Friday, August 23, 2013

Day 9: To the Nile!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

We left Gulu and headed out to the national park for our safari amidst pouring rain - which was worrisome given that we had a 5 hour drive on unpaved  roads. The rain seemed to bring out the animals, because within minutes of entering the park, we saw elephants, giraffes and water buffalo all along the side of the road.

We made it through some sketchy mud holes, water pools and dramatic bumps when we arrived at a long muddy hill. The bus started leaning precariously to the left as the tires spun out and the engine whirred. Apparently we made enough noise to attract attention because suddenly nine men in fatigues appeared out of the bush. Given all the stories we have heard about Kony and the rebels, some volunteers thought for a second that we were under attack. In reality, they were National Park police who were stationed up the hill and were coming to our rescue. We all got out of the bus, and the police worked with our driver for about an hour carving out mud, throwing down rocks and literally pushing the bus. Between the eight of them, they only had one a tool: a hoe. In the mean time, the park sent a Land Rover that picked up half the group. When we were finally liberated, we gave our helpers a tip and drove off to great applause.

We then made it to the dock in time for our Nile river cruise in a small two-story ferry. We rode the Nile for about three hours and had a stunning view of Murchison Falls. Along the way, we also saw dozens and dozens of hippos, fat crocodiles, warthogs and tons of brightly colored birds.

"One Good Thing":

Melissa - Seeing an elephant in the wild

Stacy - Seeing a giraffe NOT behind glass or bars

Kiera - Seeing a giraffe, so that I can finally tell my four-year-old Benson that I have seen one!

Jessica - Hearing Suzy yell out, "What the crap?!" When we hit a bump and she bounced out of her seat.

Becca - Reaching the paved road

Jen - Watching 8 men silently appear out of the bush to help rescue our bus

Suzy - Getting transported away from our bus in the "rescue" Land Cruiser: an off-roading adventure

Holda - Just as I had read about in my book about the first European Nile explorers, we rounded the river bend in our little Nile cruise boat and had a dramatic view of Murchison Falls.

Leah - Being so close to a crocodile

Ali - My 17th birthday!

Shantall - Celebrating Ali's birthday

Sophie - Eating an indredibly delicious pineapple

Day 8: Meeting all of our Beaders

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

We traveled northwest out of Gulutown to a village in Awer (pronounced "away") to purchase beads from a goup of women there.  They greeted us with traditional dancing and drumming before we all settled under the mango trees for introductions and viewing their beadwork.  They had also prepared a traditional meal for us.  We all left with several pieces of jewelry and full stomachs.  

On the road back into Gulu we met Tiger, the old man to whom Suzy had originally made her promise, inspiring the creation of APF.  Unfortunately yesterday's rains prevented us from driving to his remote village, but we were able to say hello and send him back with two boda bodas full of gifts and supplies.  

Finally, we visited Tribe, another beaders group.  We were stunned at the amount  of beadwork available by this group of about 20 women.  After emptying our wallets, we were saying our goodbyes when the women honored Suzy by singing a song thanking her for hard work for Africa, and each woman placed a necklace around her neck.  

We wrapped up our final evening at St. Monica's with "shopping" from our donations for our four sponsored girls, and our last menstrual kit distribution for the 150 St. Monica's girls.

"One Good Thing":

Holda - Speding the morning walking the streets of Gulu with Jen and going into the tinsmith shop, the stationary store, the "hardware store" and the dress shop

Sophie - Picking up my awesome hand-made dress from the market

Stacey - Seeing "You're highly welcome" written in chalk in huge letters on a hut as we walked into Awer

Melissa - Watching the women at Awer do their traditional dance coplete with live drumming

Leah - Dancing with the women in Awer!

Brinlee - Seeing my brother Joseph! Seeing Tiger again

Becca - Watching Brinlee's impressive bargaining skills with the bead sellers

Suzy - When the APF/Tribe beaders put beads around my neck and sang "Suzy, working so hard for Africa..."

Jessica - When I went back to the prison with Frederick to deliver the rice and my volleyball, and they remembered us! They put their faces up the gate and said, "Thank you!"

