Thursday, May 13, 2010

Cornerstone part II

We have been having an absolute BLAST on this whirlwind, quick trip! Our flights were of course delayed and all messed up, but Leah and I met in Amsterdam, spent an afternoon walking around the city, and finally arrived Saturday midday after a quick stop in Kenya.

Immediately, we were taken to two of the girls homes, Mengo and Lunguja. The Mengo girls had grown taller and their English improved greatly. They did a whole skit for us on Malaria prevention and we were all excited to be reunited. They had shifted houses to a better plot and seemed healthier and more lively. The Lunguja home is a new home for former prostitutes under the age of 15. They welcomed us with open arms and greeted us with dancing and a skit on HIV. Wilter has worked very closely with this home regarding STI's and transformation. They are much more outgoing than typical Ugandan women and thus are hilarious to interact with.

Tim and Cathy Kreutter took us out to dinner that night at an old favorite, Kruah Thai. We slept forever Saturday night. Daniel (wilter's sweet husband) picked us up from the office after they went to church and we spent the whole day with the Ololia's and their new baby, Lorraine. She is beautiful, well tempered, and Wilter is full of energy, totally recovered. It was awesome to be reunited. Wilter greated us with a huge hug and tears and a great meal of goat stew, chapati, rice and fresh fruit. WONDERFUL.

We have taken 2 girls to a local gynecologist for treatment, and are working on securing some sort of dental care for all the kids. This is their biggest need right now.

Since then, we have been moving about the town visiting each of the 6 homes at least once. It hs been such a joy to see many familiar faces of the sweet children from last time. Many have grown and a lot of their English has improved. We have brought paint and paper to each of the homes and they have LOVED this activity. Wilter has been doing so much around the homes their are obvious differences. The kids still have the mosquito nets, and the new kids have their own. Their homes are cleaner, and there are new huge jugs that the kids all use to take clean water. Though most of the gardens have not been kept up, the funding for the homes has increased and they have been able to buy some more vegetables than before. The mentors all seem encouraged, and we have felt so welcome.

Tonight, after visiting the Makerere boys home, we took pizza to the Kibuli boys home for dinner. It was all of their first times to ever have pizza, and they stuffed their faces. Their smiles were priceless. Many had never painted before, so we had to teach them how.

Saturday we are putting on a huge sports gala for all the homes. They are all coming together to a local school playground where we will play and have a catered meal. They could not be more excited and I think many of the old mentors will come too! Thank you for all your continued support and love.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Next Trip May 2010

"No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us." 1 John 4:12

Wow--Has time flown by!

It has now been a year and a half sense Leah and I returned from our last adventure to Uganda. Many things have changed since then, both for us personally and for Cornerstone. Leah has gotten married (Leah Welbourn Nelson, now) and has moved to Atlanta, GA. She is currently a nurse in Emory's Surgical Intensive Care Unit. She is also enrolled in a dual Family Nurse Practitioner Program and Master's of Public Health program that she is completing part time while working. Her sweet husband, George Nelson, is an MD working for the CDC in Atlanta and is currently on a month-long trip to Guam with work.

I have now been working at Vanderbilt in the Adult Cancer Unit for over a year. I started a Family Nurse Practitioner program at Vanderbilt part-time and will graduate August of 2011. After a year and a half of dating my currently boyfriend, Jimmy West, long distance--he had the opportunity to move to Nashville 2 months ago and we have had a blast finally living in the same city.

Amongst new jobs, cities, and schools Leah and I have both been very busy. Uganda has been a part of our lives for a long time now, and we have been wondering when we would be able to make it back. Leah and I have finally found a time when our school breaks overlapped and have planned a return to Uganda. We will be leaving next week, May 6th for a quick 11 day journey and whirlwind trip to Uganda. We are excited to visit with the kids, learn about all that has happened in the past year and a half, and to welcome the newest member of the Cornerstone family, Lorraine Ololia. Yes, Wilter had a baby girl 2 days ago and we are so excited to meet her and see Wilter and Daniel again.

"There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us." 1 John 4:18-19

For those of you who do not remember, Wilter is the wonderful lady we hired and are supporting as the health director of the former street children at Cornerstone Development in Uganda. According to Tim Kreutter, the director of Cornerstone in Uganda, she has been a blessing for them and a needed 'motherly role model' for all the kids. Since we left, she has been very busy paving her own way and creating more-or-less her own job description there. She has maintained and updated the health records, played and encouraged personal hygiene competitions amongst the houses, taught lessons on food choices, and cooked several healthy meals for the kids. She has treated and helped oversee many illnesses in the homes and has found cost-effective treatments for malaria.

