Thursday, August 8, 2013

Memories in Mubende

One of the most memorable times during our recent trip to Uganda was our time in Mubende.  Mubende is the home district for my precious friend Harriet. 
Me and Harriet at our friend Brian's wedding in 2010. 
Harriet has played an integral part in Mercy for Mamas since the beginning. She helped me keep my sanity during our adoption, she helped me understand the needs of women in Uganda, and she's helped to coordinate a lot of the work for me. 

For several years I've been sending mama kits to Mubende through Harriet. The people there have been so grateful for all of the help and they have great needs.  60% of the population of Mubende is under the age of 18.  The birth rate there is one of the highest in Uganda and the rate of HIV is also very high.  They need help and education.  They asked me to visit them during my next trip, and I knew I had to take the team there this year and meet these people for myself. 
Mama kits arriving in Mubende in 2010
Harriet was thrilled we were going to her home village.  She said in all of her years of working with mission teams that we would be the first team to go visit her home with her.  I told her we could do a community outreach event and serve lunch for all of the ladies that attend.  I knew we were in for quite the day when she sent me the first budget estimate for food.  Oh my.. she planned for a lot of people. 

I expected there to be around 500 women attending the event, but surely they would not all be pregnant.  Just to be safe we allotted 500 mama kits for this event.  We went to Mubende towards the end of our trip and we'd been running out of mama kits at nearly every place we visited, but I knew we needed to save these 500 kits. 

We drove about three hours outside the capital city to a beautiful area full of rolling green hills.  We pulled up and I took one look around and I knew we were in for quite the day!  There were people everywhere... I mean everywhere, and it wasn't just women, but men and children too.  They had large tents set up to shield us from the sun and a sound system set up with music blaring.  I scanned the crowd knowing we did not have enough mama kits and turned to Billy (my Ugandan coordinator) and said, "What are we going to do?"  He shook his head and said, "I have no idea." 

We got off the bus and were greeted by the local dignitaries.  They quickly ushered us to our seats up front.  Right as we sat down, a couple of large trucks pulled up full of pregnant women.  Oh my! Then out came the National TV crew.  Say what?? We're famous, okay, not really. 


Our host, Honorable Tonny Ssemmuli (member of Ugandan parliament) shared with me that he had invited all of the health workers in the surrounding areas and each of them had brought the pregnant women in their village with them.  He then told me that he felt it was very important for the husbands to be involved in their wives' pregnancies, so he told all of the men that they had to come too if at all possible.  We estimate that there were at least 1300 people there, and at least 700 pregnant women.

The program began, which involved speeches and words of thanks for all of the local dignitaries.  These dignitaries would be the equivalent to our city council, mayor, governor, and Congressman. Now parts of all of this were a bit too much of a political rally for me, but I did like that they urged the people for change.  They explained the need for maternal health care in their area and urged all of the people to seek medical care for the pregnant women and to start saving money now for her delivery. I was grateful for the time I've served in Uganda with Libraries of Love.  I had some idea of the protocol of what was expected of me from years of watching Trudy handle opening ceremonies.

My favorite part of the program included a play by children from the local school.  These kids were awesome and I could tell they'd practiced for weeks.  They acted out the need for mama kits and what happens when a woman does not have her supplies.  They somehow had the names of my whole team and used our names as all of the characters.  The children were so animated and funny, but they got the point across.  The whole crowd was really into it.  Then they ended the performance with the recitation of a poem called, "Mercy for Mamas, Mercy for Life."  Be still my heart.


Eventually it was my turn to share.  While listening to the other speeches, I'd been praying that God would calm my nerves and give me the right words to say.  He did just that.  I told them of my heart for the women of Uganda, I explained why we do what we do.  I urged the men to step up and provide for the women and children.  And then I shared the gospel with them and that we want women to live through childbirth, but we also want them to have eternal life with Christ.  To be honest, I don't even remember all that I shared, but I just spoke my heart and God gave me the words.  Afterwards my translator (who was awesome!!) said, "Mama Melissa you can preach.  Thank you for speaking boldly."  I told him that if God brought this large crowd of people from all backgrounds together and I had a microphone, I better make sure that I use if for Him.

After I shared, our Ugandan nurse, Agnes, got up to do her presentation.  We talked shortly after arriving and decided that her usual talk would have to be altered because of the large crowd and the men being present.  She looked very nervous after seeing the TV camera and the dignitaries, but once she got up  to speak, all fear seemed gone.  She did a great job. 

Then came the time I was really worried about... the passing out of the mama kits.  Everyone was hot and crowded and I knew we did not have enough kits.  I did not want a riot on our hands.  I decided to leave this part to the locals.  They would know the best way to go about it--and they did.  They quickly divided everyone by where they came from. Then they organized the women by how far along they were.  It was amazing how quickly they got everyone setup and started the distribution.  We explained that we did not have enough, but that more would be coming very soon and they would take down their names and get the kits to the women as soon as possible.  I sat back in awe as I watched all of this in action. 

Then came my other worry... would there be enough food?  Again, the Lord provided.  Somehow we had enough food for every person to get a heaping plate of food.  I felt like I was watching the fishes and the loaves all over again.

And to top it all off, one woman went into labor while we were there.  I'd seen the woman several times during the event.  At first, I thought she was mad about something.  Then I realized she was in pain and having contractions.  Before we left, several of us went to pray for her and her baby.  Then a local nurse took her to the hospital.  She got her mama kit, just in the nick of time!

The day was quite an adventure.  My team got to experience a true Ugandan ceremony and all of the protocol, which us Americans just do not understand.  We got to see a bit of rural life and the need for family planning, health education, and community resources in these places..  We got to love on some sweet kiddos, eat lunch with new friends, and share Jesus with many.  And we got to say that we were on Ugandan TV and Radio.  I had several Ugandan friends call or text me the next day to say they saw us on the news.  How fun is that?

I recently received a thank you email from Honorable Tonny. 
 "Once again I do wish to convey my sincere gratitude for the good work you are rendering to the pregnant mothers of Uganda. Up to now, the people of Mubende are still talking about the good spirit and the heartfelt you have towards them. May the Almighty bless you in all your endeavours.  You have already saved more than 2000 lives in my community and the positive impact is already seen from the ladies giving birth to the healthy children but all under your initiative.
May God bless you abundantly,  
Hon Tonny Ssemmuli"
Every time Hon. Tonny mentions the work "you" are doing he is talking about all of you!  You are the ones that help to make this happen.  I am so grateful that God chooses to use me to play a small part in this work, but your prayers, support, and donations are vitally important.  And I can tell you that God is using mama kits to have a big impact in rural areas like Mubende.

I'm glad to report that we recently sent 250 more mama kits to Mubende, so all of the women that attended the event should now have a mama kit.  I can't wait to get more pictures and success stories from the women there.