A Mother’s Love

Today, on Mother’s Day, we take time to honour our Mothers and reflect upon the joy they bring into our lives. Despite the joy and festivities that often surround Mother’s Day it can be also be a difficult time for many people. For the woman that has experienced fertility challenges or miscarriage, the one who is single but wishes to be married, the one whose children have caused pain or severed relationship altogether and many many others. Just as we celebrate with the Mothers whose children bring them joy, who daily work hard and sacrifice their own needs for those of their children, we stand beside those for whom today represents something more painful.

As I was thinking of the complexity that Mother’s Day represents, my mind wandered to the children at Eagles Wings Children’s Village. Many of whom don’t have a biological mother. The first time I met my sponsor child Ibra, I went to see him at his Grandmother’s house near the Eagles Wings property. Although Ibra is a family child, meaning he lives at the Eagles Wings property for much of the year, he was on school holiday staying with his Grandmother and other extended family for a short time. After introductions took place, he took my hand and told me he wanted to show me around. As he was showing me around his yard, he brought me to a mounded patch of dirt and told me this was his mother’s grave. My heart broke for the pain this young boy had endured. A couple weeks later, Ibra was back at Eagles Wings to start the new school year. I was able to spend a lot of time playing games with the children and getting to know them a little better. Ibra was very shy around me in those early days, and asked his friend Fred to come give me a message. Fred came up and told me he had a message from Ibra. He leaned over and whispered in my ear “Ibra wants to know that you are his Mom.” I looked over and saw Ibra smiling shyly at me and my heart swelled with love. For those next few weeks he would call me Mama Jaimee whenever he got the chance. Although he has since reverted back to the standard title of Auntie Jaimee, I often think of that tender-hearted gesture with fondness.

I’m not sure what kind of feelings Mother’s Day brings up for the children at Eagles Wings. But I do know this, we are called to love orphans and widows, to bring good news to the poor, to allow the Spirit of God in us to bind up the brokenhearted, and to trust that the Lord will make beauty from ashes. You and I can join together and love the people around us with a Mother or Father kind of love, walk beside them in their pain and represent Jesus and the hope that He brings.

The very first time I met Ibra

The very first time I met Ibra

A recent picture with Ibra. He is becoming such a fine young lad.

A recent picture with Ibra. He is becoming such a fine young lad.

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Distance that falls away

I just finished up a series of photography classes. At my last class my instructor asked us each to bring a few of our favourite images for critique. Three of the four photos I chose were of children I love at Eagles Wings. As the class was analyzing one of my photos, my teacher asked me what it was that I liked about this specific photo.  I replied that although I do love the sentiment the photo evokes, it wasn’t the picture itself that I loved, but rather the child in it. I went on to tell my classmates that I had snapped this photo the first time I met Wasswa, how he was just so full of mischief and how I was simply drawn to his radiating joy. In the moment I snapped that picture I didn’t know he had lost both his parents and was being raised by aging and unwell grandparents, or that he daily had to carry the heavy burden of hauling water from the community well that was no short distance away.  I continued on to tell these people I hardly knew that I came home and decided to become his sponsor and that on a subsequent visit Wasswa spotted me all the way across the school grounds and came running, barreling really with all cylinders fired, right out of his desk in the middle of class just so he could leap into my arms for a great big bear hug. All this I said, was why I loved this photo, even if it wasn’t photographically perfect. I looked up to eyes full of tears, and suddenly this picture was no longer about a histogram or white balance or saturation, it was about a little boy that lives oceans away.  My instructor’s reply was simply “Wow, that is real.” It is real. This picture to me, and now to them was not just another photo flashed across a TV screen meant to pull on heartstrings.  It was real life, a moment of joy and silliness I had witnessed, made real to them too. One of my classmates told us she wished she could transport herself right into the middle of the moment in the photo.  Right in the middle of all that wild and crazy piece of happy. One of my classmates also later came and told me she would never forget what I had just said. She would never forget the face of that child and the story he lives.

