Leaving Uganda today! Pray for us as we begin the long journey. Thank you for following us this week!God Bless,Ben
Thousands of miles, one large ocean, sixteen hours of air travel; however you want to put it, we’re far from home. Far away from our families, our friends, our communities and our support circles. It can be easy to feel lost or alone in a new place, regardless of the distance between the points, but the beauty of our Catholic faith is that no matter the distance, we’re never far from a community, a support circle, friends, or even family.
There’s this overarching feeling when celebrating mass with the community of Soroti. Whether it’s with the students of St. Ann’s, the seminarians, and even the locals, there’s this feeling of comfort. To me, it’s kind of like the feeling of returning to my apartment after work. Returning to the comfortable and peaceful familiar. That moment when you can take a sigh of relief and recharge your internal batteries after a long day. For me this feeling revolves around celebrating mass not in a church, but with the Church.
No matter what the name of the country is, how old the people around you are, what color their skin is, or even what language they speak, when we come together to celebrate the mystery of the Eucharist, we are all the Church, one global support circle, one global family.
Today we had the blessing of celebrating mass in the courtyard of St. Mary’s Secondary School with the students. With the sun rising behind me and the voices of hundreds of youth praising God, we all breathed that sigh of comfort. That feeling of home. Thank you to the people of Soroti for making me feel at home, even though I’m thousands of miles, one large ocean, and sixteen hours of air travel away.
Hello from Uganda! Chris and Peg Buck, parishioners from Notre Dame of Mount Carmel with Mission Madera here with the Little Sisters of St. Francis and their four schools of students. Our group is now past the halfway mark of our mission trip.
Highlights from today
Like all the days, some of us began with morning prayers in the sisters’ chapel with them, and then all of us on to morning mass with the girls students from St. Ann’s Primary School. Following another delicious breakfast, we joined the co-ed students from St. Francis Secondary School for the Blind for football (soccer) and Gaul ball. Gaul ball is a ball game played by two teams of three blind participants (or blind folded if sighted) on a small field. From there, the group dispersed to attend to different activities such as: providing a walker to a nursery school boy, donated scholastic supplies brought from NJ where organized for distribution to each school tomorrow, and much needed medications, which were purchased by Mission Madera, were sorted for distribution to the school nurses. Then lunch, again, another good meal. After lunch, a surprise! The opportunity to received locally tailored Uganda garments – namely, a shirt or skirt wrap – to be made from stunningly patterned fabric. Back to work – some of our group completed a cleaning and organizing of St. Ann’s library while others delivered the sorted medications to school nurses. Late afternoon, our Fr. Jhon organized another football game – this time, with our neighbors, the seminarians at St. Peter’s Minor Seminary and others played with girls of St. Ann’s. At 6:00 p.m., we joined all the girls, kneeling with the P4E girls that we’ve been getting to know for daily rosary and prayers outside. Next, our group gathered for reflection and sharing followed by again, another great meal…topped off with vanilla ice cream. The day is being wrapped up by some spending time with P6 girls and teachers doing a math puzzle activity and others spending more time with the girls.
Some trip reflections
Chris: I was initially apprehensive about traveling to Africa as I felt I would be outside my comfort zone. When I got here, I still felt a bit nervous. Then on Sunday at morning mass at St. Patrick’s Church, we were invited to walk up before the altar for an introduction to the parish. I had butterflies in my stomach. However, after introducing ourselves we received a warm and authentic welcome by this community. The switch was thrown. I felt such a sense of peace and joy. I intimately realized we are part of the same family. I feel more solidarity with my Ugandan brothers and sisters and will advocate for them when I return home.
Peg: For me, it is about being present. I been enjoying meeting the people of Uganda, having conversations and listening to their stories. I have had the privilege to practice my motto: no one journeys alone. I cannot thank the people of this community enough for allowing me this grace.Also, being able to celebrate mass every morning at a different church – all within walking distance – with different communities and our Fr. Jhon has been incredible. The beauty of our faith tradition is magnified here. The music and service are indescribable. I only can say it is such joyful worship. But in fact, the only way for you to know these indescribable Eucharistic celebrations is to come to Uganda.
Thank you for supporting our mission.
Mama Kevina, pray for us.
Life in Uganda today!Barbara and Gina here…Before we put our heads down tonight, let’s tell you a few things that went on today with Mission Madera.The MassFather Jhon said mass at the seminary for all the volunteers. It is just a ’stone’s throw’ across the road from our school community. We are serenaded from morning until night by the gorgeous voices of these beautiful little girls. They wake up singing, and fall asleep singing. Yes, that is all day! And we can’t get enough of it, It is heavenly.The Nursery SchoolOne group of volunteers spent a “Bob the Builder” day at the Nursery School. Color, you ask? Light blue and light pink! All the volunteers came back, tired and happy! The play yard at the Nursery School has swings and a slide.The little children are joyful and exuberant!The Soccer GameFather Jhon organized a soccer game with the students from Saint Francis Primary School for the Bling. Who won, you may ask? Fr. Jhon would only tell us the final score: 11-12.Ask him after mass: “What side were you on?”Many of the Notre Dame of Mount Carmel volunteers were on the field despite the heat. The soccer balls were pumped up and flying across the field, some with bells inside for a special game of Gaul Ball. A mental picture: the Nursery School sits directly next to the soccer field. Their young fans (Ages 3-5) were enthusiastic cheerleaders. It was quite a contrast to see Saint Francis students decked-out in cool soccer uniforms donated from the young athletes at Notre Dame Our Lady of Mount Carmel! Swag!Other “Doings on Campus”After many months of preparation, Gina and Barbara (that’s us!) brought letters from our students in New Jersey for the children of Saint Ann’s. The letters included a decorated book mark which was attached. As we handed-out the letters, the many (many!) girls were filled with excitement and laughter and then fell silent, admiring the art work and written notes from new ‘friends’ thousands of miles away.Please picture this: 200, 300 girls silently reading their own letters.But that’s not where it ended! Oh no, not at all! We handed-out blank book marks to take back to our elementary students in NJ. School supplies are scarce here, so the boxes and boxes of Crayola crayons (which were donated by parishioners and the Rockaway Township School Community) were eagerly examined and carefully used to create their own return gift to students in NJ. The girls were ecstatic to be able to use “colors”!!As seems to be the case here; word spreads rather quickly! No sooner had one group finished their project, another grade level arrived, and then another, and then yet another. I think it is safe to say, 600 girls were partaking in our project at one time. Needless to say we were thrilled!As we write this (9:00 pm) the girls are in music practice yet again, sounding gorgeous; Ave Ave Ave Maria! Mass tomorrow to hear these voices again.We are all happy. And tired. And grateful. And awe-struck. And probably forever changed by the work we have put our hands to this weekWe will close by saying: THANK YOU Ben for your support, wisdom, guidance and invitation to be part of this incredible journey with you!Love.Peace to all! Barbara and Gina
Happy Monday from Uganda! Today we started our day celebrating daily mass at St Patrick’s…and music continues to be a focal point. We were blessed to have the secondary school of the blind students deliver readings as well as fill the church with their angelic voices, even at a 7am service! Today, being Monday, is our first day at St Ann’s where all 1,065 girls attended classes. An assembly started their day, and our team of missionaries was introduced to the entire school. We met many teachers and were given the opportunity to observe several classrooms. We all learned new things today! The nursery school was in session as well, where we visited the 3-5 year old students. Once again, we witness the joy and love these children have for everyone as they sing and clap and dance for us. They even encouraged us to participate! We sang for them, and quickly you can see how they love to learn and connect with us. These little ones are half day students, so we head back to St Ann’s to return to helping teachers and working more closely with the children. The girls gather each night to pray, the entire rosary, on their knees, outside. We joined them, before supper…then back to work! Each night there is prep time, where students continue with studies, practice singing, and doing homework. The days are long, but filled with moments of laughter, prayer, learning, sharing, love and joy.
We began our week at Madera with mass at St. Patrick’s Church. It was beautiful, as we heard the Ugandans singing with their voices, but also their hearts. Fr. Jhon concelebrated mass with the pastor and Deacon Joe read the Gospel. They also helped with the distribution of the offertory – which consisted of not just money, but chickens, eggs, and food for the priests for the week. It was a witness to the efforts of the community and care for their parish. We met some of the students of St. Ann’s Girls’ Primary School, who asked us questions and taught us songs. We then walked to St. Francis Secondary School for the Blind. It was led by Sr. Winnie, head teacher of school. (More photos to come!)After lunch and a small siesta, we toured St. Francis Primary School for the Blind. I’ll let the photos and video do the talking…We ended the night with a wonderful dinner (pizza and chicken!) and a group reflection. We have the whole week ahead of us…send some extra prayers and love!
Dear Family and Friends,We have arrived safely at Soroti in eastern Uganda! It took 8 hours to get here (by bus), plus a few holes in the road but everyone stuck it out! The girls at St. Ann’s greeted the missionaries with clapping hands and singing voices. They welcomed us and we were all speechless. We had a wonderful lunch prepared by the sisters…our first homemade Ugandan meal! After resting and unpacking, we went on a tour of St. Ann’s. We ended the day with a fruitful conversation at dinner and met the rest of the sisters! Keep us in your prayers…we have the whole week ahead of us! Mama Kevina, pray for us!
The missionaries are en route to the USA! Please pray for a safe return back home. It was truly a great trip and many lives were touched.
