Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Pink Chicken

True Story! I about fell out of my chair one morning at breakfast when I saw a pink chicken (YES PINK!!!) walk past the window! No joke! And it wasn't a small hint of a pink hue, it was a bright vibrant almost neon pink! I am sure my expression was priceless and my hosts followed my bewildered gaze to the chicken. We all laughed hysterically as they explained that they put pink and even purple die on the chicks because those colors are blind to the hawks!! I took pictures because without them, I knew people would think I was drinking something different than tea that morning, seeing pink chickens instead of pink elephants! :) haha!

Monday, December 8, 2008

What an Awesome Opportunity!

Thank you so much to all the supporters of Project Restore and the supporters of those individuals who went to Namulonge. I also want to thank MedWish International for the awesome abundance of medical supplies. The nurse, Immaculate, was so thrilled to get the much needed items. To Janice, thank you for the baby scale. We got to use it for the first time on a newborn less than 24 hours old (she weighed 6.5 pounds).

This was such an awesome trip, and we were able to help improve the lives of so many in Namulonge, Uganda. Shortly after we arrived, I was abruptly reminded of why we were there. On the way to the church, we saw a man on the side of the road, kneeling over, and drinking water out of a mud puddle. To be so desperate for water that you would drink dirty water from the side of the road is beyond my comprehension. I hope to never have to experience that, and my heart aches for those who do.

The people of Namulonge are so kind and generous. We were showered with smiles, food, tea, more food, more tea, and such warmth. They were so giving. The family I stayed with had no mosquito nets for themselves (in fact one of the small children who lived there had malaria); yet, they made sure we had nets.

Seeing the water flowing from the formerly broken pump, a basket ball court erected, new school books, science supplies, families with mosquito nets for the first time, and a great looking roof were all things I will never forget. What was even greater was seeing those from our team and the people of Namulonge working together to make these things happen. We were able to build relationships and friendships through working together and talking during down time. When it came down to it, it made no difference as to the color of skin, the language, or the socioeconomic status. We were working for one common interest: The improvement of lives. What we were able to do helped those of Namulonge be able to LIVE a little more with a little less "just surviving." That's what it's about. That's what we, our supporters, and the people of Namulonge did.

I cannot wait to go back. I hope I am blessed to be able to do so again. I love the people of Namulonge. They will always have a special place in my heart, and the red dirt will probably always have a place on my jeans and in my shoes.


The people of Namulonge are wonderful !

The people in Namulonge are all so happy, sincere, God loving, gracious, appreciative, generous, friendly and content it is difficult to explain or imagine.

I thank God for choosing me to assist Him and the team in what little way that I could and pray that He will allow me to return to my friends in Namulonge next year.

God blessed all involved (both from Project Restore and from Namulonge as well as our wonderful friend Fred) in this effort. As we all know, God has His own timeline for things and Fred meeting Jami - Jami coming to Newsong - Jami meeting Catherine and Project Restore going to Namulonge:)

I've posted photos and video clips on my MySpace page. If you would like to see them go to MySpace and click on find people then find friends and type in Starr49 then click on the find button. I've been writing a letter a night answering letters given to me by the children (we decided I'd not open them until I returned home) and will mail them with lots of photos for them.

God's Love is overwhelming !

Sekaja of the clan Nvooma and the tribe Muganda (aka Starr)

Sunday, December 7, 2008

What An Experience!

First of all, I want to extend a thank you to all those who have supported the efforts of Project Restore. Simply reading the stories here and raising awareness by sharing the information is invaluable and directly supports the mission of Project Restore, I thank you for that.

As we were driving to the village the first day there, I had my first sights of the area. I had a lot of mixed feelings on the way to the village. There were signs of poverty all around, and people trying to meet basic needs, such as those hauling water everywhere. I had some feelings of being overwhelmed and caught myself thinking how can we make a difference when the problem is so vast. I didn’t know what to expect for the week or know if these feelings would change.

