FOREVER CHANGING, FOREVER GROWING

Change is never easy but it is often necessary to survive.

As we prepare to relocate our family back to Canada, we reflect on how far we have come as an organization over the past two years and the necessary changes that have been made in our programs. 

When we first launched Bridging Villages we believed wholeheartedly that our primary focus would be supporting Mugalula Community School and helping it to grow and develop while providing sponsorship for as many children as possible. We also had an intense drive to provide improved health services to people in Namavundu while simultaneously working with a preexisting women's vocational program to ensure the women in the community were able to provide for their families. 

While some of these objectives have been adjusted, education and health services remain our top priority for both women and children, however, the way by which we accomplish these goals has changed.  

Due to a series of events involving the administration at Mugalula Community School we were forced to make some hard decisions about our level of involvement with the school moving forward. Unfortunately there was a lot of deception and disrespect occurring with those in positions of power at the school. We were no longer confident that the money we were raising was going to be used in the most effective and beneficial way to truly impact the children in the community that needed it most. For these reasons we as a team decided to forgo any further financial support for building projects occurring at MCS during the 2018 fiscal year. We had agreed to discuss throughout the year how we felt about supporting the school in the future based on the experiences we had with the staff. Unfortunately, things only became worse and we had to make the decision to permanently terminate all financial support of MCS pertaining to development projects. However, this did not mean that the children that were sponsored at the school were impacted. We remain committed to ensuring our individual sponsor children and their families are given the tools necessary to thrive. 

We also failed to establish the necessary contracts with the staff at Mirembe Health Centre III allowing us to provide the clinic with improved medical equipment. Specifically we struggled with having the Director agree that all machines or devices brought into the clinic would be used for charitable purposes and would not be used to make a profit for the clinic. According to Canada Revenue Agency we are obligated to ensure all our activities are charitable in nature and thus, without the assurance of the director that all our equipment would be used to benefit the community (provide free ultrasounds, blood work, urinalyses, etc.) we could not in good faith purchase these items for the clinic. We continue to work with Mirembe Health Centre III to ensure all of our sponsored children and community members enrolled in our programs receive medical care. However, we also work with various other health facilities in Kampala to ensure the children in our programs receive the necessary care they require should Mirembe Health Centre III be unable to provide it to them. 

The work we do to further the vocational training of women in Namavundu has also evolved over the past two years. Originally we were working solely with a preexisting group run by two women in the community. Unfortunately we realized very quickly that the women in the program were not those that necessarily needed it most but were instead those that were friends or clan-mates of the leaders for the program. We struggled with this since our primary goal was to assist in the training of women who needed it most, to provide for their families. So, after a heavy brainstorming session among our board of directors, we decided to launch a no-income housing, equal employment opportunity training program for women in Namavundu. This is the project that I am most excited about. Not only will it provide a safe place to live for some of the most impoverished families in the community, but it will also provide the women a chance they have never been offered, to be trained in skills that will actually allow them the financial freedom to take care of their families! Crafts are an excellent way for women to make a small amount of money, but truthfully how many tailors does a single community need? We are excited to begin shifting the cultural framework that has kept women in such limited and restrictive occupations. We have begun to host community meetings to share our ideas of training women in typically "male" trades including carpentry, welding, mechanics, etc. and people are getting excited. These communities are largely run by women and so it only makes sense that the power to take care of the people in these communities is handed over to those that will do so most effectively, the women. 

And so, our primary goals remain the same. We strive to provide high-quality education and training to the women and children in Uganda who need it most. We are committed to ensuring every person in our programs receive the nutrition they need and the medical care required to keep them healthy and strong so they are able to live their best lives. 

Running an NGO in a developing nation is never easy. We strive to impart meaningful, longterm change in a unique way, that will eventually become self-sustaining and ensure those that are most vulnerable are put in positions to thrive and take control of their lives. This has always been our goal and with this are forced to continually take stock of our programs and determine which are meeting our expectations and which are floundering. Those that are struggling we have to make decisions about whether we think we can save them but more importantly, if saving them will be the best thing for the communities we are working in. These lessons have been tough to learn but have made us a stronger and more focused group of individuals that remain committed to helping Uganda's most vulnerable people thrive and live extraordinary lives!  