A common theme throughout the week has been extremes. Upon arrival, we were warmly welcomed with open arms and smiling faces. At the same, we passed children scavenging for food, brick homes with corrugated metal roofs, and large piles of trash burning, adding to the dusty tint of the Ugandan air. Most of the missionaries have felt hopeless, yet blissfully joyful at the same time. I always feel my heart being tugged in different directions. Uganda has that effect, and its extremely confusing to mental, physical, and emotional well being. People have been describing this trip as a drop in the bucket, climbing a mountain, and everything in between. There were extremes that knocked all of us down many times, such as the effects of malaria, the sharp rocks that the girls run on, the poverty among the students’ families, the needs of the students, and the vulnerability among the students. One girls asked us if Santa was real because she said that he has never come here. All of these things, piled on top of each other like a landfill, is paralyzing. It’s some things that make coming back to Uganda so painful – because these, what seem to be simple, problems still exist in their rawest form. All these heartbreaking things are extremes, and they truly take their toll on the missionaries that visit Uganda. These “extremes” change throughout the week – growing from “There’s no wifi?!” or “My shower is sooo cold!” to “A girl got malaria last month and has been out of school for weeks.” and “Wow, I never appreciated all the little things that I have, like a bed and more than one t-shirt.” The beauty of leadership is seeing this change among the missionaries. Sr. John Paul spoke about “bending our hearts” earlier this week, and we have been bending like a tree during a hurricane. But the fact is that none of us “broke”. We all have had each other, the 13 of us, to lean on and share the weight of our heavy hearts. We are all taking part in the greater suffering of Christ, by being witness to his Living Church. This redemptive suffering is beautiful because it is leading us closer to Christ and the life that he led; it is not pointless.
“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” – Galatians 6:14-18
There have also been extremes that have allowed us to do our work; some that have given us the “in-the-moment strength”. With the help of the missionaries and YOU (donors!), Mission Madera has approved to spend over $62,000 on various projects among our partner schools. Mission Madera also has a NEW PARTNER SCHOOL – St. Mary’s Secondary Girls’ School.
Our partnership with Oysters and Pearls-Uganda has been growing with team meetings about the future of the children, specifically those blind or visually impaired AND the integration of technology among classrooms. Countless prayer groups and communities have been praying for us, like the Sisters of Christian Charity, the Missionaries of Charity, the Poor Clare Sisters, various Franciscan brothers, and family friends from all over the world. This whole mission has been possible with ALL the moving part – the hardships, the joy, those who are here, those who are home, those who are reading THIS BLOG – YOU. The good and the bad, the crippling and the inspiring, and the depression and the joy, all of these opposites are necessary. They are necessary for growth and progress.
“So our dear friends in fact we are no longer just friends but family members.”
Last Sunday, a group of confused, timid missionaries arrived in the gates of Madera – culture shocked and jet lagged. Tomorrow morning, that same group of missionaries will begin the journey home, empowered and inspired, lives changed. After having lived among the community of Madera, God has individually touched each and every one of us. Our mini community has grown with each other, through the ups and downs, the mountains and valleys. We have laughed and cried. After all, we are simple pilgrims on this journey called life. Thank you for taking this journey with us. Please know that your support, whatever that may be, does something for these students over 8,000 miles away. It is making a difference.Eternally grateful,Ben
Hi blog followers! Here are some photos from today. We had a lot of meetings and technical planning for future projects. We finished so many things, such as handing out sanitary pads and medical supplies. Tomorrow is our last day at Madera…please pray for us!
It feels as if we are trying to empty the ocean with an eye dropper. Over the past few days, this has kept coming to mind. It seems that with every step we take, the mountain grows even more. Surrounded by this crippling poverty— girls walk in the dirt without shoes, are sent home because of malaria, and corruption lies much within the society. Untreated wounds, lack of medical necessities and antibiotics, and general disorganization within the infirmary upset us tremendously. This week the three of us (Grace, Mia, and Emma), took initiative on many of the medical assessments and projects, with much help from Jen Duphiney. Today, Mia, Emma, Jen, and I finalized the price quotes for medications and antibiotics— many of which the schools needed but did not have. While we met with the nurses, the medication with the most need were antimalarial. We learned that within the past month, St. Ann’s alone has had around 100 cases of malaria. Throughout the week we counted and organized the medical supply donations, and today we distributed tied them between three of the four schools. We proposed to get more beds in the infirmary, allowing it to hold more patients as well as preventing the sharing of beds and spreading diseases. Mia, Emma, and I distributed and organized medical supplies to St. Ann’s, St. Francis Primary School, and the nursery. We’ve also helped the Secondary Blind School revise their essay for a feminine hygiene speech competition and distributed over 90 boxes of pads. We’ve been struggling with the realization that we’ve not been able to spend as much time with the girls as we’ve wanted, but the work put in gives us hope and comfort knowing that we’re making even a small difference in the lives of the students. It’s beyond difficult seeing such beautiful people deal with such hardships, giving up often appears to be the only thing left. Yet, Jesus has put us all within the vast ocean not to simply empty it, but to fill it with the love, courage, and hope.God bless America! :)With love,Grace, Missy, Mia, & Emma
Another day is in the book at Madera. Our group is halfway through our journey. Today our focus was on the nursery school’s facility needs, St. Ann’s kitchen, serving and bathroom areas and their access to water. Additionally, revenue producing farming concepts for each of the schools was reviewed. John and I spent a good deal of time concentrating on further development of our new Google sheet which tracks the numerous requests for improvement of the students’ learning and living conditions.We walked over to the Primary Blind school to meet with the Physical Education/Athletic staff, Don and Suzanne, to hear their requests. This is one of John’s primary focuses. The teachers voiced the need for uniforms and various sized soccer balls with bells in the them among other things. We then walked to the nursery school and met with the headmaster. The children are absolutely adorable, lovingly attacking us and attaching themselves to us. One in particular held my hand most of the time during our visit with Sister while we were assessing conditions at the school. Midafternoon, we enlisted the assistance of my brother-in-law and his wife, Bill and Val Baker of Mansfield, PA. Using their farming expertise, they will help review the farming proposals for the three schools (dairy production, a piggery, and chicken/turkey production).Later in the day, we met with Rockfell, Madera bursur, to review some ideas for major projects. Walking the campus and discussing the proposals reinforced our desire to improve the girls’ lives at St. Ann’s.Bill
I have been using computers for about 30 years, I bought my first computer (Commodore 64) when I was in Eighth grade with my paper route money. I have been working in technology for the past 20 years, so I am very comfortable with computers. Today, my daughter (Missy) and I had the opportunity to learn a new computer program from three blind instructors. Previously, I never thought a blind person could learn to use a computer because it is very visual, I was aware that voice activated systems (Siri, Alexa, etc.) would be life changing for a blind person but I never thought they would be able to use a traditional PC with a monitor, keyboard and mouse. I WAS TOTALLY WRONG and today while wearing a blindfold, my eyes were opened to a new program called JAWS (Job Access With Speech). My 3 blind instructors (Dennis, Elizabeth and Monica) were amazing and I was very impressed by their computer skills. Today’s lesson was opening MS Word, typing a short paragraph and then saving it. I intentionally selected a lesson that is very simple and I do it frequently throughout the week.Lesson 0Prior to beginning my MS Word lesson, I needed to memorize the keyboard, I thought this would be extremely simple, but it was not! I needed to learn the left edge keys. I never really thought about the order because i would always look to find it, which is not possible for the blind teachers and students. Next part was to learn the bottom row of keys going from Left to Right. It was then that I realized that there were many different versions of keyboards – full size, large laptop, small laptop, Windows, Mac, etc. It was always very easy for me to work on different keyboards because I could see the keys and check , obviously, that does not work for the blind. Lesson 0 was quite a bit tougher than I thought, but after a few minutes I was able to memorize the 19 keys from top left to bottom right of the keyboard. I was glad I did not have to memorize the special characters above the numbers or the function keys!Lesson 1Lesson 0 took longer than I expected, but now I am ready to start MS Word. I realize the importance of Lesson 0 as I search for the Windows button in the bottom left corner of the keyboard, I need to find the Control button, move over to Function and then one more to the Windows button. i press it and JAWS speaks, in a monotone computer voice, “Windows button”. Next, I need to find the typing starting position – left and right pointer fingers on “F” and “J” keys, it took about 10 seconds for me to find them (they have a little bump on them), but I was able to and pressed the “W” key which the instructors informed me is the search bar shortcut key for MS Word. Next I press the enter key – found it within 10 seconds and JAWS announces “Opening Microsoft Word.” Wow, I will never double click on the MS Word icon again without thinking about the 10 minutes it took me to open it blindfolded! Now I thought I was ready to start typing, but Dennis informed me that I had not opened a new document yet and that I need to hold Control and press “N” (for new). Not sure how he knew that but he did. Control is easy to find (bottom left) but “N” requires me to find the typing starting position which takes a few seconds and then I press “M” thinking I am pressing “N.” Luckily, Dennis informs me that nothing happened (meaning that I do not have to undo control + M) and I can simply hold Control and press “N” (again, I am impressed with his technical skills).So now I have a new MS Word document open on the computer and I am ready to type, my typing skills are pretty good so I quickly type a few sentences (Finally something I can do easily). Now Dennis says have JAWS read it back to you – Hold Control and press Right Arrow, so I fumble around and finally find the keys and listen to the reading of my paragraph. Unfortunately, I have 2 typos that I need to correct, the first one has an extra letter so after listening word by word, and finding the misspelled word, I need to go letter by letter to find the exact spot of the typo so I can fix it. While working on the second typo, I accidentally touched the touch pad which caused a new window to become the top window so I need to fix it (Alt + Tab) prior to continuing (again not sure how Dennis know it, but he did), but even a simple Alt + Tab takes several seconds to find the correct keys (Glad I passed Lesson 0 before starting Lesson 1). I fix the second typo and now it is time to save.Lesson 2I know the shortcut for saving – Control + S, I use it frequently, but this time I have to search again for the keys and JAWS speaks “Save Window”. Then I start tabbing around in the Save Window to determine where to save my file. Dennis tells me to Down Arrow until I get to “My Documents” and I hit the enter key to save it.SummaryIt took me 30 minutes to open MS Word, type 3 sentences and save it. The entire process was excruciatingly tedious and i was extremely impressed with Dennis, Elizabeth, Monica and the JAWS program. I now know that blind people can use traditional computers, they just have to work much harder than sighted people.Love,Matt
In terms of the mission, I was drawn again to another early morning meeting at the Primary Blind school observing a class, and just after visited the Secondary Blind School (older kids) with Bill to review what infrastructure needs exist. Sister Winnie, Bill and I drew out a list of many items to consider including mosquito proof screens (none exist) on at least 30 windows between the two dormitories, as well as improvements to the ceilings, leaking roofs and damaged ceilings, as well as the future need for additional tables, chairs, place settings and serving bowls needed at the eventual dining call for the vision impaired children. The kids currently eat outside, on the grass. What was most telling was the ‘double whammy’ of both the lack of any screens preventing mosquitos that likely carry malaria in the dorms, as well as the state of disrepair of the mosquito nets over the kids’ beds – nets that were donated a year ago. As many have said here, malaria is the real deal here, as kids are sick on a daily basis and any prevention would be an improvement. That said, I couldn’t be more grateful to my daughter Mia who wanted to be part of this mission from the day she heard about it, and more importantly proud of her work here this week with all the medical supplies and nurses at all three schools. Thanks Mia.
