Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit the site of the recent landslide, just a district or two away from where I stay in Mbale.  I was not prepared for what I saw.  Uganda is completely green, and the hills and mountains are covered in trees and farms.  However, one of the mountains was just missing a big chunk of anything green.  There was just a huge divot of dirt and rubble down the mountain.  It was the most sobering thing to be hiking up mounds of dirt that were fraught with fragments of bricks, dishware, and plants.  It was thought-invoking to realize that these mounds were now the final resting place of an African mother and her three children.

Only eight people died in the landslide – four bodies lost in the mounds of dirt, four recovered – because everyone was at market when the landslide happened.  However, 421 people were affected, either through losing their houses or farms, which are their livelihood.

The government and other organizations have donated tents for those without homes.  The people in neighboring villages have given up part of their land to house these tents.  It is interesting – the only form of wealth for people in the villages is land.  The people don’t own much, but land has the potential to grow food, house cattle, or be rented.  Yet the people in neighboring villages have cleared space from their gardens, destroying plants that could bring in money or feed the family, to house their neighbors.  After talking to some of those dislocated, we learned that the neighbors with houses often give food to help feed the tented ones.

It is interesting to me how cheerful everyone was.  They all smiled when they met us, shook our hands, and allowed us to talk to them and ask them questions about their experiences (one woman was in her bean field and literally saw trees moving down the hill).  That is one of the great things about this culture – the people are all very religious and have attributed God’s love to the fact that so many of them survived and they are being taken care of now.

Our team is working on having a donation drive here in Mbale to help feed the families.  I am very excited about the potential we have.


A house that barely missed being demolished!




So I have not been on an actual computer for quite a while!  I can easily get on the Internet with my Kindle, but it is very difficult to write long blog posts without an actual keyboard.  But now that I am on an actual computer, I am taking advantage and writing a blog post as well as several well-overdue emails.

I am basically done with getting surveys filled out for my research, which is a relief.  I haven’t started looking at the results or anything yet because I need to put everything on the computer when I get back and analyze it that way.  That will be a crazy project for when I get home; I’m sure I’m going to basically live on a computer for that first week or two.  People have been really helpful and friendly, aside from those people who want to be paid in order to do it.

The language barrier here is very interesting to me: I can explain something slowly and clearly, they will nod and say yes or ok, and then a while later they will ask me a question that I had already answered.  And I wonder what they *thought* I had been saying the whole time…

As far as humanitarian projects go, they are going well!  We are finishing up water filters today.  I attended a training about how to be culturally sensitive in addressing issues about adolescent sexuality, which was semi-helpful; truthfully, I felt I already knew most of it.  The first day they talked all about counseling, giving the basics of how to do it (which I had learned in Psychology classes, although other people said they already knew it as well).  The second day they actually talked about the sex issues, showing us a bunch of pictures of genitals affected with STDs and then talking about some of the issues with teenagers and sex.  There are a TON of myths that people here have about sex and pregnancy… for example, many believe that if a girl jumps up and down after sex, she will not get pregnant.  But that is just a side note.

I have to go write some project proposals, so I better end this now!  But everything is going well!

Deborah Updated

So, we have been working hard to find some more information about our lovely Deborah.  Well, Pastor Philip has been doing most of the work; it is really lucky that he is so passionate about helping the children.  He went to Soroti to find some more information about Deborah’s origins, and he has pieced together a (questionable) story about her.  This is complicated, though, so be prepared.

According to the lady who originally took her in (her current caretaker’s mother), Deborah’s dad was an Iteso who was working as a school teacher among the Karamojong tribe when he married Deborah’s mom.  Deborah’s dad, who was apparently Original Lady’s brother, later died.  Deborah’s mom got remarried a couple of years later and started having more children, and stepdad convinced her to abandon Deborah and move away with him. Deborah was left behind as a child maid in some rich person’s house, alone and without a friend or family member in her world, when Original Lady found out about this and decided to take her in.  She took her in but sent her to be with her daughter after some time, due to lack of money and space.

