April 26, 2021

What is it like to live where HEED serves?

What is Life Like in Kyakitanga?

HEED serves five villages in Kassanda District with about 6,200 people in a 15 square mile area. Our recent community survey helped us quantify the current status on key international indexes so that we can measure the progress we make impacting the community through our 5 Pathways to Transformation.
The average household has 7 people; 
83% of the households have children aged 6-12

47% of the houses are made from 
unburnt bricks, mud, and poles
80% of the people make less than $1000
 in a year; 29% make less than $250 in a year
89% of the people gather their water 
from open ponds often shared by animals  
44% of the people went at least one full day 
without food to eat in the last year 

42% of female heads of households
 cannot read or write 

Over 70% have had malaria or 
waterborne disease in the last month
Yes, God has called us to "the hard place." AND our five-year Strategic Plan has specific programs and goals designed to target each of the issues above. Join on us the journey of impacting these lives!

A "school" before HEED
HEED’s Impact in Kyakitanga

For the children who attend our schools, life has dramatically improved since HEED began. We rejoice that our recent survey documented that 87% of children aged 6-12 are now in school! That figure was near zero when we started our primary school in 2007. The photo at left shows one of the pitiful "schools" we discovered operating when visiting in 2006.

We also now have adequate water for the schools, a school nurse, and proper sanitary facilities to keep children healthy. A school chaplain tends their souls and vocational programs are equipping students with practical skills. As the table below shows, we have successful programs in place for each pathway for the children in our schools. We thank everyone who has equipped us to reach this significant milestone!
Now that the basic needs are met for the children at school, we are beginning to reach out to the community with programs to impact the biggest needs.

The chart below gives you a snapshot of ongoing HEED initiatives for the school children and the community.


Strategic Plan Project

By Haley Millet, MPH and Director, HEED Uganda

Program Manger, Julius, sharing about the growing local ownership 

of the projects at the strategic planning staff retreat.

Last year, HEED began a partnership with Cross International, who has mentored HEED and granted funds to roll out our 5-year strategic plan and creation of a monitoring, learning, and evaluation system (called MLE). These tools will help us to clearly communicate about our vision and mission, identify measurable objectives, and establish rhythms for gathering information that will help us make better decisions and demonstrate impact. 

Through strategic planning and effective MLE the US board, the Ugandan board, Village Advisory Committee and Uganda staff can all work together to accomplish our mission: to see that children and their families thrive and experience fullness of life for generations. Our approach focuses on creating impact at two different levels: the Ebenezer Schools Level, and the larger Community Level which includes Kyakitanga and four adjacent villages.

We pursue impact through our “five pathways to transformation”: Education, Income Generation, Water/Hygiene/Sanitation (known as WASH), Spiritual Growth, and Health Services. Our 5-year strategic plan details goals in each of the pathways.

Our monitoring, learning and evaluation system will tell us if we are hitting our targets by collecting  meaningful, pragmatic data about progress towards objectives that will better inform decision making, resource allocation, and communicating about the changes that occur in Kyakitanga as a result of HEED activities. Check out “What is it like to live where HEED serves?" to see results of our baseline survey. 

Kelly Miller and Zach Oles of Cross International visited HEED in Oct 2019

Faith-Inspiring Saving Circles Program Update

By Julie Secrist

There is nothing more encouraging than witnessing something that only God could do.

This story begins in 2015-16 when we introduced saving circles, one of the most effective tools for addressing poverty, through an organization with a track record of success with churches in Kampala. The launch went well, but due to our remote location, it was difficult to get the trainers to return to do follow up training. To our disappointment, after about a year, the circles fizzled out. 

Fast forward to summer of 2019 when we were searching for a new program manager. We wanted someone with significant non-profit management experience and cast a wide net. I made a connection to a woman through LinkedIn who was perfect, until we learned of her current salary which was several times what we could afford to pay... Nevertheless, Harriet and I developed a friendship on-line that continued. On my next trip, in October 2019, we arranged to meet face-to-face and attend church together. It was special to worship in person with my new friend.

The church was having a ceremony for students graduating from their skills training program, and for some reason I felt nudged to whisper to her, “We tried saving circles in the village, but they failed because of lack of follow up. It still bothers me.” I felt a little silly saying it because it didn’t really relate to the current ceremony.

Harriet turned to me with a look of surprise, and whispered back, “Did you know that I was the program manager for Care International for the first saving circles that were brought to Uganda? I led the whole launch and creation of the curriculum. I could help you.”

It took me a minute to process what she had just said. After talking further later, I realized that God had “randomly” connected me to one of the premier trainers in microfinance and community led savings associations AND she offered to help us.

