The moment we said what the heck are we doing here!

 

Here is the summary of our missionfrom start until the moment today when Sohnia and I looked at each other and asked each other, what the heck are we doing here?!

Just a few months ago Sohnia and I decided to follow our dream, which is traveling the world and bringing love and play to the kids who are in need of a safe space to play. From there we start The Power Of Play, and going to bring play to kids by building them playgrounds.

Once we got set on that we decided to start somewhere somewhat safe and work with a big organization so we could make a living and learn from them while working on our own charity. But soon we realized getting a job or even volunteering with big organization won’t happen that easy and quick since we wanted to start our mission right away. Randomly we got in touch with a friend of a friend that started an organization in Uganda. Once we heard from her how autistic and disabled kids are treated in some villages there, we packed our luggag to join her organization as volunteers and build playgrounds for those kids. That didn’t work out since she went away and we lost contact with her.

There we decided to join workaway and help a local orphanage here and find locations to build playgrounds in the meantime.

As soon as we got here and started working with that local orphanage we found out this is more of a business to them than caring for orphans.

That was when we decide to go somewhere that we are sure we find children that really could benefit from playgrounds, so we planned to move to northern Uganda close to refugee settlements. After hearing it is not safe and easy to travel there as a civilian we contacted all the NGOs in that area. Out of 12 NGOs we contacted only one got back to us mentioning that we need documents and permits from Kampala before we could even enter the area.

After a day of running around in Kampala and getting into two Boda Boda accidents, I found out it will be minimum 2 months before we can get any paper work!

Camp life
Locals daily commute in heat
Refugee camps

Next thing was this morning. We got picked up by the uncle of the father of a guy we got introduced to by a friend we met here. He drove us with his Mercedes through all the check points, don’t ask how…

Later today Sohnia and I were 30 minutes away from the South Sudan border, in one of the biggest refugee camps in the country, looking at each other and saying what the heck are we doing here! Less than three weeks ago we were in Squamish, and now we are in midday African heat inside a refugee camp. We are negotiating with the army and the only person we know around here is the guy who drove us, whom we just met the night before. And,we don’t even know his last name.

And about an hour later we found the location that now we are going to build our first playground. We could not find any place better than that. All of the sudden it all made sense – this is why we are here.

Innocent

 The quietest boy I have ever met

taught me how to wash my clothes. He told me (after some gentle poking and prying on my part) that he wants to study medicine when he finishes high school. He will be a doctor, and he has had malaria 12 times, that he can remember. I’ve learned that to the locals, malaria is not much more than a bad flu. Many people will self-treat and only seek medical attention if it is a severe case of cerebral malaria (in the brain). Anyhow, we scrubbed our clothing in a bucket in the backyard of his home, in mostly comfortable silence. He re-washed the socks after me, insisting that I needed to “use force” while scrubbing them. I guess it all may seem trivial but in that moment, I was totally present and it was a beautiful reminder, a little tap on the shoulder to say that life is NOW. This moment.. this immeasurable speck in time that we refer to as ‘now’, is all there is. Being present is key. Anyway, the boy’s name is Innocent, but sometimes just Inno for short. Every evening when we return home, he is sitting in the same spot on the lawn. He really is the quietest boy I’ve ever met.

We took the children for a walk up Kyabazinga Hill to the palace, where the King resides once in a blue moon. The palace is a big, red soil-coloured residence surrounded by an even bigger wall, topped with curly barbed wire. The large gates at the front are manned by an armed guard. It all seemed intimidating at first but once we approached the soldier to see if we could, perhaps, enter the Kingdom, he was very warm and welcoming, even though he didn’t let us in. The man told us that to enter, we needed to get permission from the office in the village below, which wasn’t going to happen because it had taken us almost an hour hiking uphill in the scalding sun to reach this mighty destination. The soldier began telling us of all the different kings all across the land, and why they are great (or not so great). He told us why he loves Uganda, and how it is better than all the countries that border it. He spoke with passion, and I was quite into the conversation until from the corner of my eye, I saw Angel, the 3 year old girl in our crew, taking a pee right in front of the gate to the palace. Reza also noticed, so he began engaging the guard in more conversation to distract him. Luckily the guard didn’t notice.. Or at least if he did, he didn’t mention it.

