Alyssa Stephens
Alyssa Stephens
Uganda, 2022-2023
Grace and peace to you! My name is Alyssa, and I am spending a year in Jinja, Uganda working with HEAL Ministries. HEAL is an organization that offers wrap-around services to champion sustainability and family preservation. I graduated from Belmont in May 2022 and feel abundantly blessed to embark on this new journey. Read More About Alyssa →

merry mushrooms and making matoke

Hello there!

I hope you are doing well and that you can take a moment to breathe + just be today 🙂

Here in Jinja, the past few weeks have been a bit of a breathing opportunity, time for the women and children at HEAL to decompress and regroup. After a busy end to the term, the preschool teachers and students spent the past two weeks away from HEAL for holiday! The absence of the ten teachers and 96 students is deeply felt, leaving the James Place quieter. While it has been nice to move at a slower pace and take on a few less responsibilities, their return next week is much anticipated!

Hehe I realized earlier this week that I haven’t yet told you what a typical day at HEAL looks like for me, so now is the time! After arriving to the James Place (the name of the property HEAL operates from) at 8:00, I join the women for morning prayer and songs. This time, which lasts until about 8:30, is a wonderful opportunity to greet one another and center our hearts and minds before the day’s work begins. Once morning prayers are over, the time for work is split into three times slots: 8:30-10:15, 10:30-12:30, and 2:00-4:00. Between the two morning work times, we have a break in which we eat breakfast, a yummy and happy occasion! At 12:30, I help bathe the kiddos in childcare before putting them down for a nap. Then, the staff gathers at 1:00 to eat lunch and enjoy free time until 2:00. People enjoy napping, talking, calling friends and family, or playing volleyball (a very popular activity!). Haha as I am quite bad at volleyball but have been told that I should practice every day in order to get better, I find myself behind the net most days!

During the work times, I help out in HEAL’s various departments. I work in the social work office every day and spend time with the pottery, laundry, leather, preschool, and childcare departments on differing weekdays. I really enjoy this, as I have gotten to spend time with almost every person at HEAL and get a comprehensive view of the many different gears that spin so that the organization operates well. This schedule also keeps the days fresh.

Within the moments of the day, there are so many memories made. Here are a few moments that stand out from the past two weeks:

Last Friday, one of the social workers, R, and I walked to the Immigration Office in order to submit the documents needed for my Ugandan work permit. While we thought we had everything we needed in the 48-page file we brought with us, the lady in the office told us that we were missing two documents. Thankfully we had the documents on my phone, though we spent the next two hours trying to print them out so that they could be submitted with the rest of the file. After spending two and a half hours trying to get the WiFi and printer to cooperate, paper copies of the documents finally found themselves in our hands, and R and I left with the work permit! Haha as it was 2:30 at this point, we beelined back to the James Place at the requests of our growling tummies.

On Monday, the ladies and I arrived at work to find tiny mushrooms budding all over a portion of the grass. A few of the ladies placed tarps over the ground in order to help the mushrooms grow and stay protected. On Wednesday, the mushrooms were ready for picking! Grabbing whatever buckets, cups, and basins we could find, we spent a portion of the morning picking the mushrooms. The next day, the women gleefully shared about how they cooked the mushrooms the night before, some using them for a stew or sauce while others ate them with rice. What a random treat the blossoming mushrooms were!

On Tuesday, Cassidy and I decided that we wanted to cook together after work! We walked to a nearby market for fresh tomatoes, onions, peppers, garlic, and matoke. Matoke is a staple crop in parts of Uganda that looks like a banana and tastes like plantains or potatoes. After buying and enjoying some jackfruit at a pop-up stand, we walked back to the place I live at and began cooking! What a fun time it was—cutting veggies, boiling the matoke, adding seasoning and salt, and watching the foods turn a darker, richer color as they cooked. The smell of the food was surpassed only by its taste, and I was oh so thankful when, after eating, we realized that we had enough for leftovers later in the week!

I am thankful for God’s continual provision and presence and am blessed to find myself in Uganda. These past two weeks were a gift.

With love,



High: One morning, a few of the kids in childcare turned the picnic table into a pirate ship and the grass into the ocean. We had SO much fun swimming out to nearby islands to find flowers, a racecar driver, a pet dog, food, medicine for our bad coughs, and similar items before jumping back onto the ship and setting sail once more. It felt as though time stood still as we let our imaginations run wild.

Low: As nice as the past weeks have been overall, there have been some sorrowful moments as I grapple with friends returning to Nashville and the college semester beginning again. I miss university and the activities I was a part of there because of how good and meaningful they were. It was a gift to attend Belmont, and now, I am sad that I am no longer there. I rejoice in what once was even as I allow myself to feel the growing pains of no longer being in school.

Buffalo: Hehe as the bananas here in Uganda are deliciously yellow and sweet, I decided to buy all of the ingredients needed to make banana zucchini muffins! After mashing, measuring, and mixing, I poured the batter in a pan and opened the oven. To my surprise, there was already a loaf of banana bread in it—a loaf that one of the HEAL cooks made for me to eat over the weekend! I couldn’t help but laugh and laugh as I took the loaf out and put the muffins in. Haha as a result, there has been much eating and sharing of banana bread and muffins over the weekend!

Words of Wisdom: A quote by Frederick Buechner that resounds with hope:

“What’s lost is nothing to what’s found, and all the death that ever was, set next to life, would scarcely fill a cup.”


one day, i was walking to work and looked up to see this merry monkey in a tree! if only i had had a banana with me..

some of the teensie mushrooms the HEAL ladies and i picked to later enjoy eating

here are some of the journals and other HEAL products at a shop in town! the staff taught me how to stitch the binding on these three journals 🙂

with my work permit, i can officially stay in Uganda for the year!

my friend P and i taking a break from work to craft this new pal out of polymer clay. please feel free to share any name suggestions if you have any!

the matoke that Cassidy and i made! it may look a bit mushy, but boy was it yummy!

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