One of the children in the host home I stayed in had contracted Malaria when he was around 2 years old. I would guess his age to be about 15 now. I had heard the numbers on malaria before, but I don’t think it really registered with me until I started hearing the stories and seeing first hand what it can do. This child was now physically and mentally challenged, for the rest of his life. What I imagine was once a vibrant 2-year old was now an adolescent that spent most of his time in the house and got around by scooting on the floor. Bitten by a mosquito, infected with a parasite, and a life changed forever. We all heard many stories like this. The 400 mosquito nets that the team passed out meant so much, to the community and us.

Repairing the well that was previously mentioned in the blog was one of the greatest experiences, to see water flowing again, and then the source being constantly used after it was repaired was unexplainable. Working hand and hand with the locales was great, I learned a lot about the general process and basic parts of the well. Just the day before, a group of us walked with some of the villagers down to the water source they had been using since the well was down. It was approximately 1 mile round trip. During the walk, we crossed paths with many people hauling water, mostly women and children. I remember seeing a woman with a baby on her back and a 40lb jug of water on her head. I remember two boys we stopped to talk to that had quit school to haul water. They made about 15-20 trips a day hauling about 3-4 jugs at a time tied to their bicycles. The basic need for water consumes a lot of time and energy. By fixing the well, I know we made a lot of peoples lives a little bit easier.

The entire week was great, just quickly running back some of the memories here; boda boda rides, painting the roof, rain harvesting tank, playing American football, the basketball court, getting the bases ready for the tanks, boda boda rides, and on and on. The last day there, we had the opportunity to offer some words of encouragement to the students. Knowing they face a greater challenge than most in the U.S. do, we tried to encourage them to continue education and dream big. They are beautiful people, who accept and embrace where they are and the circumstances they are in, not knowing to a certain degree how the rest of the world lives and meets basic needs such as getting water, food, etc. While in London airport, it hit me, sitting there with tears coming to my eyes, realizing how difficult it must be to overcome the circumstances they are in, realizing that they face the same obstacles as they did yesterday, many of which are meeting basic needs to get through that day. Living should be more than surviving.

I woke my first morning back at 3 am unable to sleep, so I went ahead and started preparing for work. As I was getting ready, I was thinking every step along the way, how much we have compared to those in the village. The things I typically take for granted, I thought twice about that morning, the refrigerator, electricity, clean water out of the faucet, a toilet, coffee maker, warm house, clothes, a shower, soap. As I picked what I was going to wear today, I looked at the stacks of clothes I rarely wear in my closet and think about how the school children might have 1-2 outfits, 1 of them for school. Its a different world here.

I’m confident that the efforts of our team impacted many people. I hope to be part of more trips like this, and have already found myself thinking, “When can I go back”. We have the ability to make a difference, we made a difference, and we can touch many lives. I encourage anyone interested in these efforts to join us. I know that each one of us can bring something valuable to a trip like this. Every person on our team touched someone’s life while we were there and this was clearly evident when saying our good byes. Though we face a vast problem, we can make a difference, one person at a time.


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Ok…I have another blog! But this story started way before we left for Africa, actually it started last summer. Newsong Fellowship’s kids’ bible camp took up a collection for our trip to buy mosquito nets for the village of Namalonge. The kids collected a little over $37.00 (WAY TO GO KIDS!!) I started checking out insecticide treated mosquito netting only to find out one net at US retail, cost close to $40.00. Ouch!

A very dedicated Project Restore volunteer by the name of Janice Wall took on the initiative of trying to find a more cost effective netting distributer. After months of chasing different leads, Janice found the organization called Against Malaria www.againstmalaria.com. This organization provides mosquito nets to the Peace Corps. Janice talked to the foundation and explained where the November team was going in Africa and what we were trying to do in way of malaria prevention with net distribution. The organization was WONDERFUL to work with and right off the bat they said they could assist us. We were thrilled! Finally a break through for this initiative!!!

