****Written as I began piecing this piece together ****
This is my 4th full day back in the States. I’m going to do my best to share my experiences with you here, but know that no words can translate the beauty found in Uganda’s people. If you ask me in person how my trip went, I may very well respond with “It was good”, because my mind can’t conjure up an accurate depiction of the deep hope and love I experienced and I know I could never do it justice.
But let’s skip the fluff and begin, shall we?
Thursday, October 5th & Friday, October 6th
I haven’t flown internationally in two whole years. Passport? Check. Yellow Fever card? Check. I can officially make it to where I’m going, even if I forgot everything else. The 27 hour countdown to Uganda begins.
I flew from Norfolk to Atlanta, where I met the majority of my team at our gate. All of the faces I had seen over Facebook and video chats once a month finally in front of me. The daunting task of remembering 15 names and faces now begins! From Atlanta, we flew to Amsterdam to meet the remaining teammates. We then flew from Amsterdam to Kigali, Rwanda, and then onto Entebbe, Uganda. We landed around 11pm in Entebbe Uganda.
After a little bit of a hiccup at the airport, we loaded up our vehicles and made our way to the airport guesthouse, where we finally got to shower and get a little bit of sleep.
Saturday, October 7th
We got up decently early (sometime around 6am, Ugandan time) to get ready for breakfast. We had to leave for Jinja around 9, so everything had to be ordered, paid for, and ready to go. There was fruit and passion fruit juice prior to the main breakfast (passion fruit juice is INCREDIBLE), all of it fresh and sweet.
The drive to Jinja is anywhere between 4 and 6 hours long, depending on traffic in and around Kampala. There’s no way to anticipate it – you just have to hope for the best.
Thankfully, we made it to Jinja around the 4 hour mark.
Upon arrival at the guesthouse, we were greeted by a few members of the staff, including Sarah and Joyce. If you’ve known me for a while, you’ve heard Joyce’s name many times. Sarah joined Sole Hope a few months after I was there last time, so meeting her was absolutely wonderful! She gave us a full tour of the guesthouse, and the run down on meals and laundry.
After the tour, we went down to the Outreach House. The last time I was in Jinja, the Outreach House was on the same premise as the Guesthouse. Now, it’s a short walk away and holds double the number of patients!
The Sole Hope Outreach House is a beautiful space created to facilitate healing and learning. This is where families and children with bad cases of jiggers come to go through the jigger removal process, and receive education regarding jiggers. Jiggers are thought to be a curse, or a result of sin/generational sin. Because of the stigma and mystification surround the parasite, they are not removed and are left to be a part of ‘normal’ life. I’ll touch a little more on the education and removal a bit later. All you need to know now is that 1. jiggers are entirely preventable and 2. Sole Hope is making incredible headway on demystifying and destigmatizing jiggers in Uganda.
The families we met were awaiting the removal on Monday, so this day was a day of fun and hanging out with the kids. One in particular was very ticklish and it became our game throughout the week.
Sunday, October 8th
Sunday was one of my favorite days there. Unknowingly, we were just in time to celebrate Independence Day! There was traditional dancing before the service, which was all kinds of fun.
Then, the service started. I can’t tell you the honor it was to be among these people as they prayed for and celebrated their country. To come alongside them and thank God for the beauty of Africa’s Pearl will be a moment I will never forget.
In the midst of the service, there was one song in particular that caught me off guard and made me even more aware of the love each person around me had for Uganda. In this song, the sins of the country were named and called to scatter. We’re talking corrupt government, rape, illiteracy, malnutrition… It was all named specifically, and I promise you – chains were loosened. These men and women were not just singing and praying these words – they were and are in their communities making this happen. They want to taste every last drop of freedom on Earth, and by gosh, I hope to see the day they do.
After the service, we had lunch at Mary’s Mexican restaurant. The most exciting part about this was 1. riding my first Boda and 2. having Chipotle style Mexican food in the heart of Uganda. Bodas are by far the best way to get around (hooray for air!) unless your driver doesn’t know where to go and drops you off at the wrong location (boo for having to walk for food). The food was totally worth it though, and I’m so ready to eat piles of chapati chips again.
After lunch, we took bodas to a local park. At this point we were late and didn’t have much time, but we were given a brief history of Jinja and Uganda before we had to head out. One thing I wasn’t aware of was the fact that Gandhi supposedly had his ashes spread throughout the longest rivers in the world – Including the Nile, which we were about to explore the source of. This is still debated to this day, but they paid a lot of money to make the statue… I’m going to hope it’s at least a little bit true.