~Lindsay Aboud

 

 

A story of Grace

There is no more acute mirror for one’s own life than to glimpse into the life of another. Recently, we at Bridging Villages have taken over the financial management of MCS in an attempt to establish self-sustainability for the school. In order to accomplish this, we have been spending full days meeting with every student’s parents/guardians. We have been asking questions that provide us with a better understanding of the financial capacity for each family, thereby revealing the individuals that are most in need of reduced tuition rates or free tuition and, thus, enrolment into our child sponsorship program. When we first discussed arranging these meetings we became so focused on how nice it would be to have a detailed, organized record for every child at the school, so that we could be sure every family was being treated fairly with the same criteria, when the tuition rates were determined for their children.  It didn’t take more than an hour into our first meeting to realize how terribly wrong we were in our estimate of the toll these meetings would have on us. We did not foresee the emotional exhaustion that would come in hearing some of the most devastating stories for six hours at a time, three days per week. It begs the question, how do these families cope with such incredible loss and hardship every minute of every day, and still find the strength to keep fighting?

 

We will not soon forget one of the women we met today (I will call her Grace). When Grace first entered the room it was apparent that she was uncertain of what the meeting was about and there was a world of sadness stored behind her eyes. We approached every question very cautiously and respectfully. The third question that we always ask is, “do you have a spouse or other adult that is helping you to support your children?” In response, Grace lowered her head and quietly stated, in Luganda, that her husband had recently drowned and that she is now alone. Almost immediately after Grace’s husband passed away, her in-laws chased her and her children away from the family home that she had been living in with her husband. Throughout the course of the conversation we learnt that Grace has a total of five children, three of whom live with her, and the oldest two who live with extended family in a different village. These two older children should be in secondary school, however, after her husband passed away she was unable to pay for tuition and so instead of being at school they are exchanging manual labour for a place to stay. While Grace was trying to determine how she would take care of the rest of her children, without the support of her family, she heard about MCS and the programs that are set in place to allow primary aged children to attend school for free. Grace immediately moved to Namavundu and enrolled her three younger children into school. She has also managed to find a job selling fruit and vegetables for a local street vendor. In exchange, she is given a small amount of food every day for her children and 1000UGX/day ($0.40) wage. This means that Grace makes approximately 15 (CAD) per month and her rent is 20 CAD, forcing her to always be behind on rent and having literally no extra money to provide medical care if her children need it, or even basic necessities like clothing, shoes etc.

 

Now, obviously when we heard Grace’s story we immediately knew that her children would continue to attend MCS for free and that they would be enrolled in our sponsorship program. Finding a sponsor for these children will alleviate the additional burden of medical costs, providing a well-balanced diet, school fees (uniform, books, etc.), and even tuition for her two older children that should not have had the chance to study taken away from them after losing their father. When we shared this decision with Grace, (remember we did not tell her that her children were sponsored, only that we would enrol them in the program) she slowly slid to the ground from the chair she was sitting in, covered her face in her hands, and wept. I joined her on the ground and held her as she released a wave of gratitude and tears, and as she expressed in the only way she could, the incredible relief that she felt we had taken from her. Grace was not given a single thing in that meeting other than hope. We offered her support, something that her own family was unable to provide. We let her know that she is not alone in raising her children, that there is a world of people who think that she, and every one of her children, is worth fighting for, and that we will join her on her journey to securing hers and her children’s futures.

 

As Grace left the room the three of us remained behind.  All of us sat silently as tears began to fall for the magnitude of the devastation that Grace faced. Regardless of what any of us have been through in our lives or the current issues we may be facing, in that moment it all seemed to pale in comparison to what Grace was living. Kate (one of our Ugandan program directors) turned to me and said, “Lin, this is why you are in Uganda.” She was right. Regardless of how overwhelming it is to listen to the life stories of the people we meet, or how futile it sometimes feels when there are countless people who always seem to need assistance, we will never stop fighting for a better life for the Graces of Uganda. We are never going to be able to alleviate the pain or desperation of every woman and child in Uganda, but we can push with our entire force to ensure that as many people as possible experience the same kind of relief that Grace felt today. We will continue to bring hope and love to the people we meet, and we will always work to unite the people of our own countries with those in Uganda.

