Anticipating the “empty nest syndrome” with son, Trent, away at university and son, Blake, heading off the following year, Lisa Sanders begins praying about what she might do by way of serving God and making a difference. One might say that venturing to Alaska with her husband, Greg, and staying for 26 years had been quite an adventure in itself, but that has nothing to compare with the exciting and unusual experiences God had in store for her as he led her to join Hope4Kids International on a 12-day mission to Uganda, taking her teenaged son, Blake, with her. This book is a compilation of her “recollections and reflections” and those of some of her travel mates, of what happened after she walked through God’s open door and entered Africa.
With both excitement and trepidation, Blake and Lisa make all their preparations — shots, below the knee skirts for Lisa, travel arrangements, insurance, tons of hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes, beef jerky, granola bars — and found themselves meeting up with other mission trip travelers in Amsterdam (46 members in all, most of whom were volunteers like Lisa and Blake, some of them nurses and nursing students) after a 9-hour flight from Anchorage, then another 9-hour flight to Entebbe, Uganda. While the team was based in a hotel in Tororo (about 5 hours east of Entebbe), they forayed out daily on trips to villages to tend sick children, distribute clothing, dedicate new wells donated by churches and individuals who organized Walk-4-Water fundraisers, attend church services with villagers, attend graduation ceremonies for students leaving school and women who’ve completed the related empowerment program Hope4Women, and to find children to love and sponsor.
Walk-4-Water events consist of participants walking 4 miles — “the average distance African women and children walked to their water source”. Providing wells for villages is quite possibly one of the most important advantages Hope4Kids International can do for the people living there. Lisa and Blake learned very quickly what the most serious problems are for Ugandan families in the outlying villages. “When close to half of the children die before age five, a loss of hope and overwhelming despair rules your life.” One of the field workers with Hope4Kids Int. told this story:
The children beginning around age five are woken at daylight, handed five gallon water containers and told to walk many miles to get their family’s daily water. Then they turn around and go back to the water source and fill up another container for school — six or more miles of walking before reaching school — all without breakfast and likely no dinner the night before. . .
During their walk to the water source, it is a common occurrence for the children to be accosted, beaten and raped by men who have no other purpose in their lives but to lie in wait and hurt the innocent. At their school, the children are required to bring a container full of water. If they don’t, they are caned. An eight-year-old from this village was raped on the way to get her water for school. The men stole her water container as well. She still managed to make it to school, but without her water. The teacher showed her no mercy; instead she was caned for showing up without her water.
Providing a well brings more than just accessible water — it brings safe drinking water and a safer environment for the children — it brings hope!
Lisa quickly learned she had “no frame of reference for poverty and starvation that are all encompassing”. She realized one had to be non-judgemental and, to some extent, to leave her own standards behind when she climbed into the van each morning. So many of the men, unable to support their families, lose their self-esteem and hope, turn to home-brewed alcohol, and abuse their wives and children. Because dowries are so high, many just begin living together and having children. People who haven’t the wherewithal to feed their children, also haven’t the wherewithal for contraception, and HIV/AIDS becomes an overwhelming problem for families with multiple wives. When one wife dies, another must look after her children as well as her own, and is probably suffering from HIV as well. The medicine brought by Hope4Kids gives life and success to many, but of course, not to all; the problem must seem insurmountable to the workers. If children have parents, then medicine, operations, and overnight care cannot be given without their consent.
Another related group that Lisa got to work with is Smile Africa. Visiting an orphanage run by this group, Lisa spent the afternoon with an emaciated little boy about 5 years old lying in the shade on a concrete slab covered by a tin roof. He was feverish and barely conscious, and she comforted him as best she could, gently rubbing his back and whispering to him. She left him for a short while to watch Blake who was “orchestrating a running game” where everyone won. She enjoyed the kibitzing he was initiating with the rather large group of children. When she turned back to the concrete slab, the little boy was gone. She was shocked to find that in those few minutes, he had died of malaria. The medication was on hand, but the boy’s family could not be found to approve the overnight stay required to administer the IV. How disheartening.
Circumstances like these make the success stories all the more precious. And there were success stories; some delivered at ceremonies by “graduates” who had been to university and returned to the villages to work, often employed by Hope4Kids. Women who graduated from Hope4Women were so excited about everything they had learned and put to use from their year of starting up their own businesses. They had a plan and knew where they were going; a plan that would enable them to support their own families, and train their daughters to be able to do the same. Lisa quotes an African saying: Teach a man and you have taught one man, teach a woman and you have taught a family. Hope4Women is proving this daily.
Lisa includes some reflections from other members of the team, including her son, as well as testimonies from “graduates” from the programs provided by these organizations. Lisa has since joined the board of directors of Hope4Kids and her son Trent was planning to take a semester off and work with Youth with a Mission (YWAM) Discipleship Training School (DTS). I’ve seen other reviews lamenting the proof-reading and the non-chronological telling of the stories but I found the former very incidental and the later of no consequence. It really doesn’t matter which day of the trip Lisa is describing because it’s the stories themselves that tear at your heart and make you realize how well off we are and how little we are doing toward achieving a balance. This is an incredibly moving story about how a small group filled with dedicated individuals are changing the world one village at a time. An amazing story. * * * *
All profits from this book will be donated to build lifesaving wells in villages desperate for clean water. 12 Days in Africa: A Mother’s Journey is available from Amazon