Just a few hours before we left Jinja, I finally met my sponsor girl.

After a few days of being in town, I got a glimpse of what life was like for these kids and how much the staff at Children of Grace truly cared for them. I really felt for these kids and how hard their lives were without food, education, and somebody to guide them. As soon as I signed up to sponsor a child, I bugged the mentors about meeting my sponsor child before leaving Uganda.

So it happened that the following week, my sponsor girl had gone back to the village, which was out of CoG’s jurisdiction. The mentors told me to pick another one, as if picking the first one wasn’t hard enough. At the office, I read story upon heartbreaking story about each child that had applied for sponsorship. And it was tough, but I narrowed it down to four kids. I told the mentors to pick the one that needed it the most and who hopefully hadn’t gone back to the village.

On our very last day, we had a couple hours to shop for souvenirs. We dropped off part of the group in Jinjatown, and Mary took me to meet Shifah.

First, we went to her Aunt’s house, where Mary thought Shifah would initially be. When we arrived, her aunt told us that Shifah was at school, so she tagged along with us to find Shifah. After talking with the school teachers, we found out that she wasn’t there either. Our next stop would be her grandmother’s house, which is where we finally found her.

The story I learned about Shifah is that her father passed away, and after that, her mother abandoned her. Typically in third world countries, when a woman’s husbands dies and she finds another man to marry, the new husband doesn’t want to provide for the children from her previous marriages. What happens is that these kids are left with the child’s paternal family, so their mother can run off with the new man.

Shifah’s grandmother doesn’t have the funds to take care of her but wants her to go to school. School in Uganda isn’t free, not even government school, so Shifah was repeatedly sent home because she couldn’t pay her fees. Hence a reason they applied for sponsorship. Shifah lives with either her aunt or grandmother, both of whom live in one-room houses and care for other children.

Shifah and I. Note the fact how tiny Shifah is and that I am sitting on a stool.

When I first met Shifah, she seemed scared. I’m 95% sure that she had no idea what was happening. In her eyes, a mzungu came to see her, and grandmother was very happy. Then grandmother told her to greet the mzungu and take a picture with her. Shifah’s grandmother brought out her school folder, and Shifah showed me her work and her grades. I’m happy to say that she is doing pretty well in school!

During all the commotion, some of the neighborhood kids came out to see what was going on. When they saw that I had a camera, they wanted me to take pictures. These kids weren’t shy about getting their picture taken either!



Mattresses all packed up and ready to go. (via Neal Reese)

For the second week in Jinja, we were part of a teen girls camp that focused on bullying. Since the bullying has gotten progressively worse, the Children of Grace staff thought it would be a good idea to focus on that theme for this August’s camp, instead of the usual all-ages boys and girls’ camp.

via Kerri Perdew

There were almost fifty girls in total. My favorite part about the camp was seeing them have fun. The camp was a safe space for the girls to not worry about their every day problems and just hang out. The girls ate full meals, three times a day, played games, had praise and worship twice a day, and were able to learn the skills they needed to approach bullying, whether it was happening to them or witnessing it happen to another person. I enjoyed getting to know them. They asked us questions like, “Is it true that Obama sacrificed one of his kids? Is it true that there are no poor people in the US? Is it true that black people couple with (date) white?” It was very interesting to learn about their perception of America and also what they are being taught. I also learned that these girls are very smart. They work hard in school and work harder to keep on the right path. It’s common in Uganda to not even reach high school and be a young mother. I’m so proud of these girls and that I was able to meet them.

Preparing our meal. All of our food at camp was cooked outside like this. (via Marlene Kowalski)

taken by Marlene

via Marlene Kowalski

via Robin Latendresse

Kelsey and I with a few of the girls.

Arts and Crafts: Tie-Dye (via Marlene Kowalski)

via Kerri Perdew

One fun part of camp was debate. They love to debate and are incredibly good at it. Everyone was so proper and made their points very clearly. I was made part of the judges’ panel.

via Kerri Perdew

On the second to last day, we took all the girls to a resort, where they were able to go swimming. Unfortunately, even though they right next to the Nile River, most of them don’t know how to swim. Here, you can see Rachel, who swam for her high school team, teaching Sylvia how to swim.

On the last day, as our time was coming to a close, Teo called for a hugging party. OK, that’s not a real thing, but they played some music and off we went. As I was hugging the girls and saying goodbye, I started crying, not realizing until that moment how much I was going to miss them. I’m waiting until the day that everything lines up perfectly and I’ll be able to go back and see everyone again. Until then, I’ve sent some letters to my kids, hoping to hear from them soon.

