Vision Trip 2024

by Clarke Heidrick

Jesus tells us in the Gospel of Mark that if we want to enter the Kingdom of God, we must receive it “like a little child” and that “whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me.” On our recent visit to Buhoma, Uganda with our friends with the Kamukama Foundation, my wife Catherine and I saw the “light of Christ” in the eyes of the children sponsored by Kamukama.

Despite living in conditions that we would describe as poverty, these children live “in the day” with exuberance and with hope. Many walk several miles each day in their uniforms to get to the schools supported by Kamukama. There they receive two good meals each day, have access to healthcare and are taught by experienced and inspired teachers. An overarching theme of this instruction in encouragement to “Dream Big” and to understand the benefits that education can bring to themselves and their families. Shining examples of the good that can come from education are Sophie Nanyojo and Scovia Ainembabazi. Sophie grew up in a village near Buhoma, attended nursing school in Bwindi and then earned a degree in public health at Johns Hopkins before returning to Buhoma. She now serves as the Healthcare Coordinator for Kamukama and leads programs to improve the health of Kamukama’s sponsored students and their families. Scovia was a student sponsored by Kamukama, obtained a certificate in tourism and hospitality, and now serves as Sophie’s assistant focusing on sanitation and hygiene.

One of the most inspiring moments of the trip for me was to join my new friend Mark Blanchat, a sponsor from Dallas, in observing a meeting of 5th and 6th grade boys with Kamukama leaders Peter Kazozi and Vincent Omeda. Peter and Vincent asked each of the boys to speak about what he dreamed of becoming. We heard hopes of becoming doctors, pilots, ministers, teachers and even one lawyer. Peter and Vincent then talked about the responsibilities that these young men will have to their families and to their dreams. They spoke about the importance of respecting women and not becoming fathers until they are prepared to support their family. And they urged determination not to quit. While there are an abundance of challenges and adverse events in Southwest Uganda, experience to date would indicate that most of these students will persevere.

We were impressed with the way most of these children were supported by their parents in the pursuit of education -an education these parents never had a chance to get. Most of these parents are farmers or work in service to tourists who come to see the endangered upland gorillas who live in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forrest. When Ebenezer School was built by Kamukama Foundation, many of the parents worked to level the site. Many parents attend registration of their kids and PTA meetings. At the PTA meeting we attended, many parents brought gifts of appreciation to the visiting sponsors and Foundation leadership. Much singing and dancing ensued with all of us participating. These were joyful occasions.

These parents work hard to support their families, and those who are farmers without land of their own are permitted and encouraged to farm on the land acquired by Kamukama Foundation (and conveyed to a community trust) as a part of its Project Harvest. During the recent pandemic Kamukama sponsored one of its leaders, Joshua Manzi, in studying agricultural techniques in Israel so that he could bring those techniques back to Buhoma and help farmers increase their yields and keep the land in good condtion for future use. It was inspiring to visit one of these sites, to meet and listen to some of the parents who are farming there, to listen to Mr. Manzi describe all that the parents have accomplished, and to see some of the produce from their work (mostly large and nutritious sweet potatoes).

It was great to spend time with the staff of Kamukama resident in Uganda (as well as to travel with Shaela McCarley who runs Kamukama’s day to day operations in the United States). We were impressed with the talented and committed staff that is led by Managing Director Ian Sendagala. Ian is a trusted leader who is admired and respected in the community around Buhoma and Bwindi. In addition to the other staff mentioned above, we enjoyed our visits with Robert Bwiire, who provides critical social service support to the Kamukama students and their families and also is instrumental in selecting the kids who will be invited to participate in sponsorship by Kamukama. We shared a wonderful afternoon with Robert, Ian and others in visiting the home of Given Ampumuza, one of the students we sponsor. Given’s parents have died, and he lives with a number of extended family members. Once we got inside his house and sat down, Robert translated welcomes from his family and helped us present and receive gifts. When we left the house, Given’s grandmother burst into song and more singing and dancing ensued. Given is proud of his school uniform and walks over two and a half miles a day each way to and from school in that uniform. Catherine and I are proud to be sponsors for Given.

Other highlights of our trip were:

  • Attending Sunday worship at Buhoma Church of Uganda-an Anglican Church unlike any Anglican Church I have ever been in. It was rocking with singing and dancing, with many of the Kamukama kids and their parents present. God was clearly present too.
  • Hiking to see the magnificent upland gorillas of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forrest. We were able to spend 30 minutes or so just quietly observing a family with a senior male (a “Silverback”), two or three mature females, and some younger gorillas and babies.
  • Seeing the medical clinic, hospital and nursing school founded by Dr Scott Kellermann and his wife Carol, watching one of Kamukama’s students demonstrate how to intubate a patient on a lifelike mannequin, and meeting Dr Kellermann. The Kellermanns moved to the Bwindi area decades ago to care for the Batwa people who had been displaced with the designation of their homeland as a national forest. They were the only healthcare for 200 miles and lived together in a tent for several years as they hung IV bags over trees to treat people with Malaria and children with malnutrition. They have since built a busy medical clinic, a 112 bed Bwindi Community Hospital, and a nursing school at which some of the Kamukama students are training. They mentioned all of the support they have had from the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas, various Rotary Clubs and many others. They are missionaries and they are heroes.
  • Visiting the art school run by Ahumuza “Joe” Justus and buying one of his paintings of a lion for our daughter Margaret.
  • Meeting Evelyn who operates a shelter for abused women in Buhoma and teaches them to make beautiful clothes and other cloth goods such as the beautiful shirt I found at her store.
  • Nightly gatherings and dinners with fellow travelers Sally Jo and Mark Blanchat, Ann Carter, Cynthia Collins, Mary Elizabeth Fleming, Elizabeth Howden, Jeanne and Lew Little, Shaela McCarley and Ellen Porter and getting to know them much better through the creative genius of Carol Burdette whose “ice breakers” were wonderful.
  • The wonderful staff at Gorilla Forest Camp who took great care of our group and understood the importance of the work being done by Kamukama -it’s a great partnership with fine people.

We returned from our Vision Trip confirmed in our support of the children served by Kamukama. There are millions of poor and endangered kids all over the world (perhaps billions) and all of us are called to act. But those in Buhoma Uganda are the ones Catherine and I can actually do something to help though our friends at Kamukama. We are grateful.