Rebekah McKerley
Rebekah McKerley
Uganda, 2019 - 2021
Hello! I am living in Jinja, Uganda, for 2 years working with HEAL Ministries as a social worker. HEAL is a non-profit whose goal is family preservation. In this role, I will be expanding the social work program so that we can provide more resources to single-parent families. Read More About Rebekah →

the mundane

Life is slow and simple these days. We are on day 49 of lockdown. I’ve been getting out of the house more often and walking to HEAL as well as to town to pick up a few things. Most people are wearing masks. The number of cases are slowly rising, but it is all cargo truck drivers that are testing positive.

I’m enjoying having plenty of time to cook and try new recipes. I am currently eating my mac & cheese leftovers from last night. I found a great homemade tortilla recipe and made chicken tacos. I even made pumpkin bread from an actual pumpkin! You have to make almost everything from scratch here because you can’t buy things like canned pumpkin or tortillas in town.

Lake Victoria is continuing to rise from all the extra rain over the last year in East Africa. It is currently at the highest level ever recorded. Therefore, flooding has occurred in parts of Uganda as well as other countries surrounding the big lake. Flooding is always devastating, but the severity is only heightened when it occurs in the midst of a lockdown from a global pandemic. Jinja, the town where I live, sits along the shores of Lake Victoria. Several of our preschool and childcare families live right along the edge of the water in a fishing slum called Rippon. This week we will be distributing food and helping some of them move to safer homes. Thankfully one of our social workers lives right across the street from me, so she has been helping me figure out how we can effectively help during this lockdown. I am also thankful that our staff are still getting paid even with the James Place being closed.

It’s easy to get sad and lethargic when I’m stuck at home and not able to drive anywhere for almost 2 months. Each day I try to find something hopeful. Yesterday I found hope in one of our 3 year old preschooler’s improved English. Sunday I found hope in a coworkers call to check in on me. Today I find hope in the sunshine and beautiful lush plants of Jinja.

Life is simple and mundane these days. Doing simple daily tasks take longer here than in Nashville. I wash all my dishes by hand, sweep the floors almost daily because the amount of dirt/dust that collects in here is insane, cook meals from scratch, and hand-wash clothes. A lot of people back in the States think that life in Uganda is full of adventure and exciting days, and while some days truly are that way, the majority of my days are simple and mundane, even when there isn’t a global pandemic going on. To be honest though, I love the simplicity of life here in Uganda. It is refreshing and allows me to focus on things like community and relationships instead of productivity.

The Strength of Uganda

This time in life is crazy and weird and with all the uncertainty of the future, I know we are all struggling in our own ways. It’s a lot to process all at once. My brain is slowly processing bits and pieces each day. A lot happened the week before everything closed here, and I’m finally processing all of it. A staff member lost her baby less than 12 hours after giving birth prematurely. I was there at the hospital when the baby was born, and I held his fingers while he struggled to breathe and was put in the NICU. Getting the dreaded call hours later was rough, but I never had time to fully process it because everything was so hectic trying to close the organization down because of the virus. So now that my brain is processing everything, I’m more tired than usual, so I’ve been taking a lot of naps. I’m exercising every day. I’m watching through the entire show of “Friends” because something lighthearted and funny is what my heart needs right now. I read news reports of what is happing in the United States and it breaks my heart. I’ve been on lockdown for 4 weeks now, but the virus isn’t bad here.

I finally finished this puzzle I was working on for a while!

Thankfully there has not been an outbreak here in Uganda. I have been genuinely impressed with how the government has taken this very seriously and created lots of restrictions to prevent the virus from spreading. At the moment, we have 79 cases and 0 deaths. 46 of the 79 cases have recovered and been sent home. The last 25ish cases have been cargo truck drivers coming through from Kenya and Tanzania to deliver goods. The government is testing every single driver at the border though, and putting tracking devices on every truck as well as having designated rest stops for the truck drivers to try to prevent them from spreading the virus.

