On Saturday Laura and I visited my friends, JB and Jenifer, the couple putting 18 children, including their own children, their nieces and nephews, and their siblings through school.

JB's family
Alicia with Jenifer and part of her family in 2015.

They requested help starting a piggery, but we arrived to a completely wonderful surprise: they’d already begun their piggery! They started with six pigs, have already sold two, and now have four pigs. As of Saturday they also have six new piglets!!!

We were delighted that they were able to get the piggery started. In fact they’ve also planted cassava and now cook and sell cassava chips to offset the cost of school fees. Jenifer is a teacher and JB is principal, so they do all of this in addition to their regular jobs. They’ve even started a small school store. The school store serves two purposes. It gives them a little extra money and allows students to purchase small necessities without having to walk or pay for a boda ride to the nearest center. We love families who take initiative like they’re doing.

Three of the children walking to visit the mother pig and her piglets.

Even with all of their efforts to create sustainable small businesses, it’s apparent that they’re still struggling. After walking out to visit the new mama and her piglets, Laura and I met with JB and Jenifer in their home. To visit someone in their home is like the highest honor you can give here and it broke my heart a little bit when I heard that none of the other mzungus J.B. and Jenifer interact with regularly have ever visited their home.

Once inside we found ourselves asking a familiar question.

What do you need and how can we help?

Their requests were simple. They needed better containment and some supplemental food for the pigs.

While their requests were simple, constructing the piggery proved impossible because the administrators of the school will not permit JB and Jennifer to construct a piggery near their home on campus. JB and Jennifer are from another town in Uganda that is about a day’s drive away and they have property there under the care of some family members. This is where they really wanted to construct the piggery. Unfortunately their hometown is about a day’s drive away from Gulu and we were backed up against some other obligations near Gulu, so it was decided that we would retain the money for the piggery until our next trip to Uganda when we could plan for transport, lodging, time to purchase the necessary supplies to complete the piggery, time to have it constructed, and time to re-locate the pigs.

Sometimes the answer to a problem is wait. Wait is a hard pill for me to swallow, but a project that is rushed likely won’t be done well. It’s better to wait. Ugandans see time differently than Americans. Here there is no rush. While this can be frustrating when trying to complete projects in a short amount of time, most of the time slowing down and allowing time for careful thought is a good thing, a very good thing.

At the conclusion of our visit to their home, JB insisted on driving us to our next destination. He now has a car, his very first car, and he refused to let us take bodas back to town because he didn’t want us to have to pay or to be taken advantage of with the prices some boda drivers try to make mzungus pay. This was a sacrifice on his part because fuel is not cheap.

Time and again, this is what we see, the recipients of our funds doing small considerate things to show their appreciation and love. Ivan the painter drove us around in his van as often as possible. Ivan and Babu Ojok each donated a painting for us to use to raise money. The Bungatira beaders bought sodas and bottles of water for us to drink on our visit because they know our bodies cannot tolerate the bacteria in the well water. The Art Shop Gulu Girls and the Bungatira beaders gifted us with paper bead jewelry. And everywhere we went, they fed us, even in Pawel where maintaining enough food to feed the children is a struggle.

It never ceases to amaze me that out of what little they have, they give from hearts of abundance. For that we are forever grateful.

We Are Vigilante Kindness

Last night my Facebook birthday fundraiser for Vigilante Kindness was fully funded!!! There was a mad rush of donations at the end to donate the last $20 that had me absolutely giggling with delight!

We_Are_VIgilante_Kindness_pngMy sleep last night was restless because I couldn’t stop thinking about all of you, who you are, who I am, who we are as Vigilante Kindness.

I started writing out things that are true of you and I, what we do, things we love, what we’re going through, where we’ve been, and all the other things that make us who we are.

It leaves me full of love thinking about each of you and leaves me in wonder thinking of who we are collectively.

Thank you for choosing to be a part of our story.

I couldn’t love you more if I tried, so I made you a present, a story of who we are.

Two Projects Are Fully Funded!!!

As many of you know, I’m celebrating turning 41 by having a fundraiser on Facebook to fund three of my favorite Vigilante Kindness projects.

As of tonight we’ve raised $1,870 out of $2,000 dollars and two of the three projects are fully funded!!! With 4 days left until I leave for Uganda, we’re $130 away from funding all three projects! That’s just AMAZING! Here’s a quick video to tell you a little more.


I don’t know about you, but yesterday was one of those days when I needed a bit of good news.

Yesterday Denis’ brother, Michael, was my boda driver.  We took a trip out to Fort Patiko, a former slave trading fort.  If I can stomach writing about that, I will, but right now it’s too fresh and the horrors humans committed against each other at that place are raw on my heart.

