It’s hard to even write this blog post. Saying goodbye to Nsumba was an incredibly difficult thing to do.
Monday started off with an hour delay waiting for our drivers to arrive, then out to Nsumba (without the high school crew, who had gone north to Gulu). This meant that with our short-handedness, I took over the job of writing down each student’s name on a chalkboard and taking a picture which will be attached to their medical record. We got through 117 kids in the morning, which was an incredible number, however I felt bad having to work the entire time while so many of the kids stood around just watching. I wanted SO BADLY to go out and play with them! I had been wanting to start some toothbrush education today also, but there just wasn’t a chance to escape the medical examination line. After a lunch of mangoes and bananas, I got called down to a photo-op by Sister Sylvia, the head of the orphanage, presenting a few of our donations to the students. After our celebration day, which was apparently too unorganized, all our supplies and donations were ‘confiscated’ by Sister to be handed out more orderly. We weren’t thrilled about this, not being able to give out the stuff ourselves, but she’s the boss. So, after a few staged photos of kids receiving t-shirts, the mesh-bags with mess-kits inside, and posing while holding 2 soccer-balls (but not being allowed to play with them), I rejoined the rest of the group. My station had been filled though, so lucky, me.. I got to play! :)
It started, as it usually does here, with kids asking to have their photos taken, then me turning around the camera and showing them (to lots of pointing and giggling :) ). Then more kids, and more photos, and more kids, and more photos, and pretty soon I’m surrounded by about 30 kids all crowding in fighting to see the camera! Soo, a few seconds of racking my brain for entertainment, and I suggested Duck-Duck-Goose! The kids LOVED it! It took a little while to teach them that they didn’t always have to say ‘duck’ twice before goose, and also that they had to run around the outside of the circle as opposed to through the center of it, but pretty soon we had a group of about 50 kids, ages 5 to 15 all playing the game! My crew of girls (Stellah, Casie, Jackie, Rose, and Sylvia) were of course close at hand and helped out extremely in translating for the other kids. We also gave an attempt at Red Rover, Red Rover, and also Freeze Tag, but Duck-Duck-Goose was king of the day :) After that, the kids taught me 3 or 4 of their games, which would take too much space to describe here, but were a lot of fun and usually had a song that went along with them.
And then Stellah and Rose just about broke my heart. They each wrote me the absolute most adorable letters, with home-made envelopes around them, written in different color ink and with pictures of flowers around the sides. The letters themselves were the most heartfelt words I’ve ever read, each thanking me for their gifts, and telling me how much they love me and that they will pray for me and my family back in America. They each asked me to pray for them, telling me that they want to be nurses when they grow up and that they will try very hard in school. These girls have never sent a real letter in the mail, or emailed, or talked to someone on the phone, yet made me letters. They have zero money to pay for college, yet they have aspirations and hope of a better life. I hope to God that they get the opportunity, but driving back from the orphanage and looking at the streets of Kampala, I know their chances are not good.
That night, I wrote each of them a letter back and included my contact information (should they ever get an opportunity to use some sort of contact technology) as well as my two spare passport photos. I also wrote letters to Jackie, Sylvia, and Casie, which I gave out the next morning, our last day at the orphanage.
It ended up being an extremely short day, which started with my tooth-brushing class. I managed to get a classroom full of 100 students, all of which received toothbrushes and toothpaste (the baking soda thing fell through). I gave a 15 min lecture in English, and then I personally went around and observed each of them demonstrating proper brushing technique.
After that, a couple hundred more toothbrushes were given out as well as some of the smaller Crocs to the youngest children. The shoes were actually donated by Crocs in return for lots of pictures and video, as well as a doctor talking about the importance of protecting your feet. And as it turned out, 75% of the injuries treated by the medical staff were foot-related, caused by a lack of proper (or any) shoes, so the Crocs were a perfect donation. To be honest, I didn’t realize that Crocs made such cool shoes. The kids were super excited for these gifts from America! Again, we weren’t able to hand out all the supplies we brought because of Sister Sylvia’s fear of disorder, but enough to definitely get our photos. Emmanuel, one of the most helpful teachers as well as two of the Aunties helped to make sure that kids came forward in a single file line and that there was no fighting for the gifts. Each kid was sooo cute too, either kneeling or doing a sort of curtsy and saying ‘Thank You’ as they came up :)
The last hour or so was spent hanging out with the kids, and of course my crew of ladies. Cassie had hurried off when I first gave her her letter, apparently running back to her dorm to write me a return letter. A girl I barely knew named Rachel also gave me an envelope and letter, telling me not to open it until later. As it turned out, she had included her rosary in the envelope. That girl had 2 belongings to her name besides her school uniform and school supplies; the doll we gave her, and her rosary. And she gave me her rosary. I still can’t believe that. There’s no way I would have accepted it had I known. The letters and the rosary from the girls really helped to bring into perspective just HOW MUCH our visit meant to these kids though, and how much they loved me for taking the time to become friends with them. I seriously love them. All of them. So much.
Our last goodbye lasted way too long for me. Stellah, normally an energetic and smiling ball of fun, was speechless for about the last hour that we were there. After an innumerable amount of thank yous, handshakes, hugs and embraces with the kids, teachers, nurse, aunties, sisters, etc., I finally climbed into the backseat of the van. Kids kept running up to the window and grasping my hand as the rest of our team slowly loaded up. Then Stellah, last of all, came to the window, slowly, head down, and grasped my hand. As the van’s engine rumbled to life, she looked up, told me that she loved me, and the van pulled our hands apart as it drove away.
Several of the younger children ran along the van waving and shouting ‘Byeeeeee!’ as we drove towards the edge of the orphanage, but the older of the children stood still, solemnly watching us leave.
I had joked before this trip to Africa about bringing back an orphan. I can honestly say that if Nsumba Orphanage weren’t a strictly non-placement orphanage, I might have. These kids have nothing. And I love them. The amount that I love these kids is impractical given how long I’ve known them, but it’s absolutely genuine. And watching someone suffer such hardship and lack of opportunity when you care about them THAT much.. I can’t really describe the feeling.
Just our short visit, a few small gifts, and a bit of attention from the outside world changed, and in a few cases probably saved, these kids’ lives.
I’m coming back to Uganda.
Thank you so much to everyone who helped support this trip.