This is suspicious because Original Lady claimed to have lived with Deborah’s mom and dad, but did not know Deborah’s mom’s name. Even in America, that would be weird, but in Africa it is unthinkable.  There is no way that Original Lady lived with Deborah’s mom but could not even remember her name.  Even if she had not lived with her, it is unthinkable that she would not know the name of her brother’s wife.  Secondly, she had a lot of random, barely-related children living with her.  She claimed she was doing it out of good will, but also mentioned that she was getting money from NGOs for hosting them.  Thirdly, Deborah did not seem happy or excited to be “home”.  At all.  She even mentioned that she preferred living in the Namatala slums.

And we still have not solved the mystery of her apparent abuse.

But, good news: although we have not found all of the information about Deborah’s family, we are forging ahead with the education aspect of her life.  Today, I met with Pastor Philip and we took Deborah to enroll her in Primary school.  She will have to start at a lower level, because she has forgotten things since her years of schooling, but that’s to be expected.  After all, what child will remember everything he/she learned in school whilst being forced to cook and clean like a tiny slave? I paid her tuition today, so tomorrow Jenny and I will go with Deborah to buy some uniforms, notebooks, etc. and she will be set to start school on Monday!  I am hoping that this will help her feel more loved and open up instead of being so shy and timid.  Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing… but when it’s caused by lack of love and child abuse, it really is.

I am really starting to love this girl.  Because many people have expressed an interest in helping, I am looking into creating a bank account or fund for her (which she wouldn’t be able to access herself until she is older; maybe Pastor Philip… but we are still working out the details). I will keep updating about her!

I am really starting to love this shy, sweet girl.  Because many people have expressed an interest in helping her, I am looking into starting a bank account or fund to help pay for her schooling.  I’ll update more about that when I have more details!

This is Deborah.  I love seeing her smile, but she always turns away and hides her face when that happens, so I haven’t captured her *true* smile on camera yet.


A week or two ago, when we were wandering around Namatala Slums assessing the need and the interest of the communities, we had dozens of eager children following us, grabbing our hands and generally wanting attention from the white people.  However, one stood out among the rest: she was a girl of about 11 who was not smiling, laughing, or trying to get any positive attention from us as we walked around.  She was just following and watching.  When she got the opportunity, she would shyly approach us and tell us that she wanted to go to school.  She told us that she had no parents or living relatives. Although it broke our hearts, the Child of Hope representative Pastor Philip told her that they were unable to put her in their school (for various reasons).  Throughout the entire conversation, she would not make any eye contact.  When we left, several of the HELP International girls asked to give her a hug, during which she would not move but stand rigid and look to the side.  It was heartbreaking – how much child abuse had this girl gone through that she was even afraid to make eye contact?

The sad thing was that this was not the first time Deborah had followed us around, hoping for a chance at a better life.  It had happened the previous time we were walking around Namatala.  Everyone was greatly affected by this girl, and everyone kept saying “I wish there was something we could do… but what can we do?”

Well, I decided that there was something I could do.  To go to primary school in Uganda can cost as little as 100,000 shillings a term.  There are three terms in a year, which amounts to 300,000 shillings, or about $120.  If I could help this girl go to school, it would potentially cost $10 a month.  That wouldn’t be very detrimental at all.  So I contacted the Pastor, and he agreed to help me work out the tragic issues of Deborah.

Because life in Namatala is so transient, he wanted to get the background about her family before we could enroll her in school: it would be tragic to have her all set up for school but have her suddenly go missing one day, with no way we could help.  So he scouted the slums until he found where she was staying; then he went to ask the caretaker for some more information.  The caretaker was very wary of any questions, and quite unhelpful.  However, he did find that Deborah is from the Karamojong tribe, while her caretaker is from the Iteso tribe.  This is significant because these two tribes are enemies: there is no ethical reason that this Karamojong girl would be living with this lady from her enemy tribe.  Due to the little information Pastor was able to get from the lady, we have ascertained that Deborah was either 1) kidnapped from the Karamojong tribe in order to be a little house-servant or to somehow generate money or 2) sold by her parents to this Iteso lady.  Although Deborah told us she does not have parents, it is nearly certain that this was a ruse invented by the caretaker in order to keep Deborah subservient.  Deborah does not even know from where she originated.