A lot of articles were circulating the internet in mid-March when the virus started getting bad in the States. They all said that Africa was next, and that it would be hit even worse. I have spent a lot of time thinking about how sad and messed up it is that America always portrays the continent of Africa as helpless and worse off, even during a global pandemic. A lot of people were surprised when I said I felt safer here than in the States. While Uganda definitely doesn’t have the same level of medical care as the U.S., Uganda has tons of experience in containing outbreaks and diseases. They are leaders in containing Ebola. They have experience in containing outbreaks of Yellow Fever, Measles, and Crimean Congo Hemorrhagic Fever. Uganda also contained the deadly Marburg virus in 2017 to only 3 deaths. There is even a PBS article titled “How Uganda’s History of Epidemics Has Prepared it for COVID-19.”

America could learn a thing or two from Uganda about containing outbreaks. While the lockdown has not been fun and everyone would love to go back to work, it has been critical in containing the spread of COVID-19. The Minister of Health in Uganda has done an amazing job of educating the public about the seriousness of the virus as well as explaining why the government is taking the measures that it is. She gave one of the best talks on COVID-19 that I have heard from any government official around the world.

So before you go assuming that Africa will always be worse off than the U.S., do some research and learn about the strengths and experiences of this beautiful continent. Each country is unique and has its own history and culture. Uganda’s experience in epidemics is a huge asset in containing COVID-19. It may not have all the high-tech hospitals of America, but it has its own techniques and abilities to stop diseases.

I’ve gotten a bunch of yummy avocados off this tree in my yard! I also try to watch the sunset each day because it’s my favorite.

Lockdown in Uganda

The world is full of uncertainty in the midst of this pandemic. Here in Jinja, Uganda, the situation has been changing daily, as it must be everywhere right now. The evening of March 18th, before there were any reported cases of COVID-19 in Uganda, President Museveni announced his first measures to prevent the spread of the virus to Uganda. Schools, religious gatherings, weddings, funerals, and any gatherings of more than 10 people were stopped for the next 32 days. Borders were also closed to prevent anyone from bringing the virus to Uganda. At HEAL Ministries, we have at least 220 people on property each day. Because of that and also because we have a preschool, we had to close the ministry for 32 days to abide by President Museveni’s orders.

We had one last day of work after the announcement to close everything up for (at least) one month. With an organization as big as ours, that is not an easy task. Thankfully, the management team is full of amazing talented staff members that stepped up to be sure everything got done. Caroline wrote letters to send home to parents and Prossy contacted the labor office to be sure we did everything according to the law. Christine took inventory of all the food we had remaining. Paul agreed to work overtime as our security guard during the time off. Aisha, Rebecca, and Barbara assured all of our preschoolers not to fear but to enjoy time at home with their families. Sylvia prepared the childcare department and made sure each child went home with a letter.

Running the James Place is always a team effort, but March 19th I saw the very best teamwork happening. I was so overwhelmed that day making sure that we didn’t forget anything. I was also worried about how our staff were going to manage being at home for at least one month, and how they would stay healthy if an outbreak came to Uganda. Our amazing intern Delaney noticed how anxious everyone was, and suggested that we spend some time in praise and worship after our staff meeting. So, after informing staff of our closure and advice of how to stay healthy during this time, we gathered together and sang songs of praise to our God of comfort. I teared up listening to our staff of resilient and strong women singing their hearts out to God.

Watching a storm roll in from my porch while the chickens run around.

I am so thankful that we had the money to buy food to send home with all 73 staff members. We bought some rice, beans, and other food to send home with each staff to help lift their burden of feeding their whole family during this time. When the James Place is open our staff receives a snack and lunch every day at work, and their children who are in school receive lunch. Therefore, with everything closed, parents have a bigger burden of trying to provide all 3 meals a day for their families. Several of our staff members spent a couple hours bagging up all the food to send home with staff at the end of the day. With that extra food plus their usual salary that they will still be receiving while we are closed, hopefully each family will be able to stay safe and have enough to eat.

Enjoying the baby goats on my compound has been a highlight of this lockdown.

