Yesterday was filled with adventure, life-changing moments, and full-hearts of joy. It was Christina and I’s last day in Uganda and we wanted to spend it with some of the most amazing kids in this world. We decided early on that we wanted to serve the kids ice cream for dessert and also buy locally made necklaces to raise funds for Project Orphans next orphan home. Around 10am we headed to the market and bought loads of ice cream, cookies and other sweet treats for the kids and then headed back. Once we arrived at the children’s home we asked Momma Sarah to call her friend that she knew sold beads in the Acholi Quarters, also known as the slums. Something inside me blurted out, “Can we take some of the children?” Sarah paused and explained how a few of the girls were from that area and haven’t seen their extend family in quite some time. So I looked at Christina and then we counted our Shillings and decided we had enough money to take 3 boda bodas (local motorcycles) to Acholi.
I don’t think Christina and I realized the impact this little adventure would have on us. Margret, Ann-Grace, Carol, Bena, Vickie, and Shafiga were beyond excited when they found out they were going to go on this adventure with us and also get to see their JaJa’s (grandmothers) and Aunties. The girls quickly grabbed their cutest skirts and sunglasses then headed outside to wait for our boda drivers to arrive. Fitting 3 people on a boda is a little scary in itself but squeezing 4 bodies onto the motorcycle was beyond our normal comfort zone! However, we couldn’t ask 3 girls not to go – so we took a deep breath and jumped on for a crazy ride! I was laughing so hard as Christina’s girls were reaching out for the other girl’s hands. She was holding on so tight and I knew this was way out of her comfort zone – but we both loved every moment of it.
Once we arrived at the Acholi Quarters, we went to visit Vickie’s JaJa. Vickie’s face lit up when she saw her grandmother. Both, Christina and I looked at each other trying to fight the tears. Her JaJa was so excited to see Vickie. Immediately, she went into what we wouldn’t even call a “shack” and put on her best necklace and a clean shirt. JaJa Lucy invited all of us under her mud hut and fed the girls – giving food to 7 girls is very expensive but she was just honored to have Vickie there.
We had to leave so that Ann-Grace and Margret could go see their Auntie and JaJa so we told JaJa Lucy we had to head out. I could see in her face she didn’t want to let Vickie go, which broke my heart. After lots of hugs and kisses we headed onto Ann-Grace’s Aunties home. Ann-Grace was so excited to see her Auntie she ran through the door and gave her Aunt a huge hug. Her Auntie was working to make beaded necklaces to sell, at wholesale, to those who work at the African market. She quickly set her beads aside and went to brush her hair and straighten up. It was such a humbling experience to see how these Aunties and Grandmothers would take time to freshen up for the kids.
We sat in the dark, cold hut as Ann-Grace talked to her Auntie and pointed out pictures of her cousins. Then Ann-Grace asked something that made my heart ache. Ann-Grace so badly wanted to show Christina and I a picture of her mother. She asked her Auntie, “Can we show them a picture of my momma?” Her Auntie, semi-embarrassed, looked at us and explained how the only pictures she has of Ann-Grace’s mom are ones where Ann-Grace’s mom is sick – then she looked at Ann-Grace and told her that she didn’t have enough money to develop the pictures. Ann-Grace looked so disappointed. I couldn’t imagine not being able to see a picture of my mom. That’s when Christina and I quietly whispered to each other and decided that we should buy the beaded necklaces from Ann-Grace’s Auntie so that she could develop the roll of film. We asked how much it would cost to develop the pictures and she told us it would be $10,000 Shillings – which is about $4.75 US dollars. We then proceeded to ask to see her beads and buy some from her. She pulled out some gorgeous necklaces and we gave her enough money to get the pictures developed. Behind us I could hear one of the girls say to Ann-Grace, “They are buying those beads from your Auntie so she can get a picture of your mom!” Ann-Grace’s spirit completely changed and I was more than honored to buy beads from a wonderful lady who has one of the most amazing nieces.
After saying our goodbyes to Ann-Grace’s Auntie we headed to Margret’s grandmas house. Margret had not seen her JaJa in over a year. I was so excited to be able to experience this moment with her! We walked through several alleys scattered with feces, urine puddles and stray dogs and finally arrived at Margret’s former home. Margret quickly went through the blanketed covered door to find her cousin. After a short time, her cousin stepped outside and told us that Margret’s grandmother was working at the rock quarry, a place where people of the Acholi Quarters break rocks which are later sold to be brick or cement. Margret’s cousin explained it was just over the hill and that she wanted to take us there, so that Margret could see her JaJa. Christina and I couldn’t say no.
We began our journey through the gravel roads and a beaten path. Finally, we came to a place that I had only seen in the movies. Slave labor doesn’t even begin to describe what these people are put through. Margret’s grandma actually saw us before we found her. We heard a loud shout and before I knew it Margret was running to an elderly lady, her JaJa! Seeing this brought tears to my eyes and I couldn’t fight them back. Christina and I just looked at each other – thinking: “How can this be real.” When the girls, Christina and I caught up to Margret we were all greeted with big hugs and large kisses. After talking to her JaJa for a little we asked about her work at the rock quarry. She explained that after working for 6 days a week and 8 hours per day she only makes $20,000 Shillings per month – that’s if the people who pay her make good on their promise. $20,000 Shillings is about $10 USD per month – this is absolutely crazy and impossible for anyone household to live on. In addition - to the cruel heat, JaJa’s age and poor working conditions, Margret’s grandmother had to work while suffering with Malaria. I am astonished that life could be so hard for such a wonderful lady; but not once did she complain. She was proud that she could do something and provide what little she could for her family.
We said our last goodbye and then headed back to the boda bodas. The girls were so excited and kept thanking Christina and I for taking them on this fun trip. This was probably Christina and I’s most rewarding day of our entire journey, in Uganda. After spending a weeks time with the boys/ girls of the home and now seeing where they have come from – I understand why they pray so passionately, are so eager to learn and happily take responsibility for their chores around the home. The kids won’t ever forget where they came from but realize that the only thing that can make life better for their families is God and their hard work to become all that they can be.
At Project Orphans, we are not just building homes. We are working with our partners to build lives who will impact their city, country and the world. Everyday we are humbled to know that the children we build houses for will receive unconditional love, a good education, medical care, and the tools to be all they want and dream to be. I am challenged by these kids to live life as hard as I can and always treasure the blessings that He has given me. We get one chance to live – it is important we decide how we will live it!
With all my love,
Brittany Stokes (Founder of Project Orphans)