UK Registered Charity No.1127562. Uganda NGO LDLG/11/2030
In 2008 I met a wonderful woman called Sandra Murphy who touched me with her compassion for children and people suffering in Uganda. Many years before this meeting I had fallen in love with the beauty of Indonesia and Asia, yet as time passed by I had begun to realise that not everything in Asia was so beautiful and perfect as I had first imagined. As my eyes were slowly re-opened to pockets of immense poverty and genocide I vowed that somewhere in my life I would try to reach out and make a difference, so wanting to remain focused on Asia I explained to Sandra that although I would never sponsor a child in Uganda I would however support her any way that I could. From this day on a friendship was created, and as time passed by I looked for ways to bring a little more light to those who needed it in Asia and Sandra continued to establish many wonderful projects in Uganda.
So here I am in 2011 awaiting to go to Uganda to meet some amazing people I have helped sponsor, for life is not always as we expect it is going to be and sometimes it is while we are busy looking one way we are unexpectedly touched by someone else who was out of our vision. These people change the way we see our world and within this touch another pathway emerges.
In September 2010 Lily was the person who unexpectedly touched my life. On this day I left home with £100 in my pocket and was being enticed to buy a jacket for £50. It was more than I would normally pay but I finally decided I would love this jacket forever and therefore justified the price. Later that day I met Sandra and had eagerly badgered her to tell me stories of the people she had met in Uganda. One of the stories that brought tears to my eyes and touched me was that of Lily the young girl whose father, uncle and husband had been murdered, and whose baby had died. On finding out Lily was HIV her remaining family feared she would infect them so they had told her to leave. For three years this young girl had begged on the streets until Sandra found her. With HIV education Lily was happily reunited with her family. Lily didn’t have a sponsor and with limited life expectancy she needed all the love and support she could get. In my pocket was the other £50, which now felt minimal, yet Sandra reassured me that this would be enough to really help Lily in her lifetime.
In December 2010 Lily was back in hospital for a period of recovery yet had sent me an unexpected but beautiful letter. I was incredibly touched by her positive outlook and compassion. With the love of her family and a great determination for life Lily is still with us, but after a bout of malaria she had become noticeably much thinner. Lily still has her big beautiful smile but I know that under that smile is a body struggling for life against a progressiveness relentless infection.
On seeing her picture I wanted to send Lily a letter to let her know how much I cared about her life, and had spent many nights wondering what to say. Every time I looked in my wardrobe I saw the jacket that I had felt I needed so much yet had only worn 3 times in the last year. Each time I see the jacket I am reminded of Lily's life. The £50 I had spent on myself had brought me no joy, yet the £50 I gave away had. Lily's unknown gift to me was the realisation of the true value of life.
I finally realised that no written words could ever be as important and having the opportunity to give Lily a warm embrace and thank her for being in my world as an inspiration that will never die. So here I am on the start of a new journey, one that I had never expected to take. There are some fears because of long standing health problems, there is some anxiety as this is a whole new culture to me but most of all there is a great excitement to meet not only Lily, but Ambrose the young carer and Dicken who he cares for, Sarah the ex-child soldier with the compassionate heart, Jacqueline the joyous little girl who laughed with excitement when her dress was mended, and many others who are still unknown to me, yet who I know will touch my heart in a great many ways.
So for all my friends and family, I invite you to follow me into this journey that now awaits me in hope that your hearts will be as touched as mine.
It is one week till I fly. So many thoughts have been going around my head. Sunday I watched the beginning of blood diamond, and suddenly I visually realised the immense fear, pain and trauma of Sarah's life. Abducted aged only 9 and forced into the life of a child soldier, it is unimaginable think that this child knew only fear. For those of you that have read Sarah's story, you will know that she has now grown into such a compassionate young woman and a beautiful mother.
I have been so touched by all the people who have joined together to collect the much needed ring pulls to help Sarah create an income. I smile to think that this girl once surrounded only by cruelty is now being embraced by the many hands linking together to show her a world of love. It takes a lot of courage to heal in a world where all trust has been broken, so for all of you reading this that have helped to bring some happiness to Sarah I thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking the time to read her story and to reach out to help her heal.
