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Our time together has been so wonderful– your prayers could not be more felt.

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We Moved!!!

We have moved to http://www.embraceuganda.org/blog/. Please make a note of it.

Dear friends and family,
It has been one year since we left the U.S. to serve in Uganda; full of unforgettable, life-changing experiences and trying challenges. Our time has taught us so much about the Ugandan culture, ourselves, and the countless blessings that God has and continues to shower upon our lives. We have realized – as others had warned – that it takes a full year to get familiar with a culture and to know where we best fit in. We have tried our best to make ourselves useful this past year, and we know that the lessons learned will make our second year all the more fruitful.

Recapping the year, we have been involved in assessing the needs in the communities that Embrace Uganda (EU) supports; completing the construction of a church and latrine in the Eastern village of Koreng that the community hopes to use for vocational training, pastor conferences, hosting volunteers, etc.; distributing funding for scholarships and teachers’ salaries; hosting teams of volunteers from the U.S.; acting as mediators, transferring information and funds, between EU and its Ugandan partners; beginning preparations for the construction of Hope Again Medical Center in Kaihura; and providing computer training, information management solutions, and the like for our partner organization Bringing Hope to the Family (BHTF). Despite the many activities, much of our time in Uganda during the last year has been spent building relationships: with our Ugandan partners, the children, and the communities that we serve together with EU and its supporters. It is this network of relationships that we have enjoyed the most, as well as being able to share our experiences, and the stories of our new-found friends, with all of you in other parts of the world.

Our days are rarely short of challenges, especially facing the realities of abject poverty. Nonetheless, our work here has unquestionably been the most rewarding experience of our lives and will be hard to top. We count ourselves blessed to be in Uganda facilitating and being witnesses to the work of God and so many of His faithful. Your support, prayers, and encouragement have kept us going and made our work in Uganda possible. For this opportunity, we are eternally grateful to you.

This coming year is exciting for us, as we will spend another year in Uganda, but this time with the perspective and the lessons of the past year. Our tasks for the next year will include: coordinating the construction of the building for the Hope Again Medical Center (which is now underway); continuing to act as mediators between EU and its Ugandan partners; continuing to build the capacity of BHTF (through computer training, information management, strengthening the structures of their income-generating projects, etc); establishing clear systems of accountability between EU and its partners; and hosting more teams of volunteers from the U.S. Our hope is that by the end of our two-year commitment, ending in early 2011, our role with BHTF will be completed and we will have helped empower the BHTF staff to continue their unending effort to help the people of Kaihura and surrounding communities.

We write you to thank you for your support in the past year and to ask for your continued support in the year to come. After evaluating the status of our funding thus far, we have found that we need to raise approximately US$6,000.00 to complete our two-year commitment in Uganda and help us resettle back in the U.S. next year. Our reason for asking for increased support is two-fold. Firstly, we hope to increase our monthly financial support after having realized during the past year that what we had estimated was indeed a very tight budget. Secondly, a few of our sponsors, due to uncontrollable financial pressures in their own lives, have not been able to support us to the level that they had hoped. To those of you that fall into this category please know that we understand the situation, are grateful for your intentions, and we often pray for your financial well-being.

We ask for your prayers, and if it is in your heart to sponsor someone, we could definitely use it. Whether you would like to support us with a one-time gift or monthly contributions, you can do so through the donation page at www.embraceuganda.org or by making a check payable to Embrace Uganda at P.O. Box 742, Wake Forest, NC, 27588 – note AJ & Ana Mission Support in the subject line. If you have any questions, please contact us.

We are grateful to all of you that have so diligently supported us, whether financially or in prayer. Your support has constantly given us rejuvenating comfort and strength. We know that God’s body is at work, impacting one life at a time. We surely would not be here if not for each of you.

Thank you!
Until next time . . . much love and many blessings . . . AJ & Ana

Written by Ana on Monday, January 25, 2010

He sat there on his auntie’s lap sucking at the multi-colored, heart-shaped lollipop. His auntie would take the lollipop away from his mouth for him to say a few words and show his mother that he could now talk. Last time that we visited he was not talking yet. We watched him as we sat in the living room of the mud hut. The walls of this home are plastered with mud, the floors are dirt, the roof is made of tin sheets. The family is lucky to have tin sheets as a roof.