Our goal was to try to secure 400 nets for the Namalonge village of about 3,000 people. We asked Against Malaria if they could provide that many nets. They didn’t even blink … they came back to us with; Yes of course they can provide us with 400 nets, at a cost of ….(get this) …. $4 per net…..and ….. (this is the best part!!)…..Against Malaria has a shipment going to Kampala, Uganda the first of November and our 400 nets can piggyback on that shipment!!!!! I think I passed out when I heard the news!! Needless to say, there was GREAT celebration in the Project Restore office that day, maybe even some tap dance broke out!!!

The paper work was filled out and as the word spread about the netting, some generous donations came in to help cover the expense. You have heard how powerful the day was for the net distribution at the village, and I just wanted to share the whole story with you from the beginning. Is that cool or what?!

Oh yea….the Against Malaria Foundation has also set up on their web site the ability for individuals to purchase netting for Project Restore’s next Namalonge, Uganda! So the story continues……Check it out, it is pretty cool!

Blessings, Love and Peace
Well we are back! And the trip seems to have been a whirl wind of activity! Chalked full of long flights, hard work, red dust, bananas, sleepless nights, tea, big smiles, and a lot of unconditional acceptance and love!

There were so many extraordinary moments that will forever stay with me .... from seeing clean water flow from the once dead and useless water well, accompanied with the cheers, tears and a huge 'water fight' that followed, to the villagers unknowing how to express their appreciation for a mosquito net, a gift that for them, could possibly mean life or death.

The Project Restore team was very focused and dedicated to the tasks at hand and achieved remarkable success with all the projects! However, they never forgot to walk with humility and modesty in a culture that is different from our own. And, the villagers could not have been more kind, accepting and gracious, in everything they did for us! They truly treated us as long lost family!

I would like to thank ALL of those that have helped make this trip possible! From our volunteers, hundreds of fundraising supporters to our financial backers. THANK YOU again for joining us in restoring some peace, hope and love to those in need. Because .... Living SHOULD Be More Than Just Surviving .... and YOUR support has initiated change and helped make a difference in thousands of individuals’ lives in Namalonge, Uganda! Thank you!

Blessings, love and peace always,

Friday, November 28, 2008

Finally online!

Well, for those of you who have been to the site looking for updates, we’re really sorry! We haven’t been able to get online all week, and even now, I’ve only got a few minutes. So, let me try to give you a very quick summary of the week and we’ll add our thoughts and stories once we return stateside.

Friday, Nov. 21st – Flew out of St. Louis and were supposed to meet up with Jami’s husband in Detroit. Found out that there were some complications with his passport and he won’t be able to fly out until Tuesday – if at all. The first major downer of the trip. (But it turns out to be a good thing in a way…you’ll see.)

Saturday, Nov. 22nd – Arrived in the capital city of Kampala just before midnight. All the luggage came in just fine and didn’t even have to go through customs. Got to the hotel and to sleep finally around 2:30 a.m.

Sunday, Nov. 23rd – Were asked to come to the village and attend the service at their local parish. We were welcomed with great excitement and anticipation of the work we had come to do. There is definitely a “buzz” in the community about the “muzungu” (white people) that have come and a curiosity about how and why we would be here.

Monday, Nov.24th – We showed up on site at the school first thing in the morning to begin to try to establish a schedule for the week and check progress on work and funds that were arranged ahead of time. One of the first things on the “to do” list was to sand and paint the tin roof of the building that would be used to capture the rain water and direct it to the water harvesting tank that we were going to be purchasing. We soon found out that there were no ladders on site – so the first job at hand was to build ladders from the branches of trees that had been cut down for that purpose. It felt like this was going to be a very SLOW day… By late morning, it seemed like, somehow, the crew had kicked into a whole other gear as students and some of our team members worked feverishly in the heat to scrape and paint the roof. Another crew from the community was working on the fascia (sp?) board that would be needed in order to attach the guttering that would come later.

