This past August, I had a sabbatical leave from Tehachapi Community Church, UCC, allowing me, my husband Dr. Steve Bacon, our daughter, Whitney Bacon, and her friend, Katy Rodriguez, to visit two nonprofit organizations in Uganda: Aid Africa (aidafrica.net) and Pearls Children’s Fund (pearlschildrensfund.org). These organizations have helped improve many lives with clean water, better stoves, health support and planting trees.

Unfortunately in sub-Saharan Africa, many parents die from illness or sometimes abandon children when they have no money to care for them. A Ugandan woman, Rosette Kirangi, created Pearls Children’s Home to assure that children would have a home. The love and joy at Pearls is infectious. We enjoyed playing with the kids for three days having picnics along the Nile, singing and dancing.

Five years ago, I visited Pearls for the first time. There were about 30 children, with only one indoor bathroom, and no tub or shower. There was no refrigerator, oven, dishwasher, clothes washer, dryer or television. It was hard to imagine how Rosette managed day in and day out with so few resources.

Education in Uganda is not free. Children can not attend school without someone sponsoring and paying for it. Pearls is a place that makes sure each child is given an opportunity to succeed and launch lovingly into adulthood.

About one year ago, Rosette let supporters know that their house was literally falling in. My church and a small group of others answered the call and did a lot to generously help them buy a house! The place is beautiful and safe, with three indoor bathrooms!

The children were so thankful. Truly, this visit was one of the best moments of my life. One of the older boys said, “It feels like we’re in heaven now.” There was joy and laughter and tears and great appreciation for the miracles of happy healthy children in this new lovely home. Pearls is a blessing, yet each of the children has only one school uniform. In the midst of the children, I knew that investing in Pearls was the best money I’d ever spent in my life. Small amounts can do so much and children with education can move out of poverty.

We also worked alongside Aid Africa, Inc, in Gulu, Uganda. Aid Africa began about 15 years ago to help people displaced by violence return and reclaim their decimated villages. Aid Africa began work in four main areas: restoring water; transitioning to better cook stoves; planting needed trees for food and sustainable fuel; and assisting with healthcare and health education. Over the years, Aid Africa has helped thousands of villagers to have better lives.

We participated in all of Aid Africa’s endeavors. We visited the brick making facility and learned about rocket stoves. Traditional cook stoves are an open pit in a hut. These pits cause much smoke, lung disease, early cataracts, burns when children fall into them, and sparks that can set thatched roofs on fire. Additionally, traditional stoves require a lot of wood to be gathered. Trees are cut down harming soil and the environment. Girls gather the wood and this can be dangerous, plus prevent them from attending school.

Aid Africa’s efficient stoves require far less wood and create far less smoke. Huts with these stoves have healthy brown thatched roofs instead of black ones. The stoves alone are a good environmental project to support. We put together stoves with one of the villages. Everyone was glad to have a healthier stove.

At a second village we helped to drill a new well. This village would get its water from a shallow spring. Unfortunately, the spring was contaminated with parasites and some villagers were ill. It was sad to know their situation, but joyous to be making a change.

Aid Africa also helps villagers obtain a variety of trees. We enjoyed grafting larger Caribbean mangoes and lemons onto hardy African root stock, knowing people would have yummy fruit and a potential source of income. When we visited a third village to bring and distribute trees, fires were burning in the Amazon Rain Forest. It helped to be planting trees somewhere else in the world.

One of Aid Africa’s staff has trained in psychology and social work. She provided education about mental health and domestic violence prevention at villages. She also translated conversations with some of the elderly women. One woman had 13 children and 35 grandchildren. All of her children and 31 of her grandchildren had died from violence. PTSD is common.

The woman said that the food in the refugee camps was unhealthy to eat. While she carries many painful memories, she also spoke of the joy in having crops and food and water and a safe village once more. Aid Africa has made a big difference. The organization wants to reach into South Sudan and the large refugee camps that exist there, to do the same things. Most people living in these camps are women and children. What a dream to help give people back their lives with hope and a future.

Nancy Bacon is the pastor at Tehachapi Community Congregational Church.