The child smiled and left his auntie’s lap to go outside and run around the house. His tiny body with its protruding belly looked cute as he ran away. Watching him run off brought a smile to his mother’s face, as she knew that he was growing strong and developing well. She was reassured that the family was taking care of her son. The mother called out his name from the living room. In this culture, people are given two names, usually a Christian one, and then a second name describing a certain quality, like “joy,” “grace,” “hope,” “courage,” “God’s child,” etc. She called out his second name; it translates to “forgiveness.” Hearing his name, the child came back into the room and was picked up by his mother and sat on her lap. She sat there enjoying the closeness of her child, if only for just a few minutes. She inspected his feet. They looked fine. It seemed that “jiggers” (sand fleas) on the floor of the hut had not really affected his feet. She ran her hand on the skin of her child’s legs. His skin felt well moistened with the Vaseline that the family had put on the child after bathing him upon our arrival to the house. We could still smell the fresh scent of soap that was used on his body. The mother asked him questions in her language, and he responded while sucking on his lollipop with a “mmmh” for yes, or a “mmmh, mmmh” for no. Then the child slid out of her lap and ran out of the hut once more.

We sat there looking at the child playing outside through the opened door. I asked the mother whether her child’s father was at the home at the time. She said yes, and later pointed at a man outside the home who was busy with something. I now cannot remember if it was a chore that he was doing, or if he was talking to someone… my eyes were simply on him, his person, as I asked myself: “Who is this young man, is he a good father?”

The child’s grandfather came into his living room and sat in the armchair across from us. He warmly welcomed the mother and me, the foreigner in his home. I greeted him in his language. He responded with a greeting, followed by other words in Rutooro (the local language) that I could not understand. He asked me if I only knew greetings in Rutooro… I know little besides greetings, so I responded with a simple yes so as to not overcomplicate the matter or start with excuses for why I have been in this community for almost a year without learning much of the language. The mother and the grandfather of the child talked for a short while. She seemed to be telling him how things had been going for her. I could tell that the grandfather congratulated her at some point in the conversation. She must have told him that she passed her primary (elementary) school exams, and that she will soon be starting secondary school (high school). The mother showed the grandfather the pictures of her son that I had given her after we visited the child last time and snapped some photos. She had been carrying the photos in her purse. The grandfather looked at the pictures and smiled. He liked the photos and wanted to keep one. The mother gave him the one that showed the full body of the boy standing handsomely in the yard. He refused that picture, however, on the grounds that he wanted the one with the mother holding the boy in her arms. The mother is smiling beautifully in the picture. It was the only picture that she had of the two of them. Only she and I knew that. She gifted it to the grandfather with a smile.

Our time for the visit seemed to have come to an end. The boy’s aunties and other children escorted us down the path that leads back to Kaihura, where the mother and I both live in comfortable brick homes with cement floors, interior cement ceilings, electricity, and comfortable beds. The mother put her purse straps around her son’s neck for him to carry for her as he escorted us as well. He was happy to carry it and held the straps tightly with his hands as he ran ahead of us with his quick little legs and the energy of a toddler. We watched him run ahead. Perhaps he wanted to go back to Kaihura with his mother? Did he know that this teen-aged girl was his mother? She only bonded with her son for no more than a year before she had to leave him in the hands of his father and grandfather’s family. She has only spent a few hours together with the child since the time that she had to leave him. So, did he recognize her?

Will the child ever know how much his mother cares? That she left him so that she could finish school and become an educated, descent woman so as to give him a better life than her own. That she regrets having had run away with his father, who had promised her the world and instead took away her dignity. That it took a long time for her to realize her full potential, and now that she had, she was putting all her energy into being a great student. That she thanks God that he did not contract HIV from her during his birth, or die days after his birth, as her second child did. That she has every hope to see him grow up to be a strong, descent, and educated man, despite her odds of being an HIV positive woman in Uganda. That it pains her to know that he is growing up without his mother; as she knows what that is like, after having lost her own parents to HIV as a young child. That she wants him to experience the Love of God that has given her hope, despite all that she has gone through, or perhaps because of all that she has gone through. That she wants to give him a future, even though all she can give him for now is a multi-colored, heart-shaped lollipop.

