View Post

Cake for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner: My Birthday in Uganda

Yesterday I turned 23 and did not plan on celebrating very much. However, the wonderful people in Uganda did not allow my birthday to pass without making it a wonderful day. Seeing as I just arrived a week ago and do not know many people very well yet I did not expect to have much of a special day. This was fine with me. Birthdays aren’t a huge thing for me so I was just going to go about my day as usual and maybe go out for a piece of chocolate cake at the end of the day. My day turned out to be so special that I felt the need to write an entire blog post just about this day. So all I am going to share this time is what I did yesterday and why I thought it was so special. 

My day started as it usually does with a nice cup of coffee. I drank the coffee as I played a dice game called Zilch with two other friends who are temporarily boarding in the Cornerstone guest house (which is where I live). After Zilch I headed to the market to get some vegetables for dinner. Next I worked out (P90X kickboxing video). After showering I decided I should actually start working for the day since it was already 1pm. I started up my computer but unfortunately I was interrupted by a giant piece of chocolate birthday cake (so sad). Devastated I couldn’t start my work immediately I dug into the delicious piece of cake. This cake was brought to me by the kind hearted people I’ve lived with for only a few days. I was so warmed by their gesture my day had already been made at this point. But it only got better! I ate a small portion of the giant piece and then started working on a few things. Next I was presented with a beautiful handmade birthday card signed by my coworkers with their well wishes inside. I was again touched by this simple card.
After working on some things and meeting with a few people Dani (my predecessor) and I headed to visit the Lungujja girls home.

Me and the Lungujja girls

I am still making my way to each home for my first visit. The Lungujja girls were very welcoming just as all Ugandan’s I’ve meet so far are. We sat and talked with a few of them as the rest gradually arrived home from school (they don’t get off school until 5pm!). Dani told them it was my birthday and one of the girls was so sweet to go off for a few minutes and write me a really beautiful and kind birthday note. She gave me the note along with a gorgeous handmade necklace. The girls in Lungujja make handmade beads out of recycled paper and then make necklaces and bracelets. I put the necklace on immediately and thanked them many times. Then Dani went out and bought sodas for everyone (a very special treat for our kids). We chatted as we enjoyed our sodas. I had a real coca-cola for the first time in a few years and enjoyed every sip. It was also one of our coworker’s birthdays as well so he came by and enjoyed a soda with us.

The girls sang Happy Birthday to us both and Asiimwe and I were pointing at each other every time they sang “you”.

My next stop was the movie theater! I meet the two fine gentlemen who bought me cake earlier at the movies and we saw MIB 3. The movie was pretty good. At home later I ate more of my cake and we played Zilch again. Then I talked to both parents on Skype and told them all about my great day. That’s all. In my opinion it was a perfect birthday. I’ve been in this country for one week and I haven’t even known most of these people for a week. The fact that they all went out of their way to do something for me on my birthday whether it was buying me cake or signing my card or wishing me a good day really shows the quality of people I work with. 
I’ve been very welcomed into the community so far and I think my birthday really showcased how welcomed I am here. Everyone goes out of their way to make sure I’m having a good time and that I feel at home.  I felt comfortable in this community within a few days and I think it usually takes much longer than that in the U.S. to feel comfortable in a new group of people. Overall I just wanted to express how thankful I am to this community for taking me into their lives with such kindness. I had an exceptional birthday and it was all due to the kindness of people I hardly know and just met. Also, at the end of the busy day I realized I had basically eaten that piece of cake for breakfast, lunch, and dinner! I didn’t mean to but that’s what happened. I ate a mango at some point during the day. Cake for all three meals is definitely a good day!


Today (the day after my birthday) at our mentor meeting they made me sit in the middle of the circle so they could sing happy birthday. They also “baptized” me with a Ugandan name. My new Ugandan name is Murungi which translates to beautiful. I am happy with their choice.