 

You will never experience joy as pure as when you step outside yourself and offer everything you have to someone else. To witness someone’s life completely change. To physically feel the burden of defeat being lifted from the shoulders of a mother. To give a child the chance to fulfill their dreams, to become educated, or to obtain a life skill, so that they will not find themselves in the same desperation that they have spent their lives watching their families endure. This is what you will be responsible for when you sponsor a child, or donate towards the women’s program or the street kids program. This is what we are blessed enough to be a part of on a daily basis here in Uganda, this is what we have committed our lives to and we couldn’t be more honoured. We invite you to join us in our pursuit of safety, education, health and love for every child in Uganda. 

 

~Lindsay Aboud

Hey, Muzungu Jangu

Hey white person, you come! This is how, every non-Ugandan (regardless of skin colour) is greeted as they embark on a journey in Uganda, whether it be a 5 km or a 100 km ride matters not. As you approach a taxi/matatu (15-passenger van) park/stage or a boda-boda stage (where the motorcycle taxis hang out) all conversation stops and you must prepare yourself for the battle that is about to take place.  As soon as the conductors of the matatu or the drivers see you coming they will begin to fight for your attention, in the hope that you will pick their vehicle to take you to our destination.  This is when you will hear the famous phrase "Hey, Muzungu jangu!", which is often followed by the more aggressive drivers/conductors physically taking your arm or parking their boda-boda in your path and trying to lead you into his vehicle while he says "Muzungu, you sit, 1k". This means “I will take you where you are going for 1,000 UGX”. Now, normally this would be great. He is concise, and efficient in providing you with transport and at a clearly defined price. The problem? Well, you see, every trip costs a different price, usually ranging from 500 UGX-3000 UGX, depending on the distance. You will have not even specified your destination before a price will be demanded from you. This means that because of your skin colour, which inevitably means that you have money, the minimum fee would be 1000 UGX.  However, because you know the accurate prices, you are capable of conversing with the conductor in such a way that ensures you will pay what everyone else pays, while ensuring that you are not underpaying.  

Now, when choosing a vehicle there are a few things to always consider: 

1) If the price being offered is far too high right off the bat, you can be certain that you will be overcharged regardless of your negotiation skills, so just move on to the next taxi/boda-boda.

2) If you are travelling with a partner and the conductor of the taxi attempts to separate you, meaning that one of you is in the front seat and the other is in the back, don't get in! This is guaranteed to be a set-up for robbery.  The tactic used is always the same. You, in the front seat, will be told that your passenger door does not close properly and that you must hold on to the top of it with both hands to secure it, while the passenger (member of the “gang”) sitting next to you will quickly and efficiently go through your pockets/bag unnoticed. At the same time your friend in the backseat will be distracted by another passenger (part of the "gang") by dropping coins at their feet. Your friend will be asked to assist in picking up the coins and as they bend down their pockets/bag will also be emptied.  I wish I could say that this information was attained through secondhand experience but unfortunately my husband and I have been in this exact situation on two separate occasions, allowing us to avoid the third attempt.

3) If the conductor grabs your arm or in anyway is aggressive, just walk away...on principle alone.

4) If you hear chickens squawking from inside the taxi, save yourself the smell and the headache and find another taxi J.

Now, once an appropriate transport vehicle has been located settle in for the ride. Uganda is home to some of the most gorgeous scenery and lush greenery. However, if you let your eyes drift from the skyline and the trees overhead, you will be stricken by the reality of Uganda.  The best way to describe a drive through the villages is to imagine that every home has been turned inside out.  The women will be cooking on their coal stoves outside, the children will be bathing in the open, there will be adults and children resting on their mats, the laundry/dishes are washed by hand outside and left to dry in the sun, and you will see men and young boys urinating against the side of buildings or into the open fields.  You will likely become very aware of a pronounced feeling of intrusion as you stare out the window, as though you are spying on people’s most personal moments in their days.  Shortly thereafter you will realize that the very nature by which Ugandans live their lives embodies community living. They do not think of you as an intruder but rather of a visitor passing by their home. You will be greeted by the woman cooking, or the child bathing, or the man urinating, as if you had simply met in passing on the street.  The simplicity of life is so striking! Children will laugh as they chase their deflated soccer ball across the street, and women will boast the most genuine smiles as they visit with their friends while they all participate in the daily chores of their individual homes. 