On the walk back to Kaihura this brave young mother told me what the grandfather had told her at the end of their conversation: “go on and study hard.” She intends to do so. The grandfather was the one that gave his grandchild the name “forgiveness.” I only hope that this child can grow up to forgive his parents and a society that has allowed his family to be victims of the cycle of poverty and illness. For now, he is too young and innocent to understand any of these things… This young woman leaves him behind, but with high hopes and her head held high.

We have kept the name of this young mother anonymous in order to protect her privacy, but we thought we should share with you a glimpse into her amazing story. She will be starting her first year of secondary school in just a few weeks after having passed her Primary School standardized exams with scores that surpassed most people’s expectations, especially considering all her setbacks. Her hope now is that she can one day be first in her class in a boarding secondary school in Fort Portal (currently Bringing Hope to the Family is seeking a sponsor to support this young woman in her secondary education). In the future, she hopes to become a nurse. Please pray that God will continue to watch over, provide for, and strengthen her in all of her endeavors.

Until next time . . . many blessings . . . Ana & AJ

It’s hard to believe that it is that time of year already. There are no colorful lights or snow flakes to be seen, no santa’s in the front yard or reindeer on the roof tops, no stocking on the mantle or sub-freezing temperatures – but Christmas is definitely in the air.

The radio stations are playing Christmas carols. Girls who often keep their hair short are pulling together what little they have saved for a nice hair style. The children from Home Again all traveled to Fort Portal for a new shirt and pair of shoes as their Christmas gifts. You can also see the village kids zipping about with unusual excitement.

It is a different feeling from the highly-commercialized event we are used to, and one that distracts significantly less from the true meaning of Christmas. Once again, our experience here keeps bringing us back to the basics. We are excited about the jubilation, rememberance, and love. We thank you for your continued prayers and support, without which we would have long ago returned. We thank you for the difference you have helped us make in 2009 and we only hope that we can multiply the impacts in 2010.

We wish you all a very Merry Christmas and blessed New Year.

May God bless and keep you.

With Love,

AJ & Ana

Visit Embrace Uganda (http://embraceuganda.org) for a special christmas blessing and find out how you can be a part of it.

It seems that each time that we have travelled to eastern Uganda, we have come back with a little souvenir: malaria. Last month you probably remember that it got Ana, and this time it got us both. We are both on the mend, but we wanted to ask for your prayers for a quick and full recovery. We are thankful to God for the access that we have had to medical clinics that can test for the parasite, and that we can afford effective medication to treat it.

Even when taking prophylaxis, we were warned that it was a matter of when and not if we would get malaria. We have found that the trick to beating malaria is to know that you have it and starting treatment promptly, giving you a chance to beat the fever within two days, rather than 3 or 4 if your start treatment later. Once you get over the fever, it is a matter of recovering your strength, which can take another 3 to 5 days. So we hope to be all better soon.

This whole experience leaves us thinking about the people in the remote villages of Uganda that have limited access to testing and treatment. Just the thought of walking to the latrine is dreadful when you are in the middle of a fever spike, let alone having to walk miles to the nearest clinic because your life depends on it – like many people do.

Recently, we read a statistic that malaria makes up more than 50% of outpatient visits in Uganda, costing the country 1.3 trillion shillings ($638 million) per year. Just as a reference, there are 33 million people in Uganda. We have come to know that a treatment of malaria tablets costs approximately $10; that is if you don’t end up needing I.V. treatment. A price that is far higher than many can afford… In the end we count ourselves lucky, and we ask you to pray for those that are not so.

We will be in touch soon. Our spirits are high and we are feeling much better already.

Until next time . . . much love and many blessings . . . AJ & Ana

IMG_8765We last visited the Village of Koreng (eastern Uganda) in July, when we were participating in the completion of the construction of the church building that the community hopes to use for classroom space for a vocational school during weekdays.  We had shared with you about the drought and famine that the Ateso people were suffering during that time.  We returned to Koreng last week to follow-up on the vocational school project and to check on any changes at Kadacar Primary School (an elementary school with every need imaginable).

