the dirty underbelly of volunteering in a Ugandan orphanage.

Preface A: Maybe it’s because I’m just coming off of the flu, but this entry isn’t going to be the most positive one to date…but it’s being me being honest, and I don’t want to get home and share this part of the story and people be shocked.

Preface B: I am loving it here. I do miss home. But these children will forever have a piece of my heart. I do love spending time with them, and whatever you read here…please do not let it trump the fact that God knew what He was doing when He brought me here, and He still knows what He’s doing.

Begin entry now.

We received two more volunteers yesterday. They’re newleyweds and will be here for eight weeks. Apparently, we will be getting a girl from Spain today. Let’s count. Myself, Chani, Jenny, Zena, Case, Kim, and the two UPA volunteers, Roni and Hitomi, and the girl from Spain. Let’s do the math…nine volunteers for less than 30 children. Chani, Jenny and Zena will be leaving in two weeks. But we’ll be getting two more volunteers in four weeks.

Part of me is frustrated with how many people are here. We all have hearts to help, and it’s none of our faults. Zena and Jenny came together as did Case and Kim through an arrangement by Kids Worldwide. The Web site says this project allows for two volunteers at a time. Needless to say, both groups were a bit taken back when they saw the orphanage was already overloaded with volunteers.

I thought about transferring to a different project, but I’ve already established a rapport with these children and it would make my heart ache to leave them any sooner than necessary. And I gave Ruth the entire amount I’m paying for room and board up front and would feel like a real tool for asking for part of it back.

It gets hard to be efficient with so many people. Even though there is something for everyone to do, it’s still frustrating and overcrowded. In all honesty, I think Ruth is a very smart woman and knows the financial benefits of having as many volunteers as possible. When I get judgemental about that fact and think that perhaps it’s a money-motivated operation to getting all these volunteers as opposed to a service-motivated operation, I have to remind myself that Ruth is probably giving up way more than I have ever considered.

She’s living in a room currently with four foreigners in a house with close to 30 children. She bathes out of a bucket and pees in a pit latrine. She spends a lot of her salary helping to keep the orphanage afloat. So whatever we contribute, lightens the load of her personal financial contribution to Another Hope. If she wasn’t doing this, her salary could probably get her a nice, small house with a toilet and maybe even a shower. She could have peace and quiet. However, she (and all of us volunteers) does get served here. The children clean our room (as well as the entire compound), they bring water to our big black bucket, they prepare our food, and they do our dishes, they wash her clothes as well as their own, they eat on benches (it was the floor, until Kyran got the benches made), we eat at the table.

There is a certain hierarchy I don’t grasp in Africa. Children are very clearly thought of as “less.” They have to do the grunt work, while we reap all the benefits. They don’t get hugged or told “I love you.” They aren’t tucked into bed or kissed goodnight.

As I’m feeling better each day, I’m going to try to be proactive about dishwashing, cleaning, preparing food, fetching water. Kim and Case want to teach, so maybe I’ll pass on the daily worksheet system, and move on to more service-oriented work. Part of me is contemplating going up to St. Joseph’s primary school and see if they need help in the mornings, when most of the older children are at school.

I don’t know. With all these volunteers, I’ve started examining…no, no…judging the way the orphanage is run, the financial accountability of where all our contributions are going, what we are really all doing here. Gross way to think, Colleen.

You know that little nagging voice you get sometimes in your head? It seems like it’s you talking to you, but saying things you are far too proud to say to yourself. I have that voice right now. Sometimes, I think it’s Jesus speaking to me. And sometimes, I glare up at Jesus in a prideful resentment for calling me out. This is one of those times.

“Stop judging and start pouring your heart out into this project. Who cares about the money, you still have some saved at home. Who cares about the amount of volunteers, it’s more arms to hug the children and fix their wounds (something you ARE NOT good with, Colleen). They have gifts you don’t, and you have gifts they don’t. If you’re here, you’re here with purpose. Stop contributing to the gossip and judgemental talk. Go work. Do more than wash the dishes on a random day here and there. Do more than just cut the tomatoes and peppers and onions. Do more than just teach the children. Do it all, plus some. Everyday. I repeat, pour your heart into this project.”

I’m leaving the comments open, though I’m tempted to turn them off. I was hesistant to write this post because I know it comes off as ungrateful. But it’s me being honest, and I know I’m opening myself up to criticism about having the opportunity of a lifetime and complaining about it. But please, if you post a comment…don’t be too harsh.

I am truly learning to love you and this situation despite the amount of volunteers, and I miss you. Soon I’ll have an entry with pictures again. I should be getting the rafting pics tonight.


5 responses to “the dirty underbelly of volunteering in a Ugandan orphanage.

  1. Dear dear Colleen – there is no way that any of us could be as harsh on you as you are on yourself! I love the raw emotion in this post. Don’t ever beat yourself up for listening to that voice – even when it is making you see or feel things you think you shouldn’t. Actually – just don’t ever beat yourself up for anything – but that’s a whole other comment! 🙂 You have and are doing an amazing thing where you have been planted. Continue to be yourself and spread that abundant love you have! As Sherrie would say – “It’s all good!”

  2. Hi Sweetie. Amen to Nancy’s response – thank you Nancy. She said it so well. I felt some of the same things on my mission trip to Ireland. I mean, come on, it was Ireland! But…but…but…it put me and God in direct connection – took all of the junk out of the way. We don’t always know the reasons. Just love and just be. Love you so much!

  3. well once again my Aunt Nancy has taken the words right out of my mouth. But I will add a little to what she worte. I love your honesty, selfishly because as you know my high schoolers read this and it shows them and anyone who takes the time to read this that being a christian, a human being, is hard and life is not all that its cracked up to be!
    Always be honest with yourself, forget what others may think or say because your are an AMAZING STRONG WOMEN!!!! Share your spirit, joy and love with others. Its all good =)
    I say it all the time you are my hero and I love you!!!

  4. Pppffftttt…Colleen. I am so disappointed. There I said what you were wanting to hear.

    You are a far better person than I am. My idea of a missions trip is to another city in the US where I have hot running water and can easily speak the language (well most of the time). I admire you for stepping outside of so many comfort zones that we build for ourselves and taking a chance to love these kids. You are awesome.

    Love you.
    Miss you.
    Now I have to finish catching up on your blogs.

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