A thought will often strike you as you continue your journey, as a non-Ugandan in Uganda you will never truly experience the joy in simplicity that is associated with the life of a villager because you will always be the person that is being called “Muzungu”. The one that the children will run out to call greetings to for the sole purpose of having you return a greeting. The one that parents will call to their children to “come look at the Muzungu”, the one that is viewed as a source of money to everyone, regardless of how little you actually have in your possession, and the one that always has the ability to leave this country and return to the one from which you came.  This does not take away from the beauty you will be immersed in or the joy you will feel as children will rush to hold your hand as you walk down the street.  However, regardless of the time spent in this country, you will always feel the presence of a barrier that seems to follow you wherever you go, the one that prevents you from truly seeing village life in its organic form, and that barrier is your own skin.

As your journey ends and you disembark the taxi, the conductor will attempt one last time to have you pay more than the normal fare, and will then laugh a jolly laugh as he realizes that you are not going to take the bait. As you walk away from the taxi you will inevitably hear the next driver/conductor calling, “Hey, Muzungu, jangu!” and the children calling out “Hey, Muzungu. How are you?! You will smile and greet them in return while you curse the label of “Muzungu” that will be forever securely fastened to you.   

~Lindsay Aboud

Through the Eyes of a Parent

The role of a parent is one that is foreign to me, as well as every other member of our board. While I have a ton of experience being the fun auntie that showers my nieces and nephew with love, toys, and candy, I have never had the true responsibility of ensuring that every aspect of a child's life is taken care of. The full weight of this responsibility was not been made apparent to me until I had the chance to spend time with the parents/guardians of children from MCS. 

At first glance, the societal structure of a village in rural Uganda may seem haphazard and random. Children live with random community members and families are rarely seen living under the same roof. It is also the joint responsibility of the community to ensure that children are raised properly, which means that at any given time you will see a child being scolded, consoled or protected by someone that may, or may not have met that child before that very moment. The truth behind this apparent chaos may surprise you, as it did me. 

The reality for many women in rural Uganda is that of a life of a single parent. You see, men in the villages of Uganda are often taught from a young age that it is not their role in society to care for children or to be responsible for the children that they do help create. They are taught this by example as they watch the men in their lives pass all "domestic" duties to the women and as they watch the men leave for extended periods of time to either work in the city or to be with their "other families" (many men will father children with multiple women). This cycle continues from generation to generation, often leading to absentee fathers. Now, obviously this is not true of all men in the villages of Uganda, you will also find good, kind, responsible and compassionate men who are incredibly fathers to their children. We have had the privilege of meeting and working with many of these amazing men, however, they are far too often the exception and not the rule. 

Past generations of women have been taught that their primary role is to take care of the home and their children, which leave little time for education and development of skills that would provide financial stability for their futures. The majority of these women followed the destiny that was pre-determined for them. They left school at an early age, were taught the duties of wife and mother, married or became pregnant at a young age and relied on their male partners to provide the financial sustenance for their families, while they cared for the children. The problem that has now arisen for many of these women is that the men have gone, leaving them alone, sometimes with various illnesses, but almost inevitably with many children and no means to feed, clothe, protect or educate them. This is when the societal structure begins to take on an unfamiliar appearance. The women will often opt to surrender their children to other people in the community. These people may be extended relatives or may just be someone who has volunteered to help when help was needed. The original plan when the children are surrendered is to develop the skills and financial stability required to eventually bring their children back home. This, however, rarely happens since there are very few resources in place to assist women who find themselves in this situation. So, they settle for weekly, monthly or yearly visits with their children while they entrust the future of their most valuable "possessions"  to often complete strangers. 

This is the reality for many of the women in our vocational program. They are fighting to develop the skills that they will need to be able to care for the children in their care, or to be able to bring their children back home. Many of these women's children attend MCS and we have the chance to meet with and talk with them about their dreams for their children. The one thing that is always first on their list, as the dream they have, is that their children finish their secondary school. They want more for their children than was provided to them. They don't ever want their children to face the same fate that they were handed. And so, when we were given the chance to meet with a large number of the guardians this past week to discuss the child sponsorship program we were met with a gratitude that I have never experienced before. As we read through the list of children that have already received sponsors we were met with tears, some were accompanied by screams others by complete silence and still others stood before us, with tears streaming down their faces as they attempted to articulate what it means to them to know that their child will achieve their dreams. Many of these women do not have their children in their care, others have taken in children from relatives or other community members, but all of them shared in the incredible joy of knowing that the children of MCS are going to be given the chance that many of them never were. They will be healthy, protected, educated and above all empowered, to create their own futures, one that is not impeded by poverty, sickness or abandonment. These children have been granted the priceless gift of a future filled with the ability to dream! How cool is that! 

