Wednesday, August 11, 2010

I am all set!

It's been almost 4 days after I saw everyone at the airport. That big
smile on everyone's face after they saw me is one of the memories that I
will always cherish. Even after 4 days I see the green clock on my white
wall and try to think what would I be doing in Africa at this time?

I miss sitting on the red soil and getting my clothes dirty; I miss
running around with the kids and giving them infinite hugs; I miss nailing
things (for chicken coop, and pig house) and digging the ground; I miss
eating on banana leaves with dirty hands; I miss cleaning my hands with my
pants after eating oily chapattis in the car; I miss bothering Frank and
Az and asking them "why?" every minute; I miss those bumpy roads and
crashing into the person sitting next to me; I miss hearing that laughter
after I tell my stupid jokes! I know I am getting a bit emotional right
now and I will try to man-up!

When I did my laundry this week I saw all the red soil coming off my
clothes but the memories of how it got there are still left behind. I
didn't think that getting back to reality would be so difficult but it is.
I close my eyes in the middle of the day and think about all the time I
have spent with all of our 9 most beautiful and handsome team members. I
have started to smile in the bathroom while showering, walking, and eating
(not in the bathroom). I think I have fallen in love with Uganda and the
Ugandans! Missing you a lottttttttttt Julius, Irene, Bernard, Paul,
'young' Julius, Wilson, and all the wonderful kids with their magical

Coming back to US has made me realize how fortunate I am to get know
everyone on this trip. You all made me believe in the power of love, care,
holding hands (I don't think it's cheesy anymore), and hugs of course!
Every day is a new day now and even in the worst circumstances, I will
say, "I am all set!"

Lauren's soulmate

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The light

“Light gives of itself freely, filling all available space. It does not seek anything in return; it asks not whether you are friend or foe. It gives of itself and is not thereby diminished.” ~Michael Strassfeld

For 4.54 billion years a plot of land in what is now called Wairaka (why-lee-ca) a distant grippingly poor village in East Uganda stood; only seeing water when it rained, seeing light only when the sun shined.

On the night of August 5th 2010 at about 10 pm a group of people from 2 countries, 2 different worlds as to life experiences stood together as one family brought together through compassion, respect and love.

They stood together dissolving the illusion of “us and them” no color; no race no boarders that separate. They stood just as family.

Then with the flick of a switch the night darkness for 4.54 billion years was shattered by 4 light bulbs from the solar panel energy, lights in the farmers house building so perfectly named “The Rafiki House” the Friends house.

"I never need to see the sun again, there enough light in your eyes to light up all the world" Author Unknown

The water was always there it was just under the suffice and needed just to be sought.

The light was always there too, it was in the eyes and hearts of every single ones of our Ugandan children and family, every villager, every worker in Julius, Irene in our children and new children and in all of you. In the team that went and became family in each and every one of you who helped through your donations, help, compassion and love to get this project this far.

For us there we lived an experience words can not ever explain, felt the friendship and loving hearts of the wonderful Ugandan people. We experienced the pure love of the children of Uganda, we cried many tears being swarmed by these children hugged and got to hold and love them play games with them. So many of them dressed in rags, only some with shoes some ill with AIDS all will know malaria and all know every single day thrust and hunger.

They all desire and deserve education but not all get it such as 500 young children in OUR village of Wairaka (why-lee-ca) we will change this, we must change this.

The team that went were the privileged ones who got to experience this personally but you were all there with us and are still there through your gifts and love.

Because of you
• We have the land
• The Giving Circle/UCHF/Team Rafiki Koi Koi House and Wairaka (why-lee-ca) has water.
• The farming has started, the chicken house breeding and egg program- the piggery are built and ready in fact the piggies are there.
• The site farm house is built and has solar power and we have a very skilled farmer ready to move in and run this.

We of course have Julius ( and Irene and their team) this man is a great man who truly loves his/ our children and all the children and people of Uganda and he/ they all love you for caring about them.

We must now raise the funds to build the Koi Koi House we must get this built as soon as we can so our family can have for once their own safe home with no fears of eviction. A feeling of safety for the first time in our childrens lives and a home large enough to be home to more of the orphans of Uganda.

We can and will do this and next a school for our village and children of Wairaka (why-lee-ca) who must be educated and a clinic for a village that has none.

A smile is the light in the window of your face that tells people you're at home. ~Author Unknown

Every child we saw would smile a wide smile they just want to be loved and be seen.

Please allow me to end with this story.

The last day was hard knowing we were leaving it was the hardest thing we ever had to do.