On the way back from Fort Patiko, we passed Bungatira.  Michael asked if I’d like to go and visit Mama.  I’d been wanting to see her, but in the small places of myself where I don’t have to be brave, I was afraid-afraid to run into the clan who’d poisoned the pigs, but mostly afraid that if Michael took me there again, he’d incur the same punishments Denis had.

I told him that I feared going to Bungatira and he assured me that I’d be safe and that Mama would be delighted to see me.  I tamped down the fear and willed myself to enjoy the sweeping, lush valley views on what will likely be one of my final trips to Bungatira.

Mama greeted me with warm hugs as did the remaining members of Denis’ family who are preparing to leave Bungatira for Te Okot.  The women and the children welcomed me and prepared my favorite dish-roasted maize.

I sat in Mama’s hut, just listening to her.  Mama has a voice that bathes me in tender warmth and even though I only picked up words of Acholi here and there, the love in her eyes needed no translation.

As I was sitting with Mama, Michael popped in and asked, “Do you want to see the surviving pigs?”

“WHAT???”  I jumped off the papyrus mat so quickly that I almost slipped and landed keister over kettle on the mud floor.  “There are surviving pigs?  Where?  How many?  How?”

I followed Michael out of the hut and he led me to where two small piglets were munching away on something delicious in the bush.  I didn’t know whether to dance or cry or both.  Instead I sprayed more questions at Michael.

“Denis said that all of the pigs had been poisoned and died.  How did these two survive?  Can I take snaps to show the people at home?”

Michael nodded and I snapped pictures of the pair of piglets like it was their first day of kindergarten.  One is a male piglet and the other is his sister.  Michael explained that at the time the pigs were poisoned, the boy pig had been grazing elsewhere and that most likely when the boy piglet heard the pigs screaming from the poison, he ran farther away, but later returned.

As Michael recounted that part of the story, I swallowed hard.  My stomach knotted itself at the thought of the pigs screaming because they unknowingly ingested poison.

“And the girl pig?” I stammered.

Michael explained that she ingested the poison, too, but they gave all the pigs medicine from the vet.  They were sure they were too late, but somehow when all the other pigs and piglets died, this strong piglet girl rallied.

I watched the girl piglet push her snout, rooting through the earth, busy with the important work of growing fatter.  She and her brother wore ropes tied like dog leashes so that the family could keep the two pigs on the compound, where they could be kept safe.

I continued to click photos, but stopped snapping when I reached the piggery.  It was empty and I felt a hollow pit in my stomach.  The piggery was full of noisy pigs the last time I saw it and now it feels too big, unsettling in its quiet.

It was time to move the two pigs into the shade near the piggery.  Michael led the boy and I led the girl.  The boy squealed and grunted and dug his heels into the ground.  The girl walked beside me, snuffling around my feet. Her curly tails flicked and wiggled and thwapped against my leg.  Michael said the curl in her tail is a sign that she’s regained her health.

Good news often comes from the most unexpected places and today it came in the form of a fat piglet and her spring of a tail.

Vigilante Kindness: Piglets for the Piggery

I sat on the back of a boda wrestling a sackful of squealing, wiggling pigs as Denis carefully threaded through the trafficked streets of Pece back to his village. My skirt was slicked with mud and manure and as I grinned from ear to ear and hugged the squirming sack, I thought about the sequence of events that had led me to this exact moment in my life.

This story of Vigilante Kindness begins with my dear friend, Julie, and her husband, Clark. Upon reading the story of Denis, my boda driver, and his quest to have a piggery to earn money to return to school, Julie sent me a message asking how much it would be to buy Denis four more pigs. The amount was sizable in American dollars and an absolute impossibility for Denis to earn in Ugandan shillings. What I love about Julie is that when I told her the amount, she responded with a simple, “Done.”

On the day we were to pick up the pigs, Denis first took me to his village Bungatira, meaning ‘of the forest’. It was a beautiful ride with several stops along the way because Denis had to pick up cakes for me to eat, milk for me to drink and other special things that were quite costly. I watched him shell out his hard-earned boda money in my honor and was humbled to be considered worthy of such sacrifice.


Once off the main road, the trail to the village became more like a single track mountain bike trail and as we bumped along, I smiled at the scenery of the land I’ve come to love-the red dirt that stains my hands and face and washes down the drain in mahogany from my hair, the piercing blue sky like the feathers of millions of bluebirds and the bright green grasses growing up along either side of the trail, flicking against my billowing skirt.


When we arrived at Denis’ compound, I was tickled to see signs posted all over welcoming me to their home. I met his family and toured their farm, which included sugar cane, beans, millet, groundnuts, maize and sweet potatoes. It’s humid in Uganda and I worked up quite a sweat. We reached a creek that runs along the back of their village.