Ali - "Shopping" with our four sponsored students, as they went through and chose things for themselves from all of our donated items

Shantall - Seeing our four students take the cute little boy outfits for their sons that I brought

Jen - Demonstrating to the St. Monica's girls how to use their menstrual kits with a little individual performance and dance while standing up on a chair

Kiera - Seeing the sass, attitude and smiles of the St. Monica's girls as they posed when I took their individual pictures with their new menstrual kits

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Day 7: Swimming with kids from St. Judes and Family Dinner at Frederick's

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

By Holda:

St. Jude's is home to around 150 children, many who are orphaned or disabled. APF reserved a swimming pool at a resort hotel in Gulu and brought the children in two groups to the pool to swim. Thanks to several generous APF donors, we had new swimsuits waiting for the kids to wear. Most kids did not know how to swim, so we provided float rings and joined them in the pool. Initial splashing chaos turned into further splashing chaos as the kids got more comfortable being in the water, playing and laughing with each other. After swim time, each child received a new outfit to wear home. 

In the evening, we joined Frederick at his parents' home for a traditional Acholi dinner, prepared by his mother. Six of his seven siblings also came, along with friends. Everyone sat in a long dining room, and introduced themselves "as thoroughly as possible" with others adding "supplements" if someone had been too modest. As on many evenings, Gulu's power had gone out, so we ate and talked by lantern light. All the APF volunteers were so thankful for the host family's hospitality.

By Suzy:

Today we had an action packed day.  We started out with a shopping trip to Wawoto Kacel, a wonderful craft shop that employs disabled adults, and HIV+ men and women.  It as so much fun to see the actual craftsmen and women making their pieces of art and the being able to purchase them knowing that we were helping to empoy these sweet people.  After our shopping trip, we then went to St. Jude Children's Home with our 28 seat bus.  We had 8 of our volunteers which meant that we technically could only take  20 more kids.  But, if you know APF, then you know we never turn a child away.  It was quite the ordeal trying to load about 30 children, most with severe disabilities, onto a bus that had little room.   We noticed that there was an older girl named Christine, who had gone swimming the year before who was quietly crying off to the side.  Because she had bedsores, she was not on the list of kids that were invited.  I talked to the headteacher and begged him to allow her to come, even if it were just to enjoy the day and eat chicken and chips. He agreed and somehow we managed to squeeze Christine on the bus.  

When we arrived at the pool, APF volunteers had organized all of the donated swimsuits and blown up the floaties.  Each child was helped into their swimsuit and then the fun/chaos began!  Smiles were big and laughter loud.  I quickly noticed that Christine, the one who was to not enter the water was sitting alone sad, but later when I glanced over at he, she had managed to aquire a swimsuit  and was modestly and quitly dressing herself (even though she cannot move her legs). She then summoned the strong lifeguard to carry her to the pool.  From then on, she at with a smile on her face, legs dangling in the pool. It was reported to me later that she actually fell in the pool, but was quickly rescued.  The plan was to treat the kids to chips and chicken and give them a real feast.  Our plans quickly changed as a torrential downpour moved our direction.  The kids were quickly loaded  onto the bus, and were off .  We had planned on receiving a second group after the first were dropped back off, but because of the rain, we did not think the headteacher would bring them.  We were all pretty hungry, we ordered 10 plates of food and started to organize and get cleaned up.  

As our food was arriving, we heard the bus reappear and out of the bus stepped 40 more (able bodied) children.  We were all stunned!  We quickly organized our 10 plates of food and with exception  of some complaining German volunteers, we all gave the food to the children to share.  There was some murmuring (not APF volunteers) that we should eat and then order for the kids. I put my foot down and said that under no condition were we going to eat before the kids.  Can you imagine? We, who do not even know what real hunger feels like, sitting down in front of 40 kids while they watched us eat? Not on my watch! We fed the kids, jazzed them up in their new swimsuits and the chaos quicky ensued!  Several of the volunteers were a nervous wreck with 40 kids, none who new how to swim, splashing and playing in the water. The rain had decreased to a drizzle and that made the swimming more enjoyable.  Our group had to be somewhere at six and so to save time, we decided to have the bus run us back to St. Monica's and then go back to get the kids and return them to St. Jude.  When we arrived back to St. Monica, we all quickly started showering and getting ready for our evening  out.  About 45 minutes later, Jen and I walked outside to notice that our bus driver was still  outside.  Due to poor communication, he was still sitting outside of our dorm and forgot to get the kids back at the pool.  We quickly sent him back, were a bit late to our dinner appointment at Frederick's mom house, but all in all, a good time was had!

"One Good Thing":

Holda - Being in a bus with 39 orphaned children singing the African anthem as well as some American classics like "Do-a Deer..."

Suzy - Seeing Vincent walk!