Later in the morning, I spent time with the P4 (4th graders, in the Madera school for girls) Music Class. One calling (of a few I have for this trip) is my love of music of course fueled by a dynamic and wonderful teacher I had in middle and high school at Ridge. The kids sang a song for me in Ateso, the local language, thanking us for coming to Uganda, for helping them with English (which most of the children speak) and showing their gratitude. I decided to teach them “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine” including additional lyrics of “all around Madera, I’m going to let it shine (Soroti, Uganda, Africa). It was a special moment for me and they learned the song in 5 minutes but sang it for the rest of the time in class. If you want a video of it, maybe Ben can post it. More activities for the day including evaluating the new trench work solving run off and dry-well issues from the outdoor showers used by the kids, as well as attending music practice and working with the teacher on getting a list additional needs (instruments, etc) for her students – an award winning Choir and Band in the region!
We closed the day at St Mary’s Secondary School (all girls), with another amazing show of gratitude from over 900 students and their dynamic leader, Sister Salome. Wow. While each day is a new day, with new areas such as donating soccer materials I had from my days as a soccer coach back at home in Kinnelon, I’ll continue to evaluate and explore to see how I can impact short and long term improvements…where God guides me.
One thing is clear to me – just being here, and being spiritually and emotionally impacted by the experience across all the children we are meeting every day…..the Lord is truly here, working in his own way, shining His light through all the kids here. I saw this quote on a computer lab in the high school which in a little way, sums up my experience thus far:
“Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” Philippians 4:5
He sure is.
A Long, Productive Day – John
Today, Catie, Bill, Gerard and I met at 6:30 am to prepare for our meeting with Sister Elizabeth and David to review the current state of the St Anne’s school infrastructure. Walking into the meeting, we felt that a constant, stable source of power was the highest priority, driving the computer needs, water pumps and irrigation, as well as basic lighting. However, another pressing need is to establish a safe and clean water supply that quite often is in demand and short on supply across the 7 functional water tanks. Also, the outdoor bathrooms and latrines are in need of attention, as well as a potential expansion to support the 1,000+ kids. It was a great collection of perspectives that God enabled to collectively brainstorm a comprehensive path forward.
Later in the day, I donated cones and pinnies for soccer and Mia, Missy and I organized a couple soccer games on a field as the girls played among the cows, who didn’t seem to mind. We are looking into soccer goals for the girls as well as simple jump ropes and ended the day teaching the P4 girls, fielding questions about math, life in the U.S.A. and learning about the Ugandan independence and significance of the flag.
Our first day at the nurse’s office – Mia
Today, we went to visit the school nurses at St. Ann’s primary school and St. Francis primary school for the blind. As we had seen in the other parts of the schools, we knew that there was a lot of need for help and supplies. When we saw the condition of the nurses offices and infirmaries, the amount of poverty and need was overwhelming and heartbreaking. Even simple medical supplies that may seem easy to find in our homes, like bandaids and Neosporin, were limited or even nonexistent in the supply closets. At St Ann’s school, there are only a few packs of bandaids and 6 infirmary beds for over 1,000 girls. Also, important medications for common illnesses like the flu and malaria were running out. With this information and more from the secondary school for the blind, we plan to distribute the supplies accordingly and help as much as we can in our week here. With everything we have seen these past few days, we have realized how much these students and teachers need our help. All of this almost makes us want to give up and work harder at the same time to achieve as much as possible. Something important that we have learned to remember during our mission is that even a small change makes a difference here, and even the most simple projects can change these students lives.
Monday Morning Assembly – Matt
Sr. Elizabeth, the principal of the St Ann’s Madera Girls’ Primary School invited the 13 missionaries to the morning assembly. Sr. Elizabeth invited us to the front of the assembly, introduced us and we received a warm and heart felt welcome from the students. It was wonderful to watch the students recite the Uganda National Anthem, say their morning prayers and march off to class in small groups. It was inspiring to see their enthusiasm, joy and excitement over having visitors from United States. There were approximately 1,100 girls (roughly 700 boarding students and 400 day students) which can be seen in the pictures below.
Spending Time With the Girls at St. Ann’s – MissyFirst, I had a meeting with five girls at the school who take computer classes at the school. I talked to them about what they learn in computer class and how much they can do on the computers. The girls said that they can use Microsoft Word and they like to use computers to paint electronic pictures. I showed the girls YouTube, and they really enjoyed it. They had never seen a music video before. Later in the day, Mia, John, and I played soccer with some younger girls. The little girls loved soccer, and they really liked running around and chasing the ball wherever it went. These young girls have so much energy and they bring joy to everyone around them.
Interacting with the Children – Sr. John Paul
With great smiles and claps the students welcomed me into their classrooms where I taught math to Primary 1 and Primary 7 classes. Subtraction with the little ones, area and perimeter. The students were eager learners in both classrooms. We walked to the gate with some of the nursery school children. Before the girls lined up for their meal of posho and beans, I joined the students for the Rosary. All 700 of the girls that live here knelt in the dirt field and prayed. Finally at the end of the day Some of us joined a Primary 4 class for the evening Prep period where we taught some Math, Spanish, French, and answered a bunch of random questions. It was a packed day but filled with the movements and grace of the Holy Spirt.
“Blessed are the hearts that bend, for they shall not be broken.”– Quote found on the wall in Sister Winnie’s office.
First full day in Madera, we are experiencing Christ’s joy in the people here, it is so tangible and all of us desire it for ourselves. It is also very difficult to see such poverty and not just let your heart break. This morning we began the day joining the Madera community for Mass. We experienced our universal Catholic faith in the way the people of Madera pray the Mass with devotion, enthusiasm, and a community spirit. These people bend their hearts to listen to the teachings of God and fully participating in worship. After breakfast, we continued the day with a tour of St. Francis Secondary School for the Blind. It was amazing to see the work that Sister Winnie, the teachers, and staff do for the good of the blind students. Including a tour of the construction site where they are building a dining hall for the blind students. Along the tour we met many of the students singing and dancing to recreate on this Sabbath day. The students let their hearts bend to the graces and gifts of God, beyond blindness.After a little break in the afternoon, we toured St. Francis Primary School for the Blind. The blind students carried the chairs from the classrooms into the music room so we could all gather together. Over a hundred blind primary students welcomed us with songs and dance. Sister Rose, Sister Winnie, Sister Elizabeth, and all the staff here bend their hearts to serve Christ in these beautiful children.On the way back, we saw the beautiful Ugandan sunset, reminding us of the presence and omnipotence of Christ in our lives. We met in the evening to share and reflect on what we have experienced so far. We all shared that the poverty and contrast to the lives we live in America is overwhelming. Gratitude was a common denominator amongst all of us. We hope that in this coming week we can be courageous to let God bend our hearts as He sees fit so we can carry out the mission of Christ.