Neither option seems very conducive to having a good childhood or a hopeful future.  Pastor Philip has gone to Soroti District – where the Karamojong tribe lives – with Deborah today so that he can hopefully track down her family and figure out her story.  Once we do that, we will be able to reunite her with her parents (that is, if she was kidnapped and not sold) and get her enrolled in school.  If it did turn out that she was kidnapped, we will have to look for other people to take care of her – people who will love her and not abuse her like her current caretakers.

Out of all the destitute and hurt children in Namatala, we are not sure why this young, hopeless girl has excited our emotions so greatly.  We are not sure why God has directed her to us, but we hope that He will provide the means so that we will be able to help this girl rise above her horrendous circumstances and make a life for herself.

(P.S. I will have to get a picture from someone to post on here later.  The girl who took the pictures is not in Mbale right now.)

Challenges to our Medical Clinic

One of the biggest cultural challenges is how everyone here seems to love spending time waiting and relaxing or having long, meaningless meanings (where we all give speeches about how thankful we are.  Which is cool, but when we do it every time we meet?) instead of actually getting down to business and working.  One morning we went, we “rested” for a couple of hours, had tea for an hour or two, and then rested again, accomplishing absolutely nothing that first day.  Which turned out to be good, because the next day was grueling labor and I don’t think I could have handled two days of that.  But then the ladies tried to get us to stay an extra day “because we lost so much time climbing the mountain” … it took about an hour, and we spent hours resting… but the mountain is the thing that made us lose time?  It’s a very interesting cultural phenomena for sure, and I am trying to get used to it, but it has taken some time. I guess it is true that Americans try to multitask something awful.

The other challenge is that the men occasionally lose all motivation unless we pay them.  Which we don’t have money to pay them… we already spent all of our money getting to Uganda and buying them everything for the medical clinic, and they had agreed to do the labor if we provided the supplies.  While we did a lot of the labor – for their free medical clinic – they stood around and watched.  Some of the girls carried 110-pound bags of cement on their backs, and we could be carrying pretty heavy bricks, but they would just stand there and watch, while occasionally laughing.  I don’t know if this is a cultural thing – don’t do anything unless you are getting paid, or maybe it plays into the whole spend-hours-resting idea – but it is something we are definitely going to need to work around.  It has been discouraging, to say the least, because the men had been quite inspiring thus far with their diligent efforts.  For example, they donated the land for the health clinic and excavated the entire foundation within one weeks’ time.  They helped to push the gigantic brick machine up the hellish mountain.  So I am not sure from whence this change-of-heart in the men came.

Other than the medical clinic challenges, everything is going well.  I am working with a Pastor named Philip to solve the mystery of this girl named Deborah… but I shall have to do a separate post about her later.  Her story is very sad.  Tomorrow I am going to teach some business classes to a women’s group we are working with; we have some great things planned for them which will hopefully be sustainable after we leave.  So while we are doing some manual labor, it’s to show that we are invested in our projects and to save money on labor costs.  It is also very motivating (when the men have the dedication to get everything done), especially when the children help.  So hopefully we are doing some good for these communities!

Building a Medical Clinic

As I may have mentioned, one of our bigger projects is building a medical clinic in this extremely rural village.  As in, we have to drive an hour out of town to get there.  Then we have to hike an hour and a half (and this is a hike that I think could potentially kill me one day). Then we get to a small village.  THEN we have another half-hour hike on this tiny footpath through the foliage to actually get to our village.

As I said, it’s pretty rural.  But I think I already talked about it.

A bunch of us went up Monday morning and stayed the night.  The villagers were on top of getting everything ready – they had already excavated the site for the medical clinic and dug furrows for the foundation.  We, the amazingly strong volunteers, got to help haul rocks up and down the mountains in order to fill the foundations.  Literally up and down the mountains.  We had these burlap bags that we would put them in and we would sling these bags over our backs and begin our painstaking journey (either up or down, depending on which site we were at).

But the amazing thing was that even the little children helped us carry these rocks during their school breaks.  We would see the children go out in lines towards the rock sites and then come back carrying rocks the size of their heads – on their heads.  It was the most humbling thing to see these children working so hard in order to build a better life for themselves.  The women were insanely strong, as well.  I guess they don’t want any more of their children dying.  One man told us a story of how his ten kids got sick at the same time, so he had to get the villagers to help him carry them to a medical clinic far away.  By the time they got there, the doctors had gone home for the night, so they had to wait.  All of the children died.  All. Ten. Of. His. Children. Died.

