As many of you may have seen from my social media posts, Nick and I returned home last week from the adventure of a lifetime working with Sole Hope in Uganda, Africa. Many have asked when I am going to share pictures and stories. This will be the first post of many from our trip, we have hundreds of photos to go through! We will also be putting together a video in the next couple of months that will showcase Sole Hope and our experience. Africa was one of those places I always thought would be neat to visit, but would never want to return. As I sit here still a bit lagged, I can happily say I would jump the next flight back if I could. I know most people won’t take a trip to Africa in their lifetime, but it is beautiful and is filled with beautiful people. Life is slower there, it was amazing to be shut off from the world for a couple weeks. We spent our evenings at the dinner table telling stories, laughing with friends, and learning new languages. My perspective on life has also changed; there are no “first world problems”. Our issues and stresses pale in comparison to what these people face everyday. The first couple of days in Africa were an adjustment, I have never even been camping. To say that I have led a pretty comfortable life is an understatement. Learning to use “squatting toilets” (ask me about this, I have a funny story), taking cold showers, adjusting to no air conditioning, brushing our teeth with bottled water, and watching large lizards crawl around our room at night were all things that made me uncomfortable at first. The thing is, living in a first world country we don’t understand uncomfortable.
Like most of you, I have seen poverty locally and in the US. What I saw in Africa was different than poverty, it was much worse, I now know the difference. If you have been following me on Facebook or Instagram while I was away it may have looked like all smiles and happy times. It wasn’t, I can’t tell you how much my heart hurt everyday watching adults and children struggle to survive and provide the most basic necessities we take for granted. In the midst of that pain, I have never met such grateful, kind, and giving people. Even if they have nothing they try to give back in anyway they can. I have learned so much from this culture and I am completely humbled by their generosity and respect.
The day that the harsh reality hit me was at our first clinic in a local village school. This school had around 500 kids and only a few teachers. Most children don’t learn to read or write by the time they leave school as some classes have 150 students to 1 teacher. I watched hundreds of kids line up in hopes to end their pain and receive a pair of shoes. This would be the first pair of shoes most have ever had. They are excited, but also very nervous. Sole Hope comes in to clean their feet, remove jiggers, and give children shoes to prevent further infestation.
I have had alot of people ask what a jigger is and what it does to a human body. I have described it like a chigger or a flea, but it does not come out of the body on its own. The jigger lays eggs that multiply and cause infections and other illnesses. A jigger is severely painful as it kills tissue and causes swelling. They are very common in the feet since they live in the ground, however, many children also have jiggers in their hands which are a much more sensitive area. I saw several cases where the jigger entered the finger tip and laid eggs under the finger nail. In this situation much of the tissue has to be cut away to remove all the eggs. Most of the time, children have dozens in their bodies some have hundreds. It is painful to have them removed, but once they are gone, the kids start to feel better quickly. We photographed and filmed dozens of staff and volunteers sit in the hot sun and remove jiggers for hours. There were many times I had to walk away and re-group as the sobbing and tears from the children in pain broke my heart. Pain medication doesn’t exist in third world countries.The other reality was when the school took a break for lunch. Instead of going home for lunch a couple hundred children huddled around our clinic. It was in that instant I realized that these children had no food to eat for lunch. Most of them probably didn’t have breakfast.
I mostly share happy images on my blog, but I wanted to show you what we experienced in Uganda and the reality of what some deal with everyday.We should be thankful of all our blessings, even the little ones like shoes on our feet and clothing on our backs. Most of us couldn’t bear the pain of walking if we had jiggers. These children walk to school everyday and still find the joy to run and play with friends despite their pain. The happy ending comes when all removal is finished and the child can finally heal. I am happy to be home, but it is bittersweet, as all I can think about are friends I met through Sole Hope and the people I left behind in Uganda. It’s true, this country and its people have stolen a piece of my heart. Know that I am thinking and praying for you all. I look forward to the day I can put my feet back in the red dirt and hug everyone. XOXOXO
Hunter, our youngest advocate, washing feet before removal. He is one awesome kid!
So happy I met and became friends with Jess and Mikey; they are incredible people!
This little guy had almost 100 jiggers in his body. They worked on him for almost 4 hours.
After removal it is all smiles! She loved her new shoes!