Sister John Paul, SCC
After driving over 7 hours over the Nile River and into eastern Uganda, we have safely reached our final destination of Soroti. It took 7 hours…and we skipped the Kampala jam! We were greeted by 701 girls (of the +1,100) who board here. They sang for us and greeted us with open arms. Lunch was prepared by Carol, Mirriam, and Sr. Rose, which tasted amazing! The heat hit us all like a pile of bricks, so we all unpacked and rested for a while. A tour of St. Ann’s Primary School followed. Starting around 5:30pm, the deputy of the school took us around and showed us the campus. It was a shock to many, as we learned and saw the living conditions for the girls. We learned that the electricity is down, which is causing the water pumps not to work. There is also scarcity among boarding because of the high number of girls living there. Some teachers have over 100 students per class (average is about 85 per class) that are taught in small classrooms. We learned that some parents are just sending their children to school because there is no room for them at home. We also toured the girls’ dormitories. Some girls sleep in bunk beds stacked up to three. They were hot and have no circulation…we could only imagine what it would feel like during a hot day with over 90 girls. Some of the windows are broken, allowing for mosquitos to enter. In addition, not all of the girls have safe mosquito nets. There are about 8-10 girls who go to the nurse each day to get treated for malaria -a fatal disease if not treated for children. It is the highest killer of children in Uganda, said one of the nurses. Many of the girls who get malaria miss class and sometimes have to get transferred to the medical clinic in town. Because the water pumps are breaking, deliveries of water have been arriving at the school. The other day, 3 trucks full of water (the amount that a firetruck can carry) delivered water and the girls had to carry it in buckets. Some of these problems can be avoided by making what seem to be simple repairs. The problems seem to only be growing. We are all reminded by the brave work of Mama Kevina and Mother Teresa, remembering that it is just as important to feed one person if you cannot feed 100 people. Each of the missionaries met poverty face-to-face today. We concluded the tour with a small pow-wow before dinner. Everyone feels overwhelmed, especially since we had a 7 hour bus ride on bumpy, dusty roads. Despite this feeling of overwhelming poverty and problems, the joy of the girls and people of Uganda have made us feel welcome. Some found their work cut out for the week, while others have been brainstorming and just taking it all in. Keep in mind, we have to visit our 2 other partner schools tomorrow (St. Francis Primary and Secondary School). It is going to be a busy week. All attitudes are positive and we are all open to see where God is calling each of us this week at Madera. Keep sending prayers and support. We will celebrate mass tomorrow morning at 7:30am with the community of Madera. Good night and God Bless,Ben
3 buses, 2 planes, and 2 airports later, we have arrived safely in Uganda! Sr. Elizabeth picked us up at Entebbe International Airport and we avoided the jam in Kampala! All the 25 checked bags arrived safely! After waking around Ggaba National Seminary, dinner was served, including matoke (Ugandan banana traditional meal), chicken, rice, potatoes, and fresh cut fruit! We will leave early for Soroti tomorrow to the schools we will be serving this week. God is good.
We are on our way to JFK International Airport! Bags are packed and missionaries are onboard, getting ready for the long journey we have ahead of us. We all said that we are feeling: anxious, excited, nervous, and adventurous. We also shared the people who are coming with us through prayers: parents, grandparents, the Burrows Family, friends, and sisters. Pray for us!
Dear Friends, Family, Mission Madera Supporters, and Uganda Blog Followers,
The time has come! Missionaries from Morris Catholic High School will depart for Uganda THIS THURSDAY! To follow us, read this blog HERE! Share with friends and family and anyone else who wants to hear this story. Read this to be a part of our mission! Here are some photos from both groups traveling to Uganda this summer.
Morris Catholic (June 27-July 9)
Notre Dame of Mt. Carmel (July 11-July 23)Stay tuned!
Hello friends…we are all adjusting back to life in the USA and deeply miss our Uganda friends! Here are some photos to sum up some of the work that was accomplished and events that took place. Before and after photos of the Nursery School. Departure from Entebbe Airport back to JFK. The Kampala “jam”. Saying “goodbye” at Gabba Seminary in Kampala. Nathan and Donna’s project of getting Malaria testing strips for the schools. They are surprisingly cheap and these will help diagnose children to help with recovery. Adventures on the Nile River!Baboons on the road to Jinja! Our beloved friend Joanne. Playing soccer at Katakwi. Edwin, the baby of one of the staff members. Students from St. Ann’s Primary School. Special “Thank You” shoutouts to our sponsors and donors!
We have arrived home safely after 30 hours of traveling. Thank you to everyone who kept up with this blog as we showcased some highlights through our trip. A very special thanks to our sponsors and those who donated…your impact is direct!
See you soon!
We left for Jinja, Source of the Nile at 6:00am! After a few hours, we arrived and had a great lunch. We all then drove to the river. Our tour guide (Derrick) explained the history of the river, Uganda, and Lake Victoria. A boat took us to the actual source, which are springs from the ground; then we went out a few kilometers to Lake Victoria. Seeing the river and all the birds was a tribute to the beauty of Uganda and its nature. It was also a nice break from the bumpy car ride. (more photos to come!!) After getting stuck in the “jam”, which is what they call their rush hour, we arrived to the seminary where we stayed at our first night. After dinner, we all sat in a circle for a reflection. The thoughts and comments summarized the amazing transformation and talented among every member of the trip. As readers, thank you for sharing this journey with us. We depart for Entebbe International Airport tomorrow. God Bless.
This fantastic mission trip has come to an end. The week has been eventful and super busy…we must have all lost track of time. We made new friends, learned about new cultures, and learned more about ourselves. God has been with us since the beginning, keeping us safe and keeping the passion burning within our hearts. That’s what was so special about this…everyone had a strong sense of passion and will that led them through the entire week. We worked hard, laughed, cried, hugged, and met some amazing people. Thanks to some special donors from home, projects because a reality for the children. The sense of gratefulness and appreciation has been shown, from the littlest of children to tall, grown adults. Uganda has welcomed us and we are sad to leave, as well as the children. Everyone has been wishing us “safe journey” and the girls at St. Ann’s performed a final closing ceremony. The banner of handprints for the Academy of St. Elizabeth’s was completed today! Girls in P7 participated, as they were the main recipients of the sanitary pads. As we said goodbye to the children, they lined up to hug some of us. They all said, “We will miss you!” Their spirits and love will remain in our hearts as we depart for the United States. We reminded them that no matter how far away, we are forever in each others’ hearts. No distance will separate us…not even an ocean. To end on a high note, the tailor made us traditional Ugandan outfits! We head out for Kampala tomorrow, stopping at the Nile River. Keep us in your prayers as we embark on our journey back home.
Sorry about the blog not posting yesterday…there was no internet. Here’s a small recap….Yesterday (Friday), we distributed gifts to the primary blind students. They were very grateful and joyful when they received baby dolls and new balls. We also brought soccer balls from Notre Dame of Mt. Carmel’s Soccer Balls for Joy. The other blind School (Secondary) received soccer balls, in addition to new medical supplies. Kevina Mission Possible, the Ugandan corporation had its second annual meeting regarding the future of the mission. Progress on the nursery school has begun! The walls are being constructed and they have a new coat of paint. One of the boys’ dormitories at the primary blind school has a new floor! They will move in within the week after it dries and settles. The Academy of St. Elizabeth in Convent Station raised over $1000 for feminine hygiene products. Catie was in charge of this massive project: getting 130 boxes of sanitary pads for the girls. The hard work payed off when the truck arrived. Today (Saturday) we visited Sr. Cecilia’s family in Katakwi, a village east of Soroti. They greeted us with cheers, hugs, and smiles.
We concluded the day with dinner at a nice hotel (with air conditioning!). Everyone has had an amazing week and projects have been completed. Ideas became realities. Most importantly, everyone has found their purpose of coming on this mission trip and understood how they made an impact.
We can’t believe it’s already Thursday! So much has been accomplished in such a short amount of time. Most of us began painting the nursery walls to lighten up the place.Grace, Catie, and Jen went to speak with the school nurses about supplies. We are still figuring out how to distribue the supplies donated by Morris Catholic HS and other families. Ben distributed pencil sharpeners to P1 and P2 classes after seeing how they sharpened their pencils….…using a razor blade. This is very dangerous considering many diseases are transmitted through blood. The teachers appreciated them very much and now the children are not at that risk. The children at the nursery school love seeing visitors too! Catie, Jelyn, Grace, and Donna pumped up over 70 soccer balls from “Soccer Balls for Joy” from Notre Dame of Mt. Carmel (thank you Fr. Jhon!!). They will be distributed tomorrow…photos to come! We also distributed rosary beads to the girls! St. Mary’s in Denville, and St. Cecilia and Sacred Heart in Rockaway donated over 500 rosary beads. A special shoutout to the Hornstein Family who donated many as well! The girls appreciated them so much and were grateful. However, some of the girls wanted to switch colors and were not happy. I had to explain to them that it did not matter about the color or the look, rather the prayer. Some understood and appreciated them even more. It’s amazing to see how God is so prevalent in the lives of these children. They pray the rosary every night before taking dinner together. They sing with their hearts and it overwhelmingly shows. Even though the group has been teaching the girls and students this week, they have taught us so much more.
