Julius, a staff member and our driver for the day, steered the van down dirt roads riveted with holes and masses of dirt. Tina and I bumped up and down in the back seat accordingly, while the rest of our group swayed in their seats. Finally, we paused before a gate.
Cherish Uganda. We were here.
Another staff member unlocked and opened the gate so we could pull in. I spied several raised garden beds to our right and wondered if each classroom had ownership.
Verdant land called to us as Julius drove onward through the village, pulling to a stop in front of the home of founder Rachel Parsons. Rachel, who oversees a vision of orphan-care far more compelling than anything I’ve heard before.
I visited Cherish Uganda two months ago (how has so much time passed already?) but the afternoon and evening remain tethered to my heart. I see the children and the chicken coop and the fallow field as clearly in my mind as if I stood before them.
I didn’t know what to expect prior to our visit. After all, Cherish cares for orphaned children with HIV/AIDS. This doesn’t inspire the most hopeful or positive thoughts. And yet, that’s what we encountered.
We toured through Akaloosa village past the banana trees and passion fruit hanging on the vine, just two of the endeavors helping make Cherish Uganda more sustainable. We peered into the chicken coop and learned about the egg provided to every child at breakfast, even children in the village who come to Hope Academy for school. We learned about the dream of a piggery so the kids will be able to eat ham and bacon and so the organization will have another form of income. We heard about the meetings with the community to learn of their needs and how many villagers are now employed at Cherish.
We stopped by Hope Academy, which is comprised of several buildings according to age and grade. Rachel pointed to an empty plot of land and said a library would be built there next. You better believe I grew teary at the thought of children growing up with a love of reading. We walked over to another plot of land, which will soon contain Hope Health Centre, serving the surrounding community. And then Rachel pointed to another area and said this is where a secondary school would be, where the Cherish teens would dream of what their futures could look like and train for careers or prepare for college.
Did you catch that? Children with HIV/AIDS being encouraged to dream of a future. Many of whom were neglected, deprived of needed medicine, or left to die. Many who have endured stigma and hardship. Here they are loved and cherished. Here they attend school and take their medications. Here others walk alongside them and give them the tools to make dreams realities.
Every where we turned, Hope sang it was alive and well. Indeed, HOPE is the very framework of Cherish. Health, lOve, Prosperity, and Education. It starts within the grounds and extends to the neighboring community and it is beautiful to witness.
This was nowhere more evident than in their homes.
Akaloosa Positive Homes shelter one Cherish Mother and 8 children. A family dwells there. The mother mothering her children according to her personality and parenting style. Not only this but each house has a Cherish Father. The Fathers don’t live in the homes but they play an important role nonetheless.
Our group came across Julius as we surveyed the homes. Rachel told us Julius was a Cherish Father. A grin split wide across his face and he humbly basked in our praise and answered questions.
We learned the Fathers recently helped the children brainstorm what to do for Mother’s Day. We heard about the games played and lessons dispensed.
Orphaned children growing with the love of a Mother and a Father. All the while learning about the love of God.
Cherish Uganda isn’t just meeting basic needs but exceeding them lavishly, from the food to the school to their homes.
You could look at these children and point out their lives were never supposed to include loss, disease, and hardship. It’s true. Children shouldn’t have to endure those experiences. But they have and this is plan B. A plan that offers parents to the motherless and fatherless, that champions the involvement of any extended family members they have left, that encourages them to dream and reach for the stars, that shows them they are fearfully and wonderfully made by their Creator.
I get choked up thinking about it.
My time in Cherish made me wonder how and where I can be a mother to the motherless. I’m viewing my community with a different lens.
I’m looking for ways to be someone’s plan B.