So to every single person/couple/family who has decided to make sacrifices in their own lives so that these children, and their entire families, can have peace in knowing that they will have the future they deserve, THANK YOU! Truly, we can never convey the impact that you are having but maybe one day you will have the chance to take a trip to Namavundu, Uganda and see for yourself the joy that you have been a part of creating!

~Lindsay Aboud

Education, Far From a Guarantee

We hear it said all the time, "Education is a right that every child should have." This is a wonderful sentiment and easily said when we come from countries that offer spectacular free education systems for all children. But what happens when the education offered by the government, free of charge, is such a waste of time that parents would rather keep their children at home where they will at least learn useful life skills? What about in countries where the poverty rates are so high and mortality rates are so high amoung people in their 20s-40s that children are being orphaned and left to be cared for by family members who are so overburdened with children that they can't afford to pay the cost of one child's tuition, let alone for all of the children in their care? Well, let me share with you the story of two women who have felt the full impact of these realities. In order to protect the identity of these women, I will apply new names for both of them.

Laila is a woman that we have grown to know and care for, who lives very close to us working as a "maid" for a wealthy Ugandan family. One evening when she was sitting with us attempting to help us locate our lost cat, she began to tell us her story, and it goes something like this: when Laila was 6 months old both of her parents died (not sure of the specifics but they are not important here), she was taken in by her aunt and uncle along with her three older siblings. Together the aunt and uncle were now responsible for the care of seven children, all of whom were school-aged, with the exception of Laila. As she grew older she began to face severe abuse at the hands of her uncle, and when the money ran out she was the first one to be pulled from school, following primary 3 (equivalent to grade 3 in Canada/USA). Until she turned 16 years old she continued to help her aunt around the house with chores and to bring in money to pay for the other children's tuition. All the while Laila continued to be abused by her uncle until she had an idea. If she became pregnant and was then forced to be married she would be able to escape the abuse she had lived with for the better part of her life. So that is exactly what she did, she met a boy a couple years older than she was, and she became pregnant and shortly after married. When her son was very young (not sure of the exact age) her husband was in a fatal car accident, with only a primary three level of education Laila was left without any means to care for herself or her child. She was forced to return to her aunt and uncle's home. Laila is now 20 years old and is working as a maid to provide the money necessary for her son to go to nursery school, who lives with her auntie in a village more than one hours drive away. I wish I could say this was a happy story and that she works for a kind family that respects her, but this is not the case. She works for a family that treats her as though she is worth less than dirt. She is not given time off to attend church on Sundays, visit her son more than once every three months, or even to attend the funeral of her niece who recently passed away. What is Laila's response to all of this? "Lin, there are bad things that happen to all of us, but when we can come through them and learn something, and become stronger then we are the ones who have won." She is so wise and so strong and so deserving of far more than the life that she has lived. So Zaid and I have committed to helping her create a new future for herself and her son. She dreams of becoming a hairdresser so she can open her own shop and provide for her son, and that is exactly what she will do. She is set to enroll in the hairdressing program at a school near her village this coming February! This is not meant to make Zaid or I appear as "white saviours" but rather to give you a glimpse into the lives of countless women who truly have so much potential but often have no means to meet that potential. There is no conceivable way that we can help every woman with a story similar to that of Laila, but we certainly can try to offer a hand up to as many as we can, within the means we have been given. Mary is an example of another woman that is paving her own destiny in an incredible way. 

