Some of the things I learned during this trip to Uganda:

How to say “How are you?” “I’m fine,” and “Thank you” in Luo, the language of the Acholi tribe in Northern Uganda;
What crocodile meat tastes like (better than boiled goat, in my opinion, but not as good as an ostrich burger);
That wading in the Nile River is both humbling and refreshing;
That a puppet waving from a bus window can make even stoic police and armed guards smile.

Some of the things I already knew, but was reminded of often:

That children – adults too, for that matter – may be apprehensive and afraid of the unknown and unfamiliar, but can be quickly won over by smiles, hugs, and genuine interest;
That the main concern of parents everywhere is the safety and well-being of their children;
That no matter where in the world we go, or how many people we meet, we are all more alike than different.

My friend Tabitha and I had a full agenda and multiple goals during the three weeks we spent in Uganda, but our main purpose was to continue working on the Miracle Village. The Miracle Village of Hope and Healing represents our goal of getting young women and girls out of Ki-Mombasa, a slum near the capital of Uganda, where they are now trapped in a life of poverty and prostitution.

While in Uganda, we looked at several tracts of land suitable for the Miracle Village and for simple agricultural businesses in which the girls can start working. We also distributed gifts and clothing that people in the States had donated for the girls and their children. And, for the first time, we were able to take some of the girls away from Ki-Mombasa and visit with them in a safe and supportive environment at a church where they could talk freely without worry of being seen or overheard by the people who otherwise controlled their lives.

During part of the time we were in Uganda, we were working and traveling with a team from the Mills Church in Minnetonka, which is the church Tabitha belongs to here. The pastors, parents, and students on the team put on a Vacation Bible School for children in Ki-Mombasa and at the church that was hosting us in Uganda. At both locations, the day included stories, singing, and crafts, as well as a puppet show and a simple meal that may have been the only one some of the kids received that day.

My main role during these programs was taking photos of the children, and enjoying the smiles and laughter when I showed them what they looked like. If I could spend the rest of my life taking pictures of these kids and seeing how much delight it brought them, it would be a rewarding life indeed.

Most of the kids at the Bible School programs didn’t speak or understand English, but that didn’t slow them – or us – down in the least. There’s a universal language that doesn’t rely on words, a language in which everyone – Ugandans and Americans, children and adults – was fluent.

At home now, reflecting on this and everything else that my trip to Uganda entailed, I have many mixed emotions and memories. Some of them are joyful and wonderful, others are troubling and unsettling. There is still a great deal of work to do. It’s demanding and exhausting, but more fulfilling and rewarding than anything I’ve ever done.

I’ll write more over the next few weeks, as I process and organize all my feelings, photos, notes, and recollections. Much of the trip is a blur right now, and that’s to be expected. I’m not quite over my jet lag, and my internal clock isn’t sure yet of where I am or what time it’s supposed to be. But I know that will right itself eventually.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying settling back into the routine that comes with returning home. I’m still unpacking, doing laundry, and catching up on news and email with family and friends. And I’m looking forward to sharing – with them and with you – everything I saw, did, and learned in Uganda.

The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on August 8, 2013.
©Betty Liedtke, 2013

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