Posts Tagged ‘Uganda’

Right now those words “Think Humanity Secondary School” are not rolling off my tongue easily. That’s because I know that this will be a lot of work ahead and many years before it is actually a school.


We have the land and it is cleared, a brick wall is being constructed and we have blueprints…it is becoming a REALITY.

The plan is to construct a hostel with latrines. If all goes well, we construct an office and one classroom. The classroom will actually be an area to eat, study and to hold Parent Visitation Days and meetings.

Behind the office and first classroom building will be latrines.

This is what I envision today.

I have to dream more. Make more goals. Continue to believe.

But, here we are today. Further than we were yesterday. This is going to happen.

Think Humanity Secondary school



Like last year when we heard about Rachel in Kizimba Village who was not in school, we have now heard about 5 girls and 1 boy who are also not going to school. They are living in Kyaka 2 Refugee Camp, Uganda and are Congolese by nationality. This was certainly not our plan because we still have some of our Hoima students who have not been re-sponsored for 2019.
Sometimes you have to trust your intuition and be guided by love!
I received a photo of these 6 children from Kyaka 2 Camp last night. The 12 year old is only beginning Primary 3. This is because sometimes they have no opportunity to attend school. When I found out what it would cost to put these children in school I just had to post this.
Esther Mercy age 12 and Gloria Sandra age 10 both in Primary 3 are $20 each per term or $60 annually, Hope Salome age 8 will begin Primary 1 and she is $15 a term or $45 annually, Isaac Kennedy age 6, Blessing Ruth age 5 and Emilly Chimpaye age 4 will be in nursery school. They are each $10 a term or $30 annually.
I have posted a photo of the 6 children.
If you always wanted to help a disadvantaged child, but could not afford the expense, hopefully you will look at these children’s faces and see them.
In this order in the photo: Blessing Ruth, Isaac Kennedy, Gloria Sandra, Hope Salome, Emilly Chimpaye and Esther Mercy. If you are interested, please let me know so children are not double sponsored. Thank you…and bless you for seeing them.
Update on the six children from Kyaka 2 Refugee Camp: All six of them were sponsored within 4 hours for their school tuition. Uniforms were all donated through Hilary Steinberger as a gift in honor of Deana Austin’s birthday. Then a person sent a check and asked us to use it for biggest needs. We purchased three boxes of soap for the girls’ hostel, but also were able to pay for school lunches for all six of these children for term 1.

Blessing ruth, Isaac, Gloria, hope, emilly and esther.jpg

These children need to go to school


Thank you everybody for your help in putting these children through school, for providing them with uniforms and donating towards their lunches so that the mother didn’t have to bring them food every day. Team work! Thank you everybody who put in a hand to help these beautiful children.

Recently we learned about a young girl named Nancy who went through the trauma of finding her father after he committed suicide when she was 8 years old. She found him hanging from a rope from the family’s grass thatched house. She is attending School in Kyangwali Refugee Camp at Planning for Tomorrow.
Here is her story as I have condensed it.
Nancy Adyek, 11 years old currently lives in Kyangwali Refugee settlement in Uganda.
She was left an orphan in 2016.
Three years ago the father came home very drunk and started off the violence. All the children slept at the neighbor’s. Nancy loved going to school so left for home in the morning to get dressed. Nancy found her father hanging from a rope from the roof of their grass thatched house. She went to the local council one (LC1) and to the police and next was his poor burial.
“Before I was in a school where promotion was more or less automatic, imagine that I was in Primary four but I didn’t speak any English or write. I was admitted in P4T Nursery and Primary School in 2018, demoted to primary Two, I am now in Primary three, speaking good English and writing short sentences. My long-term goal is to be self-reliant. If I manage to become leader and an entrepreneur, I want to live in rural areas innovating and running social entrepreneurship benefiting women and children and I want to fully support girl child education.” Nancy dreams of attending education from Primary to university to become a leader and an entrepreneur.
If anybody wishes to donate towards Nancy’s education, please do and it will be held back for when it is most needed. This is not a sponsorship, but a humanitarian donation.
Needs: Three terms of tuition a year, school uniform, reams of paper, books, pens, school bag, plate and cup, examination, medical fee, development fee, breakfast and lunch, and maize flour and beans.
Nancy Adyek

The land was a dense part of Bugoma forest in western Uganda near Lake Albert in the Kyangwali Refugee Camp.

