10 Things I Learned in January: Uganda Edition

At the end of every month, I like to share a few things I learned in the last 30-ish days. Since we’re in Uganda right now and I pretty much can’t think about anything but this country and her children and very small planes, it only seemed appropriate to dedicate this edition of Things I Learned to Uganda.

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Here are 10 things I’m learning in Uganda in no particular order:

1. If you go to Africa in January, it will snow back home. Especially if it hasn’t legitimately snowed AT ALL so far this winter.

2. Small planes are legit. As you know, I have been super nervous about riding in a plane you can’t stand up in. As it turns out, small planes are the way to travel. As we flew over Uganda this morning on our way to Kampala, I kept waiting for my hands to shake but instead I just felt peace. Thank you to those of you who prayed for that. (I’m looking at you, Mom.)

ticket for barbie plane

3. If you are in Uganda, place your iPhone in your lap. Turn the camera like you’re gonna take a selfie. But instead of taking a selfie, take a them-y. And don’t stop clicking.

ugandan selfiesYou will not be able to imagine where they learned this from.

selfies in uganda

4. Mike Varel is a fantastic, soulful, talented photographer. But even he can’t prevent the photobombs.

Compassion Bloggers Uganda 2014 - Day Three5. If you pull into a slum in a bus and a hundred children greet you with drums, cymbals, signing, hugs and TROMBONES, you won’t know whether to laugh or to cry. Especially when you realize what song they are playing. (Email subscribers click here to see this 10 second video):

And you will walk and half-skip with them through the slums they call home even though you know really horrible things happen here. But for a few moments you won’t be thinking of those horrible things and they won’t be, either.

Because it’s time to have a parade.

Compassion Bloggers Uganda 2014 - Day ThreeAnd when you talk about it later that night with the friends who were there with you, the one named Jeff Goins will say, “This must be what heaven is like – music, dancing, and children.” You will nod your head and agree with him. Because he has to be right.

6. Child sponsorship works. 

Compassion Bloggers Uganda 2014 - Day ThreeThis young woman on the right graduated from the Child Sponsorship Program and is now in her last semester of university studying criminal justice. She visits this center and teaches the children their songs. When she graduates from school, she wants to help make a change.

“Most people thought life had to end in primary seven and began to do immoral things. So I decided to stand out and make a difference.”

These are the stories we want to hear.

7. Child sponsorship doesn’t always work.

We sponsor a child to give that child care he wouldn’t otherwise have. But the long-term success may ultimately be in the hands of the parents. In the words of the pastor of the church partnering with Compassion in Kampala, “Our job here is trying to convince the parents to secure a better future for their children.”

But sometimes the parents can’t be convinced because poverty has already taken from them what poverty wants, including hope for the future. On the one hand, it feels like a risky investment. On the other, it feels like the Gospel.

Compassion Bloggers Uganda 2014 - Day Three

8. When the parents are convinced, you will know it.

If you visit the home of a child who is sponsored through Compassion, the mother will be very grateful to see you. Especially if you come along with the President Emeritus of Compassion International, Papa Wess. And the way she will show her gratitude is by jumping up and down when you hug her, inviting you to enter into her home (however small it may be) and offering you gifts of honor and gratitude.

papa wessThe gifts will be chicken. In its various forms.

9. If you sponsor a child in Uganda, you will not regret it.

You will go look at the photos of children waiting for sponsors, then you will pick one of them.

Do not, I repeat, do not over-think this step. If you need a guideline, just choose the one you are least drawn to. It worked for me.

In a week or so you will get a packet in the mail telling you more about your child and you will write them a letter immediately, not because you have to but because you can! You can even do it online (it’s so easy – no stamps! No paper! This is worthy of lots of exclamations!) This first letter will be one of many you exchange with your child, because sponsorship with Compassion is not just about giving money, it’s about being a friend.

10. If you go to Africa in January and it snows back home, you won’t care a bit that you missed it.

no regretsEspecially if you sponsor a child who lives in Uganda.

You know you want to. Here’s how.


  1. says

    I love the them-ys! And This is the Day! This is such a beautiful version of the Things You’ve Learned. My favourite!