“Do you want to bathe?” Denis felt badly that I was sweating so much.

“I’ll bathe back at the hotel. Really, I’m fine.”

“You fear the water?”

“No, I just don’t bathe in public. I only bathe in private.”

“We bathe here. You can bathe here, too. It’s okay.”

“Coo apwoyo, Denis.” (Thank you, but I cannot accept, Denis.)

“Then let us go back to the house and rest.”

Back in Denis’ thatch roof house, Denis, his older brother Michael and I were served posho, beans, bread made from millet and chicken that was slaughtered and cooked that very afternoon. I drank the milk Denis had purchased along with glass bottles of Mountain Dew that were purchased just for the day.

After the meal Denis’ immediate family all joined us inside the house. Although I’d already met them, I was reintroduced to the family formally and I knew then that I was in sacred territory, in the presence of a family meeting. Around the room they went showering accolades about this amazing gift Denis was to receive. I proudly showed photos of Julie and Clark and their family. Denis’ mother, who had earlier in the day welcomed me with traditional songs and dances, pressed her hands in mine and declared me her daughter. She made me miss my own mother and sent pangs of sorrow through me for Julie who misses her mother every day.


They continued to speak of this great thing I was doing and though I insisted it wasn’t me-that it was all because of Julie and Clark-they kept saying that it was only possible because of me. Michael, Denis’ older brother, translated their words of kindness to me and told me it was no use deflecting them because I was the vehicle for Julie and Clark’s great generosity. Over and over again, they clapped their hands in appreciation and I sat quietly and took it all in.

I fell in love with this sweet family who had gathered together to celebrate this second chance for their son. I especially fell in love with the eighty something year old parents who still tend to the crops. When Michael bragged about how bright Denis was when he was in school, I thought of Clark who, on the other side of the world, was at that very moment preparing for his own brother Michael’s funeral. The thought of these two sets of brothers honoring each other in such different, yet loving ways brought me to tears and when I told Denis’ family about Clark’s loss they sat in sorrow with me for Clark.

The family sent me off with their sincerest sympathies mixed with their profound thanks and then Denis and I hopped on his boda to go purchase the pigs. The ride to the farm was a long one that wound away from the villages, back through Gulu and into Pece, the home of the famous Pece soccer stadium. At the farm Denis climbed into the pig stall and selected his four new pigs, three females and one male. He placed them in a sack and then tied the top of the sack making sure there were breathing holes. The woman selling the pigs stepped inside the house to get her receipt book and I slipped the money into Denis’ hand so that he could be the official purchaser of the pigs.


Denis sat on the boda and I straddled the back of it, leaving a space in between for the sack of piglets. The woman hefted the sack into my lap and the squealing pigs wiggled and grunted as they tried to get comfortable for the ride. The sack was covered in mud and manure which as we rode back through Pece ground itself into my skirt and covered my hands as I held onto the precious cargo.

“Are you okay? Do you want me to call someone else to help me take the pigs home?” Denis asked me for the millionth time.

“I’m fine. When else am I going to have a chance to carry a sackful of piglets on the back of a motorcycle? Never.”

“Sure?” Denis grinned at me in the rearview mirror.

“Sure. Let’s get your new pigs home.”

We bounced along the road and I spoke sweetly to the squealing pigs trying in vain to calm them down. Several times I felt pig hooves and snouts poking out of the air holes and smiled at the Ugandans laughing at what must have been a comical sight, a muzungu woman wrestling a bag of pigs!

Back at Denis’ village the family greeted us again and helped unload the new pigs into Denis’ piggery, which he’d renamed the ‘Hellisha Project’. (On a side note, Hellisha is the most fantastic misspelling of my name ever. Hellisha will now be the name of my alter ego.)

The women in Denis’ family tsked over my dirty skirt and Denis looked at it in alarm.

“You must take it off and let me wash it.” Denis insisted.

“It’s fine, Denis. I’ll wash it when I get back to the hotel.”

“No, you must let me wash it.” Denis insisted.

“Coo apwoyo.” I replied.

“You must.”

“Denis, it would not be appropriate in my culture for me to sit in my underpants while you washed my skirt. Thank you, but I truly cannot take my skirt off.”

“You cannot move around town like that.”

“I will wash these clothes and put on another pair before I move around town.”

“You’re sure I cannot wash your skirt?”


“Then I’ll take you back.” We said our goodbyes to the family and again rode back into town.

That night as I sat in my hotel room bathroom scrubbing my skirt clean, I couldn’t help but smile at all the cultural differences I’d encountered that day. I hung my skirt to dry and showered off the sweat and dirt from the day. Rivulets of red mud dripped down my legs and swirled down the drain and I thought of how at the end of the day we are so much more the same than we are different.