I sat with Kelly ( Koi Koi) and Frank on the porch talking, Kelly holding one of our girls when Dennis walked over to me and sat on my lap.

He sat there motionless for almost an hour in fact I thought he had feel asleep. WE just sat there me holding him tight him being healed.

This boy who always smiles when you just look at him, this boy with the white spots on his head and bumps on his arms symptoms of his AIDS. This boy with the big smile and a life of losing his family because of AIDS a life of pain of hunger and AIDS saved by the love of Julius and Irene.

This boy just sat with me and allowed me to love him.

After about an hour Dennis just got up and walked off to the house, he was gone.

Far too soon Dennis will be gone from this world but never from my/our heart.

May you all be well and happy, lets do this lets change this village and save our children and Ugandan family.

Help us build the Koi Koi House

Monday, August 9, 2010

Once again, while we brought many things to Africa, we all brought home much much more than we gave. Our hearts are filled with such joy and peace, the kind that money and things cannot buy, the kind that only people can instill in each other. Baby Mark's arrival at the very end of this trip could not be more appropriate, for this is who we work for, the children who look to all of us to help them build a safe and secure place for them to grow and learn. Looking forward to returning soon to our new family in Uganda.

- Denise

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Process....

Hey everyone. Its 3 am and I'm wide awake, but tired. I'm in my apartment but not here at all...unpacking and doing laundry, started the coffee, and beginning the process of shifting back to this lifestyle and my surroundings. Thats the easy part....the physical part....what isn't so easy is the inside job....

As I begin to type, the emotion within stirs as just a short time ago we left our family in Uganda. I have been on many trips and missions to Africa, but this one was very special in a lot of ways. As we flew yesterday, I thought that somehow this transition may be easier this time...but I was so very wrong.

This team of 10 was truly wonderful. I wont go into a lot of details, but this team was truly the most wonderful group I've had the pleasure to work with. I would travel and work with them all again anywhere, anytime...they are all very special people with giant hearts and giving spirits....we shared many laughs together and we leaned on one another for support as we said our good by's to the children, women and men who we grew close with during those 11 days.

The pictures that will be posted and shared on face book will tell the story of how working hard together, much can be accomplished. How all of our collective hearts had come together working towards a common goal and the results are visible in those pictures. You can see that with your heart wants you to know the rest....

Blogs can be lengthy and repetitive so I wont do that here. I try to be short and say to you that each Africa experience is different. The teams that go, the place where you work, the people you meet. The impact within from the experiences you are part of. You connect with that special favorite child, bond with one of the guys your digging a ditch with, or see the wisdom in the eyes of an elder who has lived the hard years of African life who has you reflect on the blessings we live with here daily.....they are our teachers....

This trip has been all that for me. An inspiration. I connected with many, learned from most, and the children have inspired me to work harder than ever and do my best back here to raise awareness and support for the Koi Koi house project. I have not looked at any pictures yet but can clearly see the 11 days as they unfolded. I can feel the hands of the kids grabbing mine from behind as I'm walking..out of the blue....not knowing where I was going...but wanting to come along with me and hold my hand along the way....they didn't know it but they were giving me so much each time they did that.....they are our teachers....

Enough for now....



Saturday, August 7, 2010

This is Mark, some quick pics before crash..

Please Meet the newest member of our Ugandan family. Julius and Irene have given me an honor I do not deserve but will always cherish as I will cherish this boy ( and our our Ugandan children and family). Please meet Mark Bertrand Lwanga

We have hand so many "signs" or "karma" or what ever you may call it related to this wonderful project, its crazy..

Now it looks almost at the very same time Irene was bringing into this life this beautiful boy my daughter was having our new granddaughter.

I'm as you all are after that crazy trip home, very tired and soon off to bed to dream about a trip I dreamed about as far back as a small child, doing what I dreamed about with people who are all a dream come true.

We did so much, experienced so much, now get some rest because we have so much more to do for and with our wonderful Ugandan family. An orphanage to build, our children to get sponsored. In time a school to educated EVERY child in our village and so much more..
falling asleep, be well and happy all

Last Days in Jinja


The last few days in Jinja have been very hectic. We worked our asses off (I mean our asses off) the last couple of days and we finished the Rafiki House (the caretakers house) even including the solar power! Rafiki means Friends in Swahili - how appropriate is that?

We then had a wonderful feast the last night in Jinja at Julius and Irene's, the current orphanage building. We peeled a hundred pounds of potatoes, I swear we did. Pauline, Bernard's wife, cooked for 10 hours that day! We ate very late that night and it was wonderful.