I am yet again graced by people's kindness. I have over 1000 ring pulls and 2 donations for Sarah. I have only ever requested ring pulls and teddies but in the last 24 hours three friends have insisted on wanting to help someone and I now have been given 2 donations to buy Lily a goat. How wonderful people are. Just as I am writing this I have had a phone call from one of the carers we support in the charity I work for, wanting to give a donation to help someone else on my trip. This donation will fund another animal to support someone’s life. How beautiful when we reach out into the world that so many compassionate people emerge in our lives, as if by magic each time I think of what I can do to help support a life someone has called me wanting to reach out themselves which will allow my short trip to be as productive as possible. So once again a big heartfelt thank you to all donors. Your money has now gone to One Step at Time the registered charity to be accounted for and personal letters of gratitude from the charity to follow) Your donations will be sent to Uganda to make a difference.
After a night of sitting on suitcases I am impressed that Sandra Murphy has shown me the real art of case packing. Just when I thought one tiny wafer thin item would blow my case apart, Sandra with the help of my weight stacked an unbelievable extra amount in. Now just to find a way to bring my clothes as all 5 cases and bags are packed solid. Priority however are the many ring pulls and letters written to give to Sarah and the letter of encouragement for Ambrose the young carer.
I am again touched by how many people are so compassionate. I have just had a call from The Sandy Lions and a lovely lady has spoken to me and is very keen to know more about the Charity. When we embrace the world with the right intention, it is a gift witness how many people link hands to ensure we reach further than we ever expected.
I picked up small parcel for Ambrose from another of his shared sponsors, with a beautiful letter. Everything was going better than expected until a disc in my back moved out of place. Thankfully I have a lovely friend who was able to give me emergency physio on a late Sunday evening. After hobbling to the visit I was quite concerned that after the treatment my whole body tilted to one side on standing upright. I was therefore relieved to find out that I had rushed out with two different boots on, one higher than the other. Soon after leaving the clinic Sandra informed me that she too has a bad back as well as dropping a case on her foot. With only 16 hours left before we have to move all the cases, I pray for a miracle and if not....... a strong man!!
After a sleepless night with back pain, I realise that the miracle has not happened. A lovely friend advised me to go to the poundshop to get a back support, so with 4 hours left to go, I make a crisis trip to poundland and return with what I hope will be the miracle I need to get the bags to Uganda.
The poundshop miracle purchase has worked. I am now in Uganda with 1 laptop, 1 rucksack and three bags of aid for the centre and I am still upright.
At a small fishing village on Lake Victoria we met a family who befriended Sandra on her previous trips. The man was mending his old fishing net with his wife and small child and asked us to sit with them. On asking about their boat they told Sandra that it had been recently stolen, leaving them at the mercy of having to borrow a boat when possible from others in the village to earn money to support them. Even though they were so disadvantaged they were still smiling and warmly welcomed us. As we were leaving this family insisted we take a fresh fish from them to cook at the guest house. It seemed that this family had only two fish and neither of us wanted to take anything from them. Insisting we took the gift we both smiled and thanked the family. We are both greatly touched by this gesture. Sandra is now in the kitchen having a soup fish cooking lesson. Even is Sandra is a bad soup maker, this dish will be very special as we are both aware this man gave to us half of the food he had, even though he is so poor he is unable to buy another net or boat.
The fish a Nile Perch was beautiful and shared amongst the staff at the guest house, cooked to perfection (excluding one slight mishap when Sandra poured washing up liquid from a cup into the vegetable stock instead of water, luckily she realised her mistake before serving :-)!!
Wednesday 28th September
After waking up to a power cut we fumbled in the dark to pack our cases. After a quick breakfast of bread and butter we headed for Kampala bus station. Although Sandra had pre-warned me about the bus station, I seriously was not prepared for the barrage of men surrounding me. The door of the taxi was flung open wide as they gathered round trying to take my bags. So many faces surrounding me. Some with false smiles and others with angry expressions, shouting at each other in the chaos. It has been a long time since I have felt that intimidated and unsafe. Sandra understanding my reaction made me get on the bus while she insured all bags were safely put into the luggage compartment.