Leah - Swimmig with Monica, who was disabled and could not make many facial expessions, and then seeing how excited she was when I let go and she realized that she coud float on her own. 

Jen - Seeing our bus driver, Rogers, come alive when he was lifting and helping the children who could not walk in and out of the bus and the pool. And seeing how the children took care of each other, with many of the abled ones literally putting their arms around the disabled ones. 

Stacey - Talking with Lilly by the pool side. (She was not allowed to swim because of bed sores.) She told me the story of how she became paralyzed two years ago because of a tumor and then, after a year in the hospital, "God gave me back my hands!"

Shantall - Dressing all the kids in brand new outfits! 

Melissa - The food at Frederick's house, especially the boo, which is a delicious peanut sauce. 

Kiera - Diner with Frederick's family, espcially the long introductions and all the "suppements."

Jessica - Holding the lamp in front of everyone's face as each of the thirty-some guests introduced themselves.

Jen - When Frederick gave a "supplement" about me, he introduced me as Joe Biden, i.e. Suzy's second in command. Best compliment ever!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Day 6: School Kit Distributions

Monday, August 19, 2013  

Today we visited a primary school in an area of northern Uganda that had once been a no-go zone for civilians. Families only started resettling the area since 2009.  The Ugandan government has recently implemented a policy of no school fees for students attending primary school; this, plus long awaited peace, has produced over-crowded classrooms.  Sometimes more than 100 students in a single classroom.  The only plumbing was a hand-powered well pump...a block of latrines stand not far away.  Lunch is simply a corn mash.  The courage of the teachers and headmistress are almost unfathomable.  But the kids' smiles came easily and they were eager to play with us.

"One Good Thing":

Leah - Playing with the kids at the school and having them run away and shreak whenever I would approach them.  

Brinlee - Playing soccer with a small group of kids at the first school.  

Sophie - Playing soccer in the rain with a group of teenage school boys. Kiera overheard the schoolmaster say, "There are girls playing soccer? They must be very strong!"  

Jess - Running into Shantell above a big mud pit while playing soccer and catching each other right before we both slipped and fell into the mud  

Becca - When the little girl in the green dress came up to me and kissed my arm.  

Shantell - Holding a little sleeping baby.  

Holda - Talking to the math and science teacher at the elemetary school.

Melissa - Getting to know Irene and seeing how excited she was about the kits and how well she explained them to the girls.  

Jen - Going around to each girl and showing her how to pronounce the name of the girl who had written her a personal note and sent a picture in her menstrual kit. Then reading the sweet and formal letters they immediately wrote back.  

Kiera - Seeing how some of the girls clutched their menstrual kit bag with gratitude and excitement when I took their pictures.  

Stacey - Watching hundreds of kids clap rythmically in unison and then respond in unison to the headmaster's calls.  

Suzie - Jumping in as choir director in front of a large group of kids and figuring out how to lead them in some of their local songs.  

Alli - Picking up clothes from the tailor and being so happy with how they turned out, and then showing them to our St. Monicas girls, who were so excited about them too.  

Monday, August 19, 2013

Day 4: Drilling A Well

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Eighty percent of preventable illness in Uganda originate from contaminated water. Streams in the villages are often polluted by grazing livestock, which was the case in the village we were scheduled to help today.  Before locating a new well site, we visited the existing draw point: plenty of hoofprints and a conspicuous gray hue to the water. We joined volunteers and staff from Aid Africa ( in setting up a drill stand, complete with pulley and a rope for human power.  Our women got right in there with the men, getting muddy as they guided the heavy metal bore down the well shaft.  Aid Africa informed us that the next day, after further drilling, fresh water was found!

"One Good Thing":

Melissa -  Walking down a trail into the village instead of driving up to it. And the singing and high-pitched celebratory screeching that greeted us when we arrived.  

Brinlee - Seeing the looks on the faces of the women and girls when I carried the jerrycan of water on my head.

Kiera - Getting muddy working to drill the well.  

Becca - Having a mom strap her baby onto my back and carrying her around most of the aftenoon.  

Stacey - When I was sitting next to a woman in the village who did not speak any English, and then I turned away and felt the woman rub her finger along my foot and then look at me and smile.  

Suzy - Throwing mud onto Jess and then having a mud fight with her  

Leah 2 - Talking to the English teacher in the village and asking him all my questions about women and Achioli culture.  

Jen - Getting my sandal stuck in the mud in front of the entire village and having a man help me get it out and then help me wash my feet and sandal.  

