Empowering HIV/AIDS orphaned children in Africa to a self sustainable future

Catherine Koch

Catherine Koch

Founder and President of Love Is The Answer, a Canadian registered charity serving orphaned children in Africa.

A Village Christmas


Along with many others who call Mbale home, I took an early afternoon matatu heading out of town on Christmas Eve.. mine to Mutufu trading center in Sironko. There’s quite the exodus from the cities to the villages the last couple days before Christmas, and everyone traveling around these parts seems to be carrying black plastic bags with a number of items from basically the same list.. rice, sugar, meat, bread, tea, sweet potatoes/yams, and maybe, some lollipops!

Upon arrival, I was met by some of the children and Vincent who all helped transport two tents and a foamie we had stored in Toppy’s shop at the trading center along with the few bags I was carrying.  We made our way well along the path that’s drying and flatening out these days to Vincent’s place where it was planned that he, his wife Toppy, Frank, Sam, his wife Margaret and I would get together to bring ourselves up to date with advances on various ACIO fronts as a result of the flurry of activities we’ve all just been through.

In gratitude for their very warm welcoming and generous hospitality towards the Wagner’s during their visit, and towards me “every time, every time”, I was happy to pass a little something to each of the adults.. a LITA t-shirt for the guys, a LITA tote bag for the ladies, a solar lamp that can also charge one cell phone a day for each household , and two of my favorite mugs that I’ve been saving for Vincent and Toppy for a couple years now.. Peace Love Joy from Canada! So much fun!

Eventually I made my way from Vincent’s to the center and was greeted with a roaring rendition of “we shall never never forget you”!  Huge smiles, excited eyes beaming, the children were very happy! The songs continued for quite some time, although I was surprised that they just barely knew one Christmas song, and not a religious one at that, in its entirety.. “We wish you a Merry.. “. It was interesting for me to note to myself though.. what Christmas songs, exactly, would I want to teach them? Santa songs? .. no. Winter songs? .. those wouldn’t make much sense either. So I just enjoyed whatever they wanted to sing, their voices so strong, so joyful. ( On “religious songs”.. the children are visited, often daily, I’m told, in the early evening, by traveling pastors spreading the gospel of which there seem to be m-a-n-y. Seems about every second man is a ( in many cases – self proclaimed ) pastor. Some are rather fervent in their message and delivery, and there’s a great deal of singing that can go on in between remarkably robust hallelulia’s.. so the children have come to be very well versed in “Jesus” songs and can, and often do, perform a rather endless repertoire of them at the slightest prompt!)

The sun was coming to set and it was time for me to make camp.. so, the children helped set up the two tents, reminding me once again just how quick they are to learn new things. Show most of them something once, give them the idea of anything, and it’s a done deal, even in the exact order if you have demonstrated.. it’s so inspiring to me, and I often think the chance to even be with them these few times, to impart some new information that they are so hungry for, to introduce them to just about any and everything, is such an opportunity for me.. every moment feels a potential, life changing moment, and there’s a desire to open my whole heart and mind, my entire litany of varied life experiences to them, to go every extra mile, maybe trigger or inspire what often seems just slightly latent in them and let them run with it.. and they do, and they are fast, and so eager, all coupled with these inherent characteristics of incredible survival and strength.. these are such truly remarkable children. ( “two tents” you say.. the older boys who were taking on the job of watching over me for my safety during the night asked if they could sleep nearby my tent in the 2’nd tent that the Wagner’s donated after using. Great idea, and too much fun 🙂

Big hugs all round, it was time to call Christmas Eve a night! We all woke around 7am on Christmas morning, it was a beautiful blue sky morning, fresh and sweet. It wasn’t too long before we all discovered balloons I’d brought along and then even a few frisbees! Laughter and joy rippled across the compound all day, and it was so very delightful! We prepared meals with a little extra variety for the children.. yams, rice, and even a piece of meat for each child.. every one ate lots and played long and happily into the evening.

Throughout the day, at some point each of the 56 children visited me in my tent, to see what a tent looks like up close on the inside, AND to receive a toothbrush and a hand made scarf that Katie, my niece, and I made for them all a couple years ago in preparation, as it turned out, for Dec 25, 2011! .. beautiful, big, dark, twinkling eyes staring up at me with a bright scarf tied either around their neck or on their head as I cupped each sweet face and said “Merry Christmas, I Love You” before they left the tent.. needless to say, my Christmas was precious.

It’s true, after such a jam packed day, I sure could have done with a little sleep that night, but there was a “crusade” in the nearby trading center ( I had no idea what it was at the time, but the next morning, that’s what I was told it was called.. ). Courtesy of huge ( I saw them the next day ), very loud, very poor quality speakers that rippled distorted sound far and wide, from inside my tent there seemed to be these long blasts of excited yelling ( preaching ) followed by very simple, repeating, base lines ( music ) .. over and over and over.. all the way until sunrise. Then, just as all the roosters and cows and everything else that likes to make itself known as a new days dawns started to sing their praises, I guess the crusaders went home to rest. Ya.

Still catching up on my sleep, still a warm glow in my heart.. to have spent Christmas in the village with one huge, well fed, happy family all wrapped in very simple pleasures.. a gift indeed! C xox

Ps… we’re most grateful to be trying out and playing around with some of the cameras that were donated.. it’s interesting how the quality of color varies quite a bit between them, and one, as seen in a couple of these pix, has been programmed one day behind local time! All good, thank you donors!

Pss.. our tooth brush monitor for the boys, carrying his new charge.. a contanier with toothbrushes with names on them, and toothpaste!

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