View Post

The Month of May

Update from Bukesa

Hello from the boys at the Bukesa home in Kampala, Uganda and happy belated Mother’s Day!
Otua, a 12-year old boy in Bukesa home wrote a very nice poem honoring mothers on their special day and HALO would love to share it with you:
Mother’s Day
What can I say about a mother on this day?
Where do I begin and where do I end?
The more I talk the less I mean.
The less I talk the more I mean.
I mean to say that I am her flesh and blood.
Her desire, her ambitions, her all wishes come true.

I am what I am because of her
and I am not all that which she did not want.
Then I am not all her reflection, her replica, herself.
I am her creation, her dream and the best.

And on this day as I reminiscent the past
I reflect on her care, the warmth and the bond.
Those unconditional love that she showered on me.
Those long patient hours that she spent on me.
I thank the Almighty for giving me her.
And I am sure she would thank you for giving her me.

This heartwarming poem is even more touching within the context of Otua’s background.  Otua never had a relationship with his mother.  His father died when he was two and his auntie took him away from his mother after she tried to kill him because she could no longer care for Otua after his father passed away.  Seeing that Otua’s heart knows deep down how great a mother can be despite knowing these cold facts about his own mother is a testament to this boy and to the care that he receives in our home.
The Bukesa boys joined other homes in Kampala to clean the streets around a university for a community service project earlier this month.  They enjoyed sodas and chapatis, thick tortilla-like snacks, and joined a discussion on the importance of service in the community.
After a three-week break, the boys are just returning to school for their second term of the year.  Many of the boys who went to visit their remaining family returned to the home and everything is getting back to normal.  To get them started in their new term, a group of 9 students from Lipscomb University came to spend time with the boys and establish a relationship with the Bukesa home.
The boys are doing very well and are all in good health.  They had a fumigator visit the homes to help with lessening the prevalence of mosquitos, which will also lessen the cases of malaria in the home.
Update from Portland… 

This month, we were able to partner with Southeast Works to provide an art therapy project for their youth program.  
Southeast works is an amazing organization that provides employment resources, education completion, and resume building to the southeast Portland community. 
Their youth programs helps 16-20 year old’s finish their GED, build their resume, and find employment. 
Together, with one of their groups, we found a big work area outside and laid out a 8×16 ft canvas for spray paint art, and 2×3 ft canvass to make a collage. 
Chalk, spray paint, hundreds of magazines, glue sticks, scissors, and poster boards were available, and everyone spread out to different work stations.  It took awhile to decide on a theme everyone could focus on, but eventually the group decided on creating art that would focus on what they wanted in the future.  
Some used chalk to create big sidewalk murals.   Others drew and cut out stencils from poster board to create the words DREAM for the canvas.  A picnic table provided a good place for collage work, and many of the kids spent the morning canvassing through magazines to find words and pictures expressing what they were ready to leave behind, and progressed to cutting out images to show what they dreamed of for their futures.  
It was a warm, sunny morning and the perfect weather for outdoor art.  
As we worked, some of the kids shared their stories.  Although each of their backgrounds included difficult experiences (some having spent 5+ years in Juvenile hall) all of them were hopeful.  Through Southeast works they volunteer in community organizations for work experience, practice interviews, apply to colleges and work on lessons towards completing their GED.  Many of their records will be expunged when they turn 18, allowing them to start over with clean slates.  Better than clean slates, because everyday through Southeast Works, they have been developing the experience necessary to find good jobs, enter the military, or be accepted to college.  These were the elements of the group canvasses; the directions and plans they were moving towards.     
While we spoke and worked, the hours ticked away and suddenly we were out of time. Everyone wanted both canvasses to look really appealing so they could hang on the walls for years to come, and by the time we were scheduled to stop, there was still a lot of work to do.  
None of us were too bummed though.  It just meant we would need to return soon to continue this work, and see everyone again. And not just once.  Both we, and the case workers agreed this would be a great monthly activity!

