Building an orphanage in Uganda

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This is the follow up post from my trip to Africa that I went on with my fiancé (now husband) 10 years ago. To catch up, read this post and then follow on reading Building an orphanage in Uganda.

I wish I had kept a daily diary of what actually happened in that week when we were in Uganda. I am pretty sure I can remember most details of what I did each day but it’s a bit jumbled so if you came with me on that trip and I’ve written an incorrect sequence, let me know.

Our first full day in Uganda was an orientation day where we piled into the mini bus and we were taken to a finished Watoto site with complete houses and a school. We got to meet the children who were part of the Watoto program. The scenery we drove past as we went to each site was eye opening. This was the third world. There were no road rules, or if there were they were ignored. We had to keep the windows closed on the bus because when we’d stop, children would reach their hands through the windows begging for money and food. It was very confronting and sometimes scary.

A very busy street in Kampala
A very busy street in Kampala

The children were beautiful. The people were gracious and had pride in their appearance and would be well dressed despite having slept in a mud hut or tent.

I didn’t get to go into the slums. Only a small part of our group was given that opportunity and I don’t regret not wandering through. I saw enough from the outside to know it would be appalling. It wasn’t high on my agenda to walk through a slum. The emotions that our team members expressed when they shared what they saw and experienced confirmed that I had made the right decision. My focus was on building and leaving a legacy for these children in need. What I didn’t expect was that they would leave a legacy in my life and they would change the way I looked at the world.

This was a common site in Uganda.
This was a common sight in Uganda.

The second day of our trip was when we started building. Our team was taken to the site where  a new village was in the process of being built. We were assigned to build the teacher’s quarters which was going to be a two-level building. The teacher’s quarters housed the teachers onsite who taught at the school. In essence we didn’t build a house that would house the orphans, but our building was an important part of the infrastructure of the Watoto site that would look after a new arrival of orphans. We arrived at 7am and didn’t finish until late in the afternoon. It was back breaking work. The bricks that we used were hand poured and their width was longer that what I could hold in my hand so I had to either use two hands to carry a brick or get someone to pile a few bricks using my hands as a base so that I could deliver them to the team members that were mortaring the bricks to make the outside walls. I can’t recall if there was a wheelbarrow.

Rows of handmade mud bricks ready for building with.
Rows of handmade mud bricks ready for building with.
My husband taking a break from building.
My husband taking a break from building.
There was no scaffolding and we only built the first floor of the two storey building.
There was no scaffolding and we only built the first floor of the two storey building.
The first level completed.
The first level completed.

We assigned ourselves jobs and most of us girls delivered bricks to the guys (and some girls) in our team who were mortaring in the bricks. At lunch I was happy to sit down. We were given loaves of bread and were told to bring our own spreads from home to make sandwiches. The bread was revolting. It was so sweet. It was packed with a lot of sugar or preservatives to keep it from going mouldy. Even when I spread vegemite on it I nearly gagged which is weird because I have a sweet tooth. I didn’t think to pack any food from home because food wasn’t on my radar. Our bags had been packed with essential hospital supplies, school stationery and children’s clothes to be given to the kids. I packed the bare essentials when it came to clothes and toiletries.

I was thankful to one team member who had packed a shopping bag full of muesli bars and he gave me a few to tide me over. The other frustration I had with the food provided was the lack of bottled water. I drink water over soft drink any day. We would always be supplied with milk carts full of bottled Coke. It wasn’t until just last year I was sharing my experience of being in Africa with a work client and he explained I should have just drunk the Coke because who knew where the bottled water came from? I’d never thought of that before! Coke was probably the safest beverage to drink in Uganda!

Terrible photo of me, but proof that I helped build. I'm even wearing a plumbing t-shirt and this was two years before I started my apprenticeship!
Terrible photo of me, but proof that I helped build. I’m even wearing a plumbing t-shirt and this was two years before I started my apprenticeship!

After our first building day, all the women on our team were to go to a local orphanage home that looked after orphans from newborn to three years old. A lot of the children from this orphanage went on to be part of Watoto. There were three options for these children once they reached 3 years of age. They could apply to be a part of Watoto and hope to be selected out of the hundreds and thousands of orphans wanting to be a part of the program (there was a thorough interview process as many children would apply despite not being orphans), or they could be adopted overseas OR they were sent to another orphanage that looked after their age and beyond.

I was thrown into the deep end when our team arrived at the Sanyu babies home. It was one of the better run orphanages, but there were not enough helpers and the ratio of kids to helpers was more than what it should have been. Sadly some babies would die from dehydration or other medical conditions. Two babies died when I was at the orphanage. I was sad but not as emotional as the mums who were on the trip. My maternal instinct hadn’t come into play while I was on that trip. If I went back now, I would have been an emotional wreck. In fact now as I reflect, having given birth to Phoebe, I feel emotional about those babies that didn’t get a chance to live. This confirms my belief that Heaven is full of babies.

Playing with the orphans in the Sanyu Babies Home.
Playing with the orphans in the Sanyu Babies Home.

I played with the kids. I remember having two infants sitting in front of me wanting to sit on my lap. The moment I had one child on my lap the other would cry so I would swap and give each one a turn on my lap. These kids just wanted cuddles and to be loved. They were very underdeveloped with their milestones. They had no one else in the world because some of them had been found with their umbilical cords still attached after their mum had given birth and left them in banana plantations or rubbish bins. It would be a miracle for the babies to be found and once they were they would be delivered naked to the orphanage to be looked after. It was heartbreaking hearing how some of the babies were found and when they had been taken into the home. Their birth dates were non-existent as who knew how long they had been left where they had been found. Their birthdays were celebrated on the day they entered the Sanyu home.

The cots where the orphans slept with their names and stories beside each cot.
The cots where the orphans slept with their names and stories beside each cot.

Back at home, I can’t reveal the extent of what happened to my family but the ramifications are still in effect today. It doesn’t matter what side of the world we live on, family and relationships are one of the most important parts of life and Satan delights when a family falls apart.

That’s why the best case scenarios for orphans in Africa are to be adopted by a family or adopted into the Watoto program. Education can teach a child how to be a leader and how to earn a living, but a family is the foundation that delivers a sense of belonging and security into a child’s life.

I’m linking up With Some Grace for Flog Your Blog Friday.