Since President Museveni’s first protective measures, we have since gone into total lockdown. It was originally a 14 day lockdown, but it has been extended for another 3 weeks. The only places still open are banks, supermarkets, hospitals, pharmacies, and a few government offices. The only vehicles allowed on the road are cargo trucks, government vehicles, ambulances, and motorcycles that are allowed to deliver food but not carry any passengers. Our borders are closed. As of this morning, 7,693 people have been tested for COVID-19 in Uganda. Of those tested, 55 were positive. Almost all of the positive cases were people who came from abroad within 3 days of the borders closing, but a few are family members of those who came in from abroad. 12 of the 55 cases have already recovered and been released from the hospital. We have 0 deaths, and the government says that all of the patients are stable and responding well to treatment.

The Ugandan government is working extremely hard to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19. I am thankful for how serious they are taking this and how they are doing everything they can to prevent the spread of the virus. Uganda is the leader in containing Ebola, and they have lots of experience in other infectious diseases as well, so they are not naive to the measures it takes to contain a disease. The CDC for Africa is based in Uganda, so that also helps! I have been very impressed with the ways the government is educating people on the virus as well as the extreme measures they are taking to contain the virus.

During the lockdown I have been staying at home and occasionally walking to work to check on the property. I have a trusted boda (motorcycle) driver who I send to buy me food if I need anything. I have been watching lots of episodes of “Friends” as well as working on a puzzle and reading books about how trauma effects our bodies. I have been able to facetime with family and friends as well as call friends here in Jinja to check in on one another. I cooked some chocolate chip cookies yesterday with a bag of chocolate chips that my friend brought from the States at Christmas. A little taste of home was SO nice! Trying to create a routine when there’s very little work to do and I’m at home all day has been difficult, but I’m starting to get the hang of it. I’m soaking up some vitamin D in the sun each day as well as working out. We have at least 20 more days of this lockdown, but I am thankful that the lockdown appears to be working and an outbreak has not occurred yet. I am healthy and safe in my home here in Jinja, and I appreciate those of you who have checked in to be sure I am doing well! I hope all of you are hanging in there and staying safe as well.

Watching the Virus from Afar

Oh, the coronavirus. It is all people are talking about these days! It has been really interesting to watch from my small-town home in East Africa. The virus hasn’t reached us here in Uganda yet, and I am thankful for that. I am hoping and praying that it magically stays away, because I know that as soon as it reaches Uganda, it is going to be extremely hard on this country.

It will be hard for people to quarantine in a country where it is common for 15+ people live in one home. It will be hard for everyone in the slums where hundreds of people live in extremely close quarters with a major lack of sanitation and clean toilets. It will be hard in a culture where VERY few people can stock up on food because:

  1. Power is unreliable and goes out frequently, therefore stockpiling food in your fridge/freezer is not a reliable option.
  2. Most people struggle to afford money for that very day, let alone buy enough food to get through a few weeks of quarantine.
  3. Most people make money by running their own business, and how will they have any income if they are home and the business is closed?

So far there are a few cases in Kenya and Rwanda, which neighbor Uganda. There are no reported cases here yet, but everyone thinks it’s only a matter of time. All I know is that when the threat becomes real in Uganda, we will close the James Place to protect our 74 staff members and 145 kids as well as their families. We have so many people that enter our compound each day.

Ugandans are no strangers to diseases. They have watched ebola spread through their own country long ago and other African countries in recent years. They have witnessed countless people die from malaria and typhoid. I know that Ugandans are strong and will be able to handle this virus, but that doesn’t mean it won’t have a terrible impact on this small country.

I selfishly hope it does not come here because I want to marry my best friend on May 23rd with my family by my side, and this whole pandemic thing is throwing a real wrench into that plan. But I know that this is completely out of my control and all I can do is trust the Lord. Right now, I am safe and sound here in Jinja. The Ugandan Minister of Health has issued a 14-day self-quarantine for travelers coming from countries where the outbreak is bad. But other than that, we are washing our hands a lot and trying to mentally prepare ourselves for the day it reaches here.

We had a goodbye party for our beloved Noah, who just moved to the States!

We had the sweetest birthday party for Caroline! We went on a boat ride to the source of the Nile River.

Empowerment

Empowerment: The process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights.

Empowerment has become a buzzword these days within the context of NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and humanitarian work. Almost everyone claims to empower locals, but how are they doing that and is it really happening? This is something I have been contemplating a lot over the last few months.

