I’m typing this blog from my camping hammock that I’ve managed to suspend to a alley gate and hotel window here on the streets of Gulu. It’s around 5pm here and many students are walking home from school. The typical response I get from most kids is a stare, point, laugh, and the word “mzungo“, which describes a person of foreign descent in Africa. I can’t speak any of the tribal languages here, but I’m sure they are saying, ”Look at that crazy white guy hanging in the sack”. But that wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been called a crazy mzungo on this trip. And most of that is from our team. Kidding. Sort of.
Today was our final distribution day and we wrapped up out work by heading to a local village and providing 100 more beds, nets, and bibles. As we drove to the village, our driver, Jackson, remarked that the army barracks we were passing were built by former brutal Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. It was another reminder of the horrific past that griped this region for so many years. It is also a testament to how amazing the human spirit is in this part of the world and how they have not let their past dictate their future. We were met again when we arrived by smiling faces and enthusiastic singing. The people of Gulu have not let their circumstances dictate their joy. It has been humbling to say the least.
With that being said, we knew we were going to a place today after distribution where joy may not have been as evident. We have received a good amount of press in Gulu over the last week about our work in the villages. Because of this, the local Gulu hospital reached out to us and asked if we could provide nets for the beds in their children’s ward, many of which are afflicted with HIV and struggling to fight of malaria attacks like the children in the villages. After hearing about this request and seeing the recent outpouring of support from folks we have received over the last weeks from people in America, we committed to provided 50 malaria nets for the hospital and asked if we could come and make sure they were distributed. The experience was once again unlike any other we could imagine in the United States. Most of us imagine a hospital as a place that is clean, sterile, and where people are being healed. However, the hospital in Gulu and all over Africa, are much different. We arrived to find babies with HIV and malaria sitting on the floor, dehydrated, hungry, and in conditions that most of us would find deplorable. However, in Gulu, this is the only place they have to go for help. We kept remarking that they needed new beds, and new floors, and new oxygen tanks, and on and on. After awhile, we said they just needed a new hospital. The needs were too numerous to mention. Despite the overwhelming need, we knew that we could help in one way today and that was to provide nets for children in the hospital to keep them safe at night when they are sleeping. It is almost incomprehensible to think that a hospital would not have these already, but the situation is just so dire that it is all they can do to buy medicines for these children. It was an emotionally exhausting experience for everyone on our team, but one that helped to paint the picture even more about what those in Gulu facing.
Leaving the hospital, I was reminded just how much different this project has been than any of us expected when we left last Friday. I know even for me, a Sweet Sleep employee, this journey has shown me that the work we are doing is much, much bigger than providing beds. God has called us to a special project in this region to help His children in a way that they have not been helped before. What we are providing now is hope to a region that has been marked by hopelessness. Even today, as we were leaving, there were children lined up to receive new beds. HIV positive children that our partner, Health Alert, would have never known about if not for these beds and nets. Children that will be registered and hopefully helped with life saving antibiotics. Children that God not only asks us to care for, but commands us to do so. Thank you for what you have done for these children and will do in the future. There is more work to be done and we can’t wait for you to join us on the next trip. (subtle hint)