I always struggle with telling stories about my experiences overseas. To tell them with compassion without reducing the person who lives the story to just another poor African, because they are certainly so much more. To speak without rising up on a soapbox of judgment for witnessing ignorance of the way the world is, that we so often live with over here on this side of the world. And finally my own emotional ponderings and wrestlings sometimes keep me silent as well. I came home from certain parts of post-war Africa broken and unable to verbalize what I had seen.  Only now, a few years later, are the people in my inner circle starting to hear about some of that heartbreak. Out of the ashes, beauty will rise.  And yet these stories, some of them, they beg to be told. The unawareness, the inaction, I sometimes see is not I believe due to cold hearts, but rather due to the great distance between us and the rest of the world. Stories, real people, they make that distance fall away. You and I, each of us, have a responsibility to narrow that gap. For many of us, that means finding ways in the midst of our everyday ordinary to make what happens in the world, real both to ourselves and to others. To connect with one child, to feel the pain of another person’s sorrow. One thing, one person at a time.  Will you join me in praying that the children of Eagles Wings Children’s Village would grow up to be men and women of character? Because those kind of people are rare, and we hope our children will have the courage to choose a path of integrity. To choose to become honest and hardworking in a land where corruption and material success seem to have become synonymous. To quote the oft quoted poem, we pray that where two roads diverge, they will take the road less traveled, because that will make all the difference.

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I know this isn’t a new image to many of you, but it was the image I speak of in this post. It is, quite simply, one of my favourites.

Finding Jesus on the Red Dirt Road

The first thing I noticed about Wasswa was his happy eyes; the way he seemed to delight in every single thing around him. He captured my heart with his silly antics and the way he threw his head back in laughter. I saw Jesus in that room as he jumped with literal joy to catch a yellow beach ball with a smiley face on it. The first time I met Wasswa at six years of age, I didn’t know that both his parents had died from AIDS, or that he lived with his aging grandparents along with his twin sister and several other children. Nothing in his laughing eyes suggested this and nothing fractured my heart more than hearing it.

I came home and I knew I wanted to be part of his life, so I decided to become Wasswa’s sponsor. The next time I returned to Africa, I asked Jesus to show me Himself on those red dirt roads. I got out of the car when news started circulating among the schoolchildren that Aunt Jaimee had returned. When the news reached Wasswa’s ears he sprinted hasty wide strides with arms wide open out of that classroom right in the middle of a lesson and into my arms. And I knew God had answered my prayer and was right there in the middle of all that joy. I felt His presence and I went home with a happy heart, feeling like I was making a difference in the middle of all that I saw.

The year Wasswa turned 10, I once again set my feet upon those red dirt roads. I arrived at the school to find out that Wasswa had not been in attendance that term because his Grandfather was deathly ill. It was suggested that I visit his family at their home nearby. When we arrived, there he was, wearing tattered shorts and nothing else, and those previous feelings I had of making a difference had all but disappeared. And those happy eyes, they were gone, replaced by eyes that were full of sadness and looked like they had lived 100 years. He told me his grandfather was sick and would I please come see him? I walked into the house and was greeted by an ailing man on the floor, so weak that he struggled to hold his hand out to touch me. Without a translator, there was not much I could tell them, other than to offer hugs to the children and give them the gift of my time which seemed so very inadequate. I came home and I asked God if He was there inside the walls of that mud hut. Was His presence felt by Wasswa and his family in the midst of all that pain? On the road as Wasswa struggles to carry a heavy container of water almost as big as himself, is Jesus there beside him? Although I struggle with all the pain and suffering I see both in Africa and here at home, God tells me through His word that He is there right in the middle of all our pain, brokenhearted right with us. Something I must choose to believe even when God seems distant and far far away. And so I make the choice daily to believe that even in the things I don’t understand The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18 (NIV).

Jesus is there in the middle of that mud hut as Wasswa’s grandfather suffers, right beside and inside them. And He has called us to love those around us in the same way He loved when He was on earth. To remind people they have value; both to us and to our Father. I received a letter from Wasswa a while back; He told me he loved me because I gave him hope to know he is important in the world. And right there in the middle of his words, I know Jesus walks on those red dirt roads.

*In the days, since, a loving and kindhearted neighbour has taken Wasswa and his twin sister in to care for them. An act of generosity I am grateful for, knowing those two children are now have an able caregiver. They both attend school at Eagles Wings as day students.