We are friends who laugh together. We are loud families who gather for a meal. We are brothers who love each other through life and beyond. We are mothers and fathers who work hard to provide for our children. We persevere in the pursuit of education. And on our best days we see the need of a stranger and place it above our own needs. On our best days we are Julie and Clark.


Vigilante Kindness: A Pig Named Alicia

“I’ve started a new project,” my boda driver, Denis, tells me as we’re whipping down Juba Road on the way to the school.  Denis is one of my favorite boda drivers from last year and he’s forgone our usual language lesson, wherein he teaches me Acholi words and shakes his head at my terrible pronunciation.

“What’s your new project?” I yell over the wind in our faces.

He answers, but between our differing accents and the wind, I’m sure I heard him incorrectly.

“Say it again, Denis, I can’t hear you.”

He repeats the word.

“Did you say ‘piggery’?” I call to him.

“Yes, piggery,” he nods.

“I’m not familiar with what piggery means.”

“You know the animal pig?  P-I-G.”

“Yes, I know what pigs are, but what is piggery?”

“Keeping pigs.”

“For eating?”

“For selling.”

“So people buy them and then eat them?”


It’s interesting to me, this new vocation Denis is beginning, but I wonder why he’s telling me this when he’d usually be reviewing Acholi phrases with me and making me repeat them over and over until my pronunciation is almost passable.  Or he’d be giving me a geography lesson, making me tell him the names of the areas we pass through and making me name the countries surrounding Uganda.

“I used the money you paid me last year and bought two pigs.  Then those pigs had eight pigs.”

“That’s a good litter.  Ten pigs is a lot of pigs.”

“It’s not enough.  I need at least 50.”

“What would you do with 50 pigs?  Do you have a pen for them?”

“A what?”

“A pen.  Like chickens have a hutch.” Denis is quiet.  I’m not explaining myself well. “Do you have a house for your pigs?”

“Yes, in the village by my thatch roof house.  You can’t let pigs run wild.  People will get mad because the pigs will destroy everything and eat the crops.”

“I imagine so.”

“If I sell 30 pigs, I can buy my own boda instead of renting this one.”

Ah, there it is.  Pigs equal independence and his own income instead of doling out a portion of every fare to his boss.

“That would be really amazing, Denis.”

“Yes, so if you have time, I will take you to see my pigs.  I’ll give you one. You can pick it out.”

I don’t know what to say, but I’m pretty sure declining a pig without a very good reason would be a horrible offense.  “That’s lovely of you, Denis, but I don’t think they allow pigs on the plane back home.”

“You will eat it before you go.”

I laugh.  “I’m a terrible cook, Denis, just ask my husband.  I wouldn’t even know how to begin to prepare a pig.”

“You slaughter it and I will cook it for you.”

I laugh again.  “I have NO idea how to slaughter a pig.”

“I will have it slaughtered and then cook it for you.  You come and pick it out.”

“Um, okay.  Apwoyo.”  I thank him, tucking my head to my chest as a truck passes and covers us in a cloud of red dust from the road.  Meat is a rarity at the school and I wonder how many kids could be fed off of one pig.

“Apwoyo matek, (Thank you very much).  We’ll go pick out your pig tomorrow afternoon.”


I don’t tell Denis that in addition to not knowing how to slaughter or cook a pig, I haven’t a clue on how to pick a pig.

The next morning, Denis drives me to the school again, my skirt flapping in the breeze and my rear end bouncing on the seat as I ride side saddle on the back.

“How are your pigs?”  I ask as we pass a group of schoolchildren walking down the road in brightly colored uniforms.

“Very well.”

“Do your pigs have names?”

“Only the big female, Mama.  I will name the female piglet after you.”

I’m glad I’m sitting behind Denis where he can’t see my face because I can’t help but smile and stifle a giggle at this most unusual compliment. “My American name or my Acholi name?”

“You have an Acholi name?”  Denis is surprised.  “What is it?”


“That’s a nice name.  Do you know what it means?”

“I’m told it means ‘laughter, joyful comforter or happy’.  Is that right?”

“Yes, it also means a person who is always smiling.  What does your American name mean?”

“Truthful one.”

“Hmmm, joyful or truthful,” Denis repeats the names several times, weighing them back and forth.  “I will have to think of which one is more suitable for a pig, but I think Alicia.  We will go see her this afternoon and know for sure.”

That afternoon at lunch, I tell the kids at school about being offered a pig.  They confirm that a pig is a gift I cannot decline.  They tell me that only the very wealthy buy pigs and that pigs are often given as a dowry.

I’m late leaving the school that day and Denis tells me it’s too late to see the pigs.  I sigh in relief, grateful to give Alicia the pig an extra stay of execution and wondering if I’ve done the same for myself.