It is now called “Maratatu.”

It became difficult to distribute food to all the refugees in the camp, both the ones living there and the new refugees coming in. This area, now known as Maratatu was a space left for farming. The dense trees were cut down three times, making the area to be called, Maratatu, meaning “three times” in Kiswahili.

Maratatu is a new village in Kyangwali Refugee Camp near Lake Albert, a large lake that separates Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The refugees were living a hard life where they cut down poles from the bush. Some took them up to the camp and others carried them down to Lake Albert shores.

The refugees lived like that from year 2000 up, but it was not easy. They called this, “Kaza Roho” meaning, “Strengthen your heart.”

Now the Congolese refugees who had come from 1996 to present worried of great hunger with no gardens because the space is now used to accommodate new Congolese refugees. Before this, gardening was a way to sustain life. In years past, people could be seen walking in the early morning before the sun came up. They were carrying their pangas to begin a day of “digging.”  Now life has changed and those refugees who had spent a large part of their lives in Kyangwali Refugee Camp are back on food rations.

Before visiting Kagoma Reception area we spent time with the Camp Commandant, Jolly. She was kind to let us all sit at a table and she gave updates and the history of Kyangwali. If you look at past blogs, you can see that this is not new to me or to Think Humanity. We did have new visitors and others that had only visited once before, so it was not only good to give them the history, but good to share this time with Jolly.


Our April-May Think Humanity team. Curt Austin, Jim Heckel, Alibankoha Bridget, Beth Heckel, Deana Austin and Kevin Arnold. Commandant, Ms. Jolly Kebirungi in the center.

Maratatu is now a sea of white UNHCR tarps. Home to tens of thousands of Congolese, mostly women and children. Just over the border in the Congo ethnic tension caused Lendu groups to attack the Hema with machetes, spears, bows and arrows. They burned down more than 1,000 of homes and killed 60,000 people. Now more than 100,000 people are displaced with approximately 45,000 in Uganda since December 2017.


Maratatu is no longer a place for refugees to grow their food, but a sea of white UNHCR tarps as far as you can see.

The motives of the Lendu is unclear, but it is said that sharing land with minerals and politics plays a part in this. Also the Lendu believe that Ituri province is their place. They say that the Hema, who migrated from Uganda, don’t have a place there. I am sure it is more difficult to understand and has been going off and on now for many years.

Since December 2017, men were staying behind to protect their property while putting their families on rickety boats for a six to ten-hour ride across Lake Albert. Some even used paddle boats and it could take nearly three days to reach safety on the shores of Uganda.

In the beginning boat owners would take advantage by charging a lot of money to take people over. They would overcrowd their boats which caused some drownings. Later on, once it became evident that people were going to be going back and forth, the International Organization of Migration (IOM) began sending boats and bringing women and children over to Uganda.


The refugees landed on the shore in Uganda in small fishing villages, such as Sebarogo and Nsonga. At first they were taking the long, upward trek to Kyangwali Refugee Camp, but soon the Medical Team International and other organizations began setting up tents to receive them. Due to lack of sanitation the children began to defecate wherever and the conditions became so bad that there was a cholera outbreak. With more than three thousand people arriving per day, it was hard for organizations to keep up with the influx. Before it was under control 40 people  died of cholera and 2,000 were infected.



Nsonga fishing village where refugees from the Congo were coming over on boats.


