August 16 or 17, 2013?
Well, I am sitting here in the Amsterdam airport waiting for our connector flight home! We have been ‘enroute’ since 3:30 yesterday…the bus ride to the airport in Uganda was 6 hours long and took us right through rush hour in Kampala….it was stop and go for a long period of time which allowed me to look out the bus window at all of the wonders of this beautiful country…the word that keeps coming to mind is ‘raw’…..the street vendors sell their wares by placing them on the side of a hillside or setting up unsteady looking wooden stalls….you can find a tire (or tyre) store alongside a fruit stand….. Kampala is a larger version of the roadside markets that we had seen in the rural areas….there were literally 1000s of African men, women and children walking alongside the traffic…one young lady was carrying a twin sized mattress..Somebody esle had an impossible bundle of baskets on his bicycle…..there were 100s of ‘Bodabodas’ (small motorcycles used as taxis) weaving in and out of traffic .as the traffic slowed, there were often vendors walking among the cars to offer to sell you something through the window…which startled at least one of us who was unprepared to meet a friendly face! Their items included, bananas, newspapers, towels and even rolls of toilet paper! The sounds and sights of the bustling city were exciting even though we were feeling anxious about getting to the airport on time…but, true to their word, Michelle and Sara advised that we needn’t worry and we arrived in good time. One image will stick with me as we waited in the pokey traffic…another bus (more like a large sized van) pulled up along side filled with Africans..there were at least 4 in each row of seats….as we slowly passed along side, I caught the eye of one young girl…who stared at all of the Muzungus (white people)….I smiled at her and she smiled back (of course…Ugandans have the best smiles!)….then I made a goofy face and she laughed shyly, placing the back of her hand against her mouth as if to cover her smile in a shy fashion….this has been a gesture that I have seen often here….it depicts such a quiet and humble nature….
And so, we were dropped off at the airport accompanied by our team coordinators, Michelle and Sara, our trusty translator, Alex and 2 of our team (Bernie and Sean) who will continue on to Ethiopia….It was a quick goodbye as they could not enter the building with us…our goodbye was particularly difficult for Alex who we had surrounded with love and prayers…It makes me reflect on what impact we have when we visit countries that struggle so much with poverty and family loss due to illness and disease….New relationships are quickly formed and felt deeply…but we get to leave to return to our lives of ‘privilege’ while others remain behind in their daily struggle to survive and thrive…..I have to believe that even the smallest signs of hope are profound in what seems, at times, to be desperate situations…….We have worked hard as a team to keep looking for these signs of hope and inspiration and to share our observations and thoughts with each other so we can then share a full picture of what this trip has meant for St. George! See you soon! (Michelle)
(Paul) Well we have been traveling now for eighteen hours and are currently sitting in the airport in Amsterdam, Holland (my birthplace). It feels so good to be ‘home’ again! And if you believe that I have some swamp land in Florida for sale. It is a beautiful airport full of “quickinators” which I have named the moving walkways. We are all pretty tired right now and are just preparing for the final leg of our journey across the Atlantic Ocean. One cannot help but reflect on our experiences thus far and we have already planned our first get together where we will be having a “Rolex” party. A Rolex is a street treat we discovered in downtown Jinja (very tasty). We will need some time to digest our experience in Uganda to see how we move forward from here but we are now armed with so much more information . I’m really hoping that on this next flight the captain will allow me a go at the controls as I’ve always wanted to see what these ships in air will do. Open up the throttles and do some dives and swoops. I guess I could just settle for the controls of my back seat video games if I’m not allowed in the cockpit. I think I will have to burn this t-shirt I am wearing right now once I get home. It was an emotional moment saying our goodbyes to the team members back in Entebbe. They were a good crew.