So here the journey to Lira was about to begin. Well almost. I had a lot of time to reflect the last few days as we sat for 2 hours waiting for the bus to leave. In all honesty, on leaving Kampala bus station I began to wonder why I had come to such an unfamiliar place where I knew nothing of the culture or people. Yet I knew there was something in this country that made Sandra fall in love with the people, and my trust in her kept me focused for the impending 6 hour journey ahead on our rickety old bus.
Soon a whole new world opened up while on the bus. Chapatis and bananas bought from the street traders out of the bus windows ensured we never went hungry. On reaching Lira I was warmly welcomed by the lovely Staff from One Step at a Time. It was such a relief to finally drop all bags at their final destination although sadly not everything had made it passed Kampala bus station. Although we had no electric or gas it was nice to be settled in what was to be my new home for the next 5 days. And for all those who know me well or have had the misfortune of sharing a room with me on my travels you will understand when I say... very soon our shared bedroom began to resemble home!!
Thursday 29th September
I was formally welcomed by the OSAAT which was a hug and a smile from every member. Today I watched how the team work to ensure families and children are supported, and ensuring realistic sustainable incomes can be created. I witnessed how HIV and AIDS ravages through families and how in the darkest times certain families or distant relatives do whatever they can to provide for parentless children with shelter and food even when they themselves are living in dire poverty and daily hunger. OSAAT is run with hope, faith, compassion and much love. I was also humbled to have been able to help this family with donations from two people given to me before leaving. The money will provide resources from old tyres to make shoes.
Friday 30th September
Today I am setting off to see Lily. It is with great anticipation as I know from recent photographs she has looked so fragile. Isaac has ordered a car and driver to take us to the bush were Lily and her mother live. On the way Isaac stops to barter for a goat from the money I was given by a friend. He manages to find a pregnant goat for a very good price, and we all smiled with the thought of the special offer of buy one get two free.
With heavy rains the road leading into the bush was very uneven and in parts had washed away. I was humbled to see Isaac, Sandra and the taxi driver picking up stones to try and inch the car through a part of the road that looked impossible to pass.
A lady washing clothes from the river came over with to help with a big smile. As for me....I found the muddiest part and slowly began to sink!
We finally reached our final destination and walked through the maze fields towards Lily's home. Followed by some curious young children whose eyes filled with fear when I stopped to smile at them. I realise just how strange we must look with our colourless skin and pale hair. We found Lily on the way and walking behind her I was sad to see the bones in her shoulders protruding through her clothes within the frailty of her frame.
Lily was subdued and low in mood due being mugged by three men a few weeks before. They had stolen her money and medical card and that had made her finally lose hope in humanity and life. I was glad that I had asked people to write letters of encouragement and Lily smiled as they were read out to her. I told Lily that she was so special that I had travelled across the world just to let her know she was greatly loved. I asked her to try not to focus on the bad things she was feeling and to remember instead how much she was loved around the world.
Knowing what had just happened I was thankfully we had come in time to provide Lily with vital medication and food. Her hut was leaking and her mat she slept on mouldy and damp, I gave Lily's mother money to replace and fix these. It was the least I could do to ensure Lily's life could be filled with love and compassion. No one should leave our world with such sorrow and dismay in humanity.
I pray to this day that our visit left not only practical support but also a little hope that there is still love and compassion within humanity.
The children, who had bravely stayed, soon found new confidence when they were given a balloon. Very soon they were laughing smiling and jumping up and down. The pleasure they found in something so small brought light and joy to an emotional day.
Evening time we headed to the local church to meet Pastor George who is such a vibrant, happy and motivated person. His big smiles and openness were a real joy. We agreed to bring him teddies for the many children they support in the Sunday Class. Pastor George and his team were really taken by the teddies and wanted to thank all the makers of them for thinking of the children in Uganda. He was humbled that people had cared enough to give their time to bring so much joy to people suffering in Uganda.
Saturday 1st October
We arrived at the convent to meet Sarah and we found her to be greatly distressed. The convent was not a happy, safe or protective place. Sarah relayed to us some abusive behaviours and a decision was made to remove her and her baby immediately. Sandra spoke to one of the staff who was in charge and rather than being supportive they were rude and obstructive thus enhancing our fears for Sarah's emotional wellbeing. Finally we had to secretly remove Sarah and her baby. With hearts pounding we managed to get her to safety. Sarah was very low in mood and very subdued. I gave her all the letters and kind words of hope and encouragement people had written. She also was touched that so many ring pulls had been collected which will enable her to generate an income. I was also greatly touched to see that some of the young men being supported by OSAAT were gentle and sensitive around her and were helping by carrying her baby to allow her time to do things.