We visited Nsonga. The first thing we saw was a sign warning about cholera, yet we were told it had been under control for a couple of weeks. Our driver parked next to a running sewage ditch. The smell was a mix of sewage and rotted fish. Old fishing boats were on the shore and some naked children were sleeping in the shadows to keep out of the sun. There was a MTI tent set up. Congolese refugees lined up. They were first sprayed down with a disinfectant then sent to stand in line for medical health screening. While we were there the numbers were not huge, but they were ready to receive a large group that evening from Bunia.



MTI set up quick shelters where their workers asked medical questions and received the Congolese from Ituri into Uganda.


This was just the beginning of a big process. From here the refugees would be taken to Kagoma Reception Area in Kyangwali Refugee Camp where they would be registered and given a wristband. They would be given vaccinations, a pot for cooking, a tarp for their home, a plot of land and a few other household items.

The first child I saw was wearing an oversized brown dress that was falling off her body. The eyes were staring at us as we got out of the rented matatu (taxi). Most were excited -jumping all over and trying to hold our hands. Others seems to look blankly. Those are the ones that I saw. The children had their wrist bands on -they were now officially refugees. The Congo was no longer their home.


The people were fed a simple porridge cooked under an open tent in large pots. There were bags of food from US AID. One large bag said “green dried peas” while others we could not make out the contents.


Many large steaming pot were boiling getting ready to feed the new arrivals as curious people peeked over the wall to see the visitors.

kagoma food

Bags of food, most likely flour to make porridge, were also in the food tent.

A beautiful Congolese woman looked down at me from above as if offering me something to eat.


After visiting the reception area we went to Maratatu. I thought it would not be so close and was looking down at my phone when Jim made a comment as if in disbelief. I looked up and saw the white UNHCR tarps everywhere as far as you could see on both the left and right of our vehicle.


When we pulled up we were greeted by hundreds of children. I saw no parents, no families…only many children all wanting to hold our hands and greet us. I’ve heard that there are at least 800 children who were sent on boat without a parent or guardian. The Red Cross will try to help them find their families, but meanwhile, it is a very difficult situation for the children to be in the camp alone.

We drove up near the Medical Team International tent. The doctor on our board was also a volunteer with MTI and later would go up to Adjumani, near the Sudan border.

He asked some questions. There were no doctors there and the only one to get advice from was 80 km away in Hoima.


mti tent 1



mti tent

The children did not cross the doorway line into the MTI building.


Photo by Jim Heckel

After visiting the MTI building we began walking. The children were excited and were in front of us, beside us and behind us. Bridget pointed out where not to step. There were not enough latrines and the children had defecated wherever they could. They had even used the newly worn dirt path. The children were dancing and screaming in happiness around us when I looked down to see dozens of bare feet stepping in the human feces. My mind is thinking, no wonder that there was a cholera outbreak here. It was almost sickening, but no fault of their own. At that point, and I am embarrassed to admit it, I was very somber and wanted to be away from what I have just seen. I looked on the ground around me to see many piles of feces. I could even make out what they contained. Light in color, a looser stool almost like a cow patty. Some were full of what appeared to be undigested corn. I wanted to watch where I was stepping, but the children were too many. I could only see them hopping up and down in front of me, some with big smiles.
It was at that time when the children began to point at their stomachs and mouths saying, “biscuit.” They were hungry. I answered in Kiswahili saying, “Hapana biscuit.” I almost felt cruel to tell them I had nothing.


The children were everywhere you looked. You couldn’t take a step without children on every side of you.

We had come to visit Maratatu, but now I am wondering why we were there. We had nothing to offer at this time. It seemed wrong. The more children I saw pointing to their stomachs the more helpless I began to feel. Their loud voices started to make me spin; the heat, the children surrounding me, the helplessness that I felt. I began to run. With each step I sped up faster and faster. The children began to run with me. The faster I ran, the faster they ran. What was I running from? I had been in similar situations before, but never had I reacted this way.
I recognized the voice on my right and a hand was placed on my shoulder. “Are you okay?” Stuart asked me. Stuart is our health administrator. He ran next to me. We arrived at our matatu and he asked our driver, Sadiki, to open the side door. I got inside and just took a breath.