So today, this is Gerard, or as the kids say, Baby Ben’s Dad . Ben has no internet as we’ve tried to set up several routers but nothing in Uganda is easy. Ben has been an amazing leader of this mission. His dream of sharing this gospel work is blossoming before our eyes. I’m so proud of him!The day began as Tour Guide Sr. Cissie the “tourist” Mzungus (white people) group through the bush and into the village of Soroti. Though the poverty was crushing, the smiles were beaming. Many in the group are beginning to really hit their strides today. Some came with apprehension, unsure of what to do or how everything would work. Ben reminded everyone to trust in God and as I’ve been saying, to trust the Holy Spirit. So we found the nursery yesterday…64 amazing 3-5 year-olds cramped into a one room schoolhouse with 3 classes separated by 6′ high plywood. Sr. Columba (pictured below) said she did not want to bother us last year as we were so busy. This year, however, she asked us if we could take a look at her nursery. Mike St. Pierre led up the effort, suggesting we work at her school. He jumped right in, literally hopping on a boda boda to go buy paint for the outside of the school and to begin a mural. Mike along with Phil, Jelyn and Janice put in a lot of hard labor, sanding and painting the outside. We authorized work to begin tomorrow on creating 2 real walls and a new door for Sr. Columba’s nursery. She told us yesterday that Mother Kevin, the order’s founder who she met as a child, always said to pray for God’s Providence. Her prayers have been answered with this help to her school. I know a huge highlight of today was seeing all 4 young women of our group address the Secondary Blind School discussing female hygiene to a group of 32 secondary blind students. Catie led the discussion on an issue that she has long been passionate about. The students were very curious and asked many questions of which the girls and our Nurse Jen were able to answer. Some of the myths and inaccuracies of female hygiene were clarified by our Nurse Jen. The female adults of our group were instrumental in planning the meeting and our young women led it magnificently. Our young women are hoping this information will be the foundation to a better understanding of female hygiene. Nathan is leading up an effort at the Secondary Blind School to create a 15 minute play about malaria. In his research, Nathan read that the treatment for the disease costs as little as 41 cents a month. It is ironic, however, that the inexpensively cured disease is one of the leading causes of death in Uganda. He will write the play tonight after having met Teacher Christine and 10 students. Jelyn, Janice, and Donna are assisting. Our very talented Rich Gradone has agreed to play some keyboard background music ensuring success. Mike, Sr. Cecilia and I have been assessing some of the project needs for the deployment of some of the funds. The Primary Blind School had 2 of its 5 dorm room cement floors relaid last year. The remaining 3 had so many cracks and holes that we decided to re-lay the remaining 3 floors. That work started this morning. We also noticed some of the top bunk beds did not have mosquito netting. After an inquiry, we realized it is because they don’t have ceiling hooks or bedding apparatuses. We are installing hooks and having beds soldered to hang the nets. Phil has taken on a week-long class of entrepreneurship and commerce at the Secondary Blind School. After each lesson, he is bombarded with intelligent and curious questions from darkened eyes yet, enlightened minds. We have also been assessing the computer situations at all 3 schools. We thought that last year they would be well on their way to success, but progress is VERY slow here. The Blind Schools need more computers and the JAWS Program which translates what is shown on the monitor screen into audio. Currently, they use a free version of Jaws, but the program limits their use to 30 minutes, causing their system to turn off abruptly. For those back in the States, you know how frustrating it is to get kicked off a computer. Just imagine the toil and frustration of a blind student.This endeavor, of all our projects, is essential, as it is one of the few ways for a the blind to avoid a life on unemployment. After finishing our meal of Ugandan-style pizza tonight, I walked the darkened grounds, looking for those on mission. What I found was God’s hand bridging our worlds — singing, connecting, learning, laughing, and most of all loving.
Progress is happening! Today we visited the nursery school and learned that 64 children attend. Their class needs some repairs, especially since there is a building with plywood separating sections (3) of levels of children. We played with some of the students who are absolutely adorable! They sang and danced and played games with us. Sr. Columbo runs this school and she showed her appreciation when the project moved foreword. Some also visited the primary blind school and mingled with students and staff. The internet has been a real hassle so I’ll let the photos speak the rest. Keep sending prayers and love!
Today, everyone went their ways. St. Ann’s Girls’ Primary School welcomed us this morning at their 7:30 morning assembly.We all greeted the children and introduced ourselves. Following breakfast, Catie, Grace, Donna, Richard, Phil, Nathan, Janice, and Jelyn went to teach the girls. Nathan taught P4, Catie shadowed P5, Grace taught P6, Janice and Jelyn danced and played with P1 during their PE class, and Donna sat in on a long division class with P3. Phil taught P7 about Geography and even managed to teach them some Spanish. Mike, Gerard, and Jen went to the Secondary Blind School during the morning to speak with some administrators. They discussed the needs of the school, computer lab assessments, and much needed supplies. Above are children from the blind school wearing Morris Catholic t-shirt donations!In addition, Jeanne spoke with Annette, St. Ann’s Assistant Principal. Richard taught P5, P6, and P7 music at St. Ann’s. There are no teachers or staff on the entire campus who can play piano/keyboard. All of the children were mesmerized, as he sang and played for the children. Around noon, Donna, Phil, Nathan, Richard, Mike, and Jeanne went to the Secondary Blind School for their morning assembly. They sang and introduced themselves with Sr. Winnie leading them. Throughout the day, many small connections took place among the children and us, making them even more special. Despite the chaotic moments and culture shock, there seems to be a resounding peace among us and our mission.
Jeanne went with teacher Betty and she showed her ground nuts (peanuts) and how they were picked. Phil taught Commerce and Entrepreneurship at the Secondary Blind School with Ivan, a teacher. Gerard, Ben, and Sr. Cecilia toured the piggery with Sr. Elizabeth behind St. Ann’s. Everyone’s talents are being showcased and everyone has a purpose here. Being here also brings a greater appreciation for education, emphasizing that it is a privilege and not everyone has it.
Wow…what a day! we all went to mass at 7:30am at St. Patrick’s Parish in Madera, just near the school. The clapping and singing was a testament to the joys of African worship. The priest spoke about noticing the little miracles that happen every day, quite fitting for our mission and a great message for the week ahead! Following the announcements, the speaker called us up to the alter where we introduced ourselves in front the congregation, over 700 people. We all headed over to St. Francis Primary School for the Blind, where all the students sang to welcome us. It was a beautiful ceremony with love and tears. The blind children sang that they do not have a disability and it is not a curse, nor a blessing, rather a concern. Everyone met the students and conversed while touring the campus. The students showed us how to use braille machines and how they read and write. Lunch followed with a special surprise…goat (everyone tried it!). People shared what they were feeling during the meal, sharing how joyful and grateful the children were. We all remembered what the priest said, appreciate the little miracles among the earth. I guess you could say that some saw the face of God among these children. After some well needed rest, we all toured St. Francis Secondary School for the Blind. Sr. Winnie had the children greet us with a song and some traditional dances (from central and eastern Uganda). The dances were wonderful and impressive, considering the face that most of the students dancing were completely blind. As they finished, Sr. Winnie and Sr. Cecilia joined in the dance, causing laughter among the group to erupt. The walk back to the convent had a beautiful sunset in the background, as well as children waving. The beauty and wonder of Uganda was displayed through the children, singing, nature, and joy of the people, which was seen by everyone. We ended the day with dinner and a reflection, speaking about the little encounters and “God moments” throughout the day. We will begin teaching and working among the schools tomorrow…stay tuned to see what other miracles and special moments take place. God is here, God is with us.
After waking up around 5:00am and eating breakfast, we departed for Soroti. Luckily, we skipped the traffic jam in the craziness of Kampala and made our first stop in Jinja, then Mbale. Around 2:00pm, the girls of St. Ann’s Madera School greeted and welcomed us. There were over 500 girls shouting and waving, an unforgettable sight. After greeting the children, we got settled into our rooms and took a tour of the school, seeing classroom and dorms. The girls were also signing, practicing for mass tomorrow. Grace, Catie, and Jelyn taught some of the girls before dinner and they loved them. The surrounded them and brought them into their classes. The girls are grateful to see us, and we are even more grateful to see them. The sisters have said that they are thankful to God for our arrival and long journey. Tomorrow, we will go to mass and take a tour of the blind schools.
After traveling over 24 hours, we have arrived in Kampala, Uganda! The bus ride was tight but we all managed to fit…with the 25 pieces of luggage.After arriving in Kampala, we traveling to the National Seminary Ggaba, where we will be staying for the night. They prepared a wonderful meal for us and it was very good. Keep on sending prayers!!
We left Morris Catholic High School at 5:15 this morning and successfully arrived at JFK International Airport. We are about to embark on a +20 hour journey to Uganda. Stay tuned!
After 14 days in Uganda, we are coming home! Thank you for all the prayers and support! See you in the USA!
Today began with a visit to the Madera Primary Blind School. All of the children received items, including: toothbrushes, toothpaste, Vaseline, soap, and a wash cloth. It was the first time they received something like this…which sounds awful, but it is true. These children Had been neglected and forgotten. Now, they have been encouraged and found their dignity. It’s amazing what little things we take for granted back home can do. The children were all grateful (so were the teachers) that they sang for us and bid us farewell. It was emotional and very touching. Saying goodbye was hard, but hopeful. They know that only good things can come from this.
Ramp which was jagged is now smooth and the new floor for blind school being cured.
Picture above: Computer lab is about ready for opening. Both the Blind School & the Madera School for Girls will now have Internet access for the first time including Wi-Fi . All projects have now been handed off to Rockfell and Sister Elizabeth for completion.
After saying goodbye to the blind school, we went back to a meeting with Rockfell, Sr. Elizabeth, us (Dad and Ben), and Valentino, the computer engineer. Valentino explained which computers were best and how they would be delivered(The meeting was suppose to be 30 min but it took an hour and a half, Ugandan time).
