We’re a rag-tag group of people vigilantly pursuing self-sustaining educational & employment opportunities with and for students and their families living in rural communities in developing countries. We believe in asking hard questions like, “What do you need and how can we help?” We believe that communities know their needs better than we do and that it’s our job to listen. We’re big on being kind for the sake of kindness and we believe that even the smallest acts of kindness can make a big difference. We believe in keeping vigil over one another and watching for opportunities to help, no matter how far off the beaten path those opportunities take us. We’re vigilant in our belief that God has given each person unique gifts and that one of the highest forms of worship is using those gifts to serve others. We believe God has a purpose for each life and Vigilante Kindness is our purpose. Join us as we live out wild adventures in service of God and others. Join us in committing acts of Vigilante Kindness.
It took a few days for the communities of Aparanga and Bungatira to decide on how to proceed with the minimal funds we’d raised toward a tractor.
It was decided that each community would receive 4 oxen and 1 plow. Oxen and plows are not readily available and are only available on market days. Since we were pressed up against other obligations and short on time before beginning our departure across the country and back home, we pushed this project back to our next visit.
It’s better to wait and arrange for the best oxen possible rather than to hurry and pick from only what’s available on a certain date.
Pushing back the purchase of oxen and plows also allowed us to move funds around a bit and purchase the remainder of the beads from the Bungatira beaders. They’ve been frantically working under the glow of solar lights each night to complete as many pieces of paper bead jewelry as possible.
We love their efforts and we know you’ll love their jewelry.
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.
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.
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.
Old Sharon, Young Sharon, and Lynn didn’t disappoint as the latest branch of our Paper Bead Jewelry Project. We gave them 25 pounds of magazines and in the short time that we were here, Team No Sleep (aka Team No Sleep Only Jesus) turned all 25 pounds into necklaces, bracelets, and earrings.
We bought every bracelet, necklace, earring, and bauble that we could and these girls are so excited to get to go to school! I’m not at all embarrassed to tell you that I was a total First Day of School Mom and I asked them to send me photos of their first day of school.
It is so darn hard to be a girl in Uganda and earn enough money for school fees. In many places here, girls and women are still thought of as second class citizens. This is why we love the Art Factory Gulu Girls and the mothers in the Bungatira Beaders who are using old magazines to pay school fees to send all of their children to school.
When you buy and wear their jewelry, Team No Sleep hopes you’ll feel their love and gratitude for being an important part of making that happen.
Revered for their strength, tenacity, and intelligence, elephants are the symbol of Uganda and also the symbol of Ugandan women. While it was majestic to see a parade of elephants in the wild near Te Okot, life with elephants for the people living in Te Okot proved untenable.
In the years of my absence, the elephants continued decimating their crops and some bold elephants were not frightened away by the solar lights we’d previously distributed. Given the choice between starving to death in fertile, sprawling Te Okot or moving until they can build up enough food stores to return, the families Te Okot returned to Bungatira or moved to nearby impoverished Aparanga.
When we arrived in Aparanga, it was wonderful to see so many familiar faces. Mamas were braiding their children’s hair. Chickens and goats were milling around in nearby crops. And Musee Lapyiem and his daughter Agnes were waiting to greet us.
The faces of the people from Te Okot were no longer gaunt. When I hugged them, I couldn’t feel each rib pressing into my arms through their backs. Life with the elephants took its toll and seeing them have the healthy bodies that come from having a regular food intake was such a relief.
Agnes had prepared chicken and malakwang (my favorite meal) in her father’s house. As we entered Lapyiem’s house, I smiled at the solar lights we’d distributed on my last visit, charging on top of his roof.
After the meal, we talked with Musee Lapyiem about the issue of a tractor. We hadn’t raised nearly enough money to purchase a tractor, but we were prepared to continue fundraising (though it might take years) or if there was a more immediate need, we were prepared to entertain it.