Fast forward to 2021, and in May, Harriet will deliver on that offer. She and a team will spend four days in the village with us leading a Train the Trainers Program to launch the saving circles. Ninety people have already signed up-including many of the poorest families who will be helped to save by working on the HEED farm. Harriet and her team will return consistently to provide additional training to ensure that the groups thrive.

Only God could connect all of those dots, and I stand amazed and encouraged at the way God always provides what we need.

Julie Secrist, Harriet Aloyo, Barbara Snow in October 2019

They are BACK!

"It’s joy and happiness all over our schools because our learners in P7, P6, S.3 and S.4 are back! The teachers, the parents as well as the learners are very happy,” says Robinah, Head Teacher at the Primary School.

Head Teacher, Robinah, with Primary 6 students

Uganda began a phased reopening of schools starting last October and by August, all classes will be opened since their closure in March of 2020. We are thrilled to be able to again provide two meals per day, health care, vocational learning, and education all in a holistic, Christ-centered atmosphere to over 500 children.

“When I was at home during the lockdown, I felt hopeless because I could not study. I feel comfortable when lam at school. Am so excited that am back to my beautiful school with lovely teachers. Right now, am studying hard to see that I join primary seven,” says Kayesu Flavia (far left) who is in Primary six class.

January 24, 2021

Oh no! No school!

This post is part of the Julie's Journal series. 

Julie made her first trip to Uganda in 2005 to help set up the John T. Miller School in the suburbs of Kampala. She thought she was there to help set up a classroom and register kids into the new school, but there had been 17 orphaned children from Kyakitanga Village 3 hours away who were living in the offices of the school. They captured her heart and brought her back in 2006. Developing a plan for the care of those children was the main objective of this trip. However, a side trip was needed in order to pay the school fees for 33 more orphans from their village. A garage sale had surprisingly raised the exact amount calculated to pay school fees for them at the government school in Kyakitanga.

We pulled up to an open-air yellow-plastered building rimmed with reddish mud. The floor was bare dirt. A car wheel hung from a tree. “That’s the school bell,” said Tom.

I was back in Kyakitanga Village, hot and sticky from the three-hour journey from the Lweeza Conference Center outside Kampala where our little team was staying. Six of us made the trek out to the village that day. Tom, the new “orphan project” coordinator at the John T. Miller School, two Ugandan pastors from the school, and three Americans: Marie who was our connection to the school, a retired teacher named Laurena, and me.

“I’m confused. It looks abandoned.” I said, scanning the barren structure. Short of a blackboard on one wall and a few battered desks, there was nothing here that would imply this was a school. “There are no kids. No teachers. No books. Are you sure this is the government school, Tom?”

“Yes, this is where we were directed.” Tom assured me.

A curious neighbor strolled over to us wearing the traditional floral print gomesii- a long dress tied at the waist with a wide belt with pointed, puffy sleeves. I noticed her weathered hands and feet from years of toiling in the garden. She kneeled before Tom and said, “ Oli otya, Ssebo…” She rose back up, then she and Tom conversed for a few minutes.

He walked back to us and explained, “She says the government hasn’t paid the teachers in over six months, so they have quit coming to work. The kids have given up coming, too.”

“Is there another government school around?” I asked bewildered.

“No, Mama Julie. Unfortunately, not, but she said there are two local educational initiatives. She has given me directions to them.” Tom had tried to sound encouraging.

I was thinking: I have $1,980 in my purse from Heidi’s garage sale that raised the exact amount we calculated it would cost to send 33 orphans from this village to a government school for a year. Paying fees at the government school was the whole point of coming out here. How could it not even be operating? That possibility had never even crossed my mind.

We returned to the vehicle, then drove a twisting and turning 15 minutes down narrow dirt paths pulling up in front of a tiny brick structure with one opening for a window and an opening for a door. When we entered, it was so dark I could barely see. After my eyes adjusted, we saw about 25 children kneeling on the dirt floor in front of benches and a chalkboard leaning in the corner. A young woman with a badly deformed foot wrote English words on a chalkboard for the students to copy. She limped over to greet us. Her foot was literally upside down. She walked upon the stub of her ankle.

 “You are welcome here,” she said with a thick accent. She and Tom conversed in Luganda, and I stepped back outside with Laurena, pacing in the sun.

“Do you think this is a school?” I asked Laurena.

“How could students learn kneeling in the dirt in the dark? Why are the words on the chalkboard in English?” she responded. Her confusion mirrored mine.

 “Since English is the official language of Uganda, school is supposed to be taught in English.” I explained. This was Laurena’s first trip to Uganda.

Tom emerged after a few minutes to explain that this was a “start-up school to fill the gap since the government school doesn’t have teachers. This lady, Ellen, has had more schooling than most in the area, so she is trying to teach a few of the kids. She has only finished Primary 4.” He shook his head. I realized that Tom was also disturbed.