Then, Friday we were headed to the airport. I can't tell you how sad it was to leave...we all wanted to stay with our new family but knew we had to go. We all got up at 2:30am (Jinja time) and headed to Entebbe. We had some problems - poor Lauren was plagued again with her kidney stones - she was in so much pain. They almost wouldn't let her fly but we got her though (sneaky as it was, more on that later). We were told that we had to fly to Nairobi as there wasn't enough fuel to get us to London! What? Yes, it's true.

We go to Nairobi, an hour flight. On the ground while we fueled for at least 1.5 hours. Then headed to London, a 10 hour flight. We get to London to find out we missed our flight. Yep, it's true. All but Nishtha stayed in London that night. We flew home Saturday AM from London to JFK, not Newark. All travel pickups had to be re-arranged (thank you Ron) - THANK YOU MARK, JIM AND MARIA for picking us up! We got home around 7PM tonight.

Irene, Julius's wife, had her baby 3 weeks early the night we spent in London and Alyssa, Mark's daughter, had her baby at 12:12AM this AM!! Julius and Irene named their new baby boy MARK BERTRAND LWANGA! OMG, many tears over that. Much news to be had when we landed at JFK!!

I wanted to get something posted quickly. We are uploading the rest of the pictures and will update you with more information as soon as we can!!

Check back soon!


Monday, August 2, 2010

A Happy Day

We picked up 'Joe Willy' (10 years old), Emma (1), Bonita (13) to get their eyes checked at the New Vision Clinic, and Prasy (18), and Olivia (16) to get the HIV test. When we got there we saw more than 100 people waiting in line to get their eyes checked or get tested for HIV. Katelynn, Nishtha, and Azurah were waiting for the doctor to get Emma's eyes checked. While Azurah was holding Emma, she kept on looking around and tried to figure out where were all the sounds coming from.
At first the doctor thought that Emma had Cataract but later diagnosed that her mother had Rubella during pregnancy. The doctor later discovered that she has squint eyes and will try to give her a chance to see the beautiful colors around. Meanwhile, Denise and Kelly were waiting with Prasy and Olivia to get them tested for HIV. The girls were trembling while their blood was drawn. The 30 minutes wait seemed never ending. Finally the results came and they were tested negative! All of us couldn't be happier!

Joe Willy, Azurah's buddy, was thought to have double vision but the doctor had some good news for us; he has good eye sight! His eye muscles are weak and his brain just sees the image with the eye that is straight.

Thanks to all the doctors and volunteers from New Vision Clinic who came all the way from England to help these beautiful people.

A Safari to Remember

Four of us (Katelynn, Lauren, Nishtha, and Frank) made plans to go on a Safari this past weekend. Early Saturday morning, after a late night experiencing Jinja's nightlife, we crawled into a van, still half asleep, with Bernard and our driver, Charles who never stopped smiling. Three hours later, I awoke to the sound of Frank calling out, "Um, excuse me..." as steam poured in and around the van. Charles pulled over and, still groggy, we all climbed out of the van. We sat down on the side of the road as Charles went to fetch water from a nearby village while Bernard paced nervously. Soon, Charles was pouring water into the car and trying to start it. The car wouldn't start, and soon black liquid started pouring out of the tailpipe. When Charles, smiling as big as always, finally agreed that we needed some help, Katelynn jumped in the middle of the road to flag down a car. The car stopped and took Charles up the road to a nearby town, where he picked up a small flatbed truck to tow our van to the town. It was decided that another van would leave Jinja (three hours away!) and come to take us the rest of the way.

I'm not sure if it was because we were still too tired from the night before or if we were all just used to "African time," but we all simply got out of the van and said, "Okay," without so much as a groan. As usual, Nishtha began her search for food and soon we were sitting down to a huge meal of rice, beans, and banana mash, served by a woman cooking in large pots in the alley between two buildings. Good food and friendly people made us think that a 3 hour wait in this little town wouldn't be so bad.

...SIX HOURS later, the new van showed up. We hopped in to finish our journey to the campsite at Murchison Falls. We finally arrived sometime around 7:00pm. We visited the falls and then went to the campsite for some stir fry and goulash for dinner. After spending a grueling day together, the four of us bonded over some good old truth or dare (the only one to take a dare was, of course, Nishtha, who sang "The Wavin Flag" in front of the entire campsite).

Just before heading to bed in the tents, the lightening began and we spent the night in tents, listening to the echoing thunder as rain dripped on us. Somehow Nishtha and Frank slept through it all.