Shantell - The litle 4 year-old-gir, Prissy, who held onto me for a really long time and didn't let go.  

Holda - Talking to Morris and Boniface about their stories from high school, including participating in a riot to protest the lack of food. And, eating fresh okra that I had purchased at the market.  

Jess - Seeing all the kids run behind the pick-up truck as we drove out of the village.  

Sophie - Playing soccer with the girls at St. Monica's  

Ali -  Dancing at the club.

Leah 1 - Talking to 22-year-old Rodney at the club and hearing his stories about the past and about his hopes and plans for the  future.

Day 5: Gulu Prison

Sunday, August 18, 2013  

Across the street from our lodging at St. Monica's School, Gulu Prison houses about 1000 prisoners.  Only a third have actually been convicted; the rest are still awaiting trial, some longer than two years. APF donated mattresses and other supplies last year, and was invited back again this year to visit (thanks to some help from Sister Asunta).  We expected to deliver soap to the men, and kits and toiletries for the women.  But what a surprise was in store for us!  Nearly all the prisoners were assembled in the yard in the afternoon sun, while we sat under the veranda as honored guests.  The prisoners treated us to music using handmade instruments, theatre dramas, and games.  The second band performed a rousing piece with a Caribbean feel, and we simply couldn't stay in our seats!  Later we had the chance to purchase some  of the handicrafts made on site.  Frederick told us later that the prisoners wanted us to know that they appreciated being approached as fellow brothers and sisters.  Gulu prison rarely receives visitors at all...we were so privileged to be treated to such a performance.

"One Good Thing":

Stacey - Meeting the Young Women at church and recording them on video reciting the Young Women's theme. And hearing Jess give a prayer in church with her new Ugandan accent.  

Becca - Going to church outside with roosters and birds in the background, and then singing "How Firm a Foundation" and "Hark All Ye Nations."  

Ali - Wandering around the market and meeting Isaac, a shop owner who took us under his wing, showed us the market and gave us his phone number in case we got lost.

Sophie - Riding a boda boda for the first time.  

Jen - Seeing the way Suzy got up and talked in front of all one thousand prisoners and then sat down amongst them in the dirt in her white skirt.  

Jess - Playing the "sign game" with a group of prisoners in front of the entire group of prisoners for their entertainent.  

Kiera - Jumping up to dance and play with the prisoners in the "bear and lumber jack" game.  

Shantell - The two musical performances by the prison ensembes with their unique African instruments and their singing. "I've never been so happy as when I watched them perform."  

Brinlee - Getting the courage to go out in front of the crowd and dance with my mom.  

Becca - Listening to the music perfomances and watching the man without teeth in the front row smile up at us the entire time.  

Frederick - "The fun, happiness and dancing we all experienced together. Sharing a good moment can be better than sharing things or money."  

Melissa - Distributing the kits to the female prisoners. "Before that I was tired and ready to leave [the prison], but once I got with the women, I could have stayed forever."  

Suzie - When Melissa gave out the menstrual kits to the female prisoners and said, "I made these with my own hands," especially because I know how hard she worked to get here.  

Holda - Giving one of my daughter's toys to Daisy, one of the female prisoners. Then the guard came over and Daisy looked nervous, but then the gaurd said, "I'm just happy to see you talking togther like friends."  

Leah - Receiving the gratitude and appreciation of the female prisoners when they said, "Go back and know that the women of Gulu of love you."

Friday, August 16, 2013

Day 3: Rocket Stoves

Friday, August 16, 2013

In Gulu, we connected with another non profit group called Aid Africa, and they invited us to accompany their staff to a village to make and distribute rocket stoves. (Check out their website here and watch the short video about how they make the stoves:

They are managed by local man named George who is a very progressive leader and teacher; he gets a couple shout outs later in the post. While we were there, we distributed mestrual kits to the women who came to get their stoves and then we got to spend quite a bit of time hanging out in the village. 

"One Good Thing":

Holda - Seeing the men look so happy and involved as they built their own rocket stoves. And finding something that "hits a sweet spot" in terms of direclty filling a need that will greatly improve their quality of life

Melissa - Watching George explain to the women how to use the menstrual kits

Suzie - Realizing that one of the four girls APF sponsors at St. Monica's, Florence, is in the catering program and has been one of our cooks! And watching George pick up a crying baby boy during his presentation, holding the little guy by his naked behind.