There is a big difference between helping and empowering. Helping an individual could look like buying food or paying their rent. It could look like connecting them to the correct resources based on their particular needs. There are so many ways to help someone, but empowering someone looks different and is not nearly as easy. Empowering someone involves walking alongside them and building a relationship of equality, not a relationship of a giver and beggar. It involves encouragement and strengths perspective. It involves teaching life skills and building up the natural talents of an individual. You have to see the other person as equal, as deserving of the privilege and rights that you yourself have. That can be rare to find within the NGO context of developing countries. A lot of the missionaries/expats that come into countries like Uganda view the locals as poor people that need saving. They don’t see them as truly equals, and I don’t think it is possible to empower an individual if you don’t see them as an equal.

My job here at HEAL has put me in a really unique place of equipping and empowering our management team staff members. When Trey, our operations manager, moved back to the States at the end of 2019, it created a really great opportunity for our management team to step up and lead. Trey’s role has been divided up between the management team members, and now they each have more responsibility than they did previously. They still continue to look to me, the white person, to give instructions and lead. This is the unique position I have right now– I get to remind them that they have a voice and a say in the matter. Management gets to decide as a team; I am not the only one making decisions. All 12 of us get to make decisions together about what is best for the organization. I am loving this role that I have right now. I get to sit alongside these staff members and encourage them to use their voices and to advocate for what they believe is best. I remind them that they know more than I do, and that my skin color does not mean I get to make all the decisions. To be fair, I don’t always do it perfectly and there are days where I want to make the final decision because I don’t agree. But I have to remind myself to step back and listen to these hardworking wise individuals who know the culture and organization far more than I do.

I know that empowering our staff is going to be a long journey and change won’t happen overnight. But there is nothing else in the world I would rather do than try to empower the people who society treats as less than.

Traffic in Kampala, the capital city

 

Community

My life in Uganda is in some ways just like my life in Nashville, and in other ways it is drastically different. Today I finished work at 5, went to town to buy some food for dinner, spent some time talking to a dear friend, and now I’m typing away as I eat peanut M&M’s and watch “The Holiday.” What makes it so different than life in the States is that the reason I got dinner in town is because my power had been out for over 36 hours (praise Jesus it is now back!), and this bag of peanut M&M’s is a treasured gift brought from the States that I am trying to make last as long as possible.

Sunset dinner overlooking the Nile River. I will always be in awe that this is my life right now!

January flew by. Work kept me super busy as we prepared for the new school year to start and accepted 20 new childcare kids into our childcare program. We hired several new staff members, and we have been working hard at organizing and improving policies and procedures. I even started my new role- social work coordinator and admin manager! It’s basically the same I was doing before with social work plus I got added to the management team to help oversee staff issues and I will now be doing payroll for the staff each month. It is all social work related– making sure that everything is running smoothly and providing resources and help to the staff.  I am really enjoying having more responsibility and I’m being challenged in really good ways.

I think one of the hardest parts about being here so far has been community. I miss getting to live with some of my best friends and having the rest of my college friends just down the road. It took time, but I made such a sweet community of friends at Belmont, and I definitely miss it a lot. Friendships and community can take a long time to build, and it’s especially hard to find time to invest in these relationships when I work from 8-5 Monday through Friday. I am slowly learning how to balance work, relationships, sleep, food, and exercising. It’s something I know I would be struggling with anywhere I lived post grad, and I know all my friends from college are in the same boat. Let’s be honest, adulthood can be scary and overwhelming and lots of responsibility that we don’t always feel ready for. But with time, I know that I will build a strong community here. I can already see it beginning.

One idea I came up with to help me in this endeavor, is that I try to have someone over for dinner every other week. Hospitality is such an important value in Ugandan culture, and I want to use my home here to welcome people in and give them a safe space to be themselves. We have been breaking bread together and talking long into the night, and each time I’ve had someone over it has been such an encouraging time that fills me up and leaves me a better person. Ugandan culture is teaching me more and more about the importance of relationships. Life can get really hard at times, but having people around us to encourage us and lift us up makes the world of a difference. Uganda has such a community focused culture, unlike the individualist culture of the United States. I think the U.S. has so much to learn from cultures like this one.