She has diagnosed and treated many of the girls with Sexual Transmitted Infections, many of whom had been battling them for years and had no one to talk to about them. Soon after we left last year, Cornerstone started a new house for young women (under age 15) who were prostitutes. I know this has been a challenge and we are excited to learn more about this house. She has had several conversations with the girls about sexuality--something none of them had ever been able to talk about. She organized the HIV testing of all the youth who wanted it and was able to secure appropriate treatment for one boy who found out he was positive. All the youth in Kampala are now drinking clean water and so far have avoided any Typhoid outbreaks that we have heard of.

We are thrilled with the care and energy Wilter has provided through this process. With the prompting of Tim Kreutter, we have given Wilter 2 small raises that Cornerstone felt she deserved. We have been tweaking with her budget making sure they have enough funds to continue to accomplish what they feel is necessary.

Through this process, we have approximately $6600 left of our original funds we raised almost 2 years ago. For our return trip this time, we purchased one ticket with the raised fund and were able to purchase one ticket using my parents airline miles (thank you mom and dad). Our expenses while we are there will not come out of the raised funds. Leah and I wanted to include everyone with the appropriate information as far as where we are currently and what are future plans entail. Since Leah and I have not seen each other in several months, we are excited about using a lot of our travel time in Uganda to organize our current and future goals. Please look for an upcoming letter from us shortly after our return May 17th.

"May God bless you and keep you and cause His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace." Numbers 6:22-27

Prayer Request:

Safe Travels both to and from Uganda, and while we are there
Safety and Health for Wilter and her new baby girl, Lorraine
That our time there will be fruitful, fun and that we will get to spend a lot of time with the kids
The safety, health and future of these kids at Cornerstone
Upcoming fund-raising ideas and provision for the future

Thank you for all your support, love, prayers and encouragement along the way. We are excited to learn more about where this journey will lead us.

With Love, Ellen and Leah

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Mosquito nets, dad, and travelling

Ellen and I have had a great, but busy last two weeks. I am back in Kampala with my dad who is heading back to the airport after a 10 day visit. He got to see many of the Cornerstone projects and the work we have been doing here which was great. A couple highlights of his visit have been a visit to his compassion sponsored child who he has been writing to for 8 years. We got to meet the boy, Ivan, and his entire family out in their village, Mbale, which is located 45 minutes off the road from the town. The family received us warmly with singing and dancing. Not only has Ivan had lunch at school and school fees, but the family bought a chicken with the extra money, sold the eggs and now owns a goat which is a pretty big deal. The Compassion project was pretty neat itself. If you have a Compassion child, feel confident, it is great work. It really touched us to be with his family. We also just returned from Gulu where Cornerstone has two homes for street kids. Ellen, Wilter and I were working on medical records for the kids, hanging mosquito nets, and teaching first aid. The kids were wonderful, such sweet spirits.

We spent the previous week in Kampala hanging mosquito nets for all 5 homes here and teaching about malaria. I think my dad is professional at hanging mosquito nets which I bet he never thought would happen considering he had probably never seen one before the trip. Wilter taught the lesson and she did a wonderful job and related SO well. I think we asked many of you to pray specifically for the person we would hire to work here and let me tell you, it has been a prayer answered. She relates so well to the kids and cares for them like a mother.

Ellen and Wilter are travelling home tomorrow from Lira where they have been for two days doing the same things we did in Gulu with the two homes of street kids there. Pray that our last week in Uganda would be a blessing, that we would make the people here feel appreciated and loved. Thank you for your continued prayers!

Sunday, October 19, 2008


We just arrived home on Friday night from our 7 day trip to Tanzania to climb Mt. Kilimajaro. We went with our friend Kristen who is here working on the home for former child prostitutes that Cornerstone is starting. Basically, the trip was amazing. We were freezing the whole time, but all three of us made it to the 19500 foot summit. We climb through all five nature regions and slept and walked through such beauty. It was truly a bonding experience although at some points we were quite miserable and we all cried at least once. On the summit night, we climbed from midnight to 645 am to reach the peak through whipping winds and freezing temperatures. Our water, hands, eyelashes, and toes froze. All in all, we feel a huge challenge complete and it was totally worth it.

Today, we are going to one of the boy's home Kibuli to start working on the medical records with Wilter. Pray that it all goes smoothly. Thanks for the prayers. Pray that we stay positive and really love the people around us this last three weeks of our time in Uganda.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

We are so excited!