Musee Lapyiem decided that the best thing to do would be to bring the issue up to the families living in Aparanga. I also still had half of my birthday solar lights to distribute and being so far from electricity, small Aparanga was just the kind of place where they’d be put to good use.
So we proceeded to a small room where all of the community members, including the children, had gathered to meet with us. Denis, my former boda driver and the chairperson for the families from Te Okot who had relocated to Bungatira, began by introducing or reintroducing us. Then Laura introduced herself.
Then I spoke, first about how happy I was to see them all and how much I love them, then about why I was so delayed in returning to Uganda. I explained how we’d raised some funds, but not enough to fund a tractor and that we were open to hearing new ideas about how to best proceed.
I found myself asking a familiar question. “What do you need and how can we help?”
There was a lengthy, animated discussion amongst the community members about what to do. Members spoke up about how they needed something sustainable to help pay for the school fees and the university fees of their children. They spoke about how they needed something that would help them farm their land to create stores of food so they could eventually return to Te Okot to farm. I listened intently, straining to pick out the Luo words I know and to understand the issues at hand.
After some time, the community came up with an idea, but before executing the idea, it would have to be agreed upon by the people who had relocated to Bungatira as well. After all, though distance separates them, they remain one family, and a decision for one half is a decision for all. We would have to wait another day or two to hear the final decision.
At the end of the community meeting, Denis gave the members a lesson on how to use the new solar lights. There was cheering and clapping and too many thanks to count. One community member didn’t even wait to leave the room to start charging his phone.
Solar lights mean less charcoal being burned and inhaled in homes at night. Solar lights mean a reduced chance of house fires. Solar lights mean having a light to study with beyond sundown. Solar charging lights mean parents can pay school fees through their phones. Solar charging lights mean parents can communicate with their students away at school without having to use hard earned shillings to charge their phones. Solar charging lights mean having the ability to hear news right away via a charged phone.
Thanks so much to those of you who donated to my birthday fundraiser and allowed me to distribute lights to those in Bungatira and Aparanga. You gave light to those in need in so many ways. It was a terrific birthday gift and from the people in Bungatira and Aparanga I say to you, “Apwoyo matek!” Thank you very much.
One of the greatest pleasures of returning year after year to Gulu is that I get to watch my students grow up. In 2012, the first year I visited Gulu, I taught a writing workshop where students wrote about pivotal moments in their lives.
One of my students, 19-year-old Kobsinge Kamanyire Tausi, wrote about being elected Deputy Speaker for the district wide student government. She was 16 at the time she was elected into office.
Here’s what she wrote in her essay, “For All Women,” about that experience.
This experience gave me confidence and in the future I want to be the female member of Parliament for my district. I will continue to advocate for gender balance and female emancipation. I will advocate for all women to be empowered even if they have not had the money to attend school. It’s my goal to allocate money to help them create businesses to sustain themselves and their families. I want to be an example for all women in my country.
Yesterday I was invited to attend a reunion retreat at the school where I taught Tausi and my other very first African student writers. It was no surprise that Tausi was one of the speakers at the retreat. When she spoke, she spoke with poise, passion, and confidence.
I had a few moments to sit and chat with Tausi and was overwhelmed with pride when she told me that she’d completed her degree in Human Rights and was now in school for her law degree. She works in the court system in Kampala as a county clerk. Her dream of becoming a member of Parliament is alive and well and seems more and more like a certain outcome.
Tausi is one of 20 children in her family. She’s number 17 and to this day is the only graduate in her family. She dreams of using her degrees to fight for human rights, specifically for marginalized women and children.
Tausi follows the work of Vigilante Kindness (Hi, Tausi!) and yesterday she asked if I had any groups of girls she could speak to and encourage because she is living proof that no matter your circumstance, if you work hard, your dreams can come true. I don’t have any groups for Tausi to speak to, but I’m confident that after hearing her story, you’re inspired by her.
Tausi was and always has been a woman for all women.