Sunday, July 11, 2010

A special day in the bush . . .

Two weeks ago we received a request from Ecweru Musa Francis - Minister of State for Emergency Relief, Disaster Preparedness & Refugees of Uganda. He was asking for help in meeting the needs of some refuges who were recently returned to their homes up in northern Uganda in Bukedea and Kumi Districts. These people had fled the area and taken refuge in the cities when a rebel Kony of the LRA was wrecking havoc in the area killing many people. Now that Kony has been pushed into the DR Congo, Ecweru encouraged these people to return to their lands and start over.

They have been very industrious in their pursuit to re-establish their lands by planting orange trees, banana trees, various fruits and vegetables including cassava and corn. This year the rains have been very heavy and the neighboring wetlands in this area have increased consuming their fields and creating boggy gardens and orchards. The land is so wet that their home (thatched huts with dirt floors) are sitting in mud. They sleep on the wet ground and many of the elderly and children are contracting pneumonia.

Escweru had a list of goods he wanted to take to the people and asked if the church could help. We asked for his top, two items on his list which were tarps and blankets. He felt he could find other organizations to bring the other things. We were able to get cleared through our leaders in South Africa 1000 blankets and 1000 tarps.
We drove to Soroti on a Wednesday where we spent the night and got up the next morning to meet the minister and load up 400 of the blankets and tarps and headed northwest to two distribution sites. Minister Escweru rode in our truck with us, Ssimbwe, our site monitor driving and we were off with an entourage of a UN group, various other humanitarian organizations and a police escort of 6 armed police persons.

We had to stop at the District office and meet all the officials of the district and sign their register – then off to a meeting of the emergency relief group of the area filling a big room with about 30 people. Speeches were made and problems discussed all in the local tribal language. Thanks was given to the church for bringing relief supplies.
Finally we were off to the villages. As we got into the truck, Escweru stated that what he liked about our church was that we got the job done. He said all these other groups want to have a meeting first and assess the situation and eat sausages and drink soda. He felt they spent more money getting ready to help the people and they just needed to spend their money on the people instead. Seemed true enough as we were the only group who had brought anything to give while all the others were on a fact finding mission.

The land of Uganda on the surface looks like a paradise a virtual Garden of Eden.  It is beautiful, green and lush. We passed many people working in fields, fishing and selling on the roadside.
Look carefully you will see a man setting his fish traps
 We had to reroute several times as so many roads were washed out from the rains.  We finally pulled into a clearing where we were greeted by about 300 people standing under a very large, old tree. These people represented six different villages. The only people invited were women with small children and their husbands and the elderly men and women.

The people were very excited. They didn’t know why they were there only that the Minister had invited them to a meeting. The District Chairman spoke, the head of the emergency relief committee spoke and finally Ecweru got up and started to entertain.
I mean this man really knows how to work the crowd. He spoke in the native tongue and so we did not understand anything he said but he had them cheering, laughing, warbling and even singing. It was becoming a festive event. Finally he called the missionaries up and told the people we had come to bring them some help. We would give each mother a blanket and each father a tarp. They really got excited.

Farrell was asked to speak and Ecweru translated for him . The translation was much longer than Farrell’s speech and we knew he was still working the crowd. Farrell told them that we brought them a gift from people around the world who wanted to help them because that is what the Savior wanted us to do, to take care of each other.
We then distributed the blankets and tarps and Ecweru had brought some big pots. The women were so excited to have a pot and a blanket and the men received their tarp with great reverence never putting them down but hugging them to their chest.
As we left  a man told us "You have come to give us a healing touch, a healing hand."  The women started singing, waving and running alongside our truck saying thank you for the great gift.
As we pulled away Escweru said, “Today we have made their lives much better. Tonight they will put their children to sleep on the tarp away from the wet ground and cover them with a warm blanket. Tonight they will cook a meal for their family in their new pot, the only pot they own."  

Imagine living with no blanket, no rug or floor to sit on, no pot to cook in, not even a jerican to carry water. These people literally have only the clothes on their backs and a grass hut for shelter yet they are pushing forward trying to rebuild their lives, planting gardens and joining together to strengthen each other.

