From the window of our minibus I can see red dust everywhere. And I mean everywhere. It’s forming a thick layer over car windscreens, gathering on the umbrellas of the market stalls that stretch as far as the eye can see. And there are children playing in it. Young children – babies – crawling in the dust outside their homes.
It’s the first day of my visit to Uganda and I’m travelling towards Ntwetwe, one of two communities where World Vision is at work. As the scenery changed from traffic jams and high-rises, to banana and coffee plantations, I watched young boys working with their dads to make bricks. I saw groups of children walking up and down steep hillsides to get home from school. And little girls, probably no more than five or six years old, carrying water on their heads in large yellow buckets and jerry cans, even long after darkness had fallen.
Life for children here couldn’t be more different from life for my children in the UK. Or more heartbreaking; I think the image of babies crawling in the dust will stay with me for a long time. Yet, if you sponsor a child in Uganda, you are here too. And earlier today, I caught a glimpse of the joy and hope that your sponsorship brings.
I spent a few hours this morning at the head office of World Vision Uganda, in Kampala. This was for a security briefing. But I also had a chance to see what happens to letters from sponsors when they get to Uganda.
The post room team showed me stack after stack of airmail letters, waiting to go back to sponsors all over the world from children in Uganda. And sack after sack of parcels, letters and cards waiting to be delivered to children in some of Uganda’s hardest places. Including Ntwetwe. I was especially excited to see a pile of birthday cards from sponsors in the UK.
There are tens of thousands of sponsored children in 52 ADPs across Uganda and every letter or parcel they receive is opened and read by someone in this team. It’s their job to make sure it’s as encouraging and appropriate as it can be, and that it gets to exactly the right child, as quickly as possible. They check each one for a child’s ID number, address, sponsor’s name, putting all the clues together to make sure it makes its way to the child who’s waiting for their letter.
Because they are waiting. Those dusty children really can’t wait for the post that they receive.
“When they hear from their sponsor, the children celebrate with joy,” one of the team told me. “They celebrate with their friends and family, and then they write back to their sponsors to say thank you. We know that sponsors celebrate too, when they hear from their children. Everyone celebrates!”
The passion in that small office was contagious. I left that meeting with a real sense of the true meaning of sponsorship, and the joy that the relationship between child and sponsor can bring. I think I saw a little more of that joy later in the day, even amidst all the red dust.
Every child I saw, grubby as they were, was waving and grinning from ear to ear. At first glance, they have nothing. And yet, there was happiness and hope in their eyes.
Tomorrow, when I spend some time with sponsored children and families in Ntwetwe, I hope to learn a little more about where that hope comes from.