I did it. I really went to Africa.
I’ve always thought it was a fairly lofty goal, even considering the intense travel bug I’ve had for most of my life. But late last month, my husband and I boarded a plane bound for the dark continent.
It was a long flight; the world is a big place. And Africa is so completely different from the countries I’ve called home.
After a brief layover in Ethiopia, we reached our final destination: Uganda.
Gulu, to be specific.
Four years ago, Joe spent three months in the city, helping out with a brand new home for virtual orphans. Children of Hope has since expanded to house 15 kids ranging in age from a year and a half to 14. They are beautiful people, and the staff are devoted and amazing.
In all honesty, we didn’t spend thousands of dollars to go for any particular purpose. There wasn’t an intense need we were required to fill. We brought a couple of suitcases full of clothes and other items, but we really just went because we wanted to, we had the time and we didn’t know when the opportunity would arise again.
The kids were out of their minds excited to see Joe again, and I was welcomed with open arms.
Here’s a general overview of how we spent our time:
• weeding maize and beans on 20 acres of land COH owns
• watching the children sing in a special service at Watoto Church, where they are all regular attendees
• bathing in a bucket of cold water
• swimming with the children at a nearby hotel
• falling asleep to the sound of a generator, as there was no power for the duration of our visit
• shopping at a local craft market that supports people with disabilities
• listening to the kids sing at the top of their lungs every time we piled into the van
• visiting one of the few foreigner-friendly restaurants (it even had wifi)
• playing soccer in a field outside the city with plenty of village kids who eagerly joined the game
• welcoming a couple hundred neighbourhood children into the COH compound for an afternoon of games, songs, skits and snacks
It was glorious, but brief.
I caught a small glimpse of what life is like for those children; I caught a small glimpse of the enormous need in the area. Malnutrition, lack of education, disease, poor infrastructure … This nation – and its neighbours – could be so much more. They could have so much more.
And yet. The joy in their eyes is pure, even if it is fleeting.
Though I will be thrilled over every dollar donated to Children of Hope and its vision for the future, this trip made me ache for the world beyond its compound walls. I do not worry for the orphans and widows that have found refuge there; I am anxious for the half-dressed babies I saw wandering the dirt paths, gaping at the muzungo when I drove past. I wonder if they will ever go to school, if they will ever have the chance to be educated, if they will ever have the opportunity to rise above their current conditions. I don’t know if they can imagine a future that is different from their present.
So, I will dream for them.
It’s not about building skyscrapers and shopping malls, but constructing proper roads and sewer systems. It’s not about sending them to ivy league schools, but providing the opportunity to pursue any career they aspire to. It’s not about developing a culture dependent on western charity, but empowering a community in its own progress. It’s not about providing handouts, but equipping those who are eager for the chance to make a difference in their neighbourhood.
It’s not about bringing the American dream across the Atlantic, but carrying the hope that change is possible.
Our goal is to build a Village of Hope. In our vision, the land will eventually house a church, school, and clinic, along with the garden and expanded capacity for children. It will be sustainable, it will be self-sufficient, and it will be our best answer to the need in Gulu.
And I will be thankful for any part, no matter how small, that I can play in making that dream a reality. Not for Eric or Faith or James or Scovia, who are already supported and comforted and cared for; but, for all those nameless children peering at me through the doorways of their mud huts.
In case you thought I fell off the face of the earth last week … well, I sort of did.
I flew into Havana, Cuba, on Monday, May 23. After about a half hour of waiting around in the airport baggage claim, I found the Mexican group I would be traveling with for the week. The troupe included Pastor Eric Jaquith and his wife Ida, one of their interns Edika and her mom, and two young people from their church. We hopped on a bus and drove a few hours to Varadero – a gorgeous peninsula about 30 kilometres long, sandy shores on both sides. After a couple of nights there I am officially a big fan of all-inclusive resorts. The beach was beautiful, the ocean clear and salty as it should be, the sand white, the sun hot.
We only really had a day to enjoy it though and do some exploring of the city. On Wednesday a group of 11 of us piled into a ridiculously old Toyota van, along with all of our luggage, and drove roughly five hours to Santa Clara, which is in the middle of the island country.