Well, I will have to cut this short because I have a meeting soon.  Let it be known that I am not a big fan of rocks, but I am a big fan of medical clinics and children not dying.

Namatala Slums

I want to give some more insight about Namatala Slums.  The first time I walked through it, I detached myself from the situation because I did not want to be emotionally hurt by seeing others’ needs.  I tried not to think about all the problems in the slums because I did not want to think too deeply about the difficulties and trials that are a part of life there. Yet I think I almost need to become emotionally involved in the situation because it inspires a passion and a love for the people so that I am devoted to doing everything I can for them and not just satisfied with feeble attempts. Hopefully writing about it will help make it more of a reality for me (and everyone), because this is not just some commercial asking for donations and money: the things I have seen are real, and they are people’s lives.

Namatala Slums is composed of huts – the kind of huts that people generally think of when they think of Africa.  Many of them are round hovels made with mud and thatched roofs.  There are some bigger, rectangular ones – but these are subdivided into rooms so that one family will occupy the space the size of a dorm room.  These rooms – these tiny huts – have an average of 8 people living in them.  One of the rooms had eighteen people living in it.  I doubt that they had any room to stay inside during the day; during the night they doubtlessly slept uncomfortably crammed together, probably with some of the smaller children on top of others.  I honestly have no idea how it would have worked out – even with seven people just sitting inside a room to talk about water sanitation, we were cramped.

As Namatala is one of the poorest areas in the world, I would wager that everyone lives on less than $1 a day.  It costs 200 shillings to buy “clean” tap water, so many people use the creeks to get water.  We walked past one of these creeks, and it looked like liquid mud flowing down a trench (also made of mud).  I cannot imagine how the people manage to keep themselves alive at all, let alone raising families while doing it.  We saw children bathing in these muddy waters, and I’ve been told that some people also use them as bathrooms (unsurprising, since we have seen children using alleyways as bathrooms).  When we asked the people about water sanitation, they say that they cannot afford charcoal to boil their water, and that their families are always plagued by diarrheal diseases.  This is especially detrimental because the rate of malnourishment is so high – a child could die from something as simple as diarrhea.

Did I mention that the children *love* seeing us?  They run up to us, hold our hands, try to hug us, and follow us around wherever we walk.  Besides just the cultural excitement about seeing white people, these children are excited because we will give them attention.  Consider the parent’s perspectives: they have had these children (often against the women’s wills, and without a partner or someone to help them), they are spending all of their time just trying to survive and make that $1 a day; they don’t have time to tickle or play with their children.  They are doing all they can to keep themselves alive!  Because the parents aren’t involved in the kids’ lives, the children will love anyone who has a spare minute for them.  This has other consequences: the kids grow up with no role models, child physical and sexual abuse is rife throughout the slums, children turn to selling sex for food or gifts so HIV/AIDS is really high, amongst many other things, but that is a discussion for another time.

As might be evident, there are lots of problems in Namatala Slums.  The ones we want to tackle are the sanitation issues: we are raising money to buy water filters and build soilets (a special, cheap eco-toilet) for communities in the slums.  We will also offer classes for the community in basic sanitation and health (with our wonderful partner Child of Hope interpreting). The HELP team last year installed three water filters in the slums, and the great thing is that people are still using them, and those communities have been unaffected by diarrhea and cholera outbreaks that have plagued the areas directly around them.  So we have good evidence that people will accept the water filters and that they will make a difference in their lives.  While we will not be able to solve every problem, we hope to make an impact in at least one or two areas in the community.  I believe that change comes one step at a time, and I look forward to working with the community, no matter how heartbreaking it may be.

I didn’t take pictures (I felt ridiculous getting out my camera in front of a ton of people who will probably never hold one in their life), but I am going to snatch one or two pictures from a team member.  This might give you some visualization (note how the mom in the second picture has to wash her child outside because there is not room in their room; and, since the floor is dirt, that doesn’t seem too wise anyway).