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.

Further to my new surroundings…


I feel as though I blinked and was magically transported to a polar opposite reality from where I’ve been since my arrival here in Uganda! From the quiet, rustic, community and earth based life in the village where daily activities revolve around cleaning, laundry, cooking, eating and watching over the children, I have traveled a stretch of road and ended up in a tile floored home of about 2000 sq ft. with a fridge, stove, lace covered dining room table that seats 6, a flush toilet across from my bedroom beside another room with a hot shower in it! Here I will be staying while I volunteer at the NGO center in this community.

Aesthetics and mod-cons aside, requiring the most adjustment from me has been the change in my companions / roommates… from the true comfort of ‘my’ warm, affectionate and loving family of Ugandans I have arrived in the presence a group of rather ‘serious’ academics from a university in Canada who are here with a number of ‘administrative’ agendas…Whew! That kind of shift will keep me on my toes…!

I already miss the simple authenticity of my village experience and hope it won’t be too long before I am once again in a similar environment. I guess it seems quite a natural fit for me… although I do have to say the flush toilet is a most appreciated luxury to have once again, for a short time at least!

Before leaving the Kampala/Mukono area I was fortunate to attend the Annual General Meeting (AGM) for the local NGO that I will be volunteering with. Being an organization that provides support services to people infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS ( I know, acronyms aplenty… !) at many different centers throughout Uganda, there were a few thousand ‘positive’ clients in attendance who had traveled from a number of districts and communities around the country. I feel VERY grateful to have been witness to such a wonderful celebration of life in the form of song and dance, sharing and community.

From the ‘Welcoming Dance and Song’ put on by a number of clients from Mbale ( women and men with wide eyes and smiles, singing loudly in high pitched tones, words in the local dialect, performing to the 4 directions of the room, accompanied by a constant beat, huge shoulder gyrations and an ever forward moving shuffle of the feet ) to the extremely powerful presentation by the young ‘Children of Entebbe’, also clients, performing a drama that loudly, boldly asks in African accented English ’Why AIDS?, Why ME?, Why YOU?’ ( a performance that placed COMPASSION directly in front of us all, reaching in and grabbing hold of hearts, bringing tears to the eyes of many) it was indeed a huge honor to be present and I will not easily forget the many great people I was fortunate to meet and share with there.

Smiling warmly, reaching out, embracing each other and me sometimes, many of the people present were full of strength exhibiting a positive pride and deep determination. Surprising to me, many asked for photos with me, one little ‘positive’ girl sat staring at 2 of us muzungu’s for hours even after I hugged and shared a photo with her, and, I received ( what a group of us decided must have been ) a marriage proposal from a man who probably thought I was a client as well! (… I tried my best to politely sidestep…! )

Endless Blessings…I felt and saw many moments of Love and Heaven in the eyes and Spirit of the people there that day!

So, now I find myself in Mbale ( pronounced with the sound of a very slight ‘m’ run together with ‘Baaa-lee’ ) and this week I begin my volunteer work at the centre here. I’m sure I’ll have lots to share as time goes by when I start to connect directly with clients, work in palliative care and go out into rural areas to meet with orphans and visit child headed households…so far, I can tell you what I witnessed yesterday morning during my first visit to the center.

Yesterday was a ‘clinic day’ at the center. I understand this is a day that happens a few times each week when ‘positive’ clients who are registered with the NGO come to see their counselors and receive a specific number of ARV”s or ART’s ( Anti Retro-viral Treatment ) medications that will help them to remain healthy for an upcoming period of time. As well, people who have recently been diagnosed positive with HIV, and have been referred to the NGO for support, visit the center for the first time on a ‘clinic day’ to start to become informed about all of the services available to them.

When I arrived at the center I noticed the several benches by the side entrance to the building were almost completely full of people. Men and women dressed in various ethnic styles and colors of clothing, many holding little children, were sitting waiting on the process that would move them forward to the person or part of the building that would help them. For the next several hours, every hallway I traveled was filled with clients sitting along one side, all were waiting, usually very quietly, for something. Most had a glazed over tired look about them, some looked scared, withdrawn and confused. Again as at the AGM, without hesitation most lit up and offered a smile to me when our eyes met and they saw me smiling at them.

All of these days as I wonder about, whether in village or center, driving by people on the road or shopping beside others in the open market…where ever I am, I am feeling happy, grateful and very privileged to be here. I am feeling a sense of being in the perfect place at this moment in my life, sometimes wondering where this will lead, but, most times managing to stay quite present to exactly where I am.

With Gratitude and Deep Love,
Cath xoxo

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