Uganda Be Kidding Me
As I sat on the plane awaiting takeoff, I could hardly believe that I was really going on a mission trip to Africa, more specifically, Uganda. Me, a kid raised in the projects in southern Illinois. At the age of 12, my family upgraded to a trailer on the outskirts of town. Both of my parents were blue collar workers, my mom, an immigrant from Germany working in a factory, and my dad, a local African-American man working at an auto parts shop. My parents did the best they could with what they had, but, if I had to describe my childhood home, I would have to say it was dysfunctional, at best. At the age of 14, I moved out of my home and house hopped until I landed in the home of my first mentor. He was a friend’s father who took me in and treated me like I was one of his own. Unfortunately, he died prior to my becoming a man, and I was still dealing with a lot of family baggage. At the age of 16, I started working as a cook for a local restaurant, and I have been in the cooking business in some form or fashion ever since.
Long story short, after working in several restaurants in Illinois and Iowa for 15 years, a struggle with addiction, and a few dysfunctional relationships, I met Jesus in a jail cell, and my life was never the same again. I was determined to break the chains of my past. It is funny how, when you finally get serious about change, God provides all the tools you need to do it. First, he gave me the courage to open my own coffee shop. Through that coffee shop, I met new friends and mentors who helped me grow closer to Christ. He repaired the relationship with my then ex-wife and put our family back together. And, finally, when I was ready, he connected me to College Chefs, where I have been joyfully serving the Sigmas of Western Illinois University for the past 6 years. To whom much is given, much is expected, and I was determined that I would be a blessing to others the way that others had blessed me.
Anyways, back to my story about Uganda. In August of 2017, my wife and I attended the Global Leadership Summit. We were most touched by the stories of children who were abused or in poverty. I, having come from an unstable and underprivileged background myself, felt led to serve children. Following the summit, my wife and I started a life group through our church to support local youth. However, we still yearned to do more. That is when our pastor invited us to go to Uganda and work at the FNC (Faithfully Nurturing Children) school with impoverished children from pre-K to 8th grade. We said yes and raised the money for the trip.
With the support of various contributors, including College Chefs, we were off to Uganda. After 18 hours, 2 flights, and a layover, we landed at 11:00pm at the Entebbe International Airport about 30 miles to the south of Kampala, a major metropolitan area in Uganda and my home for the next 10 days. We piled 9 people into the seven-passenger van for the trip to Kampala where the mission school was located. As a side note, rules of the road in Uganda, if there are any, appear to be optional. Our pastor shared with us that the most dangerous part of our trip would be driving from and back to the airport. Needless to say, the drive was harrowing. Nevertheless, we arrived safely at our destination.
As a chef, I wanted to learn about the local cuisine to see if there was a recipe that I could bring back and introduce to my house. The staples of the local diet are rice, beans, potatoes, goat, beef, and eggs. The kids at the school eat porridge every morning for breakfast. For lunch they had rice and beef or goat, rice and beans, and occasionally they had chips, which is basically fried potatoes.
These chefs use rudimentary cooking equipment to prepare food for 123 students.
Street food is common in Uganda. As a chef trained in the United States on food safety, I thought that I would not be willing to try the street food. However, curiosity got the best of me. I tried several street dishes. My favorites were the samosa, which is a fried flower tortilla pocket stuffed with beans and rice or meat and vegetables, and the rolex, which is a fried chapati flat bread with egg, onions and tomato. Yum! I also tried a dish called posho. Posho is mashed matoka, a bitter, banana-like fruit, and is often served with greens or beans.
Although the school has running water and indoor plumbing, the locals walk sometimes miles to a water pipe to collect their fresh water in jugs.
While in Uganda, my wife and I worked in the classrooms helping the teachers teach the kids. On Career Day, I spoke to the kids about my career with College Chefs. In addition, we worked on projects, such as building a fence for the new school.
And a Lot of Play
While in Uganda, I worked hard, but I also had a lot of fun with the kids. I will never forget these amazing kids!
So many amazing picture from the trip to look through! Make sure you check them all out below!