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Journeying through life

The wind catches the hem of her skirt and swirls as she skips down the path. I look up and she gives me a shy smile and behind her guarded eyes I sense a quiet joy. As I observe her with her friends I feel the weight of her past and I wonder how someone so young deals with a history that is as heavy as hers. To wake up each day and to know that there was a time in your life when you were unwanted. To know that at one point in time no.one.cared. Perhaps, the heaviness of her yesterdays is defeated by the love of today. By the family she now has here at Eagles Wings, the sisters she loves, the chance to learn, and a future that is rife with possibility. Or maybe it’s not like that at all, maybe even in the middle of all her joy, her past is always present. I’m not sure because her battles in life are oh so different than mine. Each of us gets up each day and struggles against things that are perhaps very different from each other, but at the end of the day we all fight against this human condition. We can choose to join hands and walk through life together.

I sit and watch her play netball with the girls she walks through life with every single day. I hear giggles that ring through the air as they run and pass and shoot the ball with smiles that light up their faces. And I praise God for the small but mighty ways that He redeems the childhood some of them didn’t have. Even among all this joy I know that each one of these girls I love has to get up each day and make choices to stay on the straight and narrow. Life isn’t easy for any of us. But it is these moments full of games and joy and laughter that I, and hopefully they will choose to hold tight. To remember the rolling laughter and squeals of joy when things get hard and to be reminded that God is with them then just as He is right now.

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Water is Life

Most of us that live in the Western world give little thought to turning on our kitchen tap. Most of us, myself included sometimes, forget that running water is a privilege and not a right. A privilege that much of the world does not have. Imagine what it would be like to send your 5 year old child out the door with a heavy jerry can to fetch water.  He walks for several hours barefoot carrying the heavy can of water back from the nearest water source.  He arrives back with a commodity that is precious, precious because it will keep him, it will keep you alive.  But it will also make him sick because it is laden with bacteria and viruses, but you and he have no other option.

I have looked into the eyes of a mother like her. We didn’t want that to be the reality for the children at Eagles Wings, because it is reality for many families in sub-Saharan Africa. And I am so happy to say that we, all of us involved in this organization were blessed to be able to have a new well drilled; made possible by some generous donors in North America.  I was blessed because I was able to be in Uganda while all that was going on. Is there any greater dream come true for a water and sanitation engineer than to be right there in the front row to watch the construction of the well that will provide life giving water to the children she loves?  For me, it was like heaven on earth.  We were grateful to the wonderful organization Living Water International for the high quality and honest work they provided.  There is no greater blessing.  Thank you to everyone who had a part in this.  You were part of something bigger than you know.

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The drill crew from Living Water International arrives at Eagles Wings Children’s Village

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Well drilling is muddy business

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They hit water!

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The well drilling crew from Living Water International. An upstanding group of men.

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Assessing the soil conditions.

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The crew adds a drilling rod

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Installation of the well pump.

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The children enjoy water from the new well!

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Is there any greater gift than water?

A time for everything

Sometimes I’m reminded that small things are big things. How doing something that takes 5 minutes can answer 7 years of prayer.  Who knew that God could use something so very ordinary to show a child that He does indeed love them.

Sometime around 2007 there was a little girl that came to live at Eagles Wings.  I didn’t know her then, but I know her now and she is lovely. I imagine what it must have been like back then for her to come to this new place and become part of a family. In my head I like to think it was some kind of fairy tale story of her being rescued and brought somewhere safe where she didn’t have to worry about where her next meal was coming from.  But maybe it wasn’t like that at all. Maybe the transition from what was once familiar into all that newness was scary and disconcerting, I’m not sure.  When she arrived, this young child was assigned a sponsor. Someone had chosen her. And she began to pray. Seven long years ago she started to pray that she would one day receive a letter. For seven long years she watched her friends receiving letters from their sponsors, but for her, one never came. I’m sure she knew that her sponsor loved her, they had been faithfully supporting her for this many years, but she wanted to be told, she wanted to see it in writing that she was, in fact, loved. This girl loves her sponsor, but she thought perhaps, her sponsor was not the letter writing type, so she changed her request to God. She asked Him that she may receive a letter from anyone, specifics didn’t matter.