View Post

Getting to Uganda

After a long journey I finally made it to Uganda! I am so excited to be here, and I am thankful I made it safe and sound with all my luggage. The journey was not the smoothest though. Here is my story of getting to Uganda starting in St. Louis: Last Friday I left St. Louis with a sad goodbye …

View Post

Getting to Uganda

After a long journey I finally made it to Uganda! I am so excited to be here, and I am thankful I made it safe and sound with all my luggage. The journey was not the smoothest though. Here is my story of getting to Uganda starting in St. Louis:
Last Friday I left St. Louis with a sad goodbye to my friends and family but with excitement for the journey to come. I landed in New York with no problems and was greeted by my dearest friend Rachel. Rachel and I took off for a weekend of fun in the big city!  
Together again!
We were so fortunate to have amazing accommodations right smack in the middle of Manhattan next to Central Park provided to us by Rachel’s Aunt who was out of town for the weekend. Even though Rachel’s parents were also out of town they treated us to an excellent sushi dinner. That night we went out with some of Rachel’s friends and had a blast. 
The crew we went out with minus Rachel
The next day we started off with breakfast at one of Rachel’s favorite places – Grey Dog. Breakfast was delicious. Next we went to the High Line which is a park made out of old railroad tracks. The park was really fun and we enjoyed some people watching. After High Line we wandered the streets window shopping. 
High Line Park
 Then we hit up Washington Square Park for more people watching and street performances. The street performers included a hula hoop dancer, a band, a man playing piano, and a guy dressed like a wizard but I could never tell what his trick was.
 Later that night I enjoyed every bite of a giant piece of New York pizza. After dinner we meet up with one of Rachel’s good friends for drinks. After chatting for a while we meet up with more of Rachel’s friends and headed out for the night. We didn’t stay out too late because I had to be at the airport early. All in all my short time in New York was fantastic. The city is never ending and always interesting. I had a blast with Rachel and all her friends. Thanks so much for showing me a good time! I cannot wait for my next long layover in NYC. 
Next stop – Johannesburg, South Africa.
I made it through the 14 hour and 30 minute flight to South Africa. My seat was not great but they had some good movies. Overall I probably got about 2 hours of sleep. Needless to say when we finally landed I was very tired, very out of it, and so happy to be on land. We landed in South Africa around 8am. I had 6 hours to kill. I walked around the terminal, looked in some of the shops, had a snack and then I made the worst decision I’ve made so far….I laid down. Lying down would not have been the worst idea if I hadn’t slept right through my flight. I had about 3 hours until boarding started and I never for one second thought I was going to fall asleep much less fall asleep for that long. The worst part for me was the fact that I woke up less than 5 minutes after the flight departed. I cried. I verified with an airport worker that the flight had left and I asked him what I should do. He pointed me in the right direction and so began the beginning of my additional 24 hours spent in the airport. The next flight was at the same time the next day. I was told I would have to pay $250 which made me cry again. The manager told me I could talk to the supervisor in the morning and she might be able to help me with the fee. 
They were nice enough to let me call my parents. I absolutely hated having to tell them I missed my flight because I fell asleep. It was so embarrassing and such a stupid thing to do. However, I am mad at all the people on that flight and the people doing the boarding because I was asleep at the gate. I wasn’t asleep in some other random place around the airport. I was at the gate and no one thought to wake me up. I will never ever pass by someone sleeping at a gate in the airport without waking them to make sure that is not their flight and also making sure they have an alarm set if their flight is later.  I just don’t understand how I didn’t hear all the commotion going on around me and the loud announcements. 
I ate dinner in the terminal and then return to the ticketing area to make my bed for the night. It was only 9pm but I was tired and bored. I slept for about 4 hours and woke up hoping it was morning but it was only 1:30. I was pretty awake and not happy about it. I tried to sleep more but couldn’t. I fell asleep for a few more hours in the early morning.
My accommodations…
I got up for the day around 7am and talked to the supervisor but she just told me I had to wait until 8 so she could talk to the manager about the fee. Finally I found out I would have to pay the $250. I tried to pay with my debit card but they only accepted credit cards and cash. This meant I had to go out to the main airport which involved going through customs. I was so nervous I was going to miss my flight again even though I had six hours to figure everything out. I waited in line at customs which only took about 20 minutes to get through even thought it looked like a two hour long line. They were very efficient and I really appreciated that. 
Entertaining myself with Bananagrams sitting in front of the boarding area.
My first stop was to make sure the airport knew where my bags were and where they need to go. Surprisingly they already knew exactly where my bags were and they had already sent them on their way to be loaded on my flight. That was some very welcomed good news. Next I found the right desk where I could pay my fine with a debit card. I was mentally preparing myself to spend $250 when the lady told me it would only be $50! I cannot tell you how relieved I was. Then I gathered my boarding pass and went back to my favorite terminal to wait some more. I had six hours to kill just like my original layover. This time I drank coffee. When I finally went to my gate to wait for the flight I sat right in front of the desk so if I happened to fall asleep again people would have to step over me to board the plane. I thought that was a good plan. I also had alarms set, but I did not fall asleep again
Finally I board the plane! It felt great to be on my way again. The plane ride was easy and really short compared to the previous one. I landed, went through customs, gathered my luggage (which I was completely convinced was not going to be there), and then I found Dani and Eric who graciously came to pick me up.
This is the end of my second day and I am still adjusting to the time difference and jet lag. I was going to include my first day activities and thoughts so far but I think I’ll save those for next time. I’ll do a week update in a few days with more pictures. I hope you enjoyed my story and I can’t wait to share more in the future.
View Post