Our matatu (taxi) was named “Nothing but prayers.”

I had never had this happen in eleven years. I have been slightly annoyed before (from heat, etc). I was not annoyed at the children. I was annoyed at myself. I wanted to be a part of helping these children, yet doing nothing to make a difference. I wish I had sweets or biscuits, anything. I had nothing.
Everybody got into the matatu. We drove away and children chased the vehicle yelling in Swahili, “Bazungu bako nakula kula. Bako na kula kula.” I am not sure why they were saying, “The white people are eating. You are eating a lot.” They must have assumed we had food, which made me feel worse since they had asked for biscuits and we gave them nothing.

We visited the camp three times during this trip. I guess that means “Three times” or “Maratatu.”
We did give out mosquito nets, birthing kits and had a health day for women. This helped many refugees, but it did not help this group of new people. Things are still too unorganized. There is just no way to go into that area and get something done. Chaos is the only word for it right now.  When we go back things may be more organized into blocks with a chairperson for each block.
I just want to make a difference.
The world however, is a beautiful and hurting place. I cannot get many visions and experiences out of my head. 20+ trips and it has to affect you in some way. The last trip however is still fresh in my mind. …”often though, they hurt.”
“Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life ― and travel ― leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks ― on your body or on your heart ― are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt.”
– Anthony Bourdain



nationals in camp
Loving our neighbors as ourselves first requires us to walk a few steps in their shoes.
It is hard to fully grasp what poverty actually feels like. So I’d like to take you on a mental and emotional journey into poverty. Follow me as, one at a time, I take seven things away from you. And let yourself feel the pain of the poor.
First, I will take away your clothes. Don’t panic I won’t take them all. You can keep the ones you are wearing. Can you imagine wearing the same clothes every single day? You can wash them each night, but even this small takeaway is humiliating.
Next, I will take away electricity and power. Imagine going home to a dark house each night. None of your appliances work: you can’t use your refrigerator, phone, heater, air conditioner, dishwasher, television, computer or stove. Your showers are cold, and now you have to wash your clothes by hand. Inconvenient is an understatement. But you shouldn’t feel too bad; you are still better off than most of the world.
Takeaway number three is really tough: I’m taking away your clean water. Now none of your faucets, toilets or showers work and your only water source is a stagnant water hole about a mile away. You must walk hours each day to fetch the water your family needs, and because it is teeming with bacteria, you and your children are constantly sick. Making this situation even harder is the fact that none of your neighbors have been affected and they don’t even seem to notice your suffering.
I’m afraid I now have to take away your home, so you have to live in a ten-by-twenty-foot mud hut with a dirt floor, no beds and little furniture. Your whole family will now sleep in the same room on the floor.
Takeaway number five is devastating: food. Long ago your children lost their smiles; now they are so hungry that the gnawing pain won’t go away. You have to find what little food you can by picking through your neighbors’ garbage. Already sick from drinking dirty water, your children become malnourished, and their bodies can’t fight off diseases. Your four-year-old daughter seems to be slipping away.
Getting her to the doctor is urgent but, tragically, the sixth takeaway is health care. To your horror and disbelief, there is no doctor and you have no option except to watch powerlessly as your daughter, wracked with parasites and diarrhea dies before your very eyes! How can this be happening?
So what else could I possibly take away? Takeaway number seven is hope. Your hope has died in the ashes of your poverty. And you wonder why no one has stepped in to help you.
Do these seven takeaways make you feel compelled to do something about the hardships that billions of people endure each day?
If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in him? –1 John 3:17
Written by Richard Stearns from the book “He Walks Among Us.”
All photos property of Jim and Beth Heckel taken in Bukinda in Kyangwali Refugee Camp, Uganda.
12742416_1044865852203157_3390813356396312198_none of many makeshift homes in Bukinda

new kyangwali3

How do we make a difference when something is so big?
I feel tied up in knots. My heart is pumping fast. Where do we turn?
I see the photos. So many women and children. First getting off boats after 8 – 10 hours traveling across Lake Albert to Uganda leaving behind their lives in the Congo.
I know this place well. Since 2007 it has been like a second home. While refugees come and go and things slowly changed, these photos just overwhelm me. It is a new land. I do not recognize this place any longer.
See the miles and miles of UNHCR tarps. Is that home? How long will they be here?