August 15, 2013
Yesterday was our last full day here. We headed out early on the ‘cruiser’ and drove to Nazigo parish where we participated in a two hour mass. The occasion was the Assumption of Mary. The mass was student lead and their choir was beautiful….they accompany their choir with drums so it sounds beautiful! Afterwards, Father Dennis had a planned what he referred to as a ‘simple pineapple snack’ for us which actually turned into a fully catered Uganda Extravaganza of all sorts of delicious foods. It was a full course meal. (Fr. Dennis enjoyed this ‘trick’ and laughed when I asked if I had lost something in the translation?) We then headed out to St. Kiziito parish for the last time for a ‘snap shot’ view for the last time. We wandered around the building, took some photos, said our good byes and then got back on the bus. Once we dropped off our passengers we then headed back to the Guest House in the pouring rain. I saw 5 goats out in the fields wearing sun glasses – so cool. We had time for a quick nap and then readied ourselves for our final night out on the town. We returned to Two Friends for a nice meal under the tropic leaves. I risked a delicious chocolate milk shake which had cocoanut in it followed by an awesome hamburger. I paid the price afterwards but it was worth it. Tomorrow will be our last day here in the country and we have mixed feelings. We will be glad to be returning to our home and especially to our loved ones but we will be leaving behind so many special people and so many memories. I’m not sure if I will be returning to this country but it has been a truly amazing experience. I encourage other St. George Parish members to go on this special trip. If our parish is looking for a long-term partnership that will genuinely help another parish in need we have found it. (Paul)
August 14, 2013
Yesterday Michelle went up to the out station with Bernie and the Tessel’s. They went out to the local villagers and met with them in their own homes. I will let Michelle explain more on that. I went to a local orphanage with some of our team and we worked on playground equipment. I had to bow out early as the antibiotics I took to combat the gastrointestinal issues I’ve been experiencing kicked in and laid me flat out on the bed with no energy. Oh well, such is life in Africa. (Paul)
As well, our God Send Alex had to go home today with Malaria…He has 6 Mommas among us as well as Michelle and Sara.(his big sisters) ..so he was sent home to bed with food and medicine…We hope he is better within the next day or two…Most Ugandans develop Malaria several times throughout the course of their lives…but most cannot afford the medication..(Michelle)
Today (Wednesday) we went to a woman’s house in Jinja and she and her friends showed us how to make beads out of paper. It is a good thing I am not trying to make a living by doing this. I will leave that to the pros. After that we had some lunch (a typical African meal of cheeseburger and fries) and then went to the Jinja main hospital. Wow, please never take for granted the medical system in Canada as what these people live with leaves much to be desired. Each family has to pay up front for any kind of medical care…We had a chance to talk with a med student on placement from Holland who explained that things are very different in Africa….The wards are packed full with patients and family members. …the beds are raised from the ground so a family member can sleep underneath…Each family has to supply their own bedding and food while the person is being treated…It is not uncommon to find that someone will wait several days for emergency surgeries..We had hoped to drop off medical supplies and my Air cast (Good riddance) from when I broke my ankle this week, but Dr. Ambrose, our contact, was in surgery so we will return….you can’t just leave these supplies with anyone as there is high likelihood that they will be sold and not used…We also dropped off a huge supply of prescription eyeglasses…they have an onsite eye clinic and surgical area that seemed quite impressive so we hope that they can be put to good use…..
