Highlights from August 2013 Uganda Trip

Update from John Emelio

08/29/13- We just returned from a very fruitful trip to Western Uganda where the Lord continued to open doors for SMI’s work in this region.  We are so grateful for our friendship with Pastor Moses Nkwatsibwe and are partnership with him as he seeks to reach his district and beyond with the gospel.  Below is a summary of what the Lord enabled us to accomplish in our two weeks there.

We were able to oversee the repair of two broken wells that CLC/GUW installed in remote villages, restoring the availability of clean water to thousands of people each day.  As a result, all the wells are now currently working, and the local staff has been trained to repair them in the future.  This will greatly reduce the cost of future repairs.  One well we thought was broken was not, so we left the materials in Kiburara for a third repair by the local staff when the need arises.  Jack and Brett also took water samples to analyze the water quality in the functioning wells and in the local streams.  In addition, we installed two Rainwater Containment Systems (RCS’s) at remote village churches, providing safe drinking water for the first time to these locations.  The third RCS will be installed in the Lake George village as soon as the church completes construction of their roof.  We are now exploring ways to purify the polluted lake water at this location through the installation of a gravity-powered water treatment system.  This would provide safe drinking water through the dry seasons and clean water could potentially be sold by the village at an affordable price, increasing sustainability, economic development, and local ownership of the clean water source.

We met with the District Health Educator, one of the top health officials in the Ibanda District.  He was very encouraged to hear of our activities in the region.  He informed us of the unique health challenges faced by the community.  For example, the malnutrition rate for children under 5 in the region is as high as 44%.  The rates of malaria are among the highest in the world.  80% of the hospital admissions in Mbarara are the result of malaria.  Another 10% are the result of water-borne illness.  This means that effective malaria prevention and clean water could eliminate 90% of hospital admissions!  What’s worse, traditional ACT treatment for malaria is increasingly ineffective due to the emergence of drug-resistant strains of malaria in the region stemming from substandard and counterfeit drug use.   SMI is exploring ways to partner with the District Health office to provide health education in the villages.  We are also considering partnerships and even manufacturing of low-cost mosquito nets, citronella soaps and citronella candles to the remote villages to reduce malaria infection rates.  We also hope to open a clinic at a future time on our 26-acre parcel that would be staffed year-round by local health care providers and supplemented periodically by health care volunteers on short-term medical mission trips from the U.S.

Pastor Moses has had a vision for an orphanage in Kiburara for years.  There are ten orphans just in Kiburara who are in need of orphan care and Moses said the numbers in the surrounding village is alarming.  He shared with us the example of two orphan girls who were being sex-trafficked by their aunt at the local bar.  Moses rescued them and houses them in the dorm during the school holiday to prevent them from returning to the aunt’s home.  He introduced us to one of the girls and it was heart-wrenching.  These are often children who have lost their parents and are living with extended family who neglect and abuse them.  Given the desperate poverty of the region, the parents have a hard enough time providing for their own children.

After surveying our 26-acre parcel, we realized that we could accommodate orphan homes on an ideal location at the back of the parcel.  The structure would be based on the Watoto model, where an orphan home imitates a family/community environment as much as possible with 4 boys and 4 girls in a home with an “auntie” or mother figure (a single woman) who pours her heart into the kids.  Orphan communities are formed in a circle of 8 homes which fosters community and can accommodate up to 64 orphans.  We are pursuing partnership with an organization that has experience in the area of child sponsorship and orphan care.  This organization would sponsor the educational and medical needs of the child, and SMI would provide the land, construct the housing, and provide food for the orphans and a modest salary to the caregiver.  Moses already has 3 female caregivers hand-picked from his church and can fill multiple homes with orphans whenever we are ready to house and provide for them.  We would identify and house the most desperate cases first.  After sending out an initial appeal for funds, we have already received pledges for half the amount needed to start!  We are very excited about meeting this critical need in the community and would welcome your prayer and financial support for this endeavor.

We made great progress on the ground in preparing our 26-acre parcel for development.   We hired a surveyor to survey our property and hired a local contractor to construct a fence around the entire 26-acre plot.  This will provide security, discourage squatters, and allow us to introduce livestock and poultry to the land right away.  We were able to get a decent section of the fence done before we left.  We also obtained approval from the Chinese company that is building the road in front of our parcel to construct two entrance and exit points with culverts to our property at no cost to us.  We were there at just the right time!  In addition, the Lord provided the funds to purchase a four wheel drive vehicle for SMI that will facilitate our ability to get around as well as provide Pastor Moses with a suitable vehicle to reach the surrounding churches and to continue his gospel ministry in the Congo refugee camp a few hours away (there are 40,000 refugees in the camp).  We also delivered to Moses a high quality sound system donated by a CLC member to use in reaching larger audiences in his gospel campaigns.

We met with the Resident District Chairman (RDC) of the Ibanda District, the highest-level political appointee in the district.  The RDC has direct access to the President of Uganda and carries out his initiatives.  He was very receptive to our desire to bring economic development and clean health initiatives to his region, and pledged his full support (as long as we keep him informed of everything we do).  His primary interest was in establishing a SACCO (Savings and Credit Cooperative) in Kiburara, which operates like a village Savings and Loan with members who have shares.   SACCO’s are often the only providers of financial services in rural areas.  They can improve the lives of rural farmers and businesses based on the loans they can offer.   Members can build equity and pass their shares on to their children.  The establishment of a SACCO is a foundational ingredient to improving the standard of living in the area.  The RDC also made a special visit later in the week to see our land and discuss further our plans. We are hoping to house the SACCO as a store front on our parcel in the future, along with other start-up shops.

We continued to prepare to manufacture soaps for a 1-for-1 U.S.-based soap company that gives a product away to someone in need for every product purchased in the U.S.  They are very interested in manufacturing locally in Uganda instead of shipping their soap from the U.S.  This initiative will create local jobs, support local growers, and improve the health of the district through better hygiene.  Introducing citronella into the soaps could also aid in malaria prevention.   This plant could eventually distribute soaps throughout sub-Sahara Africa.   SMI proceeds from this effort would fund ministry and relief efforts locally.

During our April trip to Kiburara, Mary Foster taught a small group of students how to make attractive necklaces and bracelets out of paper beads.  The idea was to start with this small group and sell their jewelry in the U.S. to help cover their tuition costs, etc.  However, when we arrived on this trip we were presented with hundreds of necklaces made by villagers in churches throughout Moses network.  So much for starting small!  Many of the villagers who made the jewelry live on less than one dollar a day in income, given that Uganda is one of the poorest countries in the world.  We are excited that the sale of this jewelry can provide these villagers with enough income to open SACCO savings accounts as well as much needed relief to their living conditions.

Mark and John B. caught a charter flight from Entebbe to Mbarara (two hours south of Kiburara) to determine the feasibility of air transport for commercial purposes.  After interviewing officials, they determined that due to poor infrastructure, high fuel prices and heavy bureaucracy, air transport is not a feasible option.  They did meet with the Deputy Director of the prison in Kiburara to see if they would have interest in building an airstrip on part of their 6,000 acre grounds.  This could be used for emergency medical transport and to ease access to the area (a 1 ½ hour flight vs. a 9 hour drive!).  They were very receptive to the idea.  Bart H. worked with Mark, John, and John B. to develop a sustainable plan. Pastor Moses then discussed the idea with a former member of parliament, and they will be meeting with government officials in Kampala to discuss this initiative next week.