Volunteer Blog

4-7-2017, Trip To Smiling Hearts - The Day That Change Us

It was wonderful to have Loretta, John, Beth, Aaron, Joan and Steve arrive on Saturday. They have settled in well at Elite Backpacker and have spent the first couple of days visiting the Smiling heARTs program that Loretta established with Mbabazi Hellen just a little over 12 months again. Beth and Aaron have written a terrific blog that perfectly captures the emotional filled day at Kakunyu:

Day Trip To Kakunyu Smiling Hearts - The Day That Change Us
We felt compelled to write in the blog today for our first time, and record this day, as we have so many emotions running wild. People say that writing down what you experience, helps you deal with it. No words can ever describe what we experienced today but we will give it a go.....

Today changed our lives. It really did. It was the most confronting experience either of us have ever had. A day that will be etched in to our memories forever, like a carving in a tree. A day that changed us.

We spent the day with the Smiling HeARTs children (children with special needs) at Kakunyu school in Masaka. We have been privileged enough to have been spending the last few days with Hellen, teacher and co-founder of Smiling HeARTs, along with her partner David, at Elite Backpackers. She escorted us to the place she spends many hours of her devoted time.

From the moment we pulled up in our dusty Land Cruiser at the front of the school, we were greeted by the entire school of children in purple and yellow uniforms, smiling from ear to ear, singing the chorus 'we are happy because you are here' and then 'welcome visitors'. There was not a dry eye amongst us as we watched these beautiful children put their heart and soul in to their welcome performance.

The tears just continued from there, throughout the day.

We followed inside for more dancing and singing. The singing was pitch perfect. The dancing was so rhythmical and they played the drums and maracas like we have never seen children play before. It was easy to overlook that these children had any disabilities. It was not like a school performance back home - there were no shy or embarrassed children. There were no inhibitions. They were all so proud to be showing us what they had obviously been rehearsing for so long. The teachers coaxed us up to join in and we all danced like no one was watching; so honoured to be included in the special moment. We smiled so hard, for so long, that our cheeks were physically sore. We were confronted by the most overwhelming emotion, like nothing we have ever felt. Still, as we write this blog, we experience that familiar lump in our throats.

Why were we crying though? We kept asking ourselves. We couldn't quite pin point it. Were we crying tears of sadness at how difficult these children's lives must be? Or were they tears of joy, because of the fact that we were able to brighten their day, just by visiting? Whatever the reason, it was raw and it was real. We were experiencing something very unique and it was the reason we came to Uganda. We knew we were going to learn so much more from the Ugandan people than we could ever teach them.

Later on we were introduced to the head teacher, David and the other teachers and were taken down the long dusty track to meet the director Mary, where the dormitories were.

You see most children who attend Kakunyu don't have a home to live, as their parents abandoned them. Kakunyu is their home. Mary was so appreciative of all the work HUG and Smiling HeARTs have been doing for the school. We have never seen someone show so much appreciation. She got down on her knees. She hugged us multiple times and shook our hands equally as many times. She shared her touching story of her own 4 children with special needs and how the school began. She shared the struggles they all face with being accepted - the mistreatment that children with disabilities in Uganda all received in the past. Mary's said it perfectly when she said 'united we stand, divided we fall'. She really did need our help and we were so happy that we were giving it. By this point we were both a mess, with tears continuing to flood.

As we toured through the dormitories, we became completely overwhelmed with what we saw. Many of these children were severely disabled and living in conditions that, for them, had improved over the last few years, but for us, were awful. It was crowded and the stench invaded our nose, we wondered how people could live like this. It was so so sad. Children lying on the concrete covered in flies. Children who crawled because they could not walk. Children who required an apparatus just to help them stand up. The sounds they made, as they attempted to communicate with us via groans and squeals will always be remembered. All they wanted was for us to touch them, hug them, talk to them and treat them like we would any other children.

Through all of this heartache though, we could see the love and passion that was being injected into the school by Mary, the teachers, HUG and Smiling HeARTs. The childrens' disability was not seen as a inability. The main goal for them is to ensure these children feel loved and special and worth something. It didn't matter what they could or couldn't physically do. They were more than their disability.

We spent the next hour or so with Hellen in her Smiling HeARTs art class, where the children were making cards for us to take back home to sell at markets. This just further enforced that 'disability is not inability' as the quality of this work was amazing. Hellen is a beautiful soul who is doing an amazing job with these children.

We were appreciative to be able to finish the day off with some happiness- a celebration with Smiling HeARTs. After many years of planning, since 2012, today was one year since the Smiling HeaARTs kicked off, by Loretta Lilford and Hellen Mbabazi. This was their first birthday and everyone was excited. We put up balloons, sang happy birthday and blew party whistles. 

A really special moment was when two students - Gertrude and Sylvia were presented with new, adjustable crutches. Both girls were permanently reliable on their crutches but both had grown out of their's; they were old and rusted and were causing them much pain and discomfort. The sheer joy and excitement in their eyes when they received these gifts was something we can't begin to explain. What a day!

Through all the trauma, pain and misfortune these beautiful children endure, they still manage to smile every day. You see, they don't care about fancy branded clothes. They don't want expensive toys or technology. They don't need trendy houses in the best suburbs. All those things seem ridiculous to us right now. They have enough food to stop them from being hungry and enough water to keep them hydrated. They have shelter. But most importantly they are happy because they have people around them who love them.

What more do we need?

Love and hope is enough.

We will hold each other close tonight.

Aaron Luxmoore and Beth Lilford


Anonymous commented on 05-Jul-2017 03:08 PM
Thankyou Aaron and Beth. Just wonderful.

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