Sweet baby Juma! His mom is on staff with us and he is in our childcare program.

A New Year

Happy New Year from Uganda!

I spent New Year’s Eve watching fireworks and listening to live music at a local hotel, and it was honestly so much fun! Everyone was cheering and dancing and there was so much joy. I am excited to see what this new year in Uganda will hold.

I spent Christmas with this family I love so much!

We started back to work this week, and it has been crazy busy. There are so many things to do now that we are back after a month off. School fees have to be paid for our scholarship kids in primary school, teachers have to plan for the new preschool year (the new school year starts in February here), new staff has to be trained, bills have to be paid, new supplies must be bought, etc. Starting this month, I have been given some more responsibility, including being added to the management team and helping oversee staff issues.

As the new year begins, we are working on improving policies and procedures for various departments in the organization. For example, we are planning out exact procedures for any emergency that could take place that would prevent a parent from being able to take their child home at the end of the workday. We already have some procedures set in place, but it is always good to be extra thorough, especially when we are responsible for 145 children. You never know what could happen, and we have to always be prepared and know how to ethically handle any situation that could occur.

It has been interesting learning the differences between social work in the States verses social work in Uganda. Social work here in Uganda is a fairly new profession, and therefore there is not a social work council that oversees and regulates the profession. In the States, there is an entire code of ethics and values for social workers that must be followed, but here in Uganda that doesn’t exist on a national basis. A lot of the universities teach the ethics and values used in the U.S., but there is not an adapted one for best practice in Ugandan culture. The profession of social work is also commonly not understood here. Social workers tend to be used for home visits and maintaining files on clients, but there is SO much more that social workers are capable to do. They can be counselors, advocates, mediators, managers, educators, and so much more. I truly believe that social workers can make a massive difference in the fight for equity and justice here in Uganda.

Watching a storm roll in as I walk home. The compound on the left is where I live!

A word I have been thinking about a lot since the new year started is advocate. I want to be an advocate for Ugandans. I want to advocate for their rights, and I want to advocate for them to use their voices. In a country that was once a British colony, many locals are taught in school that the white person is superior. I’ve had friends tell me that they were always told to do what the white person says, and to not talk back. Even though Uganda gained independence in 1962, the effects of colonization can still be seen today. I want to advocate for our staff and kids, and help them know that their voices matter. They should stand up for their rights, their opinions, and their beliefs. They are beautiful and strong humans who must be heard.

Rainy Holidays

Rainy season in Uganda normally lasts about 3 months at a time, but this year it has been raining since April. Recently, in Western and Northern Uganda, a heavy rain caused mudslides and flooding. Roads were washed away, houses were destroyed, and people who survive off of their land found piles of rock and dirt covering every bit of land they owned. It is going to be very hard for them to recover. They lost all their belongings, their livelihood, and they have no bank account with savings to help them rebuild. The news, however, says that Uganda is not nearly as affected as several other East African countries. Please pray that the flooding and mudslides will stop. That the rain will slow down and that dry season will come, but that dry season will be a normal 3 months and not crazy long like this rainy season has been. Climate change is really affecting the weather here on the equator, and it has killed and affected the lives of so many.

On a more exciting note, I moved! My new home is actually right down the road from where I was living before, so thankfully I can still walk to work. I barely have any furniture at the moment, so I’m living out of suitcases and have bags lying in every corner. But I’m excited, over time, to make this place my home. I am living on the bottom level of basically a duplex. There is a pool in the yard, and I am really looking forward to swimming in it during dry season! I have a carpenter making me a table, couch, dresser, and a few other random pieces of furniture. He is making them all by himself, so it will be a long time before they are all done. My new place is slowly coming together. Moving here is stressful, and I miss having the luxury of a target to go get everything I need from, but there is also something uniquely beautiful about slowly curating a home where I get to design exactly what I want and find used items that can be repurposed. My goal over the next couple weeks is to search through central market to find a couple of gently used rugs.