We spent the rest of the week at a Methodist camp called Canaan, basically going to church all day long; it was awesome. About 800 young people between the ages of 12 and 35 were there, soaking up everything the visiting pastors had to say. It was far from a five-star resort – we had to chase frogs out of our room and the shower was a cold trickle. But I absolutely loved it. I was able to meet so many people, and – thanks to my ever-improving Spanish – have some great conversations, learn a ton about the country, hear some powerful sermons and generally fall in love with Cuba.
On Saturday we headed back to Havana, but not before we prayed and cried with the pastors. We left a pile of our clothes behind and donated probably a year’s salary to the main youth leader / conference organizer.
With only a few hours left until our flights would wing us home, our group toured around the capital city and had dinner before collapsing into bed. I spent most of Sunday coming home … reluctantly. I feel like I was gone far longer than a week. So much happened … my life was impacted immensely. Photos and video will be coming soon – they will be able to provide far more than my words.
Needless to say, God is flippin’ awesome. And he’s doing some pretty incredible things on an impoverished and communist island called Cuba.
This morning Cornwall was blanketed with door hangers with a message. Across the city, volunteers walked the streets to deliver these notices, a preview to something that is coming-soon-to-a-mailbox-near-you.
It’s a campaign that I’m a part of, and I’m really rather excited about it. I won’t give it all away, except to say that this initiative is all about hope. I’ve heard a lot of positive things about the city, but I know there is a huge population of Seaway Valley residents who don’t believe this region will ever change. I read articles that make me smile, then scroll down and see dozens of comments from people saying that no one should get their hopes up, don’t bother dreaming, nothing will get better.
I hope this campaign is a wake up call of sorts. I want to see this city begin to dream again – and not just to have a good waterfront and plenty of call centres, but to become a place of productivity, of joy, of vivacious living, of hope for the future.
But hope has to be based on something. Hope without substance is pointless. The goal of this campaign is to offer that substance, that truth, the point of it all.
So, Cornwall … watch your mailbox next month and let us know what you think.
I’m moving to Colombia.
There’s a million things I could say about this and I’m not quite sure where to begin. Most of you have probably already heard the news anyway.
Here’s the short version: I’ve wanted to do a missions/humanitarian trip for a long time. I had pretty much finished an application for a volunteer position in Peru when this opportunity to teach English in Cali, Colombia was brought to my attention.
You might be thinking, “Cali? As in, drug capital of the world.” Yup. That Cali. Though that reputation isn’t entirely accurate anymore.
I’m going to South America to teach for one academic year at Ekklesia School, which is part of a church belonging to the same affiliation as the congregation my parents attend (and I used to). I’ve met the pastor – a phenomenal woman of God. She’s one of the few that speaks English there, however, so I’ve been cramming Spanish and will continue until I get on the plane and after.
Which brings me to departure time. I don’t have an exact date yet, but it will be mid August. So very soon. My last day of work here is July 28. I’m going to spend a couple of weeks vacationing with family before I fly south. I’ll have just over a week to do some training and preparation before I get in front of a classroom.
It’s true, I have no teaching experience whatsoever. All I knew in Spanish was senorita, adios and gracias before a few weeks ago. I’m freaking out a little. This trip also means I am giving up my dream of going to the Vancouver Olympics next February; I’ll just set my sights on London in 2012.
I’m ridiculously excited. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time and the door has swung open wide. Despite a few nerves, I know God has called me to do this and he will both equip me for the job and be with me every step of the way. Of that, I have no doubts or qualms. Plus, this is a great chance to travel – I can cross South America off my list – and experience more of the world.
Never fear, I will not disappear off the face of the earth while I’m gone. I’m not sure what the Internet situation is there, but I will keep this blog updated with photos, stories and whatever else strikes my fancy as often as possible. Feel free to send in your requests, comments and updates on your life so I don’t feel too isolated down there. I’ll also be blogging regularly about the process to prepare and actually leave for Cali.
So, what do you think? I’m going to Colombia!
My brother and his wife, Jason and Shannon, are returning from a six-month missions trip to Burkina Faso (western Africa) tomorrow. I am super stoked to see them!
Jason built a computer database for a handicapped centre, while Shannon used her nursing skills as a clinic. They are my heroes.
This is what my 2008 looked like, in a nutshell:
January – Ottawa got hit with record amounts of snow. Phenomenal Michael Buble concert.
February – Lunar eclipse. First Family Day.
March – Friend Sarah has baby girl.
