Letter from Uganda: Humble Place will offer hope to children
by J.D. Rush
Sometimes you look at yourself and can't imagine how or why you landed in a particular moment - but you absolutely wouldn't be anywhere else. That's the situation I find myself in as I dodge cars and motorized bikes in the bustling city of Kampala, capital of Uganda.
The Rev. Daniel Wandabula, dean of superintendents of the United Methodist Church in Uganda, guides me by the elbow through the chaotic maze to his favorite lunch spot and demands "matoke" (plantains served over rice) for the wide-eyed American visitor. He's agreed to meet me and discuss a local project in progress called Humble Place.
Wandabula, also the project coordinator, is a zealous gentleman with an infectious belly laugh and a strong pride in his country. While we devour our food, he shares with me his culture and Christian faith. I'm told we are waiting for Robert Sajjabi, project overseer for Humble Place.
Humble Place is a mission sponsored by Ashburn (Va.) United Methodist Church devoted to the construction and operation of a comprehensive living facility for Ugandan orphans. The project aims to meet children's basic needs, such as food, shelter, education, medical care and spiritual growth, while at the same time employing local teachers and other workers in the area.
Ashburn Church recognizes the dire circumstances of children within Uganda, particularly those from families who have suffered from the effects of insufficient health care and the overwhelming destruction of AIDS. According to the Uganda Aids Commission, 1.4 million Ugandans are living with HIV/AIDS, and the disease has orphaned at least 1.7 million Ugandan children.
As Sajjabi joins us, he seems the opposite of Wandabula - reserved and quiet, yet confident. Somehow the two complement each other, forming a powerful team with a specific goal.
"We came up with the Humble Place because many children don't have the chance to go to better schools," says Sajjabi, as he finishes his lunch.
"Most Ugandans can't even afford to pay school fees, let alone school fees to a place with good facilities. The brothers at Ashburn have been so very helpful. We are indeed truly blessed."
Sajjabi insists we catch a "matatu" (a white minivan used for public transportation) to Mukono to see the building site. As we part with Wandabula, I thank him for his hospitality, guided direction and fine African cuisine.
After squeezing into the matatu and moving farther away from Kampala, Sajjabi elaborates.
"Humble stands for 'Helping Ugandan Mwana by Loving Example.' 'Mwana' is Lugandan for 'children,'" he explains. "Unless there is someone helping another person by loving example, we can never get rid of this epidemic of poverty. We want to work by example, then see how we can help others."
The equatorial sun beats down, and Ugandans jump on and off the matatu as we pass through the city of Mukono and near the rural outskirts, where Humble Place is being built. Viewing the area's poverty firsthand makes Sajjabi's words ring loudly in my ears.
He describes a dream in which the land appeared to him. "I could see a bush land - power lines passing near the land," he says. "I could see the place as if I was there. The next morning, I went to town in Mukono and began inquiring about available land. A friend told me he knew where some was - 20 acres - perfect for the project. We got a 'boda-boda' (motorbike taxi) and came here."
His eyes widen as he continues. "I saw the very land I saw in the dream. I knelt down and I prayed, claiming this land. I said, 'Lord thank you for showing me this land.'"
As we exit the matatu and walk down the dusty road through the small community, Sajjabi begins the tour of the property. The scenery is striking, with rolling hills, visible wildlife and lush greenery as far as the eye can see.
He points out pieces of fertile ground where crops have been planted and explains Humble Place's goal of sustainability through food production. A banana plantation and a dairy farm, among other things, are expected to generate much-needed income.
At the building site, three foundations overlook the arresting scenery. Humble Place will soon enter "Phase 2" of construction, which primarily includes framework. That will be followed by the third phase, roofing, and the fourth, wiring and finishing touches.
All around the busy site, thousands of large, red bricks are stacked in neat rows.
"We've made almost 15,000 bricks," Sajjabi says. "The Ashburn people bought us a machine from South Africa that uses Hydroform. It compresses local soil and cement, and you get good bricks - strong bricks. Often, when we make bricks here in Africa, we use too much firewood - too much energy - and we pollute the environment. This way is much better, plus it can generate income once the building is done." He unlocks a small shed to reveal the large, yellow machine.
"We learned how to make the bricks ourselves because everything we do here, we want to live by example," he explains. "We had 11 or 12 people trained to make them and use them for building."
Sajjabi's example is not going unnoticed. He points to a ragged tent overlooking the hills with a few pews resting in its shade.
"When we were clearing the land, I started preaching to those who were helping - teaching them the love of God," he says. "During that period, Loving Example United Methodist Church was developed. Now we have church here at Humble Place. The turnout is coming to 100 to 200 people."
As the sun sets, Sajjabi insists on returning me to the matatu stage safely. When he speaks, I can see his persistence, work ethic and determination come forth.
"The community is excited - they feel they are being rescued. Even the local leaders come and thank me," he says proudly.
"Humble Place is a place where those who have no hope will get hope. We want a child to come from here and do something. And I will remain committed. I feel nothing will hinder us from going on."
After bidding farewell to Sajjabi, I get that same feeling again - the "how did I get here at this moment" feeling. But the answer seems a bit clearer than earlier. I know why I am here, just as Sajjabi knows why he's here. Everything happens for a reason. Recognizing and acting on these God-given moments is part of faith and helps places like Humble Place become a reality.
"Where there was once a proper forest, we are now expecting a city in the jungle," says Sajjabi. "That is our dream and we believe it can happen."
*Rush is a free-lance journalist traveling in Uganda.
You may contribute to the support of Humble Place by making a donation. Checks may be written to 'Advance GCFA' and placed in collection plates at United Methodist churches, or mailed directly to Advance GCFA, P.O. Box 9068, GPO, New York, NY 10087-9068. Please note on your check, "Humble Place" and the Advance Number of 14190O [the last character is the letter O and the one to the left is the numeral 0] . Credit card donations may be made by calling (888) 252-6174.
The Advance for Christ and His Church is an official program of The United Methodist Church for voluntary, designated financial giving. One hundred percent of your donation goes to the Advance ministry you choose. All Advance administrative and promotional costs are covered by World Service and other funds.
Date posted: Jun 30, 2003