me a hand written note about her son.  He was a teacher at a Catholic school in Michigan.  Once the Catholic schools started to consolidate, he lost his position.  Eventually, he took a job at Kutamba School for Music.

All of this in the swirling handwriting of a proud mother.  The name of the organization is M-lisada.

Strangely, and I have to believe not at all by coincidence, his mother emailed me last week with updates about her son.  I jumped after responding.  Why had I not mentioned I would be in Kampala?

I sent her a quick…PS – I will be in Kampala in about a week.  Any chance I might pop by?  You know. While I am in the neighborhood?

She emailed me back contact information and directions.  I called him this evening.  I will visit tomorrow.  I am glad I brought extra candy.  They have about 80 children living there and they will all get a sweet from me.  I have noticed during my time driving through the city many placards for different social service organizations.  We are not alone.  We never really are.

I am dedicated to my work at The Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project but as with any other struggle in this life, it always feels good to look around and see another swimming up-stream with you.  You have to believe that it is all possible.  You have to know that in all situations, someone has to be the one to stop and say that they will help nurture positive changes.  It may as well be you.

This stream can be violent.  The rapids can be crushing in their weight and very cold.  However, look.  Look at the beautiful scenery just a little farther up.  Look at this beautiful river I have found myself swimming in.

Enjoy the swim.



A Mother Flippin’ Event: A Better Way Imports

At the beginning of February, I was given the opportunity to sell grandmother baskets for The Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project at a Fair Trade Shop during the Faith and International Development Conference at Calvin College. The hustle of a small nonprofit office does not usually allow me the time to participate in outside events but with the help of other staff members, I was able to make the time. I hoisted a large suitcase of beautiful handmade baskets into my minivan and headed off to the campus in Grand Rapids.

When I arrived there were several of tables lined up with goods from all over the world. Kind faced woman all stood behind them armed with stories of why and where. I quickly laid my Ugandan table cloth over the large table and started to set out our display. Baskets, paper bead necklaces and brochures about our various programs were all laid out for participants and passersby. When groups of people started to gather, I started sharing about the many HIV/AIDS orphans we serve and how a holistic approach is changing the lives of people living in devastating poverty.

I encouraged those around me to grab a flyer for more information and to sign up for our e-newsletter. Many seemed focused on how on earth I was lucky enough to have this career. They seemed shocked when I told them that I applied for the job and I was hired. As the day went on, the foot traffic nearly disappeared as people began to join the different conference sessions. I left my table and wandered through booths where organizations challenged military governments with peace, fed the hungry with farms, supplied the overpopulated with information on fertility and helped the thirsty find clean, safe drinking water.

I left with arms full of brochures and encouraged by so many, doing so much good. My favorite was another organization working in Uganda. The inside of the Come Let’s Dance* brochure contained these words,

“Love Hard is not just a statement, it’s a challenge. Love Hard means loving people who are too hard to love in places where it is too hard to love and in situations where it seems impossible to love. Love Hard is outstretching our arms and touching the sick, whether we are comfortable doing it or not.”

When I was finally able to pull myself away from the booths of organizations, I sat back down at my table and shared what I had found with the women working the booth next to me. We started to talk and I asked about a basket that I had overheard that they had purchased at a market in Ghana. She explained to me that they volunteer for an organization that attempts to rehabilitate women that are rescued from human trafficking.

Apparently, when a family commits some type of crime or is dishonored, they are required to give up their youngest daughter to a priest. During the day, she works the fields and then she is made available at night. I stopped her in mid-story and expressed my sadness for how disposable women and children are in so many places. She agreed and we discussed how it is a global problem.Even in the midst of a conference full of those seeking justice and honor for those deemed disposable, there was continued sadness for those just out of reach.

My good friend Wendy has just become a representative for A Better Way Imports. Think Tupperware meets fair trade and social justice. A Better Way Imports gathers goods made by women and children rehabilitating after being rescued from different human trafficking scenarios. The catalog is filled with jewelry, handbags, messenger bags and wallets supplied by reputable organizations like Radiant Hope, Nightlight* and Freeset*. I agreed to host a party and I am excited to extend an invitation to you all.

Please join me at A Better Way Brunch on February 25th, 2012 from 11pm – 2pm at Gone Wired Café on Michigan Ave.

Of all of the slaves in this world, roughly 80% of them are women.

As a woman living with all of the rights, privileges I have been given, I feel a need to reach out for those not so fortunate. This is event is not only for the buyer, it is for the curious. Also, this event is not only for women. Men are encouraged to attend too. This event is about information and empowerment. I look forward to seeing you all there.



* I didn’t go through the trouble of hyperlinking all of those fabulous Facebook pages for my health.  Add some substance to your feed by watching the good work that these organizations are doing.  Enjoy the deep good!