In the last 23 years of doing mission in Uganda, we have met some amazing people and worked with some wonderful organizations. To celebrate our 20th anniversary we looked back on some of the amazing people we have met, and the experiences we have had along the way in Uganda. We will be forever thankful for those who have walked beside us, and for those we will encounter in the next 20 years!
Bishop and Alden Hathaway
SLA came into being with the vision of these two men and their desire to make a change in Uganda. What started out as a quick visit to a rural babies home, has turned into thousands of Ugandans now with solar light and power. When the Bishop asked the Head Matron what she needed most, she never could have known that her answer “we need light” would be perfectly matched by Alden Jr, who was a solar expert in the US. This first installation at the Mustard Seed Babies Home was a perfect place for our mission to give birth. SLA truly started as a mustard seed, and has grown larger than we could have ever imagined! Thank you to the Bishop and Alden for listening and stepping out in faith.
First Lady Janet Museveni
A chance meeting between the Bishop, Alden and the First Lady was nothing if not the direct hand of God. It was just the perfect timing, which has been the backbone of our time in Uganda. The First Lady loved hearing of the plans to bring students, and challenged us to partner with Ugandan students to make it a totally cross-cultural experience. The First Lady has supported us with love, prayers, security, and her presence over the last 20 years. She has welcomed us into her home, prayed for us and with us, and we are forever grateful for her blessings as we work in Uganda.
Penina Kyembabazi (Mama Penny)
There are not enough words to explain what this woman has meant to our ministry in Uganda. Penina was sent to us by the First Lady on our mission in 1999. The First Lady had visited our team in the field and reported back that they had “babies” on the trip, and that Penny needed to go and travel with us. That first mission was the start of the constant need, love, and respect we have for her. Except for two missions where Penina was with her daughter welcoming grandchildren she has traveled on every mission that SLA has led in Uganda. Her quiet, wise, and often very funny personality has been some thing we will always treasure, and we know she is a gift from God for our missions. She in instrumental in all our work, weather it being finding a good contractor, arranging transportation, finding good matches for our work, and just knowing her prayers where with us always.
We came to know Restoration Gateway in 2013 and for many years walked beside them bringing solar power to their orphan homes, classrooms, library, and clinic. Along with installing solar light in their classrooms, we were able to install enough power for sewing machines. With a school partnership we were able to purchase sewing machines and all the supplies needed for them to start a sewing class, where they were able to make craft items for them to sell, repair schools uniforms, curtains for missionaries, and learn a trade that will stay with them into their lives Many of us have many wonderful memories with the mamas and the children at Restoration Gateway. We were all blessed by our time working there.
Village Power Projects
We have done a number of Village Power Projects in the last number of years. One of the most memorable villages, had us driving three hours each way to the village from our hotel. When arriving in the village we would split up into teams and hike 2-4 miles carrying all the equipment to the homes that would receive our solar. This was a week of physically, and mentally exhausting work. The very last hour of our last day in this village I came across this small boy whose face will never leave me. I asked his mother what had happened to him, and she replied that the kerosene lantern had tipped over on him and his face was severely burned. It was at that moment, I knew that every penny we spent on the solar, every mile we traveled in our bus, every mile we walked through the bush was worth it, if we could save even just one child from this kind of pain. To think that we were now replacing their dirty, dangerous lanterns, with clean, bright, renewable light made everything worth it!
Project Have Hope
A chance encounter that involved someone complimenting me on my Ugandan purse led to a wonderful relationship with Project Have Hope. PHH was started by an American woman from Boston who while traveling in Uganda doing photo journalism, met the women of the Acholi Quarter, a very poor section of Kampala populated mostly by members of the Acholi tribe of northern Uganda who came to the capital city in hopes of a better life. As has so often been the case, that hoped for life did not materialize and they were living in poverty. These women were working in a rock quarry pounding rocks in the hot African sun, for about $1 a day. She brought them out of the quarry and they now are able to sit in their community center and make their jewelry without fear of serious injury. Every time a team is in Uganda we stop by to visit the women of Project Have Hope and do some shopping! These women are so very grateful for the addition of light, and always share what they have been doing at night, sometimes choir practice, Bible Study, literary class, and sometimes just a safe place for fellowship!