I am now on Christmas break from work! Here in Uganda people typically go to the village for Christmas and New Years to visit with family. Which basically means Jinja town is a lot quieter and shops close up for several weeks. We had a really fun staff Christmas party at work before starting our Holiday break. We played games and gave out gifts and ate yummy food. I am excited to have a break from work though and get to meet up with people I usually don’t have time to see, fix up my new home, and read some fun books. Christmas here will look a lot different than in the States, but I like that this culture is not consumed by materialistic goods at Christmas time. I bought a handmade nativity set in town and a small Charlie Brown looking Christmas tree. Christmas day I’m going to go to church in the morning, and then go spend the day with John’s family in the village. We will cook a big meal and enjoy time with one another. I am absolutely going to miss my family, but I am excited to see what Christmas is like in a village in Uganda.

Last week was one of those reminders that Uganda does not operate the same as the United States. I was supposed to pay for my work permit Monday and pick it up in Kampala on Tuesday, but when I went to the bank to pay they said I must fill out an assessment form before paying, which they no longer carried. They sent me to the Ugandan Revenue Authority, but they also no longer had the form. Even the Immigration office didn’t have a solution to the problem. There were also problems at the bank when I tried to pay some stuff for work. Efficiency is a not a value in this culture, and with unreliable network connections and ever-changing government systems, you never know what problems you’ll run into when trying to do small tasks. Not going to lie, I got very annoyed and frustrated, but I had to remember that this is a different country and culture, and I can’t expect things to happen the same way here as they do in the States. Laws and procedures are different here. It’s not always easy to adapt, but I am learning patience and letting go of my American expectations. Please join me in praying that I will be able to pay for my work permit and pick it up soon so that I don’t run into problems when my visa expires next month.

The highlight of the past month was getting to go to the coast of Kenya for a few days! When my grandmother passed away this year, she left each grandchild some money, and I knew I wanted to use it to travel, especially around Africa because she always dreamed of moving and working here when she was a young adult. I went to Diani Beach which had the clearest water and white sand. It was absolutely beautiful, and such a great time to rest and also see a different East African country. Kenya is far more developed than Uganda, and much bigger too. I got back to Jinja yesterday, and I have the gift of having a dear friend here visiting for a week. We lived together 3 summers ago here in Uganda, and it is so good having her back for a short time! I’m looking forward to time with her and other friends over the next few weeks. It should be an uneventful, rainy, and quiet break, but I am so thankful to have that time so that I can process and reflect on the last few months of life here.

Diani Beach, Kenya

Thanksgiving in Uganda

It’s rainy season here in Uganda, and this afternoon is particularly rainy and cold (yes, the low 70s feels cold to me now). I have Christmas music playing in the background and African tea cooking on the stove. I have an angel made out of banana leaf fibers and a Christmas song quote written on my letter board, but those are really the only Christmas decorations I have so far. Christmas sure does look a lot different here on the equator.

watching the storm roll in

Something I have been learning to enjoy here is cooking from scratch. You can’t go to Trader Joes and buy frozen food or mixes to bake. Pretty much everything has to be made from scratch here. Recently I decided to make some bagels with the “everything but bagel” seasoning I brought. They were really good if I do say so myself, and I found some cream cheese in Kampala to spread over them. I’m hoping to do a lot more baking and cooking over my Christmas break.

Not gonna lie, it was hard being away from family for Thanksgiving. Thankfully, though, I got to celebrate here in Uganda. Since Thanksgiving is not a holiday here in Uganda, we still had a normal day of work. Afterwards, however, Tina and one of our cooks on staff made a delicious Thanksgiving feast for all the interns. We laughed a lot and ate delicious food, and it was really sweet to still celebrate even though we are all away from family. Tina even gave all of us a little goodie bag full of chocolate from the States! It was honestly the best gift haha!

I realized today that Jinja really feels like home now. In ways, it has already felt like that over my time here the past 5 years, but this time it’s more permanent and I’m really doing life here. It is not a vacation or trip. It is not always exciting and fun, but it’s real life happening day in and day out. I was awake at midnight last week vomiting from a parasite, and last month I had a bacterial infection, but I also get to hold the cutest babies and help empower women to sustain their own families. I get to worship God alongside people from all different tribes and tongues, and I get to have dinner along the Nile River with my fiancé. Life is hard and good and joyful and abundant.