Coconut.. Is that you?!
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Making me pretty

We spend quite a lot of time with these children and it has really got me thinking about the orphanages here, and elsewhere in the world. Since arriving in Uganda, Reza and I have learned that some of these so-called “orphanages” are more like businesses. People will take in children (orphans, or children from family members and neighbours) to bring in funding and volunteers. It is not an honest practice. I have also been thinking about the impact of people coming and going in and out of these children’s lives, especially for the real orphans. For the really young ones like Judith and Angel who are both 3 years old, I know the impact is greater. They have people coming into their lives, staying for a few days or weeks, showing them unconditional love, and then disappearing, never to be seen again. While there is always the next person to come along and fill that gap, I still wonder about the impact this is having on their young, developing minds. Reza and I planned on staying here with this organization for some time, and maybe even starting our first playground project here, but we have since decided to move along. The children here are being taken care of, many volunteers come (and go), they all have food to eat and a bed to sleep in. They are receiving money from sponsors all around the world. We are happy that they are being taken care of. So, this past week we have spent a lot of time in the internet cafe, trying to organize our next move to Northern Uganda. We know that the displaced children in the refugee settlements are the ones for whom we want to create a safe space to play.  It hasn’t been easy trying to arrange this, and we have contacted many people and received very few responses. But, we are not disheartened. We are going to make this happen. Our vision remains clear and we are as determined as ever to bring it to life.

Mornings in Ugandan village

I can’t get over how much I love my mornings these days in this Ugandan village!

It starts with waking up to the neighbour’s rooster. He doesn’t crow just once, it goes on and on until the entire hood is up. First is hugging the children in the orphanage and brushing teeth all together in the yard. At first I was surprised to see that the kids love brushing their teeth, but after asking the owner of the orphanage, I found out why! They like toothpaste so much that they used to eat it as a candy. Once kids start eating, Moo and I walk to the only place in village that sells food to get the only thing they have one their menu, Rolex, eggs rolled in chapati (local bread) for 40 cents. Even if I had other options I would still eat that everyday. Then, we have a 30 minute walk to the road where we can get a bus or boda-boda (motorcycle) to town. In this half hour walk we get to see monkeys, goats, eagles, butterflies and some dinosaur-sized birds, but best of all, are all those people we get to see along the way. They all wave and say hello or laugh and call us Muzungu (white man) I never thought one day my hairy brown face would be considered a white man!

Kids in Orphanage
Rolex
Morning

Everyone is up from early morning here, thanks to the roosters! That includes kids; they are usually on water duty. Hauling 20L jugs of water with big SMILES on their faces. When they see us, they usually put their jugs down and wave. Sometimes when we give them candies, they curtsy! If they have a little friend close by that didn’t get candy, they will run, get him/her and run back with them to us, so they can get a candy too. Just like how we care about sharing in western countries!!

There is so much peace and harmony in their simplicity. Oh and safety is 3rd here, just the way I like it!

The love mission

 

This place is warm, inside and out.Time passes slowly.. Life moves slowly even during the the hectic rush-hour, with boda-bodas(motorcycles) and busses crammed full well above their maximum capacity racing by, honking – always honking. Amidst all of this, there is a slowness, a feeling that all is well. No one truly hurries in the same way we do ‘back home’. When we came here to Jinja, Uganda, we were happy with what we found.. Happy children. Playful children. Well-fed and watered children. We came to Jinja to work with an existing organization, so that we could learn valuable skills before we begin our own projects. So, now we plan to go north to the refugee camps housing thousands of people from bordering countries. Even though it has only been five days, I know that I will leave with a heavy heart. The children we are staying with are beautiful. One girl truly stands out for the both of us. Her name is Ruth and she is 11 years old. Ruth is currently the oldest of all eight children in the home, and she does a lot for the others, all of whom she really loves. She works hard to take care of them and because of this, she doesn’t always get to be the young girl that she is. But, yesterday something beautiful happened when we left the home with all of the children to go play. For the first time, I saw Ruth as the eleven year-old girl that she is. She was running and laughing and playing just like the other kids. I really can’t explain the feeling in my heart as I watched her. I was finally seeing her, free of responsibilities. She even came at me with ‘the claw’ and tickled me! Ruth is a beautiful, wise soul with the kindest of hearts.

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Jinja has been warm and sweet. We found love in friends, children, goats and puppies. We found love in the mountains and the red soil. We found love in the lightning storms and the rainfall. We learned many things, the most important being that this beautiful life is truly a love mission after all.

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