In the early years of SLA we included medical doctors and dentists on our youth missions. We would set up our clinics under trees and see patients for hours on end while lighting clinics and other nearby facilities. When Ugandan villagers heard that the Americans were coming with medical help they would walk miles to be seen. We were able to do a great amount of work, yet we knew there was only so much that could be done in that situation. We have started doing medical missions, where we join in with local clinics where we have previously done solar installations. We have found great benefit to working with local medical professionals to ensure the best possible outcome for the patients. It is also very encouraging for our team members to see our power at work in the clinics. Our latest medical team worked with an American doctor who lived and worked in Uganda to make a list of the most needed equipment, and medicines. They were able to test and medicate the children at Hope for Humans, along with working side by side with medical officers in clinics that had recieved our solar. Their hashtag was #nursesonthenile, and they made a huge difference everywhere they worked.
We started building our relationship with Otino Waa (otinowaa.org), another orphanage and school, near Lira, northern Uganda, when some friends of SLA, Dr. Bridget and her husband Steve became the Directors. We have been able to install solar power back up systems on all of their 34 orphan homes, along with adding light into their showers and toilet rooms (much to the excitement of the kids). Otino Waa is hooked to the power grid, but it is quite unreliable and very expensive. With the addition of our solar backup system they now have light every night for the children to study and do chores, and they have saved a substantial amount of money that can now be used to rescue more children. Otino Waa is also working in the community to better some of the rural schools and next summer we will start working with them to light some of these rural schools. We are so very thankful for this connection, and know it will be a long, wonderful relationship.
Days for Girls
We have been able to customize mission trips to include ministry in addition to our solar. In 2016 we partnered with Days for Girls (daysforgirls.org) and led a mission to deliver washable menstrual kits to girls living in rural schools. We also installed light and power to run sewing machines in a school so they could teach local girls and women to make their own washable menstrual pads. Many girls do not have access to pads so they have to miss school, usually one week a month due to their period. On this mission trip we led classes on health and hygiene, along with passing out the kits and we donated portable solar lanterns for the girls to use at night we they needed to make the long walk from their dorm to the pit latrines. We made connections between the American women, and local leaders who have continued the work that was started on this mission.
This was by far our biggest team to date! We were approached by Galilee Church in Virginia Beach to do a mission trip for their youth. This was the first time that we were able to take a group of kids who had spent an intensive year fund-raising, planning and preparing for their mission. These kids and the adults joining them were able to hit the ground running. Since there were almost 30 on the team, we had to get creative to keep everyone busy at all times. When there was not enough solar work, I found the kids shelling peanuts, digging in the garden, planting flowers, helping the children with chores. Many, many prayers went into this mission, and we could all see the hand of God in it everyday!
In the spring of 2013 we started leading adult missions. We modeled these missions after the youth missions, by having the adults do the work, and having Ugandan adults working along side us. These missions have grown, to include private trips by church groups, groups of friends, we have even had one that was a 65th Birthday party! We can custom design a trip with your church group, friends, co-workers or family members. It is always such a blessing to watch others fall in love with Uganda and her people! If you would like to experience one of our adult missions, we have spots on our trip in March for more info visit solarlightforafrica.org. ! #missions #20yearsofmission #uganda
The Hathaways and the Turners were part of the first multi-generational trip. In 1999 Mary Hathaway who was 8 joined her father and grandfather and Elizabeth Turner who was 9 joined her mother. Seeing Uganda through the eyes of these young girls was amazing. Over the years we have taken many grandparents, and parents with their children, (a number of times had three generations in the same family) and they would all say it was a bonding experience like no other. I can personally say that with my two grown children, as I look back on my life as their mother, the highlight for each of them was a trip to Uganda. We can take children as young as 8 along with a parent, and we all love to watch them fall in love with Uganda and with a life serving others.
The early years of SLA took us through a number of solar contractors. In 2009 we were introduced to Timothy Juuko. Timothy has become one of the most important members of the SLA family. He is not only our solar expert, but our travel adviser and the fixer of anything! The joke about Timothy is that if he can’t do it, or doesn’t know the answer, if you just wait a minute he has a friend that does. He’s the ultimate “I know a guy...” guy! Timothy has on numerous occasion found the perfect restaurant, he has fixed our vehicles multiple times, made a boda (a small scooter very popular for cheap, quick transportation) run to exchange money, and been my personal security while traveling without at team.He is a trusted, knowledgeable "solar guy" doing quality work, with quality equipment, but most importantly Timothy becomes a dear friend to everyone on our teams! We are so thankful to have found such a wise, patient, kind Ugandan to walk this journey with.