All in all, by the end of the day, the roof was painted, and most of the fascia board in place and we still managed to have the mandatory breaks for mid-morning and mid-afternoon tea. We’ve learned that those aren’t optional! ☺

Tuesday, Nov. 25th – Today was a much slower day in terms of the actual work done. We’re quickly becoming aware and accustomed to the differences in the approach to work and schedules and the challenges of making major purchases in a foreign country. Part of the team left in the morning to make the purchases of the materials for the repair of the primary village well and to locate and purchase the water tank and make arrangement for delivery. Sounds relatively easy, right? So we thought. They were gone for 6-7 hours or more, BUT had a hugely successful day as they were able to purchase all the materials need to repair the well (we hoped!) and locate a 24,000 liter tank AND get a $600 discount on it! We were ALL so pumped (no pun intended) to hear it! The tank and well materials were delivered at 10:00 p.m. that night.

The rest of the team had success of a different kind that day. We spent the day with the students playing ball, having shade-tree conversations that turned into lessons on American culture, anthropology, government, social studies and beyond. It was SUCH a wonderful experience. They are so eager to learn and so curious about so many things that they have only read about. The conversations ranged from skyscrapers and American wedding practices to aliens and Prison Break and a hundred other random topics in between.

Who knew that there were actually people around the world that truly believed that Michael Scofield and Lincoln Burrows really were brothers (Prison Break reference); and who had no concept that what they were watching wasn’t really the actual events in their lives… Their innocence and eagerness to learn is so refreshing.

Wednesday, Nov. 26th - This was a HUGE day. The pump technician came in the morning and the long-anticipated work on the well began. The well, the primary source of water for the school and hundreds of families in the village has not worked for almost two years. In our conversations with the students, we learn that their lives are true reflections of the statistics we’ve seen. Every one of them is involved in the collection of water for their family every single day. They spend an average of 3-4 hours collecting water for that day – about 6-9 “jerry cans” (sp) for a family of 9-12 (average). Each can weighs around 40 lbs. when it’s full. The smaller children carry what they can, but generally as much as their own body weight or more. People with containers are a constant scene – either going or returning from the water source.

A pretty good crowd shows up as the technician, our team, and local men start to disassemble the pump. The day is gorgeous and the air is thick with enthusiasm. All goes well with the removal of the old pipes and we discover that there is definitely water in the well as the final sections of pipe emerge wet. This is great news!
Mid-morning the install is scheduled to begin but is promptly halted as we realize there is no lubricant for the gaskets on the new pump. So, someone is send in search of lubricant. By now mid-morning tea time rolls around and even clean water efforts get trumped as we go back to the school for tea. The women of the village have served us tea and lunch each day. Their hospitality and joy is so humbling. They are such delightful people.

By 11:00 the lubricant arrives and the work resumes. The new piping begins to go down the hole and the excitement of seeing flowing water continues to mount. As they get to the third or fourth pipe, the technician recognizes that the final rod will not fit through the hole that leads to the pump itself and, for a moment to those of us looking on and not understanding a word of Ugandan, it seems as those the day may end here. But within a couple of minute a man walk off with the rod and we find out tha he’s taking it home to grind it down. They’re as determined as we are – maybe more – to make this work.

As the next to the last pipe is prepared, the man returns with the rod and it’s ready to go. Perfect. However, the technician discovers that the rods will be too long and the pump will not work. They gather around the pipes and he begins to explain to the problem. It appears that the final rod will have to be cut and welded to fit before we can finish the work. Another villager has the welding equipment (incredible!) but, as happens every day at some point, the village is without power. It could be minutes, but more likely hours before it returns. (Can you feel the tension of the moment?)

The discussion continues and we realize that the rod from the old piping will work as a temporary solution and within minutes the final countdown is back on.
Everyone gathers around the pump as the final piece is assembled and one of the men immediately begins to pump. This is the moment that ALL of us have been waiting for – the MAJOR moment behind all the efforts of Project Restore since our “Walk for Water” in May.

Then it happens. Water begins to trickle and then to flow. It’s a moment you can’t really put into words. We’ve tried as we’ve retold it to each other several times. Wish you could have been here. Wish you could be here to see the lines of people waiting with their containers to retrieve the life-giving water. Sometimes you can hear their laughter from around the trees as you approach the well. This is so much more than water. This is hope. This is life. This is a message to the entire village that they are not alone. They keep telling us that they don’t have words to thank us. This changes all of us.