Around 5:30, the children at St. Ann’s Primary School held a farewell ceremony complete with traditional Ugandan dances and personalized songs bidding us farewell. It was amazing! All of the children were so energetic and enthusiastic. They also sang songs and thanked us. After the ceremony was over, Dad and I addressed them and said goodbye to all of them. We encouraged them to “Aim High” and keep Jesus close to you. We explained we leave Uganda holding a very special place in our hearts. It was just like saying goodbye to the blind school, hard and emotional. The relationships that were created will last a lifetime. Each child made an impact on our lives and we will cherish the time spent here. Uganda has become a second home for us, and we know that we are always welcome.
Sr Cecilia holding a teacher’s (old friend) 3 month old. Ben’s little friend Daniella who stuck to him all week.
Finalizing the Kevina Mission Possible documents facilitating donations to these amazing and needy children.
(More photos will come…internet is slow)
Throughout the course of the week, Dad has been working on creating a Corporation here in Soroti Uganda that will serve as a conduit for future donations coming from America. After many days of discussion, we wrote an operating agreement.
It is complete with checks and balances, transparency, accountability and follow up support documentation for each funded project. As this involves many tasks, a very small percentage of compensation will be paid to our Projects Director here in Uganda who will serve as the accountable party to our fundraising efforts in the future.
We held our first meeting of the Corporation tonight and authorized the opening of a new bank account, in the name of the new entity- “Kevina Mission Possible”. Mother Kevin (Mama Kevina in local language) was a missionary from Ireland who established the 3 schools that we are helping. She saw there was a dire need for the education of girls and the vulnerable blind in the 1930’s many of whom were not educated at the time and treated as “gutter children”. The name of the Corporation is in her honor and through these Sisters, her revered Spirit is alive and thriving!
Sr. Cecilia was praised and commended during the meeting by Sr. Elizabeth & Dad as the essential key in bridging us to these schools in Soroti, Uganda. She is a beautiful, faithful, fun and amazing woman. Her bringing us together here has been a God send to us as well. When people have expressed their thanks to us, I have heard Dad say, (a few while choking back tears) “You have done more for us than we could ever have given to you.”
The Holy Spirit has been guiding us every hour of our stay here. Miracles big and small each day that have allowed us to accomplish so much. Praise goes to God!
Tomorrow will be difficult as we say goodbye to what now have become lifetime friends.
Love Ben & Dad
from left: Sr Rose, Head Teacher (Principal) of Madera Primary School for the Blind, Sr. Cecilia, New Projects Director Rockfell, Dad, Gerard Duphiney, Sr. Elizabeth, Head Teacher of Madera Girls Primary School & overall responsible for all 3 schools.
All 100 girls wore their shirts to church today to 7:30am Mass. The shirts were scattered, making them look even better! (I wore mine too!) Dad and I were also asked to speak in front of the church. Keep in mind, this is not like an American church…there were over 400 people. Trying not to panic, I just introduced myself and told everyone I was staying with the sisters. (Dad had stayed home as was really tired….he’s fine though). They all clapped and cheered. After, some people came up to me and shook my hand. I felt very welcomed.
The reading for today was about Jesus and Peter at the stormy sea. He explained how the disciples saw Jesus walking on water. Jesus reached out his hand. “Come,” said Jesus. Peter stepped out of the boat and walked towards Jesus. But when he saw the wind and the storm, he was afraid. “Lord, save me!” cried Peter. Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “Oh yee (you) of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” After Jesus rescued Peter, the storm stopped and the disciples said, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
The priest began with a story:
“There was a man who tied a string from one end to another, over Niagara Falls. He walked across with no problem. People saw and asked to see it again, so he did. And again, for all to see. Everyone was amazed. They wanted him to do it again, but this time the man on the rope said, ‘I will do it with a wheelbarrow, good?’ ‘Do it!’ screamed the crowd…so the man did, with no problem. Knowing that the man had no problem with crossing the rope, another man asked him to do it again. The man on the rope said, ‘I will do it again, but only if I can carry someone inside the wheelbarrow.’ Everyone said no and was afraid, even though they saw this man do it many times.
In life, God will ask you to do things that you will not want to do. We all need to have the courage to say yes and get into the wheelbarrow. It is all part of God’s plan.
After church, Dad, Sr. Cissie, and I went to the Blind School. They had a feast beginning at 1:00pm. So, 1:00 rolls around and we arrive. “We have a ceremony of thanks for you.” The ceremony was lovely. All the children sang and thanked us (and the donors) for all the work that has been happening. This finished around 1:45pm (keep in mind, we are still on “Ugandan time”). Just when we though the food was ready, the Mayor Deputy of Soroti arrived…and talked…for a long time. He talked until 2:30pm. Ugandan time, am I right? After we helped draw the ceromony to a quicker conclusion (not easy when any politician is speaking), we headed for lunch. The food was amazing: chicken, potatoes, fruit, pork, and rice. All the children enjoyed it even more because it was a change from beans and posho (extremely bland). They presented dad with a turkey as a sign of gratitude.
The day ended with a birthday dinner for Sister Winnie with just the Sisters! We all ate at a very nice hotel. Sister Winnie had a very good time. One very strange thing happened…I saw a white family! Now, to people back home, you probably think I am crazy so let me explain:
Sr. Cissie, Dad, and I have been in Uganda since August 3, which was 10 days ago. Keep in mind that we are in a very remote place in Uganda (compared to Kampala, the main city). We walked into the hotel and I spotted a family of mzungus! (they were from Holland) I wondered why I was so shocked…it was because I had not seen a white person since last Saturday. A bit of a culture shock, don’t you think? The family actually approached Sr. Cissie and me and they asked about our cross tie-dye shirts. I told them all about it and showed them photos of the children wearing them. They were touched and kept asking questions. I also informed them that the school was only a 10 minute drive. They were shocked.
I think it is so interesting that people, even in Uganda, are unaware of the children in need. This goes to show that everyone needs to go out of their way to help others, even if it is right in front of your nose. It applies every where (not just Uganda!). It could be someone in the checkout line. It could be someone who feels lonely. It could be your neighbor. It could be anyone. Helping people is universal. Compassion is a language that all races and cultures can understand. Even making someone smile is a sign of compassion. No deed is too great or too small. Get into the wheelbarrow and say yes, because only Jesus can save.
Today, I gave out 100 cross tie-dye shirts to St. Ann’s Madera Girls’ Primary School! Even though there are over 800+ students, they will share. I explained to them that they belong to the school, not each individual. I taught them a lesson of gratitude today. Some were upset because they did not receive a shirt…I told them why they should be happy about others. Explaining it was a challenge, but the message got across.
“These shirts are a gift from the Christian Drama School of New Jersey and Heart for People. They are both organizations that love and care about Uganda. Cherish these shirts and share them. Can you do that for me?”
“YES!!” screamed the children.
[To find out more about The Christian Drama School and Heart for People, click one their names above (I attached links).]
Some of the younger girls came up to me (the ones who did not receive a shirt) and were upset. Even though I explained it over 20 times, some still did not understand. It made me realize that I, a single person, cannot fix the entire world. One of my favorite quotes is from Mother Teresa:
“If you can’t feed one hundred people, then just feed one.”
I love this quote because it gives me inspiration. I know that I cannot give all these girls individual shirts and I know that I cannot give them everything that they ask…but I can help them…one at a time. Each project that is being completed (stated below with photos) is one step closer. Once one child is helped, then we can move to a second one…then a third…then a fourth… To even start, one must have the courage to say “yes” to God’s Will and not theirs. Trust God.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge God, and God will make your path straight.” Proverbs 3:5
Just to be clear: the shirts belong to the school now. Since there are too many girls, they will use the shirts for special events. Tomorrow, the 100 girls will wear them to church. There are girls from each level to represent.
The new floor is being installed for the Computer Lab! (above)
The new floor is for the boy’s dormitories. It will now be safe and level. (above)
And finally….finally…the mattresses came!!! Now children will have a place to sleep (other than a thin piece of foam). 22 new mattresses were added to the primary blind school dorms today. Sr. Rose (Primary Blind School) is very happy!
This is the first step…with God, all things are possible.
Love (and eternally grateful) ,
A lot happened today…to say the least. Many of the project are beginning! I will let the photos do some of the talking.
A. Fixing Windows for the Primary Blind School
Before, many of the windows were cracked, broken, or missing. Windows in this condition are extremely dangerous…mosquitos can enter and the risk of malaria (fatal illness carried by most mosquitos) is higher. The cold nights and the dust are also problematic for the students. Today, all the old windows are being replaced with new ones (thanks to various private donors). The old ones are being removed in this photo by a worker.
B. New Floors for the Boy’s Primary Blind School Dormitory
Workers chip away to remove and replace that old, decaying floor. As of yesterday, the floor had holes and was uneven. Blind children cannot see these hazards, increasing the risk of injury. Today, it was removed and a new floor is on the way!
C. Electricity for the (soon-to-be) Computer Room at the Primary Blind School
The Primary Blind School is adding electricity for the future computer room. Computers will be delivered after the room is suitable. This is a big step, considering the school has never has wifi or computers for students. Ten brand new Dell computers had been donated six months ago but they were sitting in storage unable to be deployed because of the condition of the room. The floor will be tiled tomorrow and ready for use very soon.