IMG_8561Several things were very different during this visit.  For one, the rainy season has started to bring some rain to the area, and some crops are again growing.  But also, the very person who first introduced us to Koreng, as his home village – Michael Okwakol – and who has accompanied us on every other visit to Koreng, was not able to join us due to prior engagements.  But it was okay, we have been in Koreng frequently enough to have established relationships with several people that have come to see us and love us as Michael’s family – this in itself is a great feeling for us.

IMG_8577During our first visit to Koreng in March, you may recall that we visited Kadacar Primary School.  Since then, extraordinary things have been happening, and we would like to thank all of you for your prayers.  Nothing has taught us more about the power of prayer than our experiences here in Uganda.

To expand a bit on Kadacar’s background, let us recap on our findings from May when we visited the government’s District Education Officer (DEO).  During that May visit, we learned that the district is currently working to establish 22 new primary (elementary) schools, and several secondary (middle and high school) and technical schools.  The district’s plan is to have a primary school in every parish within the district, and at least one secondary school within each sub county (all of which is only a good start, as many students would still have to walk great distances to attend school).  According to the DEO, the cost of building a primary school is US $350,000, which includes 8 classrooms, and associated furniture; 8 teachers’ houses, with corresponding latrines and kitchens; and a well.  The DEO explained that the 2009/2010 school budget for Bukedea District (where Koreng is located) is a meager, US $90,000. So, yes, if they had the same $90,000 budget every year, it would take their entire budget for 4 years to build just one school!!

IMG_8617The community is well aware of the government’s inability to offer much assistance in constructing school structures and staff housing, so in Koreng they began working on their own.  Kadacar Primary School was inaugurated at the beginning of 2009 as a community effort with 5 classes meeting under grass-thatched school houses and a cluster of mango trees.  The instruction has been provided across 5 grades by 5 teachers, 2 of which are unpaid, as the government cannot afford their salaries.  Many of the 400 students attending Kadacar are in school for the first time (other schools were not within walking distance for them); something that is evident in the presence of older students mixed in with younger ones in the lower levels.

IMG_8670Since learning of the needs at Kadacar, Embrace Uganda has been seeking a way to assist the school.  The first step came in June, when a team of volunteers from North Carolina spent a day at Kadacar P.S. playing games and sports with the students.  The volunteers also brought school bags containing school supplies for every student.  We returned to Kadacar last week to see that many of the students were still carrying their school bags, keeping them close by their sides.  Three out of the four classrooms still stand, as one of the classrooms had collapsed during a June storm.  A second classroom is on its way down and will probably collapse with this month’s rains.  Many students had stopped coming to school because of the inconsistency with which the volunteer teachers were showing up to teach.  The government has been unable to pay the salaries of two teachers; “maybe next year,” said the government officials.  The community was not able to afford a contribution to salaries because the drought put an incredible strain on every person’s livelihood.  We were glad to hear from the school administrator that attendance is back up as compared to recent months, when the drought conditions were so bad that few students were attending school.

IMG_8695We had returned to Kadacar last week to inform the principal that EU had raised the money to erect latrines for the school (they currently have one temporary latrine for all students, and it is about to collapse).  Much to our excitement, we learned that there is another non-governmental organization (NGO) that went to the district with the interest of building a school.  The government officials directed them to Kadacar.  And, guess what?  Very soon they will begin the construction of 4 classroom blocks and 10 latrine stalls on these very school grounds!!!  PRAISE THE LORD!  Again, those of you who have been praying for Kadacar and Koreng in general, THANK YOU!!! We could not have been more excited.  All this time we have been asking for your prayers, as we have prayed ourselves, for help to come to this area of Uganda.  Help has reached this place, and it means so much to us… we can’t imagine how much it must mean to the community.

IMG_8781Having learned of this great news, EU is turning back to the vocational school project at the church.  We will be returning to Koreng soon to participate in building two latrine stalls and two bathing stalls on the church grounds with the hope that the funds for the vocational school, and other projects in Koreng, will continue to flow in.  There will also be a bit of money available to pay for the two Kadacar P.S. teachers’ salaries for the remainder of this year.

Much else is still needed at Kadacar P.S., as well as the vocational school, but the rain has come, spirits have been lifted, and we will continue to pray and praise God for his blessings, now more fervently than ever!

Until next time . . . much love . . . AJ & Ana