Black Belt Focus

HALO’s Life Skill for this month is Focus. Our staff, youth, and volunteers are encouraged to concentrate on how they might improve this life skill in their lives. One fascinating example of this is the keen focus of our volunteers. Their focus helped us surpass our $150,000 goal at the KC HALO Artreach Auction a few weeks back. This will will give hundreds of children in need the ability to dream. 
I asked Brian Davidson, my Martial Arts instructor of 15 years, to be a guest blogger today and teach us a bit about the focus of a black belt. Such a treat:
FOCUS  is the necessary ingredient for success.  Without FOCUS, getting to a goal is an accident or a lucky break.  FOCUS does have a teammate, however.  His name is DISCIPLINE. The two teammates work hand-in-hand to achieve goals.  DISCIPLINE requires FOCUS and FOCUS requires DISCIPLINE.  To become successful at anything in life we have to repeat it over and over. 

In my sport of martial arts, I have to punch and kick every day.  And each day I have to approach the punch or kick as if I’m not good at it yet,  as if I have so much more to learn about the punch or kick. Even as a Master my kick will always have room to improve.  I must use FOCUS to continue to enjoy kicking and punching.  I must FOCUS on the image I have in my mind of what the kick is supposed to look like.  I will continue that FOCUS until it matches my mental image. 

This analogy is applicable in all areas of life.  FOCUS forces us to settle down and concentrate on a task. But at the same time it forces us to move forward as we get closer to achieving our goal.

A Drill to Practice:

Make a Major Goal.  Set up 3 small goals that will help you reach the Major Goal. FOCUS on the first small goal, the second, and then the finally the third.  You will find yourself reaching more goals using this format. 

Exercise to Simulate:

Major Goal: 75 pushups.  1st small goal: 25 push ups. 2nd small goal: 2nd set of 25 pushups. 3rd small goal: 3rd set 25 pushups.  Once you are able to do 3 sets of 25 push-ups, you have completed your Major Goal.  Congratulations. 

Brian Davidson

6th Degree Black Belt

Master Instructor, Multiple World Champion

Professional Mixed Martial Artist

View Post

HALO Mission Video

HALO’s most recent mission video. Thank you Josh Fry and Ambitious Pixels for volunteering your services to this project!