The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Family Backpack. We respect everyone’s spirituality equally and will consider travel articles from all faiths.
I first felt a connection to Uganda after reading the book, “Kisses From Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption.” It tells the story of an American teenager who volunteers in Uganda after high school. Originally, she planned to stay for one year and then attend college, but instead, she stayed in Uganda. Katie’s story spoke to me in a way no other story has and it fanned the flame of my faith.
My husband read the book to our children, and a few months later, our 5-year-old son came downstairs with his wallet in his hand. He pulled out three $1 bills, put them on the counter and said, “Momma, write this down and send this to Katie: ‘Dear Katie, we love the poor people.’”
I thought it was very sweet, but of course, I was not going to send $3 and a “we love the poor people” note to Katie. However, my son insisted that we send the money, and so we did. Two weeks later, he received a letter from Katie with a beaded key chain. He was elated and so was I.
Seemingly out of the blue, months later God pressed a water well in Africa into my spirit. And although I did not know why or how, I knew we were destined to go to Africa and sponsor a well. We did not know anyone in Africa or anyone who needed a well much less the funds to sponsor one. I did believe, however, that someone in Africa needed a well and my family was meant to do this. It was a calling.
Suddenly I had an unshakeable sense of urgency regarding this unknown well in Africa. So, we began actively setting aside money every month to fund this unknown well.
My own logic, emotions, selfish desires would never spur me to pour this amount of money into an unknown well for people I had never met during this time in my life. It took a tremendous amount of faith to walk this out when everything in my mind and emotions were telling me this was crazy.
We started to research African water wells and eventually were uniquely connected to The Amazima Secondary School, a Christ-centered school outside of Jinja, Uganda in need of a water well. The Amazima Secondary School is Katie’s school.
And so, early one morning in June of 2016, our family – my husband, 10-year-old daughter, three sons, ages 9, 7 and 4 and myself – boarded a flight to Uganda for a 12-day trip. Despite being a fairly rigid, schedule-loving momma, our children traveled well. Thankfully.
We navigated 24-30 hours of travel through various airports, cultures, and customs without any major faux pas.
We arrived in Uganda both exhausted and thrilled. Our friends Keith and Lisa escorted us from Entebbe to Jinja. Traveling through Uganda was one of the most harrowing parts of our adventure. There were few if any traffic signals, signs, laws or seat belts.
Our children served as tiny ambassadors and the locals greeted us warmly and, possibly because of their earnestness, with less skepticism. Everyone seemed to understand the universal language of family, love, and exhaustion.
We took malaria medication a couple of days before the trip until a week after we were home, but because there are multiple strains of malaria, it was very important that we avoided mosquitos. Aside from the meds, we used DEET repellent and covered our beds with mosquito nets.
We were immunized for Hepatitis A, typhoid and yellow fever, which is required by the Ugandan government. We were also given a prescription for Cipro which is ingested in the case of diarrhea and typhoid. (I came home with a fever and GI symptoms and had to use the Cipro, so I was glad to have it.)
In the end, we spent $1,500 to get the appropriate immunizations, none of which were covered by insurance. However, we were undeterred by the cost because we were on a mission.
Our family stayed at the Sole Hope Guest House in Jinja. Mary prepared delicious home-made dinners for us and allowed us to use the kitchen to make breakfast and lunch. Sarah, tidied our rooms each day and washed our laundry. And by wash I mean in a bucket, line dried and ironed. (Ironing was necessary to kill any mango worm larvae that may have attached to the clothes while line drying.)
Our first official full day in Uganda was spent exploring Jinja. We were invited to participate in a devotional led by the Sole Hope Staff and they spent an inordinate amount of time praising God. Why is it that those who have so little are thankful for so much?
Next we loaded up on bodas (motorcycle taxis) – without helmets – and headed into town. Two family members plus a Ugandan driver rode on one boda. It was scary, but we miraculously traversed the seemingly countless potholes, pedestrians and vehicles following no obvious traffic laws.
The following day was an exciting one for us. Our 7-year-old son had been asking to be baptized for six months consistently. Thus, despite crocodiles, snakes and bilharzia (an infection caused by a parasitic worm), he bravely entered the Nile River and professed his faith once again.
We went to Uganda to sponsor a water well, but what we got in return was priceless.
On Wednesday we headed to Good Shepherds Fold, an organization that does its best to feed, clothe, shelter and educate vulnerable children. My husband and I took a tour of the home and our children immediately started playing with the Good Shepherd’s Fold kids – all of whom were very welcoming.
I then took some time for myself and prayed alone at the well. After I returned to my family, we participated in a medical outreach program with Sole Hope. The excursion included 50 volunteers and staff members who traveled to a nearby village where approximately 250 children and elderly needed help.
Once we arrived, we washed the villager’s feet and removed the embedded jiggers with straight pins. My husband carried the patients from the foot washing station to the jigger removal site and my two older children handed out Dum-Dum lollipops to the children having the procedure done.
Finally, we presented them with new shoes. Of the approximately 200 children who had their feet stuck with straight pins that day, I only remember two crying.
On Friday, our family toured the grounds of the Amazima Secondary School – where our well was drilled. While there for the dedication of the well, we joined hearts and hands with the school and with thanks, dedicated the well to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The well, which was completed in 2017 and is situated approximately a mile away from the Nile River, is able to accommodate 700 students and staff. It supplies water for the kitchen, sinks, showers, etc.
On Saturday, our family headed to Murchison River Lodge for a three-day, two-night safari. Nessa, our driver, and George, our park guide, told us wonderful stories while we drove by a breathtaking landscape, the Victoria Nile River and wildlife such as giraffes, elephants and hippopotamus. Our children seemed almost as pleased with standing on the seats of the van with their heads popping out of the top as with the safari itself.
Finally, it was time to return home. We were sad to leave but also glad to be home. We were all inspired by the joy and gratefulness demonstrated by the Ugandan children and families with so little. We learned when we choose to give our lives away through serving God and our neighbors we actually find our lives—joy, purpose, contentment and a deep seated sense of satisfaction. Without question, this was the most soul-satisfying adventure of our lives.