Shantell - Playing with the girl in the village who had the blue flower dress who did not talk, but who had the best, most infectious smile

Kiera - Having so much fun playing a variety of games with a huge group of kids, including ring-around-the-rosie, duck-duck-goose, tag and red-light-green-light

Sophie - Seeing how they make peanut butter (actually "g nut butter") in the hut by grinding it on a stone

Jess - Holdig a three-day-old baby, Bosco

Stacy - Getting to know Joyce, who wants to become a midwife, and her daughter Eliza as they gave her a tour of the village

Leah - Breaking off from the group and being with one person who showed her all around the village

Alli - Preseting a donation of toothbrushes and toothpaste (that Alli herself had gathered!) to a woman living in a hut in a small village

Jen - Receiving the gift of maize from the school boys who picked in directly from their field to give to us. And teaching a young man how to take a picture on her camera - he had never used a camera before!

Brinlee - Getting peed on by a baby she was holding

Becca - Holding baby Eliza and then getting peed on by her

Tori - Hearing George and Frederick singing a traditional Acholi song to us in the bus. And playing games in the field with all the kids

Jared - When one of the Aid Africa workers said to him: "I have a problem. All of the men are drunk and they're breaking my bricks! I'm waiting for the women."

Frederick - Seeing all of you "in different actions," learning, and experiencing and serving in new ways. 

Day 2: Journey to Gulu

Every night, we have a group check-in called "One Good Thing" where each person shares one of their favorite things that happened that day. This post features what everyone shared on Thursday, August 15th. On this day, we took an eight-hour bus ride from Kampala to St. Monica's School for Girls in Gulu, where we will be staying (in the dorms) for the next week.

Sophie - Seeing the Nile! (We stopped at a bridge and took lots of pictures)

Melissa - Seeing all the babboons and monkeys on the side of the road, many with their babies

Holda - All the kids who waved and smiled at the bus as we passed

Jess - Cuting cabbage and making friends with the girls at St. Monica's who are in the catering program and are preparing all our meals

Becca - Watchig Suzy "freak out" and get all star struck whe she got to meet Donald Dunson, author of her favorite book "Child, Victim, Soldier" (He was also staying at St. Monica's)

Leah - Having a new experience with "squatty potties"

Stacy - Surviving the bus ride! And catching air on the front seat of the bus when our driver took on some gnarly pot holes. And watching people's faces light up when she would smile at them on the road.

Shantell - Watching Suzy "freak out" about the monkeys' bright blue crotches. (Potential new bead color: "monkey ball blue")

Alli - Spotting the naked man on the side of the road who was gleefully showering as we drove by

Jen - Sitting under the awning at St. Monica's to watch the thunder and lightening storm. And seeing and walking arond the water bottle huts.

Please note that these are not necessarily direct quotes. :)

Sorry there aren't any pictures on the blog yet. We are not able to load them here, but we can load them on fb, so check us out there! Just "like" African Promise Foundation. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


We began our day meeting a fantastic beader co-op of women. These women produce hundreds of pieces of beaded necklaces, bracelets, belts, and  even rings! They meet weekly in a member's home where they design their jewelry and bead together. They have plans to earn enough to have their own gallery! African Promise Foundation will be proudly selling their pieces in the USA very soon.

We then joined the folks of Hands of Hope for a lesson on health and distribution of Days for Girls menstrual kits.  Hands of Hope runs a health clinic and promotes AIDS awareness and education in the slums, as well as sponsoring children to attend school. We gathered at their center with 50 girls and young women who were delighted to receive the cloth menstrual kits and were enthusiastic participants of the accompanying health education presentation. Many of their girls were having exams and in school, so kits were left behind to be distributed and explained by their volunteers. We split up into two groups and took a tour of the slum. Over 10,000 people live in the seven areas of this huge slum (the largest in Uganda). No electricity.  No running water.  Their sanitation system is virtually non-existent, with the residents drinking water that is shared with livestock and filled with garbage. Life in the slum is hard- to say the least. We are so glad to have brightened the lives of 50 women today!

Tomorrow we travel to Gulu... stay tuned for  more adventures!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

First Stop

Greetings from Amsterdam! After 10.5 hours and lots of free movies, we are now eating Dutch pancakes, pastries and smoothies. Yum! Our pink hope T-shirts are drawing a lot of positive attention. Next leg: 9 hours from here to Entebbe. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Tomorrow awesome volunteers like this will embark on our APF 2013 Volunteer Expedition.  Stay tuned for updates and photos!  We will also be bringing home lots of Ugandan Paper Beads and expanding our jewelry line. Stay tuned!