We spent one of our mornings in Uganda teaching safe water/health and hygiene in the shade of a big tree in a little village on the very outskirts of Mbale.

Almost fifty percent of the residents there are affected with AIDS.  We met a health intern living there who is working on helping dissolve many of the myths associated with that disease that are so detrimental to the community.

Aside from teaching our little class, we got to help the families gain new access to clean water.  Gosh, after this trip I think so much more about how grateful I am to turn on the tap and have clean water flow.  Such an easy thing to take for granted! After reading the stories in Thirst (a book I wrote about back HERE), I have become so interested what is being done to help access to clean drinking water in Africa, and the world as a whole.  Did you know that over one billion people worldwide lack access to clean water?  I love that Family Humanitarian is working hard to help in this crisis.  I love how their website sums it up:   An estimated 4,000 people die every day as a direct result of contaminated water with children being the hardest hit. Polluted drinking water claims more lives than all forms of violence combined including war, and claims the lives of more children than AIDS, malaria, and measles combined. Each day, women and children walk miles to collect water that is so contaminated it will kill 25% of her family. The countless hours spent collecting water is time not spent in school, often causing girls to fall behind and eventually drop out.

We got to help Family Humanitarian provide some pretty cool new water filters to families in that village (no wells or boreholes close-by)…which will lead to so much better health and hygiene.  FH has teamed up with a company called Sawyer International who have come up with these water filters that apparently have the power to eliminate 95% of all illness caused by waterborne diseases.  I don’t know exactly how the technology works but I’m so excited for these families to try them out…

(They don’t look like much from these pictures…but apparently that tube has something called “micron absolute filtration” that can purify up to 170 gallons of water per day and can last for 10-20 years…read more about them from the website over HERE.)

I’m so excited that my niece and nephew are heading over in a couple weeks and can report how those filters are working.  I hope they are well-used and that they help make a big difference for those families.

We got to go to the school one last time to do our art project and say our goodbyes.  Those kids were packed around me so tight I could barely see as I tried to finger-paint butterflies with a huge crowd.  It poured rain and then brightened up and I loved hearing laughing and dancing outside of the little covering where I was being mobbed, Dave making huge bubbles, the girls teaching dance moves, the children singing.

 My favorite part was watching Lucy kick a soccer ball around with a few of the kids.

And I loved my art project helpers:

Elle took this film black and white as we were pulling out and waving goodbye and I love it:

We left parts of our hearts there but are so excited that my niece and nephew are heading over and we can send little notes and love with them.

Emma took us to a little shop to grab some little things to help us remember our time there.

 The girls all got rings…note their fading henna still left over from Dubai:

And I was happy to find the traditional thing I like to collect from places we visit: salad tongs.
So pretty right? 

Also we had some rocks we bought from some guys who were selling them from the bottom of Sipi Falls after our waterfall rappelling:

We put those in the boxes hanging in our house (that I talked about back HERE).
Just some little mementos to remember the big things that filled up our hearts so much from Uganda.
This is a random spot to put this picture, but let’s just note how awesome these guys were who took us all over the place:

They were pretty great.

Emma arranged a “tribal naming ceremony” for us the morning before we headed to Kenya.  
We met behind this little house with these talented drummers who explained SO MANY THINGS that I want to remember.  Every village has their own unique drum beat and when it is played people gather from all around, they know that beat signifies something, whether tribal business, circumcision ceremonies, etc.  They told us that the even years are the “male” years and they wished we were here in 2020 because so many circumcisions would be happening (they only do them on the “male” years).  There is no hard and fast rule for what age you should be circumcised, but at the youngest eight and up to sixteen, depending on how strong you are when the “male” year comes up.  The boy is the one who decides…if he doesn’t, and shies away from it, he’s kind of shunned by the community.  They are supposed to be super tough and not flinch, and if they are, they have many people who want them to marry their daughters.  After they are circumcised they are supposed to leave their family home and make it on their own.
Here they are warming up their drums for optimal sound:

Playing for us:

They gave us all our own tribal names and had us dance with them and although it was just this little gathering under a tree, I thought it was a pretty great way to end our time there.

I even danced when it was my turn.  Anyone who knows me knows that’s not something I do on a regular basis…. 