Ellen and I have spent our Sunday afternoon cleaning out the office that our new Health Coordinator Wilter is going to use. We really got the Spring Cleaning fever and were cleaning ten year old dust off the shelves in the office that no one has been using. She is starting Monday morning, so keep our transition in your prayers.

Yesterday, we spent the day at two of the Youth Corps homes, the Ntinda girls home and the Kibuli boys home. We spent the first couple hours hanging out with the kids and then taught a first aid lesson. The first aid lesson turned out to teach us some interesting lessons about Ugandan medical culture. For example, the kids were convinced if you got a burn, you should first urinate on it and then cover it with a rabbit skin (specifically a rabbit too). Also, we learned that they think you should pour water on your head and lay on the ground to stop a nose bleed. It is interesting to teach in such a different culture of medicine. We are learning. We are excited for Wilter to start giving the health talks b.c perhaps it will be more convincing to learn from someone of your own culture. I have never taught another to use a bandaid before or to hold pressure on a cut, but when I think about it, I learned these things from my parents. Living alone in the world has left some of these kids without the basic knowledge we take so for granted.

One of the things I keep recognizing in Ugandans is there hospitality. They really live out the principle to give out of the abundance of your heart even if you have little. One of the mentors at Kibuli home, Dennis, is in university and works a part-time job at a canteen to help pay his tuition and spending money. Each time we come to the house, he provides us a spread of food including bread, bananas, tea, and casava (Ellen's favorite). Each time it makes me think about how much he loves to spend time with us and give to us to show his appreciation and I can really learn from him to open my table and my home to others. One boy at the home named Paul gave both Ellen and I pieces of candy that he had bought off the street. It is so sweet b.c he is the same boy who was telling me he is really hoping to acquire a second pair of pants so that he can wash his clothes in a rotation. Can you imagine if your closet included one pair of pants and you were buying small gifts for people you know have lots of money compared to you, it is a beautiful heart.

The kids and their stories have really blessed me. I see Jesus' hands and feet in the mentors who raise these abandoned orphans and street children and I see God's work abundantly in the beauty of transformed lives of the children. For the little Ellen and I have been able to serve them, our lives have been changed. I pray that my heart and actions will forever remember the beautiful, simple, hospitable people of Uganda.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Kigali, Rwanda and Lake Bunyonyi

Leah and I just got back from our quick trip to Kigali, Rwanda. The main donors for all the Cornerstone Projects, the Temmis' and the Cameron's were in town and flew to Rwanda just for last Monday. We took the bus there early so we could tag along to their tour!

We havehad an amazing past few days, this will be a good time of reflection for me. We started on Sunday taking the 6am bus to Kigali, Rwanda.That was interesting in itself because we had assigned seats when webought the tickets, yet I have never seen anyone push so hard to geton a bus, much less adults! We picked up new people all along the wayso it filled up pretty quickly. We soon found out that everyone we know always takes the 3am bus because the 6am bus uses the wrongborder that is out of the way. It was a little over a 12 hourjourney. The border itself was just weird-we all got out of the bus,left our stuff on it...the bus drives away (meets us in the rwandaside) and we have to walk like 1/2 a mile to get to the rwanda side. Immediately,there were so many changes once we left Uganda. First of all, the roads in southern uganda can hardly be called roads--more like dirtand pot holes.

I cannot believe I was even able to concentrate on the page of my bookbecause we were swirving and pumping and accelorating and stopping. Somehow--I was rather at peace, just excited to have a day to read and listen to music and be by myself (or act like it).

Ok, so the roads in Rwanda were wonderful. They were paved withalmost-real asphalt, were smooth, and we were switched to drive on theright side of the road! Apparently that's what they do in france andbelgium. There were small mountains all around us, we were either on peaks or valleys for the next 3 hours. There is also an immediatechange in land-use. Rwanda does not have very much land compared tothe number of people in the country, so they farm a much pargerportion of teir land. A lof of the cow farmers (traditionalprofession in rwanda) moved to Uganda for a host of reasons, one of them being more land for graizing.

We were picked up at the bus station by David who works in the office here--he got there a day ahead to prepare for the Timmis visit. I cannot tell you how spoiled I felt getting driven around in acar...not having to call a taxi, or negotiate a deal for 10 minutes,or even figure out where we were going. It was one of those simplepleasures i took for granted everyday at home. Here, it was one of the sweetest gifts. The boda drivers there all had to wear helmetsand have helmet s for their passangers. They also had to wearreflective vests and their motorcycles all seemed a little newer thanin Uganda. The city was set amongst hills, and though kampala is seton 9 hills, they don't compare. The hills were bigger in Rwanda, andyou could see lots of trees on them wherever you were. Plastic bagsare illegal in the country, so there is much less trash on the roads.Also, street venders are illegal so there is no one trying to sell youstuff as you walk past (in Uganda, wherever you go you pass streetvendors with anything from candy to maize and peanuts to ties andsilverware). Thus, the whole experience seemed cleaner and healthier(they still have the exhaust problem but there is a lot less trafficand traffic jams). The Youth Corps. house there is for 8 maleuniversity students who Cornerstone somehow connected with. Theirhouse was wonderful, tile floor, a real bathroom with a toilet, ashower and our own bedroom! They were wonderful hosts, fixing us teaand dinner (rice, beans that were better than Ugandan beans, andfrench fries).