After that we went to a house which is an orphanage for young girls from ages 6-16. The girls were unbelievable in their joy but each one of them has a heart wrenching story as to how they ended up there. Some had to flee their homes so you can only imagine how bad things got. I personally found this very difficult as all I could think of was our two girls (Erynne and Emilee) and how much Michelle and I love them and cherish them and can’t imagine how anyone could have given up the beautiful gifts of God at this orphanage. I had to walk away a few times to gain my composure. But the dancing these girls did and singing was second to none and I videotaped this for all of you see when we are back. God moves in such beautiful ways. The picture below shows them wearing the sunglasses that we brought today as well as their school uniforms that one of the students from the previous group who were here bought for them…..We think of our St. George family back home every day and can’t wait to be with you again. Thanks for your prayers and comments, they truly mean so much to us over here. From Uganda, Africa (Paul & Michelle)
August 13, 2013
First off, thanks to all those reading our blogs and thanks for the comments, it is so nice to know others are sharing in this experience with us. Yesterday we went to a women’s clinic and the five of us cleaned and cleaned and cleaned. Below you will see a picture of us sharing lunch with the staff.. A woman there had just given birth two hours prior to our arrival. I’ve already delivered a baby years ago while on duty so I told the other ladies it would have been their turn. After a brief lunch we continued cleaning. The other team members had carried on to the out station to meet with the community members. In the evening we attended a local orphanage and spent time with the kids while they ate supper sitting on the grass. Then it was “Bath Time” and I thought we would be simply watching this but no, we were handed children, soap and water and away we went. I had flashbacks to when our girls were much younger. Once dried, we put them in pajamas and off to bed they went. Upon returning to the guest house we then had a group talk about about the highs and lows of the day as well as some business discussions on the church. The team is certainly becoming a cohesive group and we are enjoying the different personalities of the other members. Each one adds their own ‘special’ touch to our collective experience. I am in charge of magic tricks and like to keep everyone happy!! (I don’t actually do magic) – Paul
August 12, 2013
The picture you see of the 3 people are our team coordinators…Michelle Massaro and Sara Hansen, and out Ugandan friend Alex…Alex is 25 years old…He is studying economics in University and lives with his younger brother who attends high school…They do not have any family close by and their mother is not alive…Their grandmother was their primary support but she died earlier this year…To say that Alex has become a member of our St. George family is an understatement!! He travels everywhere with us, translates when necessary, advises us on many cultural issues and even retrieves one of us (Tree) who wanders away while shopping in town:). He is our Guardian Angel….!!
I can’t begin to describe the commitment that both Sara and Michelle have to this country and its people…On top of arranging everything for us (right down to making sandwiches for a break in the day), they are busy trying to construct a school in one of the poorest villages (Nanso) that the government has ‘forgotten’…..They are here all summer and literally arrive back to Canada a couple of days before returning to their jobs as high school teachers…..The inspire all of us….
Aug. 11, 2013
Well, this is the evening after our big Sunday! We first visited Fr. Denis’ home parish to say a quick hello as their mass was finishing…Nicco brought greetings on behalf of the team….then boarded the bus again (with a few extra passengers) and headed out to the St. Kizito site. We settled into our seats and then waited for the Bishop to arrive within the next half hour…..From there the day became a blur!! The mass also incorporated 2 weddings so there were the villagers, family and friends of the wedding party and anyone else curious about what was happening…in short, literally hundreds of people!! The mass was 4 1/2 hours long (I hope Fr. Jassica doesn’t get any ideas about extending his homilies!:))…….The Bishop alternated between speaking in Luganda and then explaining to us what he was saying…From there, we had a catered lunch (yes, catered!! all food was brought in the back of a huge truck which looked like a construction truck)….We had paid for this food…after that, we handed out some of the donated items to the children (which became a mob of chaos!!)….and handed out the photos which we had placed in frames….(again, this was chaotic !!)…but we managed to distribute all photos (66 families) Family size varied from 5 to 17 family members!!..There was one young lady who had a photo taken by herself…no other family…..After that we boarded the bus and returned to the main parish site where the high school was presenting a variety of dances to their parents and visitors…..I wish my words could convey the size of the crowds and how common it is for people to hop on and off the bus to catch a ride or how people literally crowd around every time something is happening….It is difficult to really know how many parishioners attend the church as the number varies widely depending on what is happening …but the construction that has been happening to finish the building has served to motivate the community and create a sense of hope and energy…Our goal is to assist in the finishing of the exterior with the remaining funds that we have…..From there, we will talk with Fr. Denis to determine next steps and priorities so we can share this with the parish when we return…There is no shortage of need…We are particularly moved by the pediatric clinic that is attached to the central parish but does not seem to receive any funding…we know that many of the students who attend the Catholic sponsored schools do not have any lunch….and we are hoping to visit an orphanage run by one of the Sisters that again, has not received any funding or support from the parish….so many questions…..We are likely to return home with more questions than answers……Please continue to keep the St. George team and our Ugandan friends in your prayers…..
August 11, 2013
On our way to mass this morning!! There will be 2 weddings there as well…We have made arrangements to pay for the luncheon to share with the church community and will deliver the family photos that were taken last week…Should be a busy and exciting day!! Photos to follow!
August 8, 2013- Wow!!
