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August in Uganda: Working with Aid Africa and Pearls Children’s Fund

 

This past August, Rev. Nancy Bacon, from Tehachapi United Church of Christ, along with her husband Dr. Steve Bacon, their daughter, Whitney Bacon, and her friend, Katy Rodriguez, visited two non-profit organizations in Uganda: Aid Africa (aidafrica.net) and Pearls Children’s Fund (pearlschildrensfund.org). These organizations have helped improve many lives with clean water, better stoves, health support, and planting trees. Peter Keller, a member at Pasadena UCC is the Executive Director for both of these non-profits.

Pearls Children’s Fund was started by a Ugandan woman, Rosette Kirangi, who had a big heart for helping children whose parents had died, often from AIDS or violence. Her passion is to nurture children and to be their advocate. Pearls is a home for about 30+ children. Older children go on to gain certificates and advanced degrees, but Pearls is always their home base, even after they go on to have homes of their own. “Pearls” become family and new-comers are taken in and made to feel at home. The love and joy at Pearls is infectious. Rev. Bacon’s group got to play with the kids for three days having picnics along the Nile, playing, singing and dancing.

Rev. Bacon visited Pearls five years ago. At that time, the children, Rosette, her biological daughter, and one adult helper all lived in a house that was barely adequate. There was only one indoor bathroom, without a tub or shower. There was no refrigerator, oven, dishwasher, clothes washer or dryer, no television and very little furniture. There was one big room with a lot of bunk beds and bed nets for the girls and another similar room for the boys. It was hard to imagine how Rosette managed day in and day out with so few resources and so many little ones.

Education in Uganda is not free. Children can not attend school without someone sponsoring and paying for it. Pearls is a place that makes sure each child is given an opportunity to succeed and launch lovingly into adulthood.

About one year ago, Rosette let supporters know that their house was literally falling in. The ceiling was being propped up and it was dangerous for them to remain. They needed something better. The Bacons and Tehachapi UCC answered the call and did a lot to generously help them buy a house! The place is beautiful and safe, with three indoor bathrooms! It has lovely tile and windows and a second house is on the property, with more room for everyone.

The children were so thankful. One of the older boys spoke on their behalf saying, “It feels like we’re in heaven now.” There was joy and laughter and tears and great appreciation for the miracles of happy healthy children in this new lovely home. Pearls is a blessing, yet each of the children has only one school uniform. Rosette also dreams of having a refrigerator some day and a window in one of the rooms that is very dark, the converted garage. Rev. Bacon says, “Investing in Pearls is the best money I’ve ever spent in my life.” Small amounts can do so much and children with education can move out of poverty. It’s a place where you can really make a difference in someone’s life.

The Bacon party also worked along side Aid Africa, Inc, in Gulu, Uganda. Aid Africa began about 15 years ago to help people displaced by violence be able to return and reclaim their villages. Refugee camps were bleak, and villages along with their crops and water sources had been decimated. Aid Africa began work in four main areas: restoring water; transitioning to better cook stoves; planting needed trees for food and sustainable fuel; and assisting with healthcare and health education. Over the years, Aid Africa has helped thousands of villagers to have better lives.

The Bacon party got to participate in all of Aid Africa’s endeavors. They visited a brick making facility and learned about the rocket stoves. Traditional cook stoves are an open pit in a hut. These pits cause much smoke, lung disease, early cataracts, burns when children fall into them, and sparks that can set thatched roofs on fire. Additionally, traditional stoves require a lot of wood to be gathered. Trees are cut down harming soil and the environment. Girls gather the wood and this can be dangerous plus prevent them from attending school.

Aid Africa’s efficient rocket stoves require far less wood and create far less smoke. Huts with these stoves have healthy brown thatched roofs instead of black ones. The stoves alone are a good environmental project to support. The Bacon party put together stoves with one of the villages. Everyone was glad to have their new healthier stove.

The group was received with much enthusiasm at a second village that was getting a new water well. This village, like many, did not have a well and would get its water from a shallow spring. Unfortunately, the spring was contaminated with parasites and some villagers were ill. It was sad to know their situation, but also joyous to help dig the well.

Aid Africa also helps villagers obtain a variety of trees. The Bacon party enjoyed grafting larger Caribbean mangoes and lemons onto hardy African root stock, knowing people would have yummy fruit and a potential source of income. The day they visited a third village to bring and distribute trees, fires were burning in the Amazon Rain Forest. It helped to be planting trees somewhere else in the world.

One of Aid Africa’s staff has trained in psychology and social work. She provided education about mental health and domestic violence prevention at one village. She also translated conversations with some of the elderly women. One woman had 13 children and 35 grandchildren. All of her children and 31 of her grandchildren had died. Most died from violence. PTSD is common. The woman said that the food in the refugee camps was unhealthy to eat. While she carries many painful memories, she also spoke of the joy in having crops and food and water and a safe village once more. Aid Africa has made a big difference for many people. The organization wants to reach into South Sudan and the large refugee camps that exist there, in order to do the same things. Most of the people living in these camps are women and children. What a dream to help give people back their lives with hope and a future. The Bacon party hopes that Aid Africa will get to do this and that someday they’ll be writing about the miracle of lives improving in South Sudan.

Sometimes people question whether to help children so far away when there is so much need closer to home. Of course, people are welcome to do both. There is nothing biblical that says we should only care about local people, in fact, there are many scriptures encouraging hospitality toward strangers and care of orphans. Rev. Bacon says that, “Supporting them is good for the soul.”

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