maratatu in kyangwali

We will try and do our part. We have 3,000 mosquito nets. This will help some, but considering the thousands who are new to Kyangwali, will it keep malaria down?
I tell myself, it has to help. It has to make a difference. It will. It has to.
Right now, due to cholera in the camp, we have nowhere to stay. Where will we sleep while in the camp? We have never had this happen before.
My prayer is that one day war, violence, injustice, hatred, discrimination, oppression…so many words that I wish I never had to ever use, would end.
Thank you to all who have joined this effort to fight for these innocent women and children.
God be with them. God calm my restless spirit.
Beth Heckel, Founder

In July 2017 we lost a very important person.


I remember Damascene with this gentle smile

Amani Jean Damascene was in his early 30’s. He was a contact person for years that would notify me when an orphaned child would arrive in the camp that had an urgent health issue or need. Together we were able to save lives. Because of him, a young girl named Vumilia Peace is alive. She arrived in the camp by bus. Nobody wanted to get near her because she was dying from the AIDS virus. When Peace was a baby her mother had sadly passed the virus through her breast milk. The mother died when Peace was nine years old. Today Peace continues to take her antiretroviral drugs and is living at our girls’ hostel. She is doing well. Success.


Damascene with Peace after she arrived in the camp from Beni, DRC

peace 2017 july

Peace in 2017 at the Think Humanity Girls’ Hostel in Hoima, Uganda

That was just one example of what Damascene had done to help others.

He was the father of three young children and the oldest child, Chance Esther who was the child of his wife.

damas children

Christmas 2017. Think Humanity took the children shopping for new clothes and shoes. Oldest to youngest (in the order they are standing from top to bottom-Chance Esther, Prosper, Precious and Victoria)

Two weeks after we left Uganda in July 2017, we got the devastating news that Damascene had died. The reason was not clear, as seems to happen all too often in Kyangwali Refugee Camp. Damascene was born a Congolese, but due to instability of war, he was forced to be put on a sand truck for a 24 hour cold trip to Kyangwali Refugee Camp in Uganda. There were no seats and no protection from the rain. They were not fed and they did not even stop to let these people go to the bathroom. Each truck carried 24 households. They say that they were considered to be garbage. He was only eleven years old.

burial dama

Damascene’s burial in Kyangwali Refugee Camp, Uganda

In December 2010 Damascene and his wife gave birth to their first child. They named their son, Prosper. Putting his past behind him, he wanted the best for his son. Damascene was so proud of his son and always made sure he was in school and clean. While other children in the camp were wearing tattered and dirty clothes, no shoes and dirty from head to toe, Damascene’s children always looked loved and well cared for.

Due to the sudden death, people in the refugee camp began saying that the wife poisoned him. While to us this may sound totally far-fetched, in Kyangwali it is a way to conclude an unexplainable death. Because of this, the mother has been treated badly and she has been in danger. I cannot judge whether she was responsible or not.

January 19, our team went to visit the children to see how they are doing. They found them unkept. The children have not been in school. The situation was heartbreaking. After what Damascene had done to help other children, in his memory, we feel that his children deserve better than this.


We are now in the process of finding sponsors to help his children with their education. The only solution is to get these children away from the refugee camp into a good boarding school with other Think Humanity children. The mother has actually begged us to take them away from the camp. The boarding school is 50 miles away in Hoima, Uganda.

While educating a child may not seem like a huge community impact, we have seen the results of educating many children. Each child is special in their own way. According to Congolese tradition, Prosper, the oldest boy, is now responsible for the entire family because he is the first born son. An education would be so helpful.

We are strong believers in, “Changing the world one child at a time.”