A few of us on the last day (via Robin Latendresse)

Jinja Adventures

The Nile, the longest river in the world.

While I was in Uganda, we had a few moments of free time and a whole day to do whatever I wanted. I was able to go whitewater rafting, walk through central market in Jinjatown, take a boat tour of the source of the Nile, where Lake Victoria meets the Nile River, try local food, and more.

Fresh jackfruit! Beats sugarcane anyday! (via Marlene Kowalski)

For those of you wondering what the food is like…

There are a lot of starches and with good reason, too. It’s food to make you feel full. Since many people don’t get enough meals in a day, they eat a lot of corn products, cassava, potatoes, pumpkins, squash, rice, peanuts, and beans. Jackfruit, plantains, mangos, and pineapple, especially pineapple, every day. Stewed kale, salsa, chapati, and tea with milk and lots of sugar. Chapati with an omelette rolled up inside is called a rolex, and it’s absolutely delicious. People don’t eat much meat, since it’s expensive, but tilapia is very common and was probably my all time favorite thing I had while I was there.

Uncooked matoke/green plantains (via Neal Reese)

via Cindy Hildebrand

One afternoon, walking back from the source of the Nile, what looked like a million bats flew out of a tree and swirled above our heads. Kerri warned us to watch out for bat pee.

At the end of all 8 rapids. (via Neal Reese)

Rafting in the Nile is one of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had. The only other time I’ve done whitewater rafting was seven years ago, up in Willow Creek in Northern California, and it wasn’t anything like the Nile. We faced class five rapids, and not a single person fell out, except for our guide. After all the rapids, we jumped out and floated down the river for a few minutes. So beautiful.

I guess you aren’t really allowed to take pictures without asking first, so this is the only photo I was able to sneak.

This is Central Market, where we went to pick up fresh tilapia, avocados, and tomatoes for our last dinner in Jinja.

This lady was such a boss at filleting tilapia. She made it look so easy. If it was me, I would have already cut all my fingers off.

Grad Party + Sponsor Day

Kelsey with Winnie and Angel (via Robin Latendresse)

On Saturday we had Sponsor Day, which was also joined with Teo’s graduation party. Teo was once a sponsor child at Children of Grace, and she persevered, graduated from university, and is now giving back by working as a child mentor at CoG. In celebration, the mentors invited about fifty kids to come hang out with us, eat a full meal, and have a dance party. During the party, Teo was able to share her life story and how she was able to overcome her hardships and eventually graduate from a university.

Listening to the mentors (via Robin Latendresse)

Emily and Angel (via Rachel Kennett)

taken by Latendresse

Winnie! (via Robin Latendresse)

Look at this cutie pie! (via Neal Reese)

via Neal Reese

Did I mention how much these kids love to dance and how good they are at it? I’m not a horrible dancer, but honestly, they make me look like I’ve never heard the word before.

Salt & Light

via Marlene Kowalski

The day after our visit to Smart Junior, Teo took us to our last school, Salt & Light primary. As our bus was pulling in to park, the children ran out of their classrooms, screaming in excitement. We hadn’t even hopped off the bus yet! These kids obviously knew why we were there.

via Marlene Kowalski

After greeting some of the kids, we all headed into their meeting room, where their teacher quickly quieted them. As soon as she said hello, they all hushed and respectfully said hello back to her. Then it was Teo’s turn to introduce us. I have to say, when Teo speaks, kids listen. When our presentation and arts and crafts was over, we all went outside to play.

I stood on the field, scoping out what was going on so I could catch my bearings. Before I knew it, one of the girls came up behind me, looped her arm around mine, and said to me, “Hi! My name is Grace. I like to tell stories. Will you tell me a story?”

A few more girls gathered around, so we spread farther out into the field, where more kids joined us. We formed a circle and held hands, and they started their playground games, which are way better than the ones I had as a kid. Many of them involved some pretty sassy dancing.

via Rachel Kennett

Tackled by the kids! (via Neal Reese)

At one point, it started to rain pretty hard, so all the teachers gathered everyone into the buildings. We still had some free time, so the kids barraged me with questions. “What is your best color? How many people are in your family? Do you have Skype?”

It wasn’t until after we left the school that we found out the kids didn’t even have class that day. They dressed up and came to school during their school vacation because they knew we were coming.