The whole crew:

After that we drove.  And drove and drove (with Emma and Isma), in our now mud-caked van that had a brake problem we had to fix en route over the border:

(the border crossing could be a post of it’s own, it was a journey!)  into Kenya to a city called Kisumu where we caught our flight to Nairobi.

Said our goodbyes when we finally reached the airport:

(the thumbs-up are that we made it all in one piece, because that felt a little bit triumphant)

This shows a little bit of Claire’s trepidation when she saw the size of that plane she was supposed to board…

Little did she know they would get even smaller in the next couple days!

One of my favorite parts of the day was sitting sort of squished in the row behind Elle and Lu on that little airplane listening to them making up their own spelling bee.  I love siblings.  And I was just so grateful for that golden togetherness we were in the middle of.

Oh, also another favorite part of the day was arriving late-night at our Nairobi hotel to so much delight from our kids to have so much light (we had to use flashlights to see much in our little spot in Uganda), and real tile floors!  Such a different world.

But we will always carry Uganda in our hearts. The country and the people we fell in love with.

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  1. What a journey!!
    The people, the landscape, the mission – it’s all so moving.
    “Golden togetherness”, I adore this and will file away for a fitting time in my life.
    I so enjoy reading of your family and travels.
    Life is an adventure 💚

  2. I would highly recommend reading the book called "A Long Walk to Water" by Linda Sue Park. It is based on a true story and I read this with my 5th grade students last year. It was a Global Read Aloud book in 2017. Two stories intertwine with a surprise ending. It parallels very well with what you learned about on your trip. Loved it! 🙂

  3. Thank you for sharing this trip and your thoughts. It's so touching, and eye opening. The water crisis has been a big thing on my mind, and I did a campaign on my IG and YTube channel a few months back for Charity Water (haven't read Thirst yet though;) The thing that boggles my mind is that $30 with Charity water can get clean water access to one person. Only $30! These organizations are doing such amazing work!

  4. “You are whatever you want to be in Africa” You are living out this dangerous trope. Your family is entirely unqualified to train anyone on water hygiene, in the US or Africa. You aren’t environmental engineers, you don’t understand water quality chemistry, you aren’t trained on the specific device, you aren’t familiar with local conditions, you are ignorant on local barriors to use, you don’t speak the local language. Yet, here you are elevated in front of the community as experts. Again, so black people can see that white people, even white teenagers, should be deferred to as experts and providers over their own community members. What value do you think you provided in this “service” over what could have been done without you there?

    Instead of the next group of white teenagers spending thousands of dollars to “serve”, wouldn’t it be better if an actual water quality expert came to train a group of local young adults on how to distribute the devices? Local teenagers would know the language, living conditions, challenges faced and be able to spread knowledge and build up their own community, learn valuable life skills, and earn money. But this wouldn’t lead to the all-important blond kid surrounded by black faces photo op.

    Again, I urge everyone to read and really think about these posts by No White Saviors for a view from Ugandans on these service trips and missionaries:

    1. Also to note, the latest IG post is directly relevant to the discussion on your previous post about why it is inappropriate for any visitors to show up and have access to children without appropriate background checks, training and protections in place (i.e. holding children, hugging children, ability to leave supervised sites with children, grooming through gift giving).

    2. I see a lot of comments by people saying that white people should not go do these service trips. I'm hoping someone can help me understand, because what I'm reading is because I'm white, I'm only allowed to serve white people. (But if I did that, I would also be criticized for only serving white people.) Can't I just help someone without being concerned about the color of their skin or my skin?

    3. Boss421A when service is rendered,the most important questions are: is this really helping the recipient in the best way possible? Good intent doesn't equal good outcomes. White is being used synonymously with American in some instances here. Race should never be a factor in who we serve, but in places still reeling from the effects of hundreds of years of racism, it should inform HOW we serve. It's important to not accidentally perpetuate racism (whites, or foreigners always in a position of authority over the uneducated locals) a different way that we would never intend. I hope that helps a bit.

    4. I feel as if the instagram account mentioned seems to me to be a little on the "angry-at-the-world" side of things. I mean no offense by that saying that, I just feel as if honest, open communication is the best way to deal with misunderstandings rather than lashing out. Just my opinion.

