A year ago, if you asked me what I know about Uganda, I would have said I know relatively nothing. I knew it was somewhere in Africa, but I couldn’t tell you where.
Now, a year later, I’ve been to Uganda with my 16-year-old granddaughter; I’ve invested in their peoples’ future; and frankly, can’t get Uganda out of my mind.
Last August, a young family with 3 children gave a presentation at our local church about their recent trip to Uganda. The family was promoting an organization called Generation U. The mission of Generation U was to provide 10 clean wells within a year to the Ugandan people. They told of how Uganda was one of the most “water poor” nations on the planet. They explained how bad water was directly responsible for disease, 41 year average life span, and all sorts of social problems, including poor education.
Later that Fall, my wife and I got an invitation to attend a dinner sponsored by Generation U Athletes. It changed my whole perspective on the organization. We were greeted by young men of middle and high school age, who were part of the football team. The athletes each gave a formal presentation, explaining the plight of the Ugandan people for water. They explained how women and children would spend 4-8 hours out of each day walking miles to a water hole. How they carried 40 pounds of ‘dirty’ water on their heads to meet the daily needs of their families. This leaving no time left for schooling. The young men explained how each of them had to personally raise $25,000 each to fund a clean water well and their trips to Uganda. It was then that I realized the Generation U was bigger than Uganda. It was then that I decided I wanted to go to Uganda and my prayer was that I could take my granddaughter with me, and she would be impacted the same way as these young athletes.
Our opportunity came in June. The mission was to teach personal hygiene to the Ugandans, showing them how disease is spread, how to mitigate it, and start developing a database to track disease incidence and hopefully show improvements and hygiene protocols were put in place. Generation U had built 27 wells to date, and now it was time to broaden the impact by teaching hygiene.
A group of 8 of us left Hayden airport on June 5 on a 44 hour flight to Entebbe Uganda. We arrived in darkness, around midnight, loaded our luggage and supplies on top of the van and headed to a local hotel. Early the next morning, we loaded up into the van for the 8 hour trip to the city of Busia on the Uganda/Kenya border. This would serve as our base camp for the next 6 days. The trip was an eye opener. Bumpy roads, crazy traffic (trucks, cars, motorbike, bicycles), security check points, abject poverty, litter and trash everywhere, street side marketplaces, total chaos. We arrived at the Rand Hotel in the late evening. The rooms had only one electric outlet, mosquito netting over the bed, a toilet that sometimes would flush (with instruction to not flush unless it was #2).
The next morning, we started the work at the bush village of Busimi. The reception we received ‘blew my mind’. The villagers greeted us with singing, dancing and waving of tree branches (much like what Jesus might have experienced on Palm Sunday riding into Jerusalem). The celebration lasted probably for 20-30 minutes, and we were encouraged to participate in the dancing. Following the greeting, the villagers (several hundred) sat down under a make shift tent (their church) and Joel made the greetings and introductions on our behalf. Then Bridgett and Leslie delivered their presentations on hygiene. First, they introduced the people to ‘germs’ and how they are responsible for the diseases experienced by the village. Then, they discussed the pathways germs can enter the body. Then, the villagers were encouraged to come up with ideas of how those pathways can be interrupted.
While this was going on, Nich and I walked 30-40 minutes down a dirt path, through corn fields to the place the village used to get their water. This was a swamp on the edge of Lake Victoria. They recently got a clean water well from Generation U, so they no longer have to make the trek to the swamp. We collected a water sample and brought it back to the gathering. The water looked clear, but when we put a drop under the microscopes we had brought, we saw a world teaming with micro organism swimming in all directions. The villagers were all encouraged to come look through the microscope, which was an ‘eye opening’ experience to say the least. They had never heard of or seen a microscope let alone germs. They were astonished to see what they had been drinking for years.
This was my first exposure to an African bush village. The houses were mud huts with thatch roofs. No electricity, no running water, no toilets (although some of the more progressive villages had community latrines). We then divided the people into age groups, men and women separately and collected baseline medical data. Each group was asked if they had experienced specific diseases and/or symptoms of disease in the last 3 days. The results were incredible. Almost everyone had at least one major disease (typhoid, malaria, dysentery). Our hope is that as follow up surveys are taken after implementing hygiene measures, that the incidence of disease will decrease. Following our presentations, we served the entire village with a meal of rice and beans. The experience was repeated 8-9 times over the next 4-5 days. Our presentations became more and more refined. We introduced music into our presentation, as this seems to resonate with the Ugandans. We came up with a hand washing song to the tune of ‘He’s got the whole world in His hands” to reinforce the importance of taking your time to properly wash your hands.
Several specific learnings stand out from our visits. First, without the knowledge of germs in bad water, many would rather go to the nearest water hole than walk an extra hour to a clean water well. Secondly, there is a lack of soap to wash with. Third, there is a lack of fuel to boil water with. Fourth, the medical system is focused on treatment rather than prevention. All these issues are interlinked to clean water and proper hygiene.
One particular series of events that will forever stay in my mind happened on Sunday. Following breakfast, we walked through the street of Busia to the church of Pastor Moses. Moses is Bishop over 500 churches in Uganda, South Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania and eastern Congo. The worship service, lasting over 3 hours, is something I’ll never forget. The singing, dancing, the power of the messages. People would literally leave their seats to come up on stage to join in on the dancing and singing. You could definitely feel the Spirit of God in that place. Following the serving of the meal after worship, we and about 30 of the church people set out to clean the streets of Busia. Armed with rakes, trash bags, and a pickup truck, we marched down the street picking probably years of trash accumulation from the ditches of Busia. The locals watched on with total confusion on their faces. Why were Mzungus (white people) cleaning their ditches? We later learned that the Mayor of Busia was so embarrassed to have guests clean his city that he enacted a city wide cleaning program. Following the trash collection, we walked to a stage in the center of town and prepared to deliver our hygiene program to the entire city. We were accompanied by local singers and dancers and the church band. As daylight turned to darkness, the crowd grew from several hundred to over a thousand. We all felt like Rock Stars as we walked through the crowd to our van. As we left, kids were reaching through the windows to touch us. Some even climbed on top of the van as we were pulling away.
As I write this, it’s been close to a month now since I’ve returned from the other side of the world. I can’t get the experience out of my mind. I’ve come back truly humbled. I have so much, and they have so little, yet I saw total joy in their faces that I’ve never seen before. I really felt love from one human being to another. There was no hint of racism, jealousy or hatred. Just acceptance and love. I came back exhausted but exhilarated by the Ugandan’s quest for knowledge and a better life. I believe that some of the people we touched will grow to be world changers. I came back truly hopeful that what started out as a well drilling project and turned into a hygiene project will continue to grow and affect the lives of thousands of fellow human beings. Since our trip, the reach of our program has grown exponentially. Joel, Nich and Moses have formed partnerships with the Ugandan government, local soccer teams, Radio Uganda and a network of churches to carry the hygiene curriculum to a much wider audience. Generation U has hired staff on the ground to follow up with the villages to reinforce the hygiene message and take follow up surveys on the impact of hygiene on health and disease reduction.
On a personal level, the Ugandan project has changed my perspective on life and my personal priorities. I’m so thankful that my granddaughter Anna was able to join me in this experience. I believe it changed her as well as she saw the potential that can be realized when people help people and meet them where they’re at.
When the question is asked “Why Uganda”? My answer is simple “Why NOT Uganda.” The message is rippling throughout East Africa and also changing lives here in the US, developing future leaders and changing peoples’ perspective on life’s purpose.
My Testimony-Harvey Goertz