Why We Go: Relationships Matter

Why We Go: Relationships Matter

Why go? Sixteen pairs of feet connected with Ugandan dirt on July 30th, 2013, anticipating experiences as part of Ugandan Water Project’s Team #16, unaware of just how deep that dirt would sink.  No hammers, no shovels; just 5 senses and eager hearts. One of the misconceptions of humanitarian organizations is that people who have should go and do for people who lack.  Those going on short term trips are often asked, “What will you be doing?”  Tasks and accomplishment are seen as goals in helping others rather than understanding and partnership.  In reality, it’s much less about doing to cause a physical change and more about being to foster relationship between one human and another. If this is the perspective we should take when attempting to “be the change” and leave legacies of social justice, why does UWP take teams of volunteers to Uganda three times a year?  How do we respond to those who question the time, money, and effort of travel; why aren’t we wielding hammers and shouldering shovels? Because lasting change happens in the context of relationship. Relationships require face-to-face interaction where real conversation happens, where a genuine desire exists to know the answers to “How are you?” and “What do you dream of?” and “How can I help?”  They require that we patiently learn about another’s culture and stop looking at the world through our own lenses of how, when, why. They require time spent alongside, trekking down pitted paths to stagnant watering holes, witnessing human beings filling jerry cans of heavy water to carry the burden of death back to homes of mud,...

Bunk Beds or Business – How to help street kids in Kivulu

It happens every time we take teams to Uganda. Two days are spent in an unusual neighborhood of heaven called Kivulu (pronounced chee-voo-loo).  Here in this ramshackle community a group of young men- Uncles, who once lived on these streets now sacrifice all they have to rescue boys that now live the life the Uncles managed to overcome .   When our Ugandan Water Project teams come to this place they are overwhelmed by the experience.  The joy and reckless abandon they see on the boys faces when they are being loved on and mentored is authentic…and the anger and pain that flashes and lashes out at unexpected provocation is also authentic.  The Uncles themselves are an inspiration – they have no regular income and often no consistent home and nearly no earthly possessions – they work each day to mentor these boys. Our teams are trained to look for “sparklers” – key people that shine with their ability to bring freedom and transformation where they are.  Our teams hunt sparklers and then look for the opportunities to strengthen, stabilize and amplify those key people.  Bringing our teams to Kivulu is like bringing them to the Sparkler Convention.  The real challenge is often figuring out how best to help. I just got off the phone with one of our team leaders who is walking his team through this exercise right now.  There is a house in the city that the Uncles have managed to secure and raise some funds to pay the rent for one year.  They have a number of boys living in that home and many are enrolled...

Three Guys Walk Into a Bar….

I was just listening to a clip from Adolfo Nicolas- a Jesuit Priest. He was talking about the value of Africa to the rest of the world. What caught my eye in particular was something he said about how Asian culture is fixated on method and process – the way, if you will. He then brought up the West and our focus and centrality on facts and science; evidence and proof…..the truth. Africa, differs from these two major cultural dreadnoughts- Africa’s heart beats for life just as so many of its children struggle to hold onto theirs. The raw elemental existence in the vastness of the dark continent is a celebration of life in its distilled form. Africa is present….breathing, tasting, smelling, hearing, singing, walking, working, playing, fighting, dying, crying, laughing….LiVING. My greatest mentor, announced: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life”. There is so much we can learn about the meaning of that statement by submitting ourselves to the lessons of these massive global cultures. For me personally, it is one more reason that I am passionate about promoting the wonder of Africa to those I meet. There is this sense in which we cannot fully grasp the person and character of Jesus without embracing the way/truth/life expressed by Asian, Western and African culture. Food for thought....

Chicken President of Wandegeya

It was the end of a long day spent with miracles-in-the-making, street kids in the slum neighborhood of Kivulu, Uganda.  Our team had been playing football, trading songs, hacking out broken conversations with young boys (with old eyes) and at the end of it all we said our reluctant goodbyes and clambered up into our rickety coaster (short buses used when we can’t fit in a normal van). We had opted to skip lunch that day – choosing instead to serve our young friends and talk to the “uncles” that run the grass roots program that is reaching out to these kids. We were hungry. We were I-haven’t-eaten-in-10 hours HUNGRY. Ugandan Water Project Team #8 was now sitting in our van looking expectantly at me and the question was voiced that they all were asking – “what’s the plan for dinner tonight?” My reply was simple and undetectably cryptic – “I was thinking, Chicken President, for dinner.”  It sounded simple enough to them.  Our van creeped through traffic as we approached the clock-like intricacy of the Wandegeya Roundabout – after escaping the concentric circles of cars, bicycles, trucks, and motorcycles we squeezed along the narrow side-streets of Wandegeya and came to a stop.  Some of our team looked out the window hoping to see the establishment with a sign for “Chicken President”.  The door to the van opened and in climbed an unexpected guest.  A young man in his twenties with long corn-row braids, and sunglasses climbed in and removing the glasses he greeted our team with a smirk and a smile, “Greetings, I am the Chicken President of...

The Moment: crossing the 80 line

Dateline: Bloomfield NY May 25th 2012 James Harrington is approached by a video camera just as the sponsorship for two new tanks arrives in the mail boosting the Ugandan Water Project’s tank total to...