We hopped back on bodas to find our way to the Nile tour. At this point, we were becoming boda pros. I will say though – they’re a lot easier to ride in pants. Maybe next time I’ll try riding side saddle. For this tour, we got to spend quite a bit of time on Lake Victoria learning about the agriculture, government, surrounding communities, and history. All of this was accompanied by incredible views and peaceful sounds.
I was on the wrong side of the boat to get any decent pictures, but we had the greatest honor of seeing not one, but TWO cranes on our tour. It’s the national bird of Uganda, and even our guide had his phone out taking photos because he had never seen one outside of a zoo. It so perfectly coincided with Uganda’s Independence Day, and was definitely a highlight of the tour.
The source of The (White) Nile River , we were told, was a spring right smack dab in the middle of Lake Victoria. The bubbles at the site of the spring were a good laugh, and conveniently located next to a tiny island hosting a gift shop and a ‘Source of the Nile’ sign were everyone could take photos.
The tour ended as we pulled up to the Jinja Sailing Club for dinner with Asher and Drü, Sole Hope’s visionaries and founders. We were sat outside until the sun went down. At that point, we starting getting pelted by bugs – we’re talking ‘I just pulled 6 flying insects out of my hair and they’re sticking to the condensation on my water bottle’ pelted. I don’t get grossed out easily, but I’m quite thankful we moved indoors. Not until after we enjoyed the sunset over the Nile to the fullest extent, though.
Monday, October 9th
This was our first encounter with jigger removals on the trip. With 47 patients at the Outreach House, I knew it was going to be a long day, but WOW. The efficiency of the team was incredible. Teddy, Adam, Joel, Farouk, and other members of staff and Ugandan volunteers set up each station and carefully removed each jigger. Every patient who comes into the Outreach House has a medical file created, and a ‘footnote’ chart for the removal was given to each of us to fill in. Every Footnote includes the patient’s name, age, caretaker, etc. for easy and complete follow up care.
Removals are exhausted for all involved – mentally, emotionally, and physically. Sole Hope’s staff and volunteers are the closest things I’ve ever experienced to superheroes.
Most of the kids did great during the process, and only one or two had an extremely difficult time due to the amount of jiggers being located in sensitive areas (it hurts having jiggers removed in general, but certain areas are worse than others). One may or may not have pouted for about 15 minutes afterwards, but in general, this was happening just a few moments later:
We got to eat lunch there, which included Ugandan beans and posho. FINALLY. I really love Ugandan food and was having trouble being patient when it came to getting some.
After lunch, it was time for a few more games, including some songs regarding hygiene. Joel is brilliant with the kids, and it was obvious they were well on their way to understanding their need to wash their feet and wear shoes.
Tuesday, October 10th
Day 2 at the Outreach House. On this day, we got to sit in on the education (Farouk is a fantastic educator, in place for Francis), and watched as one woman, Ruth, translated for everyone. It’s amazing to me the number of languages that can exist in such a small place. Also, 47 patients + our travel group crammed into a room with no AC = an experience.
Everyone listened intently, and many of the adults asked questions. The number of male caretakers there was encouraging to see, even more so how seriously they were taking the care of their own feet and their children’s. Each patient receives a booklet outlining proper care and hygiene for feet, as well as jigger and parasite facts – all written and drawn by Francis, the head educator. The curriculum is concise, but incredibly informative and is really making a difference in the demystifying of jiggers!
We ran to Backpackers for a ‘quick’ lunch break. As quick as anything in Uganda can be. Note to self for next time – the pesto, mozzarella, bacon sandwich is good and you should get it again. Afterwards, we returned to the Outreach house for more fun and games.
Wednesday, October 11th
Oh man, this was a day for the books. On this day, we headed out with Healing Faith Ministries, an organization in Jinja focused specifically on the elimination of mosquito born diseases – specifically, malaria. We were out hanging mosquito nets in a village, which was so cool to watch. This organization, like Sole Hope, is about education and empowerment. There’s no dependency being created, no false sense of hope. Healing Faith is out building foundations for the eradication of malaria in a way where Ugandans take charge and shape their future.
Being one with incredibly sensitive skin, I opted to collect the wrapping from the nets rather than hang them, which means I spent most of my time with the village kids, who spent most of their time laughing at my attempts to talk to them in Lugandan… While they spoke Swahili. Whoops. Thankfully, one word loosely translated, which means I got a few smiles.
And then came a moment we had all been waiting for – we got to see the new land. I kid you not when I tell you it is complete and utter perfection. As Ian gave us a tour, my mind was racing trying to envision all of the current shoe makers and tailors working away, and the many more who will inhabit the space. 60,000 shoes a year.