This girl was in childcare at the James Place when I was here 5 years ago, and now she’s all grown up and in primary school!

As I head into my last week of work before Christmas break, I am thankful to be here. There are days where I really miss my family and friends back in Nashville, and all I want is to hug my mom, but I also have so much peace about being here. I am learning so much about working cross-culturally, and the differences of best practice in America versus Uganda. Social work looks so much the same and yet also so different between the 2 countries. I am excited to continue to dig in here and learn/grow more over the next 2 years. I can’t believe it’s already been 3 months!

Life is Crazy and Exciting

After some major writer’s block, I am back to update you on all the cray life things happening here in Uganda. The past few weeks have held a lot of growth and good conversations.

Working cross-culturally is so much harder than I remember it being. Maybe that’s because the first time I was here I just helped in childcare, and now I am trying to improve and grow the social work program. But wow, it is not easy navigating cross cultural friendship and work relationships when you have over 70 employees (all but 4 being females) and American interns coming for various amounts of time. How do I push the social workers to be more productive without offending them? How do we start counseling staff in a culture where mental health is not understood? It makes me think through decisions more intentionally and has been such a growing experience.

Things have been crazy around the James Place lately. Tina, the founder and executive director, arrived on the 8th and is here for the next month. Our preschoolers are taking exams this week, the pottery ladies are busy making lots of nativity sets to send back to the States for Christmas, and most of the interns are finishing up their last few weeks here. This year we have 4 weeks off for Christmas, so everyone is hurrying to finalize projects and assignments before we go on break on December 7th. I am looking forward to a break from work to be able to rest and visit with people. Most of our staff goes to the village for Christmas to be with all of their family, and the town of Jinja is a lot more quiet than usual.

The James Place- HEAL’s compound in Jinja, Uganda

It has been raining a lot longer than normal here. Usually rainy season lasts around 3 months, but this year it has been raining since April. Farmers are suffering from too much rain, and the threat of food shortages over the next year are becoming more and more serious. Climate change has definitely affected the weather here in Uganda over the past several years, and for people that live off of the crops they grow, it is a very real threat here.

There have been some really great highlights from the past several weeks of life here:

  1. We had a 2 week break at work, and I got to spend the night at a hotel in Kampala with one of the interns from work. We have become great friends, and it was so nice to have time together in the big city! Our hotel room had air conditioning (it was amazing!!) and we got massages and laid out by the beautiful pool.
  2. One of my college roommates just moved to Uganda and is working with an organization in the Western part of the country. Thankfully she spent about a week in Kampala buying supplies and adjusting before heading to the village where she will live. I got to meet up with her for the day over the weekend, and it was so so good!! We ate yummy food, found some American candy, and caught up on how our past 2½ months have been. I am so happy that she will be in Uganda for the next 2 years, and I look forward to more meet ups in the big city!
  3. Last but not least, I got engaged!! Crazy, I know. I met John back in 2014 when I first came to Uganda, and we spent many weekends with a group of friends watching movies, playing card games, having bonfires, etc. I slowly got to know him more over the following years and hung out with those friends whenever I came back to visit. In the summer of 2017 he asked me out, and at first I told him no. He was gracious and kind, and after a few weeks I came back to him with a changed mind, realizing that I didn’t want to live my life out of fear or choices that were comfortable and safe. So that summer we went on some dates and got to know each other more. I still had 2 years left of school though, so we kept in touch but didn’t really have any idea of how it could work. I went back for a month in July 2018, and that’s when we really started dating. The past year with him has been the best. He has helped me learn to use my voice and to stand up for my opinions (something this enneagram 9 often struggles with), and his tender yet strong heart is my safe place to run to. He loves the Lord and truly lives out his faith more than any guy I know. He graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering in May, and he loves to fix anything and everything. John is the greatest example of redemption in my life, and the fact that we are standing here engaged today is a testament to the Lord, because we could not have ever gotten here on our own accord. There were way to many roadblocks for this to happen because of us.  I will still be working at HEAL for 2 years, so this won’t change any of that. John is still working as a mechanic with a local non-profit, but he is also looking for a better job with bigger companies around town. We are super excited to see what the Lord has in store for our future!