    Following you and your fellow travellers on this journey to Uganda. God bless you for being brave and boarding all those planes.

    Praying for our own Compassion children that God will call them to Himself; for Gospel is the only thing to overpower poverty, war, sin. Thankful for the beautiful feet that bring the Good News.

  2. says

    The. Best. ““This must be what heaven is like – music, dancing, and children.” You will nod your head and agree with him. Because he has to be right.”

    Yep. You are all there, on the cusp of heaven….

    Love you, Emily P. Freeman.

  3. says

    Those are ten beautiful things. And the image of music, and singing, and children in heaven? Goose bumps. Makes me long for that day.

    Praying for sweet rest tonight!

  4. says

    Keep touching the tip of heaven…and I pray for peace to guard your mind …leaving only love in Uganda – and no children left to be sponsored. May God continue to use as an instrument…. Let your music play, Emily… we’re listening :)

  5. says

    I think we will hear that music in heaven.

    I love how you acknowledge the hard stuff yet shine a light on the hope. I just love that about you.

    And oh how sweet are those faces of hope!

  6. says

    Thank you SO much for these wonderful posts from the other side of the world. … and for bringing it all to us through your photos and writing. We need this. Praying for a fresh shot of the Spirit for all of you as you finish up strong!

  7. brandy says

    Loved this one too, but yesterday’s post made me cry like a baby this morning. Thank you for sharing the stories!!!

  8. Kaitlin Grant says

    Love this!

    Emily, does Compassion have volunteers/employees in the communities that the sponsored kids are in supervising or heading up the programs? Are they all local people running them or do they hire/let long term volunteers from the states help out too? I’m hoping to go to Grad school for international development and trying to scope out possible job opportunities afterwards.

    Excited to read more of you adventures!

  9. says

    I just love this…all of it.

    I have watched that video several times and each time I’m grinning from ear to ear. I can only imagine what it was like for you all to march in that parade.

    Praying for a strong finish and to see that number reach 400…I mean 500!

  10. says

    Did you get to hear “what a friend we have in Jesus?” I have never heard that song quite like I did when a group of sweet Ugandan children sang it for me. And that was a MAF ticket i saw? Aww, becoming more jealous by the minute. I really can’t muster the words I want to express how much I have appreciated these posts….so I wasn’t going to try to comment. But I just had to at least say “web ale” (thank you).

  11. Melanie Miller says

    I’m loving your posts this week, Emily. You have a way with words, girlfriend. I’m so glad you received peace while on that little plane. Those little planes are flown by awesome people from Mission Aviation Fellowship all over the world and their headquarters are here in my little town in Idaho.

    Thank you for going away from your people to share these precious people with all of us & our people. Many blessings to you.

  12. says

    Your stories about Uganda, about your youth pastor boy… I mean, what am I going to do with that $38? Something selfish, something unnecessary. I’m going to pray. Then I’m going to sponsor. And I’m SO excited. :-)

  13. says

    Oh, this post makes me smile!! And yes, I believe heaven will be filled with lots of children and lots of singing and dancing!! And we won’t need a translator to understand all of the words!!

    Praying that many people are encouraged by the words and pictures being shared this week by all of you, praying that those who are not already Compassion sponsors will choose a child to sponsor!

  14. Jeralyn says

    Hi Emily! Thank you for all you are doing and writing this week. I have been following all of you on your blogs. I sponsored a little girl by the name of Deborah this week because of all of you and your words of hope.

    Be encouraged….

  15. Teresa says

    Love all you have shared this week. I have to say, I laughed like crazy at the photobomb picture! Thank you for flying in the little planes (and the big ones!), and pouring out your experiences this week. You have challenged me and encouraged me.

  16. says

    Smiling. And sighing. And smiling. And sighing. And smiling more as I travel along with you. Thank you for your transparency. Nothing quite like Kingdom building, especially when it involves children.

  17. Michele says

    My husband and I have been discussing this the last few days and finally agreed this morning that we are, in fact, going to sponsor. I can’t wait to select a child this evening with my children!