    5. @boss412A that is absolutely not what people are saying. I would urge you to read some academic work around the white savior complex and listen to what black people are saying about these trips. People are not saying that you should only serve white people, they're asking you to interrogate why you are not serving the poor closer to home and instead feel some connection to or need to be in Africa. They're also asking you to think about whether you really have the tools to serve in a meaningful way. These trips are underpinned by the (problematic) idea that white people inherently have the tools to contribute meaningfully to problems on a continent that is fabulously diverse and complicated. (Shawni, I really enjoy reading your blog and I totally applaud your desire to see the world and offer that experience to your children. I hope this comment isn't seen as a criticism. I just want to contribute a different perspective.)

  5. What an amazing thing your family has done! What a gift for them to see the difference in cultures and for them to play and learn and teach those in the communities you visited! No doubt you brightened their lives as much as they did yours!

    Pay no mind to the trolls…you are doing great work and making a difference where you can. What a blessing to have and take those opporunities in life!!

    1. Fundamentally disagreeing with this type of trip does not make someone "a troll". There are serious concerns and constructive criticism for why these trips are not beneficial. To "pay no mind" to someone who has potentially relevant information is choosing to be ignorant.

    2. Trolling – (verb), as it relates to internet, is the deliberate act, (by a Troll – noun or adjective), of making random unsolicited and/or controversial comments on various internet forums with the intent to provoke an emotional knee jerk reaction from unsuspecting readers to engage in a fight or argument

      This is her space to record her family memories, service projects and other positive experiences she has. A "troll" is someone who has nothing better to do than to pass judgement on someone who has carefully researched and selected beneficial charities of whom they supported for the better benefit of a community at large and even more specifically her own people.

      Taking a meaningful experience for all parties and creating it to be a racist experience is every bit what is to be expected from a "troll". I am far from ignorant and I am much more kind than the commentary displayed above.

      Thankful for families such as these who reach beyond themselves to help, love and respect others, even beyond our own communities and country.

    3. I respectfully disagree. The fact that numerous loyal readers here have taken issue with this particular type of trip should be an indication that there might actually be some problems, despite it being a "meaningful experience". If this was truly only a family record, the blog should be kept private. Or, you can disable comments. Otherwise, you open yourself up to feedback and criticism, and I have always gathered that the Eyres welcome opinions to broaden perspective.

    4. You are just using "troll" as a way to dismiss anyone else's comments. There is a big difference between the statements used by actual internet trolls and people looking to provide constructive criticism. If everyone came here and only commended, it would become an echo chamber. There are many of us who believe the voluntourism is very problematic, and we should not be silenced for sharing those views. If you think that some others comments were wrong, such as the qualifications they have to be educating on water quality, maybe try countering that point instead of accusing it as a troll comment. Shawni or anyone else is more than welcome to counter any of the points made.

    5. I think there are many valid points brought up in all these comments for which I am grateful. Things for all of us to think about and learn from. Some are genuinely trying to discuss an issue that is complex and difficult, which is helpful and building. But let's be honest, there are others who are "trolling." It's difficult for me to understand why so much energy is wasted this way, but to each his own!

      Thank you Jen! We are so grateful we had this opportunity!

  6. What a great adventure for your family!

    You might be interested in reading a blog that Elder and Sister Brock are keeping (our friends in Georgia) about their time in KIRIBATI helping the island with clean water! brocksgoto.blogspot.com

  7. Per your last post, the sentence "Lucy saw a rainbow" is pure magic.

    Now that you are connected with this charity, hopefully you can use your influence to suggest they have either experts or locals teach about water, or other subjects. Africa just has a rough history due to colonization and slavery that even the small optics matter.

    Thanks for the book recommendations from you and your readers. Excited to read them and bump up my contribution to CharityWater.

  8. there are domestic water filters like this, that I think every house hold should have in their long term food storage. (something I know that the LDS church promotes). We personally have a Berkey filter. I would say this is the best we have ever had and we had had a few ceramic ones, none are as good as this one. Check it out. They also last about 10 years.

  9. Can you share how much it cost for all of you to go on this trip? Fee for Family Humanitarian, airfare, etc? Just wondering the budget of it all!

    1. On their website it says $1850 plus airfare per person, so likely it came to at least $3000/person. Plus, I'm sure there were other costs involved like getting visas, vaccines, etc.

    1. Thank you for sharing, that looks like such a great new resource for the blind. I am so grateful for so many opportunities and resources like this!

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