Now, Mary has a story similar to Laila in that she also has very limited education and lost her parents at a young age. She also lost her husband when she had young children (five to be exact) who she had no ability to provide for on her own. The thing that makes Mary different than Laila is that she has HIV (as did her husband and two of her small children). This means that she not only has to access the necessary medications for her and her children but she also struggles to find a safe place to raise her children away from the incredible stigma that hangs over her head. In an effort to assist Mary, Nagadya Lillian Mugalula took her children to MCS so that they could attend school for free. In the meantime, Mary has enrolled in the women's vocational program with Bridging Villages and has begun to learn skills that will equip her with the means to care for her children. She has even become a community advocate for other HIV+ women when they are giving birth. She talks to them about the importance of taking their medication and having their children tested as well as the risks and benefits of breastfeeding. She is truly an incredible woman and has come a very long way since we first met her two years ago. But here is the most touching part, today we had the chance to tell Mary that two of her sons have received sponsors and will be going to secondary school in the next couple of years. We were expecting her to smile, say thank you and possibly give us a hug...what we were met with was so much more. She crumpled into her chair, weeping and repeating over and over that "this cannot be true, thank you mama and to both of you" (this was said in Lugandan) as she looked back and forth between Lillian and us. She could not believe that her children would have the chance that she never did. That her children would have a chance at their dreams. That she would not see her children repeat the same cycle that she had been forced to be a part of. 

These are the stories of countless people in Uganda. These are the stories that we are working so hard to eradicate. We don't want there to be a child in Uganda that is stripped of the chance to achieve their dreams and of the chance to complete their education. We dream of a Uganda that is made up of a generation of educated, empowered, and successful people who were simply granted the right that we all believe should be automatic for every child, that of an education.

~Lin Aboud 

If you want to make a difference, you must make an effort

Nothing comes easy in Uganda. Every street that you walk down is overflowing with women, men and children struggling to make enough money to survive. Yesterday when we were driving in a matatu (12 passenger van taxi) into Kampala we were passed by a black van, with what sounded like young girls yelling in the back. At the next intersection, while we were waiting behind a myriad of vehicles, we saw dozens of children of all ages run as fast as possible past our taxi. Immediately afterwards the other passengers in the taxi with us began to laugh and yell out the window at the kids. We then looked to our right and saw the same black van that we had previously seen, pulled over with two men chasing after, and forcing the children into the van. What became very clear was that these children were not just regular children, but rather they were homeless and were all out on the streets begging for money from anyone who was passing by (in vehicles or on foot). What I failed to mention earlier, is that the area of Kampala that we were in was the "rich, government sector" where a lot of business people and Muzungus (foreigners) are often found. I should stop here and explain that the only reason we were also in this area is because we were scheduled to be at a lawyer's appointment. Normally we avoid the muzungu rich areas of Uganda. Anyway, back to the "story", it became very apparent to us that the kids were being rounded up by these men as a means to "clean up" the streets so that the businessmen and muzungus would not be harassed by them on their lunch breaks or when they were in their cars driving home at the end of the day.  There are countless reasons why these children are homeless, including the loss of their parents, lack of education of their parents and thus lack of ability to provide for their children, fleeing abuse or neglect, or because it is all they know (they were born on the streets). I am definitely guilty of becoming annoyed with the constant stream of children that will unapologetically and with great fervor, approach us on the street for money. However, the reason for this annoyance is a feeling of complete helplessness. There is absolutely no way that we can give money to all the children who ask for it (often dozens at one time) and so we are forced to look these kids in the eye and tell them we cannot help them. We succumb to the feelings of inadequacy and helplessness. Not once during one of these moments of frustration have I wished that the children would just be cleared away like unsightly trash from the side of a road. The fact that the locals only laughed and jostled the kids from their windows was infuriating for me and left me in tears at the back of the taxi. But then it hit me like a brick wall, when we are back home in Canada, how many children have we passed on the streets who need our help, and are in manageable numbers that we could actually stop and offer some sort of assistance, but instead we drive past because they have become commonplace and just another part of the "scenery" on the way home after a long day at work. How many times have we become annoyed by the squeegee kid at our window or the young runaway who persistently follows us to our car after shopping, asking us for money. We are no better than the people here who have become so used to the tragedy around them that they have become numb to the fact that these are children, that they see every day just want a shot at a life like everyone else. 

It doesn't matter what continent we are living in, there is extreme poverty everywhere. These people are often victims of their surroundings and can rarely do anything to pull themselves out of their current state without the love and servitude of those around them. So in the short term, we now walk around with a pocket full of 100 shilling coins ready at any given moment to hand them out to any child that needs it. In the long term, we are committed to helping as many children here in Uganda, as well as back home in Canada to be able to lift their heads above the waves of desperation and lack of education, that are seemingly drowning them every day of their lives.

When we are lucky enough to have more than we need, it is our obligation to give to others, to bless them so that they too can bless others. 

