Jinja, Uganda -- Week One.

Two years. Five Continents. Seven of the most impoverished nations in the world. In. My. Face. 

I am globe trotting to some of the roughest and toughest places to capture the photos for The Lucy Project photo documentary to be released in late 2017. During each tour through the various nations I come alongside one or two native organizations and invest my love and heart in their projects to integrate myself into the culture and serve their mission. 

Uganda is nation three in part with The Lucy Project tour and I decided to step away from partnering with orphanages and step into community and women outreach while still being close enough to the orphan crisis to capture raw footage for the documentary, because in places like this you can meet orphans is the marketplace or street-side with little to no government regulation or intervention. 

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Hope for Women in Crisis, the organization that I've partnered with while on the ground in Uganda, does it all. The organization's home currently houses young, expectant mothers and mothers with children up to six-months-old (often older).

These girls are 13, 14, and 15-year-old rape victims, trafficked victims, and victims of opportunistic sex that have been shamed and banished from their home labeled dirty and a disgrace. 

Anyone that does this work knows that you cannot have a bleeding heart and see the world of poverty first hand. I have worked tirelessly to hardened my soft heart so that I can serve and capture these nations in a way that I would not be able to if I was overly invested in saving everyone -- which simply cannot be done. 

Tour three and six months into the project, I thought I had successfully managed to regulate my emotions and serve without being blinded by my emotions. 24 hours into my partnership with this organization and my heart shattered. 

I can handle the orphan crisis. I can take my mama hands and cuddle and counsel and hush. I can make a fort out of a single blanket and escape the world of poverty into a world of imaginative play. I can sing and dance and make silly faces until sundown for the rest of my days. I can reach into my own purse and fund meals for the hungry little ones in my care. I can. I can. I can. 

I can make happy when, even for a moment, they are mine to make happy. 

But when I must face reality, when I must humble myself and realize that this is not the season for orphan care, when I acknowledge that I must put the mother's of these little ones first and my overwhelming need to love on children second -- my heart bleeds. 

The thing of it is, I am prepared for this. After owning an American-based organization for women empowerment for an upward of two years my heart has been unknowingly prepared for this season. With open counsel, honest love, education, and guidance I must teach mamas how to mama. 

Regardless of what I want, after being so closely touched by the orphan and orphanage culture I can say with confidence that babies belong with their mothers (and not in orphanages), regardless of how much work it takes to create a healthy and safe mother-child dynamic. 

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Because as much as I want to do it all, light-skinned hands holding babies in impoverished nations on a temporary visa's timeline does not end poverty. Equipping mothers to be mothers ends poverty. 

So I am here, on the ground in this new season of life serving as a cheerleader and counselor for these fierce, resilient girls and I am rocking that piece of my responsibility, however, there is an entirely different level of pain and hurt happening that the organization is responsible for managing and all I know to do is document, share and hope that those of you reading might be able to support. 

The hospital labor and delivery ward and the village of Busia. 

Hope for Women in Crisis does community outreach for a collection of girls whom come through the hospital as expectant mothers. The hospital will call the organization if the girls come alone to deliver without food or any of the required medical supplies and blankets (women must come to hospital with their own food, supplies, and blankets or they will not be admitted -- even if they are in active labor). 

The hospital is a dark, dark place. Women are given a single metal-wired bed with a plastic, green, torn mattress when they are admitted. Anything else needed for delivery they must provide themselves, including any medicine. Often, the beds overflow and women are forced to birth on the filthy ground with no assistance. 

Babies are often born malnourished or premature and they are admitted to a room that is labeled the "intensive care ward" but really they just place these struggling infants on out dated oxygen machines and it is up to them to survive. 

The entire hospital is overflowing with hundreds of patients on a daily basis and 40+ women delivering babies at any one time with only 5-8 doctors on staff. The hospital smells of urine, blood and body odor and is flooded with mosquitos and flies. Women and babies are dying daily without their medicine, a birth kit, (which can easily be created with basic, affordable supplies) and support. 

I have absolutely no idea how anyone, anywhere with a dollar to spare could allow this sort of poverty to reign on at the expense of the lives of innocent mothers and babies. To save a life would cost five dollars. Click here to donate to the hospital and the village of Busia which I will cover in a later post -- but imagine everything I've just described with conditions 1000x more critical. 

I'm going to stop here at this point and let this resonate with those following from afar. More will be posted, along with a visual tour of the hospital but I ask that you lift these women and their babies up in prayer and good vibrations. I ask that you consider donating what you can so that I can help make the biggest impact while I am here on the ground to distribute and oversee the funds, and I ask that you please continue to follow my story because having you alongside me on this journey is incredibly humbling. 

Oh also, these are the twins! The twins were orphaned by their young, young mother some time ago. They were left at the women's home and my gal pal, Hannah (who I am here living and serving alongside) and I care for them routinely as our own. I've been crowned "auntie Ellie," and I get to snuggle and love and parent them all hours of everyday. You'll see them in lots of posts so I wanted you to know who they were.