  18. CyndaP says

    I already sponsor two children and the infant survival program through Compassion. Besides you I also follow Shaun and Jeff. I thought how interesting that the three of you were going to Uganda together. I read your posts without expecting to do anything. After all, I’m already a sponsor. Today I read posts from you, Jeff, Shaun and Myquillan. With tears in my eyes, I just sponsored a young man in Uganda who is approaching 20 according to his birthday. I’m not sure if that’s correct, but he has my support as long as he is in the program. Tell everyone who’s there they are making a difference.

  19. says

    I love that you’ve captured some of the hilarity that’s mixed with the heartbreak. Because that is life. The trombones, the assorted chickens, the photo-bombing–I’m dying. : )

  20. says

    Emily, thank you for going and for sharing! Quite a while back God placed the mothers of our sponsored children heavy on my heart. Sometimes I feel more like a momma sponsor, thank you to you and to Shaun for talking about the mothers.

  21. Kristen says

    Emily- I just want to thank you for your beautiful thoughts, your compassion for the kids of Uganda and your work on behalf of Compassion International. My children (now ages 12 and 9) each chose a 5 year old child to sponsor through Compassion when they themselves were 5 years old. My husband and I thought that the age similarities would help our kids be better able to connect with our sponsored kids. And indeed it has! We’ve since sponsored two additional kids in different parts of the world- parts, oddly enough, that we were least drawn to :-) What a very blessed experience child sponsorship is! I encourage anyone whose soul has been pricked by your words and pictures to do exactly what you said…don’t overthink it…just go to Compassion’s website and choose a child! They won’t regret it :-)

  22. says

    That very last picture of you with the children is just priceless!

    I know God is doing a work in your heart on this trip that has not even begun to come out in words. Thank you for sharing what you can put into words.

    Blessings for the rest of your trip and for safe travels home.

  23. says

    That girl in the polka dots…be still my heart!

    We sponsor a child for each of our children. But now a precedence has been set…our boys, all from Zimbabwe are named Praise, Witness, Trinity and Gift!

  24. kristie says

    Please say hello to my two children in Uganda if you can. I just signed up again because of your and your sister’s blog posts. I’ve been so moved by them all. So moved by the stories and their sweet faces and amazing attitudes towards life and God and what Compassion is doing to help.

    My two little ones in Uganda had the same birth dates as my own children.
    Their names are:
    Ronnie Ainamani and
    Evas Nimusiima

    Big hugs to them and I’m so happy and excited to be a part of their lives!
    Kristie Duncan

  25. says

    So so beautiful. Those selfies…I mean themies. I die. So sweet. And the joy in your face. What a gift to be there. And that woman with Papa Wes. Wow, I can only imagine what an amazing man he is. I seriously look forward to these posts daily. They are a gift and such perspective. Thank you for being there.

  26. Michelle says

    You had me laughing at “them-y” and then literally sobbing at the parade video (have to spend some quiet time to figure that out) and then laughing again at the photo of Wess and the chickens!

    Basically, my emotions are all over the place…. And I was feeling “normal” prior to reading!!!! What a way with words/photos/vids you have. Thank you.

  27. Chris says

    So happy to have stumbled upon this blog post. I recently sponsored a girl in Uganda after stumbling across a blog post by Jeff Goins. I wasn’t looking for a particular country or a particular age or sex. I picked the one whom had been waiting the longest. Her name is Mackline and I just wrote her for the first time this morning.
    I was trying to find more information about where she lives and what the conditions are like. I hope to hear from her soon but even if I don’t, I will continue to write her. To pray for her and to give her encouragement and love. What I found about her area is pretty devastating and disgusting. I’m praying for that whole area. The whole area needs a sponsor.
    Anyway, your post is lovely. The children’s faces could light any dark place.

  28. says

    Glad you enjoyed your stay in Uganda. Thank you for sharing your experience with future travellers.

    If you would like to #travel & #volunteer in #Africa in 2015, email Amaidi for advice or to set up a placement–amaidi.mamerito@gmail.com or amaidi.belinda@gmail.com. Check out our website: amaidi.org

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