In the morning, we woke up early to head to the ferry which was out of commission. The battery was broken (we will definitely start carrying car and ferry batteries with us at all times!). On top of that, the rain still hadn't stopped. Finally, the ferry was fixed and we were on our way to the game drive.

Pretty soon, the rain stopped and the four of us and Bernard stood hanging out of the moon roof throughout the Safari. It was just magical seeing all the animals in their natural habitat. After the game drive, Lauren, Katelynn and Frank were ready to board the last ferry back across the Nile but, Nishtha, Bernard, Charles, and our VAN were no where to be found. Turns out, Bernard needed to buy more minutes for his cell phone, Charles needed to flirt with a woman, and Nishtha... who knows. Luckily, Charles arranged for a boat to pick us up on that side of the Nile and even had our lunch delivered. We ate as we went on the river boat tour where we saw hippos, hippos, and more hippos. The boat driver, James, took us right to the bottom of the falls. We got out of the boat to stand on a rock in the middle of the river to take pictures and enjoy the view.

Nothing could ruin the journey except... kidney stones. Well Lauren's kidney stones that is. But after a long journey..(and we mean long) we made it to Kampala where we were able to find a hospital that provided Lauren with the care that she needed.

Nishtha...who is always thinking about food, asked Charles if he knew of any good Indian restaurants around Kampala. So after a pit stop at the hospital, we stopped at this place called Nando's. Which turned out to be a place owned by an Indian(maybe) but served no Indian food what so ever...just pizza and chicken. While we were ordering our food the two random gentlemen that we picked up along the way waited patiently in the car probably thinking " why did we ever get into this van with the mazungus?!" As we got back into the car we picked up a pastor?...apparently Charles knew him. We finally made it back to our hotel around 1:30 with Dad aka John waiting with cold water and a big hug for each of us.

It was all worth it at the end!

-Katelynn, Lauren, and Nishtha

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Little Adam is 2 years old and he is HIV positive. This child has captured our hearts and has a permanent place in all of our arms every day. Today the "heavy duty" wheelbarrow carrying granitelike rock broke as John and Mark were wheeling it down to the pig pen site. So we all had to carry these very heavy rocks by hand. Little Adam though set the tone for us all being one family helping each other. He ran to the rock pile and picked up the largest rock that his little hands could carry and with a big smile on his face, he headed towards the pig pens. Soon the older children joined in, and we were truly working hand in hand. It was a beautiful site to behold.

We bought fruit trees today - orange, lemon, mango and guava. Kelly for sure has the strongest muscles of the girls on our team as she was able to carry this very heavy container of water from the well down to the orchard.And there was our little Adam again, running down to help her pour the water onto the planted trees. Then as cute as could be, he curled up in Kelly's arms and fell soundly asleep.

Two days ago, I walked onto the balcony of the hotel and locked eyes with a women who was hand washing clothes for her 4 children below. They live in a very rudimentary building with no real roof and half built walls. We just stared at each other for what seemed like hours, although I am sure it was only a few seconds. I realized that every day she looks up from her very difficult work and sees a world of hotel guests who live a life quite different from hers. This morning as I watched her 7 year old Janet chop the wood for the morning fire, and the younger children search for wood, I knew that we were being called to her and her family. Mark, John and I headed down to her hut with food and kitchen cooking supplies and we were greeted with such an innocent joy. The children ran out to embrace us and Mamma soon lost her tenuous protective nature and also embraced us. Tonight we took more food and we were greeted as family. And that is what the people of Uganda are like - loving, warm and open, even to us "strangers."

The children in our village do not go to school as it is at least a 5 mile walk each way. It is not that they are not willing to walk that far; it is because so many of these children have been abducted by child traffickers. I also learned today that several of their mothers ended their own lives in the grief of their children being taken and knowing what life would now face their precious children. When we visited the schools last Friday I walked into a first grade classroom in which the teacher was using a poster to teach her students about the dangers of child trafficking. It is so very sad that this goes on in the world, and worse so that it is tolerated. These children are so precious. Building a school on our land is the only way to protect them while they are being more formally educated. I don't know how we will accomplish that yet, but I know that we will.

It is a true honor and great blessing to be working in Uganda. Team Rafiki and The Giving Circle are a strong partnership. And together we are growing our family in this village and the surrounding area.While we have provided many different kinds of tools and education here, each of us will be taking home to the US so much more than we came here with. The serenity and warmth that has infused our hearts and souls here will far outweigh the caretakers house, pig pens and chicken coops and gardens that we made. Every day I give thanks for the direction that sent me here. And every day I give thanks for my family and friends who are so supportive of our work so far from home.


