When someone first walks into Ms Agnes' orphanage, they typically feel sad for the children and sad for how little they have. Compared to those around them, though, they have much.
When we arrived, I was so excited to find all the beds made up with the sweet pillowcases, sheets, and blankets we took last year. This year, we purchased the heavier blankets that they needed (more like a comforter/blanket), and today we installed new mosquito nets over all the beds. The ceilings are higher there, and the bunkbeds are stacked three high, so the bottom bunk dweller never had full coverage with a regular net, and the net is stretched so tightly that the middle bunk kiddo can't get out at night! Edward helped us locate treated nets that were large enough, and today Robert climbed every bunk and mcgyvered the nets up. The roof is tin, so hanging them is tricky business. My duct tape suggestion was overruled, and he did a great job of using some of the existing wood framework to build rope systems that would suspend the nets directly over the middle of each bunk! Now the children's beds are not only clean, they are cozy, and SAFE! Praise God!!!
In the last two days, I have seen many times people in small huts with nothing to sleep on but a thin piece of foam which gets washed out as necessary and set in the sun to dry. Oftentimes, an entire family will share this piece of foam. Compared to this, the children at Agnes', each with their own bed and blankets and pillow are so very fortunate. When I turn my perspective around, though, and compare them to the thick mattresses my children have with at most two children to a room, and so many blankets and pillows that we have extra closets to store them in, Agnes' doesn't seem so great. Why is it that when we want something, we compare ourselves to those who have more, and when we want to feel better about ourselves, we compare ourselves to those who have less? Robert and Kaitlynn discussed a plan the other day in which everyone in Africa and America would trade places for a year. Are you up for it? Why not???
We are also trying to do a better job of understanding cultural context before we make plans and decisions here for and with Ms Agnes. For example, we have been talking and praying about getting her some chickens. Chickens often wander freely in Uganda, but we know this can give the children worms, so we intended to build/buy a coop. Ron and Seth, two members of our team, have even just built their own coop to have some experience. We arrived here, though, and began discussing how the best way was to get the coop or materials, and it became apparent (when they mentioned materials we would not have used to build what was in our brains!) that we were not on the same page! After several discussions about it, our friend Pastor Matthias took us to see several chicken "coops" done locally, and then he took Ron and Seth into town to see a place where someone is seeing more westernized coops (obviously catering to missionaries like us!). We explained to him that Ron felt very convicted to do it in the way that is the most appropriate for Uganda, and Pastor Matthias was touched. He said most Mzungus (it means "white", and is the word they use for all white people-- they say we all look the same!) don't care about how things work in Uganda, they just come in and do things the American way, and then blame the Ugandans when it doesn't work after a few months. He got the chairman of the village to ride with us to see both "broilers" and "layers.". What an adventure! You'll have to see the attached pictures. One coop was three times larger than the house the family lived in!!! Once I wrapped my brain around all of this, we explained to Agnes that we are fairly certain that we can't get that done in the time we're here, and she's gotten a "Pastor Matthias approved" estimate for us. It's still in the works, but we're hoping to be able to finish raising funds for that when we return, so we can get this going. Please pray about that for us!
The clinic has similar cultural struggles. We were discussing tonight at dinner that when people come to the clinic, they say they have malaria (fever), flu (any respiratory illness), measles (rash),and paralysis (pain in their hands or legs!). Once you understand these things, it's much easier to work!
We are constantly seeking out that kind of contextual understanding here. We talked about how great it would be to add a shower to the water faucet, then thought about how many showers we've seen outside of our hotel (exactly zero), and discussed with Agnes how she gives her children baths. It didn't take us long to realize that we could spend the money and install a shower, but it would never get used. Our ideas about what should go in the garden were the same. We're learning to listen first, and put things in context. Our idea of "better" isn't always even "good."
The garden is tilled, and we plant seeds tomorrow!! They do it a little differently here, and build a "germinating bed" for some of their plants, so we've been receiving instruction from Agnes and the neighbors and the workmen around the orphanage about that. Mainly, we're going to put the seeds in, and pray pray pray over that land! God's blessing will be the key to success for a Mzungu installed garden!
At lunch today, all of the children were drinking lots of water... A sign that we're doing something right, and hopefully the key to keeping them healthier! Diamond and Amanda (our team members) have been saving their water bottles and encouraging us to do the same. Today we took them to Agnes', and showed the children to fill them up to drink! You'll see in the picture of their lunch that they all did it at lunchtime!!! We won't be bothered by the fact that they share bottles, let them roll in the floor, and have no way to wash them. This is Africa, and they are so fortunate to have clean water to drink.
Today we also handed out the school supplies. What fun!!! I wish that I could somehow show each of you the smiles, hugs, squeals, screams, clapping, etc that go along with receiving gifts here. The teachers were so grateful for the pencils, glue, markers, etc, and the children were delighted with their Individual pencil bags filled with a pencil, sharpener, ruler, eraser, and crayons! One little girl giggled uncontrollably when she discovered the pencil shavings inside her sharpener!!!
Tomorrow two of our team members, Ron and Seth, are headed back Stateside. Please pray for safe travels for them. They have been a huge blessing to our team, and have won the hearts of several children at the orphanage. (I think perhaps these children have won some of theirs too!)
Thank you all for your prayers, words of encouragement, and support. We are so grateful!
Keeping it in context,