2017 Reflection for Turn the Page Uganda

2017 is drawing to a close, and what a year it has been! One of my best memories of the year was taking my 15 year old nephew to visit Uganda with me and have him see part of Africa for the first time. Watching him transfer his fear of strangers to total acceptance and enjoyment will remain in my memories for many years to come. He was embraced by students from Saint Katherine's Secondary School and peppered with questions. "How old are you?" "Do you have a sister?" "How many classes do you take? "You take 6? We take 15!" I saw him look in wonder as crowds of Primary students surrounded him begging for a sticker. He wanted to give every child he met a pencil, or sharpener, or sticker... until he realized the need was so great it was an impossible task. We planted teak trees at one school and taught lessons in tooth brushing at another. He learned how to shake hands "like a man" (thank you Levi!) and give a blessing before eating a meal. We carried boxes of heavy, brand-new textbooks to awaiting students and teachers and watched as they gleefully opens the containers and shared the newest addition to their curriculum. So many schools remain on our waitlist, waiting for the day they will finally have some current books, which should help them pass the National exams and move onto the next grade level.

Another memorable experience was travelling up to the North of Uganda to the border area, where the largest refugee camp in the world stands... Rhino Camp. With permission from the authorities in the area, our Rotary friends Gloria and Grace drove us through and spent a few hours educating ourselves on the plight of Sudanese refugees who arrive daily in need of food, shelter, and medical care. There are some 90,000 Sudanese, Congolese, Ethiopian, Somali, and Burundi refugees. It was an amazingly organized camp, with little communities of refugees springing up all around the area. Different agencies were there helping- the Red Cross and Save the Children were two that I remember. Again, the need was so great, that we decided to donate our duffel bag full of soccer jerseys to Save the Children to distribute. Can you imagine walking for weeks, eating whatever plants you can find along the way, drinking dirty river water to stay alive, and then arriving in a new country (maybe with your parents, and maybe not), to create a life away from guns and violence... it is so foreign to our daily lives here in Santa Barbara. Now that particular part of Uganda has to deal with an enormous demand for food, the possibility of disease brought by people who may never have been immunized, and schools that suddenly spring up, needing to educate hundreds of weak children every week. Wow. It takes your breath away. How can we as a community of people respond to such need? The challenge remains enormous, and yet this is not the only refugee camp in the world. Organizations like Direct Relief, Save the Children, The Red Cross, The World Food Program, Samaritan's Purse, and Save the Children are at least trying to reach out to assist. Turn the Page Uganda is so much smaller than these organizations, but we choose to help as the money allows, one school at a time. Thank you for your support and encouragement. We are nothing without you!


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