To say that my trip to Uganda was life-changing would be too simplistic. After traveling from California half way around the world to meet our sponsored families face to face, it's difficult to express just how much the experience has changed our lives.
Our entire family is passionate about the children we sponsor, but only one of us could go and visit. Thanks to a mobile phone, Skype and my iPad, I was able to take my family with me and also connect our sponsored children to my family back home. By posting photos, short videos and updates to Facebook during the week, I was also able to bring along all of the other ChildFund sponsors who were following the trip.
Now that I'm back from Uganda, my family has begun re-evaluating our entire lifestyle. The abundance that surrounds us has been hard to accept -- from adjusting the temperature of my house so that I can be more comfortable, to getting a glass of water for my son because he's thirsty. The luxuries that my family takes for granted remind me of how much we have, how much more we could share and how much more I could be doing to help.
Our easy access to water compared to the lack of access that is commonplace among our sponsored families and the people of their communities is a subject that plays on my mind. There was a moment in Uganda when our team was inspecting area water sources. It was overwhelming to see the mass of women and children gathered at the "bore hole" to pump water into plastic containers to carry back to their homes. During our travels, I saw these containers stacked several high on motorcycles, transported by bicycle and carried on the heads of little children.
Seeing the vessels being filled, people taking turns, children holding children, was heartbreaking and heartwarming. I didn't just see their struggle. I witnessed their work ethic and the cooperation that existed among family members and the community at large. I just felt sad that there wasn't more I could do. I was given a chance to try my hand at pumping. At the onset, it seemed pretty simple, but the longer I pumped, the heavier and harder it became, and the more tedious. For many, this is a daily or twice-daily chore.
Later we visited a nearly dried-up spring where villagers scoop up water with small pitchers to pour into larger containers. We happened on a little boy who had just finished filling his plastic jugs. He was not big enough to carry them and was preparing to pull them on a plastic makeshift sled along the trail to his village. The boy was 6 or 7 years old, and when I looked at him, I thought of my own children. As he started to pull his sled, one of the containers tipped. I scooped up the jug, grabbed the other as well, and just started walking. I couldn't change the world, but I could make this little guy's day a little easier. He looked at me, startled, and I pointed over to where I thought he was heading. One of the ChildFund Uganda staff asked him where he lived, and after translating, we headed out. Through the field, over the hill, around the bushes...I was surprised by the distance to Maxwell's home.
I think it was then that I began to see the big picture in the child sponsorship process. After spending a little time with his family, we discovered that his sister was enrolled in ChildFund programs, but not yet sponsored. Yet, the family, as members of the ChildFund-supported community, had benefitted from school construction, health services and wells. That little bit of money that one person donates is pooled with the donations of others for the greater good of the community.
The exciting thing about this chance meeting was that I knew my sister-in-law's family wanted to sponsor another child, but were waiting until I got back, just in case I found someone. I had the enormous pleasure of meeting Maxwell's mother and telling her that we had found a sponsor for her little girl. The joy and love I saw in this mother's eyes as she ran into her hut to get her child's enrollment information and number was just overwhelming.
There's a popular story that my family likes to tell about a man who comes upon thousands of starfish washed up on the beach, slowly dying out of reach of the water. He is tossing them one at a time back into the water, when another man walks by and tells him that he can't possibly save them all. The man bends down, and picks up another starfish and says in reply, "No, but I can save this one."