April – Hilarious Avril Lavigne concert. Cousin Jen has baby boy. I start doing street outreach with Ottawa Innercity Ministries.
May – My sister and her husband visit. Fabulous Starfied/Shane & Shane concert. Cousin Sharon gets married. Parents celebrate 30th anniversary.
June – Travel to Vancouver, Banff and Dawson Creek to visit family.
July – Camping at Sandbanks Provincial Park with family. Go skydiving. Ottawa Bluesfest. City Chase.
August – Cottage with extended family. Niece Allie Grace is born. Cousin Sheri has baby girl. Go caving and zip lining in Quebec.
September – Complete a year with Metroland; work in Arnprior for a few weeks. My birthday. Friend Emily gets married. Cousin Amy has baby girl.
October – Siblings from B.C. visit. Brother and his wife leave for Africa. Federal election. Hot air balloon ride.
November – Visit Hawaii with cousins; I go parasailing. Nephew turns three years old. America elects its first biracial president.
December – Harper gets Parliament prorouged after Liberal/NDP coalition. World Juniors in Ottawa. Skijoring. Flying lesson. Christmas.
Andre Hamel died last Friday. The majority of people in Ottawa had no clue who this man was, and I only knew him a little.
He was homeless. He used to hang out near the NAC, and I would see him on Wednesday nights when I walked around with my outreach team handing out sandwiches and juice. He had a huge black dog that he rescued and cared for over the last eleven years.
After a month off, I was back at outreach last night and a lot of people were talking about Andre – the impact he had on their lives, how they were dealing with his death from a heart attack, and the memorial service planned for this morning at the downtown corner he panhandled at.
Ironically, it’s probably the best night I’ve ever had doing street ministry. My team spent several minutes with some of Andre’s closest friends, talking about how he’ll be missed and how they are coping without his positive attitude, jokes and smiles. Though snacks and toiletries are appreciated, I believe our condolences and sympathy meant more to them than any material goods.
Oh, and some random guy got really offended when I smiled at him … then told me I needed to lighten up. Good times on Bank Street.
UPDATE: Check out a photo gallery from Andre’s memorial service yesterday here.
I like to think of her as another little sister. She is 10 years old, has five siblings of her own, and parents that can’t always find work to support the family. She lives and attends school in Anceita Alta, Peru.
Her name is Belen Alexandra Salvatierra Rodrigo, and I’m her sponsor.
I started the sponsorship through Compassion Canada with a friend over three years ago, and I’ve never regretted the decision, even when my bank account was severely lacking. I get photos of her once a year and I hang them on my wall to remind me to write to her. She sends letters every couple of months, and they always make my day. They are translated, of course, but I can still see her neat cursive writing. She talks about her friends, what she’s learning in school, and asks me about myself before signing off “… with a big hug and many kisses.” Her drawings are bright and cheerful; I know she’s smart and has so much potential for great things.
Someday I would love to go to Peru to visit her … my other little sister.
Yesterday night I hit the streets of downtown Ottawa with a homeless ministry team. I did five weeks of training with Ottawa Innercity Ministries, and that evening was my first time putting the learning into action.
I went with a woman who had been working with homeless people for four years and a guy who just recently started doing outreach. We spent about a half hour making sandwiches and filling huge shoulder bags with food, toiletries, socks and hats.
We walked a route that took us along Elgin and into the Byward Market, then we came down Bank Street after a couple of hours. The lady knew nearly all of the people we met by name, asking about their health and family before handing out our goods.
I love downtown. It’s a great destination and I’ve been there a hundred times just to hang out with friends or go see a show.
But it felt like a different city when I was there for the sole purpose of making eye contact with people on the street. Sure, I’ve seen the homeless before … I’ve clapped for buskers playing guitar or tossed change into a cup. This was a whole new level. I didn’t step around drunks sitting on a curb or guys trying to keep warm in a store entrance. I was actually looking for them.
This time, the people dressed up for dinner or out shopping with friends were the ones that seemed odd and out of place.
I don’t know if ‘enjoyed’ is the right word to describe my experience, but I didn’t drive home feeling totally hopeless or anything. It was actually quite neat to sit and chat with the street people, to hear pieces of their stories and offer some comfort in the form of cheese sandwiches, juice boxes and conversation.
The highlight would have to be when one guy sang me a song that he made up on the spot. The only thing missing was his guitar.