I pictured my own kids’ classrooms. Rolling carts for computers, comfortable furniture, and clean, carpeted floors. I couldn’t reconcile the disparity.

We climbed back into the pastor’s vehicle again and bumped down a narrower dirt road.  Branches screeched on both sides of the van. We passed a pond where women gathered water into five-gallon, yellow plastic jerry cans to carry back home on their heads. The water was a muddy brown with plants floating on top.

We parked at the edge of a large field and were thankful to get out to get some air.

“Why did we stop?” I asked as I scanned the surroundings.

“There is another educational initiative here. Look over there towards the tree. This is the place,” Tom pointed.

“Are you serious?” THIS is the other option the neighbor to the government school told us about? There isn’t even a building!”  The tuition money in my purse started to feel heavier...

Tom motioned us toward the tree where I spotted a row of children seated in the grass kneeling before a lone bench. There was a chalkboard leaning against the tree and a woman standing with a baby on her hips.

“Oli otya, Ssebo,” the woman greeted Tom and smiled at Laurena and me indicating she didn’t speak English. I tried out my halting Luganda, “Oli otya, Nyabo,” I smiled back at her as I tried to comprehend this situation.

We saw English words about the environment written on the chalkboard. Big words. The children, about ten of them, were taking turns at the bench copying the words into small, blue paper booklets. The teacher saw our quizzical looks and held up a tattered National Geographic magazine.

Laurena said, “Oh my goodness, she has copied words from the magazine onto the chalkboard, and the kids are just copying the words.”

“But she doesn’t speak English. They would have no idea what the words even mean.” I thought out loud. “I can’t even believe what I am seeing.”

Tom finished talking with the teacher and reported back to us that this teacher had even less education than the last. “I didn’t actually know there were places in my own country that were this bad.”

Tom was 21 years old and grew up in the suburbs of Kampala. I had learned that he had had to struggle to finish school - sometimes selling tea to other students before school to raise funds for his school fees. He had not had an easy life. His dismay spoke volumes.

We headed back toward the van where the others had waited. I said, “I don’t understand. God gave us the exact amount of money to send 33 kids to school. And there is literally no school to send them to...”

I recited from John 10:10 “The thief came to steal, kill, and destroy…” and stopped without finishing the verse. It felt like I was standing in the devil’s playground.

Tom spoke up. He completed the verse with a smile, “but Jesus came that they may have life and life abundant.” His faith buoyed mine a bit. “We need to go. There are children gathered at the church to meet you.”

I blurted, “What? Why? What am I supposed to say to them?” I was fighting back tears.

“ Mama Julie, let’s just go talk to them,” Tom tried to reassure me.

“The village pastor is expecting us. We can’t disappoint him.” Pastor Paul said as we arrived at the van.

The van had been baking in the sun; I collapsed into the seat with a burdened heart and rivers of sweat began running down my legs. There were six of us in the van, but no one spoke.

“Pastor, could you try turning on the air conditioning one more time to see if by some miracle God has made it work?” He humored me and did it, and it didn't work. Again.

Pastor Paul carefully navigated the ruts, potholes and puddles on the dirt road leading from the local trading center up a long hill. Then we arrived at a whitish church building with large patches of missing plaster. I realized it was the same one where the wasps had dive bombed us when we visited last year.

I was back at the exact place I had declared I never wanted to see again, and this time people were gathered because they anticipated I could help them with schooling for their children. I wanted to run.  


January 12, 2021

Julie's Journal: A Branch

 (This post is part of the Julie's Journal series) 

We exited the Entebbe airport to find three pastors and a young man with a shy smile waiting for our small team. I was back in Uganda in October of 2006, a little over a year after my first visit.

The young man stepped forward to greet me. This must be Tomusange Silas; he’d been hired by the pastors a few weeks earlier to coordinate the care of the 17 children living in the John T. Miller School. Paying his salary had been a surprise “add” to our list of responsibilities to fund for the children. 

“Hi. I’m Julie. I guess you sort of work for me,” I said awkwardly. “It’s nice to meet you, Tomusange.” I butchered his name. 

He smiled and shook my hand with the welcoming, soft Uganda 3-step handshake and said in flawless English, “It is a pleasure to meet you. You can call me Tom.” 

We piled into the pastor’s SUV, and Tom and I began to discuss the program for our two-week trip. He had set up meetings with several children’s organizations in Uganda to learn from their experience since we had NONE. From that, we hoped to develop plans and procedures for the care of the 17 orphaned children living in the John T. Miller School I had come to serve the year before. 

But there had been a last-minute item added to the agenda for this trip by surprise. A branch beyond providing for the care of those 17 children… 

It stemmed from a conversation I had had with Pastor Paul last year. We were in the room they had set up for the orphans. "These two beds are for the boys, and the girls have the two bunks on the other side of the doorway," he explained.