D. Tables and Benches for the Dining Hall
As stated in a previous blog post, the girls ate breakfast, lunch, and diner on the ground. The sample arrived today and it was approved! Benches and tables will be constructed and the girls will have a place to eat! This project should take around a month to complete.
F. New Supplies for St. Ann’s Primary School
Attention all Morris Catholic Families…I delivered all of the supplies that were donated the last few weeks of school. I received over 700 pencils…this is amazing because exams are soon and many children do not have pencils. (A special thanks to the Richardson Family and Capuzzi Family for most of the pencils!) Pens, erasers, markers, coloring books, and crayons were donated as well. The man in the photo is the Director of Studies. He will distribute the donations out accordingly. He said to me, “Thank you for loving us.”
It is breathtaking to see how these small donations can mean the world to students and teachers half way across the world. They are appreciative for even the smallest things. I wish everyone back home could see their amounts of gratitude.
Continue to send prayers…it is working!
Ben will hate the title today as it puts focus on him but I’m the Dad so I’m allowed. Greetings from Gerard or should I say Baby Ben’s Dad?! Ben is doing great but I made him slow down today as his body and mind needed much rest. He was not feeling well last night and this morning so he was able to nap a few times and relax some. He’s been literally running on fumes. He’s feeling better but crashed at dinner and mumbled something about me doing the blog tonight (shocking me because he’s very protective of it). As he went off to bed, he barked “and don’t be so wordy Dad…you’re always too wordy!” True.
So what a week it’s been. Really life changing. For a guy who spends much of his life comcerned about managing wealth for his clients, going through the motions of daily living in America, this week has deeply humbled me.
Since Ben was 10 years old & joined Christian Drama, he has had a profound interest and love for Africa. He would encourage me often to take him but I had zero desire to go to Africa and always told him that it will never happen. My brother Glenn reminded me on a call yesterday that I don’t like to even go to Long Island …too far. So Africa ? Never.
But the Spirit (and certainly Ben too) has kind of way of taking over…God has a plan for all of us. We just have to listen to know what that plan is. Not that I knew when we made all these plans that God had been meticulously planning each detail, interaction, new relationship ( esp. our good friend and bridge to Uganda, Sr Cecilia), and of course unwavering support from my wife Jennifer… to get us to this little slice of a village in Eastern Uganda called Soroti. But He did.
Today was a great day in that the monies that had been wired from Morris Catholic are now secure here. Before allowing the wire, it was an arduous due diligence process as we are not familiar with the customs, bureaucracy and the mechanics of Uganda. It all came together and we have a good understanding and confidence in the people and the veracity in the system here at this school. We are comfortable in how we can move forward with continuing efforts beyond this trip to assist these proud, happy, and faith-filled peoples.
We have completed a fairly large needs assessment in speaking with the Sisters, the teachers, the workers and the students. As you can imagine, the list is much larger than the resources now but we’ll bring the list home for future efforts.
Today, our efforts were focused at the primary school for the Blind. The dormitories and classrooms are in a terrible state of disrepair. The interviewed blind students lamented of broken windows which bring the dust, cold and mosquitoes into their beds. They told me of the difficulty of the broken doors and latches that do not allow them to secure their room at night while they are sleeping in it. The holes in the concrete floor that caused me to almost sprain my ankle while visiting….imagine being blind in that environment. Makes you want to cry and I’ve done that more times this week than I want to admit.
I reviewed the repair and renovation proposal of Joseph, a friend of Sr Elizabeth for 17 years and has worked here on various projects since he was just a laborer back in 1997. Now he’s the boss and can manage all types of construction. He said Sr Elizabeth recently took him to a pilgrimage in Uganda where Mary, the Mother of God is said to have appeared. He said while there, he prayed for work so he can support his family of six children. He said God has answered his prayer. This will take he and his crew about 2 1/2 weeks to compete as it bincludes axe picking the entire concrete floor of a dormitory or two and then pouring a new foundation. He will also be repairing all broken windows, replacing 19 doors and locks. After some clarification of the contract & some good ole American negotiating (including a bonus for finishing on time), I told him to start in the morning and that I want to see the dust flying tomorrow at the blind school! He excitedly responded, “The dust will be flying at 7am!”. He exudes smiling grateful joy to have work for both he and his men.
Im tired now as it’s 12:30am and Ben was right …too wordy. He’ll probably delete half of this tomorrow morning. Love to you all and perhaps ask yourself sometime today …
“What plan does God have for me?”
The blind schooll kitchen sink repair concrete will be cured by tomorrow and they said the water will be flowing again!
We drove into downtown Soroti today. Wiring money from the United States to Uganda, Africa is not easy. In order to make it easier, we spoke with a branch manager to discuss the technicalities. For those who do not know, this is the third day dealing with the bank. Every thing is so slow and bureaucratic. Getting accurate information has been difficult because the bank doesn’t even know the correct procedures. Despite the slowness, the process is coming to an end (yay!).
In addition to the donations from Morris Catholic, family, and friends, several larger donations came in last minute which allow us to peruse larger projects. Some projects include:
Benches for the Primary School Dining Hall!! Now, the girls sit on the floor for all their meals (breakfast, lunch, diner). A prototype (below) was made for the benches. 54 benches and 27 tables will be ordered…which will be enough to seat 432 girls (about half). Sister Elizabeth, the head of the school, will now split the lunch into two times so they can each have a seat.
Plumbing for the Blind School!! A drainage pit will be installed for the broken kitchen sink. That will be fixed as well.
Uniforms for the Primary School! Students who have a ripped uniform or no uniform will receive a new one.
New projects will be announced later…stay tuned!!
Many people don’t know the term “Ugandan Time”. When class starts at 7:30am, teachers will arrive at 7:45am. When diner is at 8:00pm, it begins at 8:30pm…you see? After the bank, we went to a hotel to eat (hotels in Uganda also are restaurants). We met with Valentino, a local computer specialist who will be assisting with acquiring new computers for the school. Around noon, we ordered tea, water, and coffee, along with 2 orders of chips (French fries). The waiter asked us more than 5 times what we wanted. Around 12:45, we got the tea, water, and coffee. At 1:00, we got the chips. Keep in mind…there was no one in the restaurant and 4 workers (2 servers, 1 cook, 1 waiter). Oh, and they forgot one order of fries…ah Ugandan time.
The day ended with a wonderful visit to the Blind School. We talked with some students and even called Aunt Jeanne, Mom, and Catie (photo below). The students sang for them. It was beautiful.
Below is a photo of a blind child and children of the teachers. I hope they keep inspiring you.
Later in the evening, it rained. I was standing outside with some children and I was asking them questions about what they were learning. It was very peaceful with the thunder in the distance and some flashes of lightning. Once the rain began, it was a downpour. The dirt and dust turned into mud and the air became cold. I later walked around and stepped in a lot of mud. I visited most of the classrooms: P4, P5, P6, P7. I taught P6 some French. I answered some questions that P7 had about things like Hurricane Katrina, hamburgers, the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln, The Senate, New York City, the military, geography, the soil, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Bermuda Triangle. I also quizzed the on African geography. I told them that some Americans think that Africa is a country. “Eh…really!?”, said all of the children.
Dad has been interviewing people with connections with the Blind School. He met with a graduate from the Blind School. The graduate is an attorney. This is a perfect example of hope for the hopeless. A blind person (who is looked down upon in Uganda) can be anything they put their mind to.
Below, Dad is signing in with Sr. Winnie for a tour of the Secondary Blind School.
A student reads out European History in Brail.
Sr. Cissie shares a laugh with an old friend.
I realized that God is everywhere. He is with the 450+ girls who pray the entire rosary EVERY night. God is with the beggars on the streets. He is in every classroom. He is in every smile I see, every laugh I hear. He is with those who walk for 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) every day to fetch water. He is in my mosquito net (keeping me safe). He is in every piece of chalk, every pencil, every notebook. He is in the rain that hits the metal roofs. God is in the small hands that I touch every day. He is in every curious child that hungers for food and learning. He is in the clouds that pass over the land. He is in the mud and soil. God is in each hour, minute, and second that passes. God is everywhere.
This is Daniella, the daughter of a school teacher…and the cutest baby.
Betty is the English and Literacy teacher for Primary 3. There are 2 classes: P3 West and P3 East. Each class has around 65 students. I helped her teach today. We began with spelling and then continued to grammar. Each student is fully engaged in class…even the ones in the back of the classroom. I also taught them Proverbs 3:5 (CDS people!!!). They are so happy to have me as a teacher. I also handed out supplies donated by Morris Catholic. We gave them pencils (donated by the Richardson Family!) and erasers. They cherish each pencil so much. The pencils that some write with are so small that it is hard to hold. The notebooks they use are poorly put together. Each piece of paper is cherished. I also talked to Sr. Elizabeth and some of the teachers to see where the rest will go. A girl named Grace asked, “If I go to America, will my skin turn to white?” “Eh no”, replied someone else. “Baby Ben has come to Uganda and he has still white skin.” (She is the girl in the bottom left, closing her eyes.)
Dad has been crazy. He went into town today to get prices on new benches for the school. He met with a carpenter that will build benched for the girls to eat. Now, they sit on the dirty floor for meals. Dad had all the teachers write down that needs to be fixed. The sink in the Blind School does not work but a plumber is currently fixing it. The donations from YOU are going to help with things that everyone should have. Without the help of everyone, this would not be possible.
To all who care and help: it is changing lives.
