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February 17, 2018

A Field of Opportunity

Who knew that a field planted with kassava and strewn with dried corn stalks would become an opportunity for improving community health and a chance to see the fruits of our work come full circle…

The rising sun cast an orange glow in the ever present dust rising from the road as we dodged mounds of dirt left from months of construction. Children wearing brightly colored uniforms lined the road carrying books and satchels on their way to school.  Before the sun was even up, our small team had piled into the Land Cruiser for the daily two-hour drive to Kigandalo – this time to begin day two of filming for a new video.

 The dust began to clear as we turned down a narrow road wandering through wooded areas, empty fields ready for planting and small clusters of huts.  The smell of charcoal fires and occasional sounds of cattle, chickens and laughing children drifted in the open windows carried by the cool morning air.  The timing was perfect for the early morning scenes and we were anxious to get started before the sun rose higher in the sky bringing even warmer temperatures.  As we stepped out in front of the simple but well-kept homes the packed dirt still wore the marks of fresh sweeping in preparation for our arrival.
 
Within minutes a crowd began to gather.  A small herd of cattle passed by on the road and pigs squealed in the distance as gradually, the whole community seemed to appear to see what we were doing. The animated chatter hushed as the filming began and the crowd watched in fascination from the sparse cassava field across the path.
 
We were here to tell the story through film of how Serving His Children is breaking the cycle of malnutrition, but there among dried corn stalks and cassava plants we saw the results of the story in real life. Cheerfully playing in the dirt next to her 19-year-old mother was Patience, one of the first children to enter our Inpatient Treatment Center (ITC) in June.  It was difficult to imagine that this healthy active child once occupied a bed at our center fighting severe acute malnutrition.  Personal experience colored the words of Mama Patience as she shared with her neighbors why we were there and how the information she learned during her time at the health center has changed her life. 
 
As the filming progressed, the number of dedicated onlookers increased; it was as if we were in a Hollywood film scene transported to a remote part of Uganda!  When the outside scenes were finished and the crew moved into one of the homes there was nothing left to watch.  It appeared that the crowd would begin to disperse when suddenly the dozens of mothers, children, and grandparents turned towards an authoritative figure speaking in a clear voice.  As he spoke the onlookers quickly found spots on the ground to sit in between dried maize stalks, clumps of dirt and the occasional bunch of weeds.  He spoke with animation and had the rapt attention of this randomly gathered audience.  This man was the Leader of the Community (LC) and part of the SHC program to train community leaders and government appointed Village Health Team members to identify, understand and prevent malnutrition and other health-related problems.  To him, this was not simply a random gathering of interested onlookers but an opportunity to instruct and encourage members of his community to take charge of their own health and make long-term changes that will be passed down for generations.  He challenged them to build pit latrines, to lead their communities by example, and to insist that children wash hands often so that germs would not be spread. The respect for this man was evident in the rapt attention and nods of understanding as he continued to challenge these people, his people, to change the nutrition for their children and their children’s children.  
 
This, THIS is why we are here.  Not just to save the lives of children but to empower communities to change their health and teach others to do the same. Not to be the instruments of change ourselves but to share with others the gift of teaching and allow them to be the agents of change for their families, neighbors, and communities.