So, for those of you who played a part in this moment, you were with us as we stood around the well and watched the water flow. We don’t have the right words either, but “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”

What’s so amazing is that the day isn’t over yet. This is the also the day that our team distributes 300 treated mosquito nets to young and old. We have all seen, firsthand, the effects of malaria as people we know – host homes and school teachers – have family members with children who have some form of handicap because of this disease. It’s more than a statistic here. It’s a very real and present illness and fear.

But today, 300 people – and another 100 to come – will sleep peacefully. One of the school teachers said it something like this: “You don’t understand what this means to our village. The children will probably oversleep tomorrow because for the first time in their life they will not be awakened by the noise or sting of the mosquitoes. They will not have to sleep in fear.” Just one net. $4. Hard to fathom that for them it’s still life and death yet, until now, out of their reach. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

The day concludes with a group of us heading through the jungles on Uganda to collect water samples from some of the primary water sources in the area. We’re traveling by “boda boda” (motorcycle taxi) and having the time of our lives! One of our team members is a chemical engineer and hopes to take the samples home and test the water so that we can know which, if any, of the sources are contaminated and life-threatening. As we visit the sources it’s clear that at least two of them are clearly unsafe. What we don’t know is how many families are drawing their water there. Another sobering moment.

Thursday, Nov.27th – Thanksgiving! – Well, it’s not officially “Thanksgiving” in Uganda, but we are all pumped about ALL that we have already seen that we are so thankful for.

Jami’s husband, David, arrives on site first thing in the morning. He’s the team member whose trip was detoured because of the passport issues. It’s great to see him! We soon find out that he’s brought two basketball hoops because Jami had told him that we had brought balls, but there were no hoops. Because of his delay he was able to pick those up and bring them. What follows was nothing short of amazing!
Within minutes the buzz about building a basketball court is going around among the students and teachers and they start asking us which trees should the cut down to use for the hoops. Within a matter of minutes, literally, the axe is swinging a tree is coming down, then another and the Namulonge Secondary School basketball court is underway. It’s unbelievable!

By early afternoon, they’ve located the area where the court will be, dug the holes, found an old door that has been now cut in half. The hoops are taken away to be secured to the backboards and the goals are going up.

Less than three hours, I think, have passed from the time the hoops arrived and there is now a full-fledged basketball game going on first the first time ever in this village. Ever. It’s just incredible. There’s not another basketball court for miles and they know it. They have a treasure. The are having the time of their lives and we are too as we watch them dribble, shoot, laugh, and play. We’re reminded that it’s the simple things that are our richest blessings and how easy they are to miss. We have more than they’ll ever begin to understand, but they’ve taught us, reminded us again, what it is to be truly thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and all our loved ones who’ve allowed us to be half-way around the world on a day that we’re typically together celebrating. We’re thinking of you. We’re missing you. But we’re thankful in new and deeper ways.

Friday, Nov. 28th
- Today we're taking some time to see some of the historical and landmark sites of this beautiful land. We're on our way in a few minutes to visit the site that is the source of the Nile river. There are beautiful falls there, we're told. So, we've returned to Kampala for the first time since we've arrived. The rain has come this morning and it's very cool and refreshing. This should be another breath-taking experience.

Until the next time we're able to log on...


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The conversation begins...

OK... so we're starting the conversation. (It was actually Catherine's idea...) We thought we'd launch our blog on the eve of our first major initiative in Uganda.

Ten of us are headed out this Friday to the village of Namulonge, outside the capital city of Kampala, and we're going to begin the process of bringing clean water to hundreds of people who don't have access to it now. That's a pretty overwhelming feeling...

So, come back over the next couple of weeks and we'll do our best to keep you updated with the daily activity. Not sure when we'll get to have internet access to post our journal, but stop by when you can. We're looking forward to sharing this journey with you.

PS: Check out our site for more info: www.project-restore.org