This is Teacher Betty. She is so happy because she received around 120 new pencils for her class.
The whole community and schools went to mass this morning. It was from 7:30-9:30. Mass in Uganda is very different than mass in the United States. For example, everyone sings all the verses to the songs…and then some. Everyone is relaxed and cheerful because Sunday is the Lord’s Day. No one is in a hurry. They also have announcements where they tell the community what is going on. Today there was an announcement for a wedding and the whole community (more that 500 people) was invited to the wedding and reception. Community is a way of life. Also, everyone was asked to bring something to support the new couple: chickens, cows, shillings, water, and anything that would help them. When we left, the children said, ” eh look, Baby Ben came to church today.” I love the new nickname. Even though I have only been here for 4 days, I see these children as my family.
After church, we ate lunch at the convent with most of the sisters: Sr. Jerome, Sr. Elizabeth, Sr. Rose, and Sr. Columba. They showed us our convent and cooked for us. We also went to visit the blind school. These children are so joyful and grateful for everything they have. The living conditions are horrible. Some do not have mattresses, and they just sleep on the metal framing. The floor and courtyard is uneven and full of rocks, causing many to have wounds on their feet. Despite these horrific conditions, they are the happiest people I have ever met. All the blind children help each other by holding hands and guiding each other. Some can see a small amount, while others are completely blind. All of them look out for each other, making them a great team. They all said “We hope the mzungus will visit tomorrow.” Dad is discussing the needs of the compound (primary, secondary, and blind schools) and we will decide where to put the donations and supplies. (More information for those who donated….stay tuned!) The first picture below is Erasmus, a brilliant teacher at the Primary Blind School. Some of his many challenges include teaching blind children prime factorization and brail.
Later, we met Sr. Cissie’s family. We drove an hour and a half to a region called “Katakwi”. It was in the middle of nowhere. These conditions are even worse than the school…mud huts, no running water, no electricity, basically nothing. Despite the poverty, they are rich in many other things: love, joy, compassion, generosity, and laughter. Sr. Cissie’s mother is named Florence and she has three sons and two other daughters: Betty and Monica; Michael, John, and Martin. Michael is married and has two adorable children. Seeing the conditions that they live makes me appreciate (an understatement) my home even more. We talked about their lives and their past. It was absolutely heartbreaking to hear that Monica could not continue school because there was no money. She went to high school but could not continue to a vocational school (she wants to focus on water engineering). A private donation was given to the family. They will use the money to build a permanent home (as opposed to a mud hut) for the mother, Florence. Because the family was grateful, they presented us with three chickens. I wish all of you back home could experience this. It is truly life changing. John even said, “You are my new brother Ben.” They are my second family. Saying goodbye was one of the hardest things I have done so far. Today has been emotionally and physically draining. Appreciate everything that you have back home: running water, electricity, air conditioning, clothes, shoes, soap, technology, and your house…because some people literally do no that any of that.
Below is a photo of Florence, Sr. Cissie’s mother. She has one of the biggest hearts.
PS. The sunset was breathtaking (Lion King style).
Today was a very long day. I finally got to see and meet the children of St. Ann’s Primary School. There are around 450 girls who board at the school; 850+ in total. They are so friendly and cheerful. I played tag with about 150 girls…they all ran away from me and laughed. Seeing them was one of the most rewarding experiences ever. Some of these girls have ripped uniforms and no shoes, yet they are still joyful. Every child has a contagious smile. They appreciate everything, even the small cup of porridge they receive for breakfast. Nothing is wasted. Everything is cherished. Before they ate dinner, all 450 girls prayed the entire rosary.
My dad and I also met Sr. Winifred (nicknamed Sr. Winnie). She is a beautiful sister who teaches at the school. I told her all about home back in the USA and how everyone to wanted to learn more about Uganda.
We were woken up by a rooster cocking at 4:30 in the morning…not like the ones in America who begin at sunrise. We told Sr. Winnie and she told us that there use to be a rooster whose clock was broken. It cocked at all hours of the night…10:00pm, 3:30am…too noisy. So, she told us that, “We denied him his neck”…a polite way of saying we slaughtered it. They had a good meal in its honor.
I will let the photos do the rest of the talking.
Hugs to all,
We started the day by going to 7:00am mass with Sr. Cissie, Sr. Norbert, Sr. Teopista, Sr. Elizabeth, and it was led by the priest we ate dinner with the previous night. After, we ate breakfast: toast, mango juice, and bananas. Oh, and of course, tea and coffee. Once we finished breakfast, Wilber and my dad loaded the car and we headed into Kampala. Driving through Kampala makes rush hour in New York City look stress free and easy! Cars, bikes, boda bodas, taxis, oh my. Once we exchanged our US Dollars (USD) for Ugandan Shillings (USh), we went to Jinja. Before we got there, we stopped at the Shrine of the 22 Ugandan Martyrs. It was beautiful. The whole area was completely fixed up for the Pope, when he came in November 2016.
While we were there, there were large groups of children (maybe 150+ each) and they all looked at me and Dad. As we walked by, the teachers kept telling us, “They love to see Mzungus.” Mzungus are white people, or anyone from the USA, the UK, or Canada. They all were extremely friendly and when I waved at them, they smiled and waved back.
I noticed that the further we got away from Kampala, the more impoverished the area became. Children were walking barefoot. Mothers were in the streets, begging with their children. People came up to are car and tried to sell all sorts of foods, drinks, and merchandise.
We stopped at the Source of the Nile in Jinja. This is where Lake Victoria meets the Blue Nile (River Nile starting from Victoria Falls between Zambia and Zimbabwe and coming up to Lake Victoria).
We all ate at a Java Cafe. I got a burger, along with dad, and the rest got ribs.
We continued to Soroti.
Our car had some complications and we stopped in Namalemba. Long story short, we couldn’t use the AC anymore so we are driving with the windows open. The road worsened as we drove to Mbale, a town about 2 hours away from Soroti. People back home…stop complaining about potholes! There were some parts of the road that…well…there was no road. It had corroded away by the cars and the rain. These holes varied in size, from small dips in the road, to 5ft. in diameter. With the road like this and the windows rolled down, dust is everywhere. It makes me appreciate the roads back home.
We arrived at St. Ann’s-Madera Girls’ Primary School! Hundreds of girls were excited to see us. A few greeted Sr. Cissie, who has been away for the past 2 years. They all use to be P5 (Primary 5…around the equivalent of 5th grade) but now they are in P7 (8th grade).
First off…After 30+ hours of traveling, we arrived at Entebbe International Airport. We are all safe and doing well!
When we got all of our luggage and went through customs and immigration, we walked through the doors to hundreds of people. Some were holding signs for companies. Others were greeting family members. It was overwhelming. There were also police officers with machine guns, something that was a little nerve-racking to see. Sr. Elizabeth, the Mother Superior of the convent, greeted us, along with Rockfell, the school’s accountant. Wilber is our driver.
Driving in Uganda is NOTHING like driving in America. We drove for about 45 min from Entebbe to Kampala and I did not see one single stop sign or traffic light. Dad saw one traffic light that was red, but everyone was driving through it. It’s crazy. Wilber is a very good Ugandan driver and can steer around traffic jams, boda bodas (motorcycles), and livestock. Another thing I noticed immediately is the amount of people that walk along the side of the road. Wherever the road is, there are people. The taxis are also loaded with people, way past their limit. The dirt is also very different. It is an orange powder, covering everything. All of this, the people, the sounds, the smells, the noises, the animals, the poverty, the bicycles, the dirt, is different. Most of the car ride I just looked out the window and took it all in. I still haven’t taken it all in.
We got to the outskirts of Kampala, the capital, and arrived at St. Augustine’s Institute. Throughout the year, St. Augustine’s Institute houses diplomats, politicians, and bishops. The Archbishop of Kampala is currently here as well. It is guarded by a stone wall with glass shards lining the top, as well as a giant black gate.
Now, we are settled into our rooms with our luggage. We just finished having tea with Sr. Elizabeth, Wilber, Rockfell, and Sr. Cissie. We also had Ugandan bananas, which are amazing! We are driving 8 hours to Soroti tomorrow morning, where the convent is located.
We’re off to JFK! Thank you for all the prayers!
On August 2, my dad (Gerard Duphiney), Sister Mary Cecilia (Sr. Cissie), and I will be traveling 8,829 miles to Uganda.
While we are in Uganda, my dad will be teaching at the Madera Blind High School, the only vision impaired school in all of Uganda. In some countries, being blind is looked upon as a curse by many. Families neglect their children by simply leaving them somewhere. By the grace of God, compassionate sisters have taken in these defenseless children and have raised them in education and love. The safe and beneficial environment gives each child a chance. They all share a passion for music, making instruments out of spare parts and drum sticks out of tree branches.
I will be teaching at St. Ann’s- Madera Girls’ Primary School. This school has around 900 students in total, but I will be teaching the Primary 3 class. For those who do not know, the Uganda school system (and some neighboring countries) has 7 levels of primary school and 6 levels of secondary eduction. Primary 3 is around the equivalent to third grade. The primary 3 class has about 100 students, split up into classes. For those who have asked, I am teaching English, along with writing and reading. For now, that is all I know. Uganda is 7 hours ahead of EST (Eastern Standard Time) so when you are all going to bed, a day in Uganda is beginning. This is just the beginning.
St. Ann’s- Madera Girls’ Primary School in Soroti, Uganda.