Another very special part of my trip to Uganda was finally meeting the boys and leaders of African Hearts. My assistant principal, Yvonne, made a connection with African Hearts through an Operation Christmas Child box (another story for another time) and through God’s providence has been able to visit these boys many times over the past several years. She not only personally supports the organization and many of the boys but she is also their constant advocate. She tirelessly works to get all of the boys an education, clothing, medical care, and more. Recently she and her husband, Jon, have been able to partner with Engage Hope to better support and raise awareness of African Hearts. She knows each one boy by name and they call her “Mum.” So for the entire 5 years that I have worked with Yvonne I have heard stories, seen pictures, received updates about, and prayed for these boys. I have sent various donations, like arts and crafts, in the past when Yvonne has made a trip there. Now I have met these boys personally and seen the powerful transformation that has taken place in their lives. It is truly amazing. God can do great and mighty things.
Almost every boy who lives at the African Hearts home has come from the slums. The slums are an area of cardboard and metal shacks and thrown together shelters where children of all ages go to live when they have nowhere else to go. Many of these street kids are orphans or have been displaced from their homes for a variety of reasons. The boys form gangs and the girls typically live as prostitutes. Violence, sickness, and malnutrition abound. One of the most tragic things about the slums is addiction. When living in such hopeless situations the children, even the very young, often turn to sniffing petrol (gasoline) as a means of escape. They put petrol soaked rags in the bottom of plastic bottles and carry these around with them all day. The high provides them numbness from the pain, both physical and mental.
African Hearts sets up a lunch of rice and beans twice a week at the community center at the entrance to the slum area. This is often the only real meal that the kids get. Additionally, the leaders of African Hearts teach Bible lessons, try to serve as a mentor and encouragement to the boys, and provide basic medical care for them. They even have a room inside the slums where one of the leaders lives to provide on-site medical care and shelter for boys who are very ill. Through building these relationships the leaders of African Hearts are able to identify boys that would be a good fit to live in the African Hearts homes. They have been able to help provide a home for dozens of boys and hope to increase that number in the future.
This is the African Hearts home in the Ssenge village where the younger boys live. This home is fully paid for and owned by African Hearts–praise God! They have recently been able to add an indoor kitchen and a rainwater storage tank. All of the boys in this home are now in school, their bodies are healthy, and they are fed the word of God on a daily basis. They serve as a family for one another and are under the leadership of Junior, Kenny, and Lutaaya: the leaders of African Hearts. All three of these men come from tough situations of their own and have committed their lives to helping boys come out of the slums. They offer hope to a group who is often overlooked. Lutaaya, 30 yrs old, started African Hearts in 2001 after becoming a Christian. The fruits of his labor are amazing and he gives the glory all to God. Most of the boys who live in the home seen above are supported financially by individuals. The money goes to their food, shelter, school fees, uniforms, and more. While visiting the home Lutaaya showed us “before and after” pictures of all the boys who live there. I wish I had all those pictures to share with you the amazing changes. Not only did they look healthy and nourished, but they all had a light in their eyes that was not present in their before pictures (pictures taken while they were still living in the slums or right when they were taken out).
It is amazing what a few hundred dollars a year can pay for…that is all it costs to support one of these boys. Ronald, above, is supported by two of the people who were on our trip. He was taken from the slums and today is a happy and healthy little boy.
African Hearts would love to be able to take more boys from the slums and provide them with a hope filled future but money is the constant roadblock. If you feel led, I invite you to visit African Hearts page or their ministry partner, Engage Hope and found out how you can help support the organization and make a difference in the life of a child. Even if you cannot give financially I ask you to commit this special ministry to your prayers and to spread the word. If you are interested in learning more and following the story of African Hearts, here is their blog.