We were not finished yet so we headed to another village, which was very hard to find and we ended up driving on a foot path running through the grass.
This time we met the people in their village under a large mango tree.
They took us to their garden which was sad indeed. Mud was everywhere.
They had pulled up the cassava roots and laid them on the wet ground to dry. The roots were scrawny about 1/5th as large as they should have been and they crumbled in your hand when you broke them. They were also moldy. They were still trying to salvage some of the crop although it looked like a total loss to us.
They also showed us the sorghum which never developed enough to harvest. The corn had never set on any ears and so their harvest was a real failure and now they are looking at a lean season as they wait for the ground to dry enough to replant . . . but what will they plant as they have no seed to plant?
We returned to the mango tree for our little discussion. This time when they asked Farrell to speak he told them that he always got to speak so this time he would let his wife speak. Escweru really milked this explaining to them that Elder and Sister Barlow had great respect for each other and Elder Barlow wanted to have his wife speak this time and at that the women cheered and clapped – we did not see any men clapping.
I told them that we loved them. We knew that Heavenly father loved us and he loved them the same. He expects us to help each other and care for each other. The women loved this and they nodded and then clapped and cheered.

As we started to give out the blankets and tarps I noticed that all the women were barefoot. The men had on shoes but the women and children were barefoot -
They received the blankets and tarps with much excitement.
We did not have any more pots but we had brought a large bag of children’s clothes that people from the US Embassy had given us, the Dewitts and Radawn Kartchner.
The women were so excited and each mother got something plus each child got something to wear. There was a pair of bright, sparkly, pink slip-ons that were a big hit. One little girl wanted those shoes so bad. Escweru had her try them on but they were at least 4 sizes too small. She was so disappointed as he turned and gave them to another child. We did find her a cute pair of black velvet pants. Thanks Dewitts, Thanks Kartchners. We are sure you never had any idea that your children’s old clothes would become treasures here in Uganda.
One last box was left in the truck.  This box was actually things we had saved for Ssimbwa to take out to his village.  He told us that what we throw away as garbage is really not garbage and nothing goes to waste in the village.  We had saved plastic bags, empty cans, paper sacks, bleach bottles, etc.  We had set them in the truck so they would be ready for Ssimbwa and at the end of the day he just put the box out and the women came running to get something out of the box.  Some of them thought the bottles were full but were still happy to have the empty bottles and even the box became a treasure.
Smiles and hugs and big waves were given as we left this little village.
What an eye opener this adventure was. Going to this remote area of Africa felt like we were walking back into biblical times. Such a simple pastoral life they are living. Nothing goes to waste. There is no garbage in these areas. A vine, a twig, palm fronds and reeds are all used to weave baskets, make mats, and serve as utensils. A leaf of the banana tree can become a rain hat. Woven baskets are used as traps for fish. Baskets are so beautifully woven as to be water tight. Clay pots made from the dirt in the area are baked by the sun and used to fetch and store water. And although life is hard and the harvest has failed the people are not idle or complaining but busy trying to salvage what they can and prepare for the next season.
We were unable to finish the distribution in one day and the Minister had to return to Kampala for a meeting of Parliment so he planned on returning the following weeek.  We were unable to return so we sent Ssimbwa to finish up.
When they arrived at the first distribution site they were surprised to see so many people. Seems the word was out and hundreds of people had walked all night to get to the distribution site so they could get a blanket or a tarp.
As the distribution continued and the number of blankets and tarps dwindled the crowd became desperate not wanting to be left out.
Some had to settle for the ties and wrappings from the bundles of blankets.
An elderly lady had received a blanket and was very happy.  She told Ssimbwa it was the nicest blanket she had ever seen.  She said she was very old and would die soon but she was happy because she had a very nice blanket and she wanted to be buried in that nice blanket.
It was a honor to bring them some comfort. Don’t we belong to a wonderful church that gives so freely without banners or recognition but only the premise that the Lord loves all his children and we should give of what we have to help all his children.

“Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt. 25:40)
So think about these people next time you are thinking about donating your monies to humanitarian services and know that the money you give truly is helping many people who have next to nothing and they need a hand up especially at this time and in this place when the “rains came down and the floods came up.”

“And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—

“But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth cforever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him”. (Moroni 7:45-47)


millsmoments said...

Hi, we just heard about the bombings today on the radio and hope you are okay. You and the Ugandan people will be in our prayers tonight.

Kimberly said...

We're so happy that you are having these amazing experiences and that we get to share them. Loves to you both.

Angela said...

Love the photos- I'm always amazed how much value people find in things. There is an Eagle project going on in our neighborhood right now asking for donations and John and I also think it is a wonderful thing and plan on giving to him to help. Thanks for the encouragement.

M.Barlow said...

This is great Mom! Wish we could be there to do it with you.

Tiffany said...

That's what it's all about. I read this with a tear in my eye. Thank you for documenting your experiences so well. We love you!

Christie said...

Hi Marilyn and Farrell,
It's such an inspiration to look at all the photos! You are doing some wonderful work-- as usual.
Love Greg and Christie