Fast forward to a few months ago. I was at Eagles Wings Children’s Village when this blossoming young lady wrote me a lovely letter.  Too shy to give it to me herself, she handed it to one of her friends to deliver. I was touched by what she told me and before I left I wrote her a card. I reminded her not to forget that she was beautiful both to God and to me and I thanked her for the thoughtful words she had written me a few days prior. It took me 5 minutes to write that card. Little did I know that in those 5 minutes, God was using me to answer 7 years worth of little girl prayers. I came home and forgot that I had even written that card, until I received a letter in return. A letter telling me that she had prayed and God had answered. She told me that she was going to keep and treasure that card I gave her because it was a special thing in her life. It was a physical reminder that God had heard her prayers. She tells me that the joy you give to others is the joy that comes back to you.  And I hope the joy that she gives me makes its way across the ocean and back to her. Because not once did she mention that it took 7 years. 2557 nights she prayed that God would send her a letter and finally He did, but the time it took didn’t seem to matter.  She just praises her Father for the good gifts He gives, in the time that He gives it. May I, may you, remember to do the same.

Release from a silent world

To be honest I didn’t notice at first that Catherine and Fahad lived in a silent world. The first thing I saw when I looked at them was the way they were best friends, almost inseparable in ways that only happen during childhood. That and the way they loved to dance unencumbered and full of life. And then, when someone told me they were deaf, I began to notice the beautiful way they communicated between themselves and others with sign language. Eagles Wings Children’s Village has given these two the opportunity to attend a special school for deaf children; unlocking a way to speak with their hands thus breaking their silence in a world that hears. 

I sat and watched Fahad pump his legs hard to see how high he could fly on the swing, throwing his head back in laughter, his eyes spilling with joy. I saw the joy of the Lord right there inside him and I knew he had been given a gift. In a country where people who have a disability are often cast out, he has been given a chance, a life far different than one he might have known, and I rejoice at the ways he delights in life and the ways I’m sure his Heavenly Father delights in him.

Fahad’s friend Catherine is just as precious. Delicate and graceful she reminds me of something to be treasured. There are people in her life who believe she has value, despite what the majority of her culture may believe. I see she is loved by the Grandmother who brings her back from school holiday to start back into class, I see it in the children she plays with after church, the way she holds hands and dances no different from the rest. And in the deep and cherished friendship she holds with Fahad. For two that live in a silent world, they speak loud the language of love and joy.

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
 Then will the lame leap like a deer,
    and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
    and streams in the desert.

Isaiah 35:5-6

 

Fahad flies high on his swing

Fahad flies high on his swing

Catherine finds joy in dancing.

Catherine finds joy in dancing.

A beautiful life

One night after long hours bent over a desk of University assignments I saw her picture there on my screen. In a bright yellow dress that reminded me of sunshine she stood there on a red dirt road. Her eyes looked deep and soulful and somehow I felt a connection with her. I knew that in spite of my tight student budget, she was supposed to be mine, and in that moment I decided to become her sponsor.

I printed her picture and put it up on my desk where I could see her during my long hours of study. I had never met this child, but somehow on the days I wasn’t sure I was smart enough or good enough or just plain enough to make it all the way to the graduation stage, Bushira’s picture was there somehow encouraging me to continue on.

Writing Bushira letters in those days provided me an escape from academics and an outlet to write about the simple joy in life. She would write me back and I was drawn to what seemed to be a very sweet personality. One time she asked me what I was studying.  Funny she should ask, because right when I was in the middle of wrestling through what I would do with my life I told God that I would do anything but become an engineer, anything but that.  And when I decided to say yes to the thing I said I never would, only God knew I would use those things I learned to one day size pipes and pumps for orphan homes in distant corners of the earth, even the one that Bushira herself lives in, and I thank Him for knowing me better than I know myself. 

One of my childhood friends had the opportunity to travel to Eagles Wings and brought me back pictures and stories of Bushira.  The picture of her in her bright yellow dress was replaced with a sweet portrait of her shy smile and eyes full of joy. And it was then that I knew I needed to meet her.

The opportunity to do so wouldn’t come until a few years later, in 2011 when I travelled to Uganda for the first time to both visit Eagles Wings and be part of an engineering team that would help them develop a master site plan, a vision for the future.  I went to visit Bushira at her Aunt’s house, who had been her legal guardian before she came to live at Eagles Wings. When I entered the room she looked at the floor, too shy to meet my eyes, but then she somehow found the courage to come up and give me a hug. After introductions, she took my hand and said simply “Come.”  She led me down a path to show me the graves of her mother and father and in that moment I felt the weight of what she lost in her childhood.