"This is a small space for so many children, but they seem happy," I tried not to sound critical.

"I know, but it's the only space we had. We only have this one building. These two rooms were our offices. We brought as many of the 50 orphans from the village as we could. The children were so badly off there." His voice trailed off . "We managed to squeeze in 17." 

"What about the other children?" I asked. 

"They are still in their village. The village pastor does what he can. And we sent some food packages a few months back." 

He led me into the classroom next door and pulled out a few loose photos that were on the teacher's desk. "We took these the day we delivered the food packages. A Sunday School Class at Westminster Chapel in Bellevue, Washington sent money so we could buy four bunk beds and deliver food for others. These photos are for them."

I remembered flipping through the photos. The contrast to the happiness of the children at the school stung. They were two to a bed in offices, but it was clearly so much better than where they had come from.

Now, as we drove toward Kyakitanga Village, I reflected on the turn 
of events bringing me back. It had started when Heidi, a new friend at church, had looked through the photo album of my first trip to Uganda. Afterward she’d offered to do a garage sale to raise funds “for the kids.” I’d hoped it would raise a few hundred dollars to help provide vaccinations, shoes, food. In the last year, despite searching for an organization to partner with for the care of the kids living in the school, doors had remained closed. We had reluctantly assumed the responsibility to help the pastors care for them. There were so many needs.

Heidi had hosted the garage sale a few weeks before I returned to Uganda for this second trip. Right before we’d counted the money, I’d asked her how she wanted us to use the funds raised since she had organized the event. Heidi’s response had caught me off guard, “I’d like to use the money to send the other 33 orphans back in the village to school. How much would it cost to pay for their school fees so they can go to school, too?” 

Oh wow. That would be a new branch,” I had thought to myself. We were already out on a limb with the care of 17 kids and taking on more wasn’t on the radar. 

But I did the math on my phone. “I've heard it’s about $60/year to attend a government school. For 33 kids that comes to $1980.” I had answered, reassuring myself that a garage sale wouldn’t come close to that target. 

And yet, when we counted the garage sale money, it totaled $1989.50. Once we’d subtracted the cost of a dump run to clean up after the garage sale, we’d realized we had, in fact, raised $1980.

“That's enough! What are the chances of raising the exact amount? This is a God thing!” Heidi had said. I admitted it seemed like a message and tried to hide my disappointment that there wouldn't be support for the current expenses. 

"The government school may not be great, but it will be better than not going to school at all," we had agreed.

I’d met some of these children Heidi wanted to help the previous year during our outreach tour to several village churches with the school's pastors. Everywhere we visited, we had faced poverty on a level I had never imagined, but Kyakitanga Village had been the worst. There the kids there were barefoot, and dirty; their clothes in tatters. They watched us with curious, brown eyes. 

They’d seemed accustomed to the flies that landed on their faces and the threatening black wasps that buzzed us as we tried to drum up some spiritual encouragement to share with the crowd gathered in the sweltering church. When we’d passed out candy to the children, the adults pushed past them with hands pressed at us calling, “Sweetie! Give me sweetie!” The people had seemed somehow untamed. Their despair tangible. Kyakitanga Village was the only place in Uganda I’d visited on my first trip that I never wanted to go again. 

But through Heidi’s garage sale, God had provided exactly what was needed for the orphans in Kyakitanga to go to school, so we were making the three-hour journey to go there once again. 

We waded through the “Kampala jam” finally reaching what I would later name “Smelly Fish Circle” at a round-about on the far side of town. I stared out the window at large storks resembling pterodactyls as they fed on waste from the fishing boats that lined the river. 
Then the scenery changed. It became green and serene after the chaos of Kampala. 

We reached the papyrus marsh spotted with small, spontaneous fires which ignited in the bog. 

A tea plantation covered rolling hills in chartreuse green. 

Small stands of banana trees alternated with open spaces of acacia trees casting their silhouettes against tall grass fields. 

Local villagers sold their produce at roadside stands. 

Open trucks heaped with produce with workers perched atop would pass us and then lone speed bumps would slow us down for the trading centers that sprang up along the way. 

Eventually, we reached the trading center of Kalamba with its typical mix of brightly painted buildings, rough-hewn wood-slat structures, and vendors rushing to our windows with roasted meat skewers or maize. 

There we turned south to a ribbon of orange earth whose twists, turns and potholes would eventually take us the 12 miles to the village of Kyakitanga. 

I had the $1980 converted to Ugandan shillings in my bag next to the water bottle that needed to last me for the day. First stop was the government school to pay fees and then we would meet the other 33 children to register them for school. 

At least that’s what I thought would happen...

December 29, 2020

Meet Our Uganda Team!

Our staff in Uganda came together to greet you and thank you for your partnership in the transforming work of HEED: