(*Please note, friends: This post is long. But, would you take time read it, for me? For all the precious Ugandan mamas who need your help? And then, would you consider sharing the post so others might help too? Thank you. From the bottom of my heart.)
She walked for four hours just to meet me.
Her soles were red from Uganda's earth and she didn't break a sweat in the high heat. Her eyes shone but she lowered them, looked at her sandals, even as I reached out a hand to touch her shoulder, and I could feel the strength in this peasant farmer's arm.
She'd lost her husband just weeks earlier to HIV/Aids, an illness people still talk about in hushed tones because of the shame associated with it.
She'd lost her children long before that to this children's home I was visiting--because she had a sick husband to care for and a farm that wasn't bringing in money and no way to feed her sons or daughters.
And here I was, able to pay for her kids' clothes and education while she wasn't. And not because I worked harder. No, she worked sun-up to sundown and had callouses across her hands and feet. No, it was because I came from a first class country overflowing with food and privilege while the rest of the world is forced to feed from our trash cans.
I smiled at her, but I felt sick.
I am a mother. Every night I walk into my boys' room and ache for them lying there in their beds, because they're tucked deep in my womb. I cannot imagine how humbling, or humiliating, it would be, to have to ask someone else to take care of my children. To not be able to give them food or water, to not be able to keep them under your own roof-and THEN, to walk four hours to meet the woman who can?
Our Father weeps. He anguishes over every single mother--because there are hundreds of thousands of them across Uganda in the same situation--who has to lose her child, who cannot take care of her children.
And He's asking us to do something about it.
Sponsoring a child is good, don't get me wrong. I sponsor as many children as I am able.
But standing there with this beautiful woman in her brown hat and her downcast gaze, her son's eyes shining as he looked at me, I thought, No. Enough. There has to be more.
I want this son to look at his MOTHER with adoration, not me--a stranger.
I want him to look at HER to provide his needs, not me--an outsider who didn't birth him without an epidural, who didn't weep and pray over him every night of his childhood, who didn't spend every minute of every day trying to earn enough money to buy him a bowl of Matoke (cooked banana) so he wouldn't starve to death.
So, I went home and founded a non-profit called The Lulu Tree. I didn't intend to found a non-profit. I didn't--and still don't--feel qualified to start one, I just wanted to partner with someone who was doing what I wanted to do. But no one was.
Our vision at The Lulu Tree is to work with HIV mothers in the slum of Katwe, Uganda (the worst of Kampala's eight slums), equipping them to be care for their own kids. Our slogan is "Preventing tomorrow's orphans by equipping today's mothers." Lofty, I know. But you have to dream big, right? Shoot for the moon and you'll land somewhere among the stars?
So we're shooting for the moon.
We've hired a beautiful Ugandan social worker named Esther Natakunda Tendo (Esther--is there more anointed a name? She has been called to free her people from captivity). We've also hired a national coordinator named Carol Masaba.
Esther is a 29-year-old married mother of two who has received education in Sex and Gender Based Violence, computer application and project planning and management from the African Population Management. She has volunteered for years through the children’s home where she was raised, and has extensive work experience both in banking and in communications. Esther speaks several dialects, and is a strong believer in Jesus Christ. Her heart beats passionately for women and children suffering from AIDS, and it is her heart’s desire to help those who are impoverished find hope. As her name suggests, Esther has responded to the call to set her people free from poverty and despair.
Carol Masaba is the national coordinator both for The Lulu Tree and for the African Evangelistic Enterprise in Uganda. She partners with churches across the country to bring the hope of Christ to various parts of the nation. Carol has over 20 years experience in integrated community development work, during which she has worked with poor and marginalized communities to improve the well-being of children and youth. She is in charge of hiring and mentoring Lulu staff and volunteers and overseeing the ministry as a whole.
Both Carol and Esther will be working with the mothers in the slum of Katwe. Our goal is to equip them holistically--spiritually, emotionally and physically. This involves connecting them with the local church, providing HIV treatment for the mothers and children, and teaching the mamas a trade--to how to sew, or cook, so that after two years of being sponsored, these mamas will be self-sufficient.
(You can read about how to sponsor a mama HERE).
And ... we've got some EXCITING NEWS! If you have Christmas shopping to do, and want to help people at the same time, look no further!!
We're launching THE LULU TREE BOUTIQUE this week, with the ultimate goal of creating a market for these precious mamas to selling their beautiful work through, once they've been trained. SHIPPING IS INCLUDED IN THE PRICES. All proceeds go towards The Lulu Tree.
A friend of mine, dear Jodie Vanderzwaag, HAS GIVEN UP her very successful business a few months ago to run this boutique. Pretty amazing.
We are also partnering with The House of Belonging, Funky Fish Designs, Krafty Kash, and Little Dragonfly Boutique, as well as a number of individual artisans who have donated their products to this shop. My dear sister Christy Stewart Halsell of Sandy Feet Media has volunteered long hours to set up this website and boutique (I HIGHLY recommend her web services!), and countless others including photographer Leanne Doell have donated time and energy to Lulu. To see a full list of everyone who's helping us, please visit HERE.
So, let's get shopping! We've got cozy slipper boots, slouchy beanies for kids and adults, little girl dresses, cowls and jackets, infinity scarves, dolls, darling Lulu headbands and artwork, jewelry, and more. See below for some sneak peeks.
Would you consider doing some Christmas shopping at our boutique, and helping us help these mamas? We would be so grateful. Click the button below, or just follow this link: http://thelulutree.com/shop/.
On behalf of women like Harima, below, who is our first Lulu Mama--THANK YOU! For helping us bring DIGNITY and LIFE to these dear women!
For those who help us share the post or do any of the following, we'd like to give you the chance to win some extraordinary products including:
To win the above products, just follow this link (or copy/paste this link: http://www.emilywierenga.com/can-change-world-one-mother-time/) scroll down and enter the Rafflecopter.
PS. Friends, if any of you wants to get involved with The Lulu Tree, we'd LOVE to work with you. We are a non-profit that exists only due to the generosity and compassion of people like you. Please visit HERE to find out how you might change a life today through Lulu.