“Time is not on our side!” That is a common phrase here in Uganda. Everything runs a little slow, and rarely, if ever, starts at the proper time, and so it seems we are always finding each and every day that time is not on our side. And as I write this blog at 1:15 am it appears as if this phrase is ringing true once again. The days spent here in Uganda tend to hold an abundance of time in some ways, and yet there never seems to be quite enough.
I just dropped off our Northern Uganda Girl Empowerment Team that I have served beside for the past nine days, and in one fail swoop also picked up the Central Uganda Girl Empowerment Team that I will have the honor of serving beside for the week ahead. And during this transition it is easy to look back with pride that all was accomplished, and also look ahead to all of the promise that the week holds.
As the Executive Director for Fields of Dreams Uganda, it is very easy for me to be over critical of our work here in Uganda. There is always room for growth and improvement, and I am always trying to mend --and dream -- for continuing program changes. But right now I must be honest; I am filled with pride. I am filled with pride at how far our organization has come in the past four and a half years.
If I take into account the changes that I am seeing at our partner schools, they can sometimes fight my sense of joy, for change takes time, and in a country with a history like Uganda, true change will not come easily. And yet, if I look a bit closer at the individual lives of the students we are attempting to impart hope, I am encouraged. When I see girls that could not look me in the eyes a year ago, but are now giving speeches with confidence, I am proud. When I see our youth council dreaming for a better tomorrow, and challenging one another to be focused on integrity, I am proud. When I watched 1,000 girls in Gulu line up to receive hygiene kits that will give them dignity, I am proud. When I see my friends fall in love with this country and the people of Uganda, I am proud.
This organization was built on a dream that the children of Uganda could not just dream about their futures, but one day achieve them. Many hands have touched, fed, and danced with that dream, and I am proud to tell you that it is coming true. All across our partner schools, things are far from perfect. Programs need to be improved upon, community relationships need to grow, but at the heart of our work, we are seeing a change in the children. We are seeing a confidence growing, and a hunger for true change.
And yet, I am here to tell you that time is not on our side. Sixty-eight percent of the children in government run primary schools in Uganda are dropping out before they finish P7. Child marriages are still a common practice in the communities where we serve. Sexual abuse is rampant and often excepted as normal by the girls we serve and the young men we are challenging to change. For all of the good that is being done, a war is waging. It is a war that is fed by poverty, disease, corruption, and often an outdated way of thinking.
It can often be frustrating. After all, our work is just a small drop in the bucket in the face of the overwhelming needs facing Uganda. But I choose to focus on the smallest of drops that are pouring from our work. Every time one of our education advocates shows up at a partner school, it is a drop in a student's bucket. Every time a coach teaches their players about character and respect -- another drop. Every time one of our social workers listens to the story of a struggling child - another drop. And every time a team of volunteers leaves their homes and travels to the other side of the world to tell a child that their future is important, and that their life has purpose, more water is placed in their buckets.
I have seen hope come alive this past week all across Northern Uganda. I have seen girls cheer and scream with excitement as their most basic needs of menstruation are met. I have seen children dancing their hearts out, while taking a tender moment to wipe the sweat off of a fellow dancer, and I have been moved to the understanding that although time is not on our side, we shall keep in the fight.
I love this work, I am beyond of proud of what we all have been able to accomplish together, but we cannot become complacent. I need your help in this battle against time. Each day more children are broken by poverty and give up on their dreams. Our theme for 2017 here in Uganda is, “The world needs me!” We are challenging these brave children to believe that world needs their gifts, their talents, their passions, and their purpose. And today I challenge you in the same way. The world needs you as well, and perhaps you are the very person that can place a drop in the bucket here in Uganda through your financial contributions, your service, and yes, even your time. Time is not on our side, but may we live in such a way that whatever time we may have left on this earth, that we would choose to leave a legacy of hope for the children in our midst.