Delays in blog postings....

So, we've been working very hard these last few days. Also, there's been a stomach virus type thing hitting one of us each day along with sun poisoning, so it's been interesting to say the least. I just wanted to touch base so that you know we have not forgotten to update you. Besides these, the internet has not worked in a day or so for us to post.

The Rafiki building is more than half done, it's awesome! Also, the pig pen is almost finished. Mark will post more pictures tonight so that you can see the progress.

We planted the moringa trees, some fruit trees, beans and watermelon as well. All the villagers are so happy and great us with such love each and every day. One little boy, named Adam who is HIV positive (only 2 years old or so), was glued to me all day today (literally). He carried stone and helped me plant and water. What a cutie he is!

I wish you all could see Az with the children - as soon as they show up, they flock to him and hang off him, hold his hands and follow him around. He's a natural.

When we went to Kampala yesterday to see the Ugandan Crafters, I tried to find SGS Uganda - never know, may want to work there one day!

I have to agree with Mark, we LOVE UGANDA, especially the PEOPLE!


Friday, July 30, 2010

A very special day in so many ways

Hi, it’s Mark

Its been another day of great heat and very hard, always thirsty, sun burns and just dead tired, but far more so another day filled with my “family” more thank
Kelly and Azurah but all my family, our team who Kelly, Azurah and could not love more and our Ugandan family our children not just in our home but everywhere
and greatly so in our village, the site of the Koi Koi House and the whole project.

John and Denise have great expertise in Africa, this is far different for me than anywhere we/The Giving Circle have ever work and I am learning a great deal
from them and all that I can see. Kelly and I feel so blessed to have found them and all this team each and every one of them they are all so special and working
so hard and loving the people of Uganda, REALLY the children.

Our Village “ Why-li- ca” like all of Uganda is so profoundly poor made up of mud huts. They have greeted us as family and thank us always for coming to them,
that means each and everyone of you, they welcome and need us all.

Many of you know the story of my childhood dream to work in Africa also what I dreamed over the last 21 years of naming an orphanage of my love Kelly.

Today is our 17th wedding anniversary. For me there could be no greater joy then watching my love Kelly (Koi Koi) here loving the children and interacting with the village woman and seeing Azurah covered with children hugging them, carrying them around, it's a dream come true.

In our village there was the most beautiful little boy who fell in love with Az and Az with him. The boy in his tattered rags and no shoes and is severely crossed eyed and has the worlds biggest smile. This little one told Azurah through an interpreter “I like you because you don’t care about what I look like”.

There is a group of eve doctors here from the UK who has agreed to see this sweet boy for us.

There is nothing more I could ask for but tonight at the meal the team gave Kelly and I a great cake and gift and a card with notes that brought us such joy and tears.

The days are filled with great joy and hard work and at times, sad news, we just found the test results for one of our teen girls who has been feeling very ill.
She lost both parents to AIDS, with great sadness I must tell you her test was positive.

In our village over 500 children can not go to school because of no funds and no school clothes, the fear is too great that walking too far the children will be
stolen as many are. But with your love and help we will give her and all our children, and all to come, and this village and its people...

So yes it’s been a day crazy heat and very hard work, always thirsty, sun burns and just dead tired and also great joys, OMG I love Uganda.

I'm sorry....

This is Kelly and I inadvertently rejected all your comments by accident. I've changed the settings to not moderate comments as we can't check frequently. If you don't mind, can you please re-post them? Thank you!!!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Joan Smith writes, Don't come to Africa

- if you've already determined that people are poor because they are lazy.
- if you aren't moved to do something when you see abject poverty, people who are sick and have no health care providers at all, schools with no resources, school-aged children too far from public education and too poor for private education.
- if you can't tolerate no schedule, standing around waiting, daily detours for cell phones, food for others, banking and people who have so little asking for more than you have to give.
- if you're not flexible with your time, your thinking, your attitudes and your prejudices.
- if you can't see beyond the poverty and lack or resources and see the love, caring, compassion and humanity in life here.
- if your wardrobe can't tolerate red clay stuck to your shoes and clay dust clinging to everything else.
- if you don't want to be awakened by a rooster at 3:30 and 4:15 and 6:05.
- if you can't accept heartfelt gratitude for the smallest gesture of help.
- if you can't say no.

Mark again, its slow but here are more.

Its slow but here are more pictures.