We have been blessed since the very beginning of our time in Uganda to have received the gift of Special Forces Officers to be our security on our mission trips. These men come to us as a gift from the State House, a gift we have come to love. These men greet us upon arrival, and become an integral part of our team. They do not even leave the airport until we are out of Ugandan airspace at the end of each mission. They work with us on our installations, fellowship with us, pray with us and for us, and share their life stories. We have been incredibly blessed by these men over the last 20 years. I have no fear while traveling in Uganda, but the presence of these wise, quiet, gentle giants is such an addition to our teams which we are all so very grateful for.
When Bishop Hathaway started raising money to send to Uganda for solar installations someone came to him with an offer. This anonymous donor was willing to give him a large some of money for solar with a request attached. The request was for the Bishop to take a mission trip with high school and college age kids, to do the solar work, for the purpose of instilling in them a sense of mission. This was a very large request of a man who thought he had probably made his last trip to Uganda. None of us who were called to be on that very first mission could have ever imagined the impact of that one request would be. Over the last 20 years we have taken close to 400 young adults to Uganda, each of them coming back changed forever. We have seen kids come back and change their college majors because of something that impacted them on the trip. We have partnered with Ugandan youth, who have become lifelong friends. We have connected Ugandans with Americans who have been able to fund their university educations. These missions have become the back bone of our organization!
When Bishop Hathaway was telling the First Lady about his plans for the first mission trip, she commented that we should take Ugandan young adults with us to make them internationalists. The vision birthed in that moment has remained part of the heart of SLA. The relationships that have been built with the Ugandan students transform lives in a way that is sometimes beyond the solar itself. Social media has allowed the relationships between Ugandan and Americans to continue to grow and bear fruit that we can’t yet imagine. It is a joy to watch 20 years of students on both sides of the Atlantic grow up to be leaders, teachers, nurses, pastors, lawyers, engineers and most importantly ambassadors for the love of God wherever they go.
Soft Power Education
A chance encounter on the plane from London to Entebbe about 10 years ago was the beginning of one of our most important relationships in Uganda. We were looking for a nice restaurant on the bank of the Nile River in Jinja to take the team for lunch. The owners of the Nile Porch were sitting near Charlene, and what started as a conversation about lunch turned into much more. We stopped for lunch that year, and now every team has the pleasure of staying at the Nile Porch and enjoying their amazing hospitality. We learned that Hannah, one of the owners had started an NGO working to refurbish rural Ugandan schools. I told Hannah I would like to pay it forward because of the amazing hospitality that was shown to our teams. Over the last 10 years we have brought light to many Soft Power schools, even lighting a dorm for deaf children so they could communicate at night and more. We installed light and power to a block of therapy rooms for special needs children, and many blocks of teachers homes. They have found if they can offer a teacher in a rural school a nice home with power and light, they can attract and retain great teachers. Since we love the Nile Porch so much, and Soft Power Education has a never ending list of school who need our solar, it will continue to be a long term relationship.
Board of Directors
We have been blessed with a committed group of volunteers who are our Board of Directors. Each and every one of the board members has traveled on a mission with us, so they get what we are doing. They have seen first hand the work we are doing in Uganda. They have seen the transformation that happens with the addition of solar light. whether it be on a home, school, clinic, or community center and they have also seen some of the challenging pieces of our work. We are so very thankful for their commitment our our mission to Illuminate, Empower and Transform.
As I look back on everything we have accomplished in the last 20 years, I am most thankful for all of the relationships that have been built. Many people over the years have asked how we find the places where we install solar, and it all comes down to the relationships we have built in our journeys. We have more than once met folks on the plane to or from Uganda who we have partnered with on the ground. We have shared our stories of the work we are doing in Uganda, and the next thing you know we are walking beside them. We have had friends of friends hear our story and ask if we could partner with them. How do we recruit teams? Relationships. How do we raise funds? Relationships. How have we addressed the challenges that inevitably come? Relationships. Jesus worked through relationships and we believe that is the model that will carry SLA into whatever future God has for us
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