“If you ever doubted that God puts you in the place you are intended to be, at the precise moment you are intended to be there, I hope this story may change your mind.”
Written by Carol Burdette, for Good Shepherd Episcopal Church quarterly magazine
My first trip to Africa was in 2006. During that trip I felt that I needed to take in every sight and sound, because I might not return. However, as Rev. Rhonda Montgomery used to say, “If God wants you somewhere, what makes you think you won’t be there? God is God and you are not.” As of today I have been back to Africa five times. I will return for my sixth trip in February 2016.
In July of 2012, my husband Milo and I went on safari to Kenya and Uganda with our dearest friends Jeanne and Lew Little and their children. The first ten days in Kenya were amazing and peaceful, but traveling on to Uganda was not. Making our way to our final destination was an unnerving event. A mass of humanity lived along roads that were lined with open sewage and mounds of garbage. Young children roamed around unattended. I had never witnessed such depths of poverty and despair.
After a long car ride down hot dusty roads followed by a ride in a small plane and yet another long dusty drive, we arrived at our destination: Buhoma, Bwindi, a small village at the gateway to the Impenetrable Forest on a mountain top where Uganda, Rwanda and the Congo come together. It is the home of the last remaining Mountain Gorillas. There’s no electricity, no running water or clean water source; no streets, only washed out dusty roads. Alcoholism is rampant, domestic abuse occurs at a staggering rate, faces of malnutrition are everywhere; life expectancy is 54 years. I was not just out of my comfort zone… I was overwhelmed and sacred.
We were there for a hike deep into the forest of Bwindi Uganda to spend one brief hour with the gorillas. There had been days of heavy rains. The mountains were thick with mud, making the hike treacherous. There are no trials to follow-the path is hacked out by Ugandan Wildlife Rangers with a machete. Another ranger is at the rear of the column with a rifle. Had it not been for the men and women who serve as porters, none of us would have made it.
With no food or water of their own, the porters carry our packs (heavy with food and water for the hikers only), and catch us if we slip down the mountain. They make approximately $40 plus tips to take home to their families and this would be their only income for the year. They were joyful, compassionate, confident, strong, and capable.
At the end of this arduous hike, we were filled with an undeniable sense of accomplishment, joy, and amazement of all things created by God. Mounds of the largest black ants I’ve ever seen, mile long centipedes, glorious birds, hundreds of butterflies and finally, four hours into the mountain forest, a large covey or mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. To say they take your breath away is an understatement.
Returning exhausted to the lodge hours later, we were told that some local schoolchildren had come to perform for us. Our return was much later than expected, and these children had waited on us. Although all we wanted was a hot camp shower, a glass of wine, dinner and bed, there was no getting out of it. Of course we headed to the campfire to attend their performance.
The children, ages four to fourteen, were from a local school that had been started by Victor and Sylvia Bahati, in a country where education is not free to all. Victor had grown up in Buhoma and had been one of the children of the road who had to walk great distances to go to school, sometimes making it and sometimes not. He wanted something better for the children of his community and had used all of his savings from working in a local lodge to start The Victory School. He was struggling with banana hut buildings, teachers who had no education, no funding to sustain them, no books, little food but… he had tremendous faith in God, a big heart and much determination.
Watching these children with runny noses and no shoes, you wanted to give them a dose of penicillin, and put a little sweater and a pair of Keds on them. It was a chilly, damp night but their spirits were soaring. They sang and danced, telling their folklore tales through song and dance way into the night.
Milo and I were so moved by these little ones that we approached the manager of the lodge to see how we could help the school. Upon his recommendation, we sponsored two students. We would later come to find that the cost for a year for these two children was less than one Saturday night dinner in Austin. We support them to this day and with God’s help know that they have the hope of a brighter future not only for themselves but also for their families and their community at large.
We brought many memories of our adventures home with us. The most vivid was not witnessing the circle of life with the leopard in a tree with it;s fresh kill on the Massa Mara, nor the lion and his pride, not the ancient crocodiles, the magnificent elephants or even the mountain gorillas; and not the treasured company of our dear friends. OF course all of these are engraved in our hearts. But the most powerful memory was the plight of the children in Buhoma and those were trying their best to make a difference in their lives.
Soon after our return, I told my friend Jeanne of my hope that we could get all of the children an American sponsor so that they could continue to stay at the Victory School and off the road. They would have at least one meal a day and hopefully learn to read and write their national language which is English. My friend agreed but said, "I have a different idea." Her plan was a much grander one-starting a foundation to support the founders of the school so they can accomplish their goal of providing hope for a brighter future through education.
Jeanne and Lew Little founded the KamuKama Foundation. KamuKama means protected by God and is also the name of the child they encountered on an earlier trip to the area. Milo and I are overjoyed to join this endeavor to further the mission of the KamuKama Foundation. See for yourself the works that God can do when one person says yes to the small still voice urging you forward. "Go and do the work that I have prepared for you to do."
Today we have 290 students; people from all around the world sponsor 240 of these students. For $300 per year, a child goes to school, has two meals a day when there would be non otherwise, receives shoes and socks, two uniforms, and sweaters. School keeps them off the road and away from danger from 7:00am to 5:00pm. They receive an education that will give them the tools necessary for a brighter future.
We now have 25 graduates who attend secondary boarding school also sponsored by the foundation. These 12-14 year olds would otherwise be back on the road with no further education. For additional perspective, consider their school supply list: a mattress, pencils and toilet paper.
I look forward in hope, gratitude, and unfailing certainty that God has set our feet on this path. I will never again doubt that one person can make a difference. Just say, I will with God’s help. then sit back and watch the beautiful things that happen next. Whether your call to help comes from a neighbor, family member, your child, friend, someone next to you, behind you, or on the other side of the world, just say yes!