~Lin Aboud

 

Settling into Life in Uganda

Zaid and Lindsay (me) Aboud, the co-founders of Bridging Villages, made a huge life change in July of 2016, when we relocated to Uganda to better run the day-to-day activities of the organization.  Over the past two weeks, we have been working closely with Nagadya Lillian Mugalula, who is the director of Mugalula Community School (MCS), in an effort to organize the child sponsorship program and to prioritize the needs of MCS in the coming year.  

Together, we have decided that the goals for the remainder of 2016 are as follows:

1. Complete the land purchase for MCS 

2. Get at least 25 students (including all 9 students currently in Primary 7 or higher) sponsored so that the nutritional program at the school will benefit all kids rather than only a few. Also, if all nine older children receive sponsor parents this year, they will be able to attend Secondary School at the start of the new school year here in Uganda, which is the first week in February.

3. Begin construction on the main school house, which will provide enough classrooms for every child to learn in a safe, clean and protected environment.

The kids are all so excited that we are here and that our programs will be rolled out in the very near future. We are greeted every day by smiling children who run from their classrooms to meet us and give us the biggest hugs you have ever felt. Over the past two years, we have worked very hard to ensure these children trust us and our intentions. They know that we will protect them and their stories and that we will never betray that trust.  For this reason, you will never see posts or blogs detailing the horrible past that many of these children have faced.  Rather we will focus on the present and the future. Every child at MCS has been given a second chance to achieve their dreams. All they truly want is to be able to finish their schooling so that they might have a life that is different from that of their parents. They want to be able to care for themselves and their families and to be able to make a difference in their country. So, we will bring you stories of hope and of joy. Yes, there will be tears along the way, likely from members of our board of directors, but every post, blog entry, picture, will always contain a glimmer of happiness and light, which is what these children exude.  

Aside from MCS, we are also partnering with a rural medical clinic, Mirembe Health Centre III, which provides medical services to thousands of people in the greater Gayaza region (including community members from Namavundu, the home of MCS). While we have been in Uganda we have worked alongside the directors and health care professionals at the clinic to develop goals for Bridging Villages.  Zaid, has already spent a few days over the past two weeks working at the clinic, assisting Doctor Lydia with her patient load, which has provided a birds-eye view of exactly how the clinic is currently functioning and potential opportunities for us to be able to offer assistance.  More to come on this front in the near future. 

The women's vocational program is developing slowly but surely. The women are hard at work making the bead designs for a local sandal maker.  We are excited to meet with the women in the coming weeks and to begin discussions on what they would like to see in this program moving forward. Keep your eyes peeled at local markets within Manitoba and British Columbia, over the next year, where you will be able to purchase these gorgeous sandals and help to support a woman in Uganda in her fight to provide for her family. 

Today, we will be spending the afternoon at MCS, celebrating a wonderful volunteer, Claudine, from France, who has spent the past three weeks working at the school and at Mirembe Health Centre III. She is due to head home on Saturday but she has left a large imprint on the lives of many people here in Uganda, including the little ones at MCS. She has truly taken the time to invest into the lives of these kids, and they won't soon forget her. Come back soon Claudine!!!!

On a personal note, the launching of Bridging Villages marks the fulfillment of a dream that my husband, Zaid, and I have had since we first met Lillian and her kids in 2014. We knew that as two graduate students, we had very little to offer, in the way of financial support, but we could do so much more. While we sent as much money as we could personally manage to assist in the development of MCS and the care of the 26 children that are in Lillian's care, we also began to realize that many of our friends and family members wanted so badly to help in whatever way possible. The decision to start a Canadian charitable organization was an easy one. We knew that if we could navigate through the unending red tape associated with starting such an organization, that the lives of so many people in Uganda and Canada would be changed. To be a part of a community like Namavundu, Uganda, is unlike anything we have ever experienced. We are a part of their family, and they ours. So, when our family was in need, we did everything we could to meet that need. Our family in Uganda needed a hand in ensuring that their children were able to fulfill their dreams, and our family in Canada needed a hand in experiencing the purest form of joy that is lived every day in the smallest villages of Uganda. Together, provided the bridge by which these villages across the world became connected, and we couldn't be more humbled or honoured to play our parts in this incredible story. 

~Lindsay Aboud