Sunday 2nd October
Although I would class myself as spiritual and do not follow any religious path I was greatly touched when I attended the local church and watched as people who really had nothing and whose lives were such a struggle become united in singing, praying and dancing. The vibrational energy within the church and the people was incredible making it impossible not to want to dance, clap and sing along with them. Tears rolled down my face when I saw people I had met in the streets struggling to survive now smiling, singing and so full of hope that one day their lives would be better. Seeing hope being created in another person has always been such an emotional experience and this was no exception. To witness the inner light of the soul re igniting its own inner light it a great honour to witness. (Hope literally opens us up and removes the blinders of fear and despair and allows us to see the big picture thus allowing us to become creative" and have belief in a better future) (Wikipedia)
"Turn to your neighbour and say hello" shouted the pastor. Men shook my hand and women embraced me with strong arms and big smiles. I didn’t want that moment of sharing unity to end, but patiently teddies had been waiting for new homes. In the Sunday school we realised there were not enough teddies, but with the explanation that a prayer and patience others would soon come, the children were happy.
With no electric, gas and now no water, it was a team effort with the young children and adults to prepare a big soup dinner for all. With the aid of a charcoal fire the dinner soon got underway. I met the young boy Ambrose who is caring for his uncle that is being sponsored by me and some colleagues. Again he was greatly touched by all the letters, presents and the fact that he had an article published about him in our Carers magazine.
As the day got later, I realised there where I had wished for a chance to have warm water instead of the cold trickling shower that I hated and tolerated every day, now having to live without any running water I soon realised that what I had seen as an inconvenience was in fact a luxury. By wind up torch light 5 of us sat in the dining room and tears were brought to my eyes as Sarah suddenly sang me a beautiful song of friendship, goodbyes and hopes to meet again. In the dark I was able to hide the tears that rolled down my cheeks for these young people in just 5 days had touched my heart so greatly with their inner strength, compassion and courage.
Monday 3rd October
Although feeling very emotional as I said my goodbyes I was able to hold back my tears until one of the young adult boys I had got to know and love so well, asked if he could give me a gift. Surprised at what it could be as I knew he had nothing personal to give I was overwhelmed when he told me my gift was a song he wanted to sing me. Amongst the words that he gently sang were how glad he was I came, and that it was sad to say goodbye but he would pray for my safe journey and hoped I would remember them. I was so touched by his gift and so sad to be leaving that tears streamed down my face. "Don’t cry" said his gentle voice. Its ok I told him, I am crying because I am so proud of you all and because I love you all and these are tears of joy that I was able to meet you. He smiled looked into my eyes and asked me the same question that Sarah had..."will you come back" ......
Just to let you all know Sandra is well, happy and very busy and has no electric so will have minimal contact for now. I spent a week with her and her team and feel blessed to have been given such an insight into such an incredible charity. Before leaving I had 100% faith in her ability to create empowering change and hope. Now if possible this faith has expanded greatly again. The young people and families she supports are a shining example of a charity that delivers with hope, faith and love...
And so life goes on now that I have left....
Kalim leans against his new boat bought from the donations. After he had his boat stolen he was relying on a fishing space on other boats. He got paid in fish for his family's supper. No way of getting out of the poverty trap. You know the saying ''buy a man a fish and he will eat for a day.... buy a man a boat..... One Step at a Time is now seeing his family living with hope. The older 2 boys are now going to school and although they have had a set back where 2 children were in hospital with serious effects of measles and the wife caught it and lost her twins at 15 weeks, they are now picking up again. Life in Uganda is never easy but with hope and friends it is easier
Sarah looking radiant in her new dress.
Lily the young brave and beautiful woman who inspired my life, finally left our world in the February. We were all truly blessed that destiny entwined all our lives for a moment in time. I will never forget Lily and her courage to overcome many life tragedies.