Just when I thought that I have seen everything after 27 years of policing I am completely humbled and blown away by the human experience in Uganda, Africa. A new page was turned in my reality and holding true to what everyone said to me before I came here, “Africa will change you” … it has. The brutal poverty, the hundreds of tiny smiling faces, the hands reaching up to touch yours or just touch you, the happiness in their hearts, and the hospitality in their hearts to welcome you. We met another group of Canadians here also doing volunteer work and it is so nice to see. I look at the other members of our team when we are out and each of them are fully engulfed in their roles. Each day brings its own set of challenges and memories and we are only halfway in our time here. Michelle and Sara are truly amazing in helping to facilitate this extraordinary experience and the work they are doing here is truly wonderful. I can see why they wanted to so desperately share this with others. Now we want to share this with others in our own respective worlds. I don’t know if anyone will read this but to anyone that does, I dare you to come on the next trip here with St. George’s St. Kiziito Mission. Paul Gilpin
Aug 6, 2013 – What a Welcome!
What a welcome we have had to Uganda! After our long travel day, we got up early and boarded the bus to head to Fr. Denis’ home parish….We arrived just at the end of their morning mass..to be greeted by a large crowd of children and adults…..they crowded around the bus as we exited, reaching out to shake our hands and say welcome….To say that this was overwhelming would be an understatement!! After this brief stop, Fr. Denis boarded our bus and we headed out to see the original church site along a dirt side road (we almost got stuck in the muddy trail)…..The site is now a pile of rubble as the site has now moved to where the building is now..Dr. Denis wanted to show us the ‘humble beginnings’…We then arrived to the St. Kizito church site where the parishioners were waiting for our arrival to begin mass…..Another overwhelming welcome as we proceeded to our seats..Mass was beautiful…It is such a gift to be able to celebrate mass in any country and understand what is happening even when you don’t understand the language….It was interesting to see how they took up collection…..People walked single file to the front to give their donations…many had nothing to give…but they went through the motions anyway as a sign of respect and gratitude…..the donations consisted of an assortment of coins and even a couple of small eggs! This is a very poor community…but they share their joy and love so freely……Another interesting observation was the seating…men in one area, women in the other and all of the children (all ages) sat in another area on the floor…..During the entire mass followed by speeches and presentations, the children did not make a peep!! (Can you imagine this in Canada?)..After mass, we gathered on the front lawn and tried to ‘organize’ groups into their families for photos for the church directory….not quite the same process that we know…..but so much fun..we hope to have the photos processed and printed so we can present them next week…..
We also toured a Catholic high school where the students engaged us in an open question and answer time ..They asked so many insightful questions about our political system (do we have corruption?), how our different religions work together, what are our cultural dances and songs (how to answer that?! ) Uganda’s youth are the promise of bright future…Please keep them in your prayers…Have to board the bus today…We are out to deliver some of your generous donations!
Our First Morning…Aug. 4, 2013
We awoke early to the sounds of roosters and a variety of birds….We finally arrived late last night at 1:45 after our flight to Amsterdam….4 hour lay over ….flight to Kigali…1 hour fuel stop and a final 40 minutes to Kampala…..where Michelle and Sara met us…We loaded our bus (passing suitcases through the window) and then drove for another 1 1/2 hours to our guest house. As it was night time, we couldn’t really see much of the terrain but certainly got a quick appreciation for the random traffic (they drive on the left side)!!
Today, we are heading out to the parish, celebrating mass and then taking photos of all of the parishioners (approx. 300-400 children….the numbers are difficult to estimate!)…to develop a parish photo directory for them …For many, this will be the first photograph that they have had of themselves….I think that it hasn’t really hit us yet that we are finally here..the smells, sights and African air is all so new.. We feel so blessed!
Aug. 2, 2013 – Day One Challenge:
We had to switch vehicles before leaving London due to mechanical issues with the first bus……but we are safely on our way, packed in tightly..No time like the present to set to know each other even better (I just wish that Sean had had a shower before leaving home)!! We had already shared an ‘on-the-road’ picnic snack before we even left London! Feeling excited, a bit anxious and so grateful for this opportunity……