SO on the surface, Kigale doesn't even compare to Kampala. Thesurface is thin and fragile, and I could immediately tell there is adifference in the whole fear of the country. People obey road signsand traffic laws there (no one does in kampala, the law basically hasno authority at all on anything much less traffic) but people obeythem in Kigale because of fear. There is tension in the air thereunlike anywhere I have ever been. The level of trust is coming, but it is not fully realized.

We were able to go to the Cornerstone Leadership Academy there for a few hours. I could spend a year at that place. It is beautiful, ontop of a mountain looking down at a river. The sky seems bigger inRwanda, I haven't figured out why, but it was definately bigger at theschool. There was so much hope in these kids lives, so much sincerety. For a people having gone through so much--like must continue and they are doing the best they know how.

CLA is also the only school in the region taught in English. In order for Rwanda to assimilate into the East Africancountries, they have to speak English. This desire for English has just happened recently, so the government is in huge support of CLA.They also all scored highest in the region on their national exams.Most astonishing, the CLA has never had any fights. They are the onlyschool in their district that has never had tribal related fighting attheir school. Thus, many other schools in the area have asked thatthe CLA students come talk at their schools about the precepts theylearn at CLA--basically asking them to come talk about Jesus and thepeace and reconciliation he preaches. This astounds me. Theheadmaster is even broadcasting (he was asked to) once a week on aradio station there to talk about the precepts, and characerdevelopment. This was stunning to me. Jesus' work throughreconciliation was so real I could feel it at this school.

If anyone wants to support a school like this in Burundi, they aretrying to start one as soon as they get funding and Burundi has hadmostly the same conflict just a little more recent.

Our time there was unforgetable and life changing. To see Jesus' work of reconciliation in such an unabashed, bold and intense way cannot really be explained in words. He is real, His work is real, and the Kingdom of God truly at work in the world today.

We spent 2 days in Lake Bunyonyi right outside of Kibale, Uganda on the way back to Kampala. It is one of the most beautiful, peaceful places I have ever been. it reminded me a little of Cetner Hill lake with the hills around it, there were just lots of little island hills with farmers farming terraces on all of them. The first night, leah and I were the onlyguests on the island, it was a weird feeling but peaceful. We took a canoe out to the surrounding ilsands with little villages, swam in thewater and layed out on the dock. The canoe was carded out of an old tree, so it was nearly impossible for us to make it go straight, and Leah and I have done a lot of canoeing in our past! This trip was a perfect getaway from smog and city dust! We spent a lot of time alone, and probably walked around the island 15 times while we were there, seeing something new each time.

Thank you for your prayers and love and emails. We feel so blessed to have these experiences and to have all of your prayers and support. God is redeeming the world. Not just here, but everywhere. I encourage you to start looking for ways God is redeeming the world right around you. Sometimes this means stepping out of your comfort zone--but did God ever really call us to comfort?

Saturday, September 27, 2008


We have been working hard all week doing interviews and trying to find the perfect person to be the health coordinator for the kids in the Cornerstone family. After six interviews and a ton of deliberation, we offered the job to a lady named Wilter this moring and we are so excited!! Wilter is a clinical officer (which is like a hybrid RN/NP with a little training in both roles). We are so happy that God provided her and that we will have something to leave for the kids when we go home to the states. She is starting on October 6th, so we will have some good to time get her aquainted.

I took a girl to get HIV/STI tested yesterday. Got got to sit with her for a while and talk about her life and her family. Both her parents have died and she is an only child. She doesn't know a family member in the world. She looked my in the eyes, ask me if I had a mom and dad and then went on to tell me how lucky I am. Wow, can you imagine. I really feel so blessed to be given so much in the world. It is really a challenge to us to remember others, to consider where they are coming from, and help.

We are going to Rwanda tomorrow to see the genocide museum and visit the cornerstone programs there and then heading to a lake that is supposed to be beautiful in s.w. ugandan for a two day vacation. We are pumped. Pray we will be safe.