Friday, July 24, 2009

Village of Hope Kids!

There are so many things to write about in regards to my Africa trip! If I wrote it all at once, it would fill a book, and you would be overwhelmed and stop reading half way through. So I figured I would blog in bite-sized portions (which still might be a lot, but hang with me, people).

I thought it appropriate to start by talking about Village of Hope (VOH), since that is the organization I went with. The VOH safe house was started by Cindy Cunningham, who lives in Dallas, along with Rose (the house mom at the orphanage) who lives in Gulu. I won’t go in to Cindy’s story of how God called her to Gulu, but you can read it here on her Blog. (start at the bottom of the page and read up!) Cindy started VOH for orphans who were once abducted by the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army), which you can read more about the LRA here if you aren’t familiar. All the children at the VOH safe house were once former child soldiers, sex slaves, and made to commit horrible acts which we could never fathom. Rose has taken in what most would call the “worst of the worst”. Children who are most at-risk because of what they have been through, or what they will go through if they are not rescued. Children with no parents, who have been forced to take care of themselves and their siblings by any means necessary. There are 19 children in the safe house now and they are building on 100 acres to make room for hundreds more children - but that’s for another post.

Cindy with the kids

This is my compilation of multiple things that happened with the children at VOH within a 2 week period, but I’m trying to make it into one short story to keep it simple (and obviously, shorter).

So, I have to admit, that when I first pulled up to the safe house, I didn’t know what to expect. You find this cute, little house with bars on the windows, and high walls with glass pieces stuck to the top of the walls to “keep out intruders.” It’s nestled in the middle of a refugee camp, surrounded by mud huts, chickens running amuck, and half-dressed little children everywhere. Our van pulls up to the large metal doors, which also acts as a gate for cars that pull in. Suddenly, a sea of smiling faces bounce out of the gate and greet us as we exit the vehicle. Before I can say hello or ask their name, I am wrapped in their hugs and warm welcome – being swept through the gates of Village of Hope by 19 kids who are about to steal my heart. Our day with them consists of playing futbol (soccer) with the boys along the side of the house on a small stretch of cement (but they don’t notice or care); the girls help cook, read books or color, and play a jump-rope game with some string they tied together. Over the course of the day, they dance and sing, but there is none like the singing that happens at night. At first the songs are playful, with a few hand motions here and there... “a big, big table , with lots and lots of food” is a popular line! Some of the songs are in Acholi (their native language), but several of them are in English as well and we all sing along. After about 20 minutes of singing and dancing, their voices turn to worship. This is what gets you the most. The sound and feeling in the air as their sweet voices rise to heaven. Then, one by one, they slowly drop to their knees and the feeling of God’s presence overtakes the room. I sit on the couch and watch, almost ashamed that I too am not joining them in worship. I don’t know the words to the song, and I don’t speak Acholi, but I know through their actions that they are deeply in touch with God, their Redeemer, Protector and Provider. Tears stream down my face as I watch this beautiful sight. One child, Norman, is on his knees, pounding his chest in prayer to God as tears are running down his cheeks. Most of the kids are wiping tears from their eyes as they sing and you can’t help but wonder “what are they saying?!” Norman is asked to say a prayer and while I can barely hear the translation from Rose, I do catch a few things that make me realize that this 12 year old boy is spiritually more mature than many men I know! His heart-felt prayer lasts about 2 minutes and consists of him asking God to protect us and to send His Holy Spirit to guide us... the prayer continues as the mzungus (“white people” in Acholi) wipe our own tears at the beautiful scene in front of us.
(Left pic: The kids singing) (Righ pic: Norman Worshipping )

Later on in the day, the children all gather around to play Bingo. They love this game, especially because we play with M&Ms, and those are their favorite! After several games of Bingo, and more soccer, it is time for the children to go to bed. There’s no official bed-time routine of “change into your pajamas and brush your teeth.” They just simply go to their rooms and hop in their bunk bed. Of course, that isn’t before they lock all the doors in the house – including all the inside doors – living room to kitchen, hall to living room, and then each respective bedroom door. The guard dog is also let out, to roam the perimeter of the house during the late hours. This is how they live - every night. This is the system they have implemented to “protect” themselves. So, I tuck myself into a top bunk (a 3 level bunk bed), and fall asleep. Half way through the night I wake up and hear the sound of 9 precious girls sleeping –I hear deep breaths, some tossing and turning, and a couple of girls are snoring. What a beautiful melody – I wish I had had a tape recorder!

(Left pic: Playing futbol/soccer) (Right pic: Me leaving Norbert on our last day (and a note he wrote for me))

I wake up to the sound of children cleaning the floors, washing dishes, and playing soccer outside the window. The children here aren’t told what to do. They just see a need and meet it. If they are told what to do, I never see them complain. Walking out into the hall, I bump into Irene who diligently wipes down the hall floors. Clinton is smiling and swaying to a song in his head as he washes the dishes. Stella is outside helping prepare breakfast for 23 people, and as I turn the corner, I see Peter washing clothes in a bucket of water and soap. Gloria is throwing the clothes over the line to dry and Norbert is pushing a wheel barrel of water out of the gate to dump into a cornfield across the road. All this occurs with smiles on their faces and not a single moan. I even offered to help Moses with the dishes one day, and I think I got in the way more than I helped. So, this all made me realize something – that I’m taking my children to Africa if they ever complain about house chores!

(Left pic: Peter washing clothes) (Right pic: Clinton washing dishes )

This was definitely a shortened version of all that happened with the kids at Village of Hope, and there will be more stories in more posts... this is just the first, so please be patient as I try to sort through my thoughts and get it all into a post.

Me with most of the kids!