Over the years I have watched Bushira grow up through both the letters she writes and the visits I have made. She tells me life is beautiful and I marvel at how she has found a way with words. When I saw her in February, she somehow heard that I was traipsing through the bush and came over to find me. This, the same girl who was too shy to meet my gaze just a few short years ago, right before my eyes she is becoming.  She tells me she’s my daughter and it creates in me a mother’s love. I look back at that very first picture I have of her, little did I know that red dirt she stands on would one day seep into all my broken places and stay there forever. And I thank God for Bushira and every single one of the other children there at Eagles Wings and I pray for them as they discover who they are and enter into adolescence. May God grant in them wisdom and a desire to become more like Him. 

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The very first picture I saw of Bushira

One of the first pictures Bushira drew for me

One of the first pictures Bushira drew for me

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A recent letter I received from Bushira

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She is becoming a beautiful young lady

Let’s Join Together

Did you know that 2.5 billion people around the world don’t have access to a clean and safe toilet?  The 300 children at the primary school at Eagles Wings Children’s Village have been left without a functional toilet and we need funds to build a new one.

Will you help us?  If each of our Facebook followers donated $15 we could have this toilet funded.  Most of us aren’t rich, but this here is something we can do. Would you join me in doing something crazy this next week. . . you choose. . . give up Starbucks, ride your bike to work, give up something small to create something big for these children.  Leave us a comment and let us know what you did and how you did it.  We want to celebrate with you.  We’ll post pictures right here when the latrine is constructed so you can see what all your hard work accomplished.  Join with us and become a part of these children’s story.

Donate here and designate your funds to “Latrine”in the Add Special Instructions to EWCV.

“Sanitation is more important than independence.”  -Mahatma Gandhi, 1925

 

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Blessed Are The Pure in Heart

Defining Moments.  You know those times when you look back and realize the moment that everything changed, even if maybe you didn’t realize it at the time.  I think for me, this story I’m about to tell is one of those moments when I realized Uganda would never leave me.  It doesn’t seem to matter whether I’m walking across a frozen and barren lake in the middle of Canadian winter, or flagging down an auto rickshaw in the heat and craziness of Delhi; Uganda is always there, just beneath the surface, part of who I’ve become.

The first time I traveled to Eagles Wings, I arrived with a team of engineers and architects. One of my teammates was sponsoring a child, Quarish, and was looking forward to meeting him. One day while working on the property we came out of the bush sweaty and tired from hauling heavy survey equipment from one end of the property to the other, when Edith, the student sponsorship coordinator asked my friend if he’d like to visit Quarish over lunch and I was invited to come along. It had been one week since he’d left the busy streets of Los Angeles and four since I’d left the snow packed prairies, and we were both rookies to African culture. Neither anticipated how the coming events would change our perception of what it meant to give out of sacrifice.

Quarish lives not too far from the Eagles Wings property. We pulled up to his house and were introduced to his mother who was also caring for 5 additional children. The two youngest came over and sat in my lap, running their hands along my strange white skin. Edith explained that these two precious girls sitting in my lap were HIV positive, and that’s when my heart started to crack. Quarish gave us a tour of the land, proudly showing us his room, excited that he had the opportunity to show his home to his sponsor; an opportunity that not many sponsored children around the world get to realize. After visiting and having a tour, we prepared to head back to the property and back to work. Quarish’s Mom turned to us with sadness in her eyes and said she had nothing to give us. We insisted it was ok and thanked her for welcoming us into her home, when one of the younger children ran up with 3 eggs and said “here we have this to give him.”  She proceeded to take the eggs and place them in my friend’s hands, giving him literally all she had to give.

The next morning, our hosts baked up an omelette with those eggs and brought them over for my friend to eat. He looked up with guilt and tears in his eyes and whispered “I can’t.”  How do you sit down and eat what you know was someone’s last meal? How do you then come home and live out generosity that costs something? Every time I enter my kitchen to bake, I pull out the eggs and remember the way I saw that Mother demonstrate that it is more blessed to give than receive, to give until it hurts and then keep on giving.

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