And then there’s the new Outreach House – the Hope Center. That’s what it’s all about right there.
Sole Hope is quite literal. Hope and healing saturate every bit of their mission, and this land was made to cradle and birth it all for years to come.
And to top it all off, a legitimate Ugandan meal. PRAISE THE LORD.
Thursday, October 12th
Thursdays are my favorite day of the week. Why? It’s clinic day! Sole Hope treated 155 patients at a school just 30 minutes away from the compound. It’s always incredible to see how much of a science this process has become. It’s truly a team effort, and an amazing thing to behold.
After arriving back at the compound, Adam, Sole Hope’s head social worker gave us the run down on how social work is an integral part of SH’s process. From choosing patients for the Outreach House, to resettlement, to income startups – Adam and his team are a HUGE part of how and why Sole Hope works the way it does.
And the rest of my evening was spent in the shoemaker workshop with Joseph, Isaac, Balm, and Zeus. They even let me help make a shoe. It was WAY harder than it looks.
Friday, October 13th
Friday the 13th. I don’t know how you feel about that day, but I simultaneously experienced the fear of death and the purest of joy within the 24 hours it held.
On each experience trip, one ‘tourist-y’ expedition is chosen to give everyone the chance to see a bit more of landscape. For this trip? We went white water rafting in The Nile. Jinja is infamous for it rapids. We’re talking ‘people come from all over the globe to raft these rapids’ rapids. I love adventure, but I’m not the greatest thrill seeker, so I opted for the ‘chicken raft’ – basically, those of us who wanted to take the rapids on, but not necessarily head on. They would still be class 3-5’s, but we had a route that offered a few softer landings. Here are a few images that bring back a little bit of that anxiety, as well as some huge laughs, because the last rapid was a doozy.
Did I mention I was in the front and had to raft completely blind? T E R R I F Y I N G.
We had a very short turn around time to rid our bodies of possible parasitic water to head to town for the best exhibit I’ve ever seen.
For a few weeks before we arrived, and for the duration of our time in Jinja, the organization Picture Change was on ground in partnership with Sole Hope. I’ve known about them for a while now and it was so incredible to get to know their work better and see how it impacted the communities they set foot in. Two Sole Hope staff members happened to be taking part in their program, along with a few other student photographers from the area. They are taught the fundamentals of photography – both technical and storytelling. What a beautiful thing it is to see someone’s story told through photography. And what a beautiful gift it is to be able to tell our countries’ stories and the stories of our people through photography. It truly is universal.
The See Me / See You exhibit is without a doubt something I will never forget. First of all, seeing your new friends’ photographs in person always makes for a great Friday night. They had been working hard to photograph and have prints made all week – that night, they got to sit back and watch as people viewed and enjoyed their work. On top of all of that, the Ugandan superstar Maro performed a set AND we got more Ugandan food. Namely: Samosa. I know this is technically Indian, but I’ve only had it in Uganda.
Saturday, October 14th
Nothing of consequence happened here. We shopped. A lot. The ATM’s had no money, so it was kind of difficult, but we made it work.
Sunday, October 15th
Our last full day in Jinja was spent learning to make paper beads with Joyce! She makes the most beautiful jewelry, and my goodness, it’s not easy.
Monday, October 16th
Goodbyes stink, in case you all didn’t know.
It was probably the longest morning of my life waiting for the van to come. I had gotten all of my goodbyes done as early as possible, because I’m a type A personality American who can’t keep up with African time on occasion. We’re supposed to leave at 9:30? No, that’s truly just your two hour warning. I’ll remember a little better next time.
On the way to the airport we swung by the Entebbe Zoo. I didn’t take many pictures, but I loved getting to eat lunch over Lake Victoria and watch rhinos run about. I did manage to take some photos of monkeys, because there were babies and they were adorable.
And if you made it this far, I’m going to introduce you to the people I’m talking about when I say ‘Sole Hope’. Yes, it’s an organization. However, its people are the heartbeat. The people of Uganda are the heartbeat. When I talk about Sole Hope, I’m talking about 60+ smiles who are radically changing the country of Uganda, two feet at a time. They’re making #ZeroJiggers a reality, and what a beautiful, beautiful thing it is to watch unfold.
There are so many pictures I wish I would have taken and stories I could tell, but most deserve better than words on a blog. I’m so thankful that I have the opportunity to join Sole Hope in Uganda once again in June. This time? As an advocate. I have loved the heart of this organization for so long, so it seemed like a natural and long over-due step for me after October. If you would like to help support me, here is a link to donate: