We stopped at an orphanage in Jinja, Uganda the morning of the day we would be heading home. This would be our last stop to love on the people of Africa. Amani Baby Cottage is an exceptional orphanage, and when I say exceptional I truly mean it. The children are deeply loved and well taken care of with food and clean conditions to live and thrive in. Children there have access to medical care, safety, and all the things a growing little mind needs to become a happy and healthy little boy or girl. The orphanage is run by an American and her team who truly have a heart for those kids.
As our team pulled up on the side of the red dirt road and we made our way through the tall iron gates we were greeted with the sound of goats. Goats, chickens and cattle are abundant in Uganda as they are some of their main sources for food and sustainability. You will see chickens and their newly hatched chicks running around eating seed together, as well as steers tied up by their horns grazing in fields, at homes, and in the market place. And you will see goats eating, running, jumping, and being oh so adorable everywhere as well. ( I am pretty partial to goats.) We learned a bit about the goats on the property and how Amani was attempting to get the hang of things with having goats and trying to always have a constant supply of goats milk for the orphanage. As we learned about the orphanage– dozens of curious little faces peaked out over the second story balcony looking at us with wonder and excitement at the visitors that had come to play and love on them. My heart leapt with joy as we made our way through the classrooms and play area and up the stairs to finally meet the children.
Like a scattered, beautiful, chaos the children pooled out in all directions latching on to the visitor of their choosing as we greeted them with high fives, hugs, fists bumps, and big smiles! I held a sweet little boy that had rushed over and hugged my legs. I picked him up and took a picture with him as well as another sweet little boy. So many kids in Africa were amazed to see their reflection and were so fascinated to take a picture with us. Many of them in the villages and at the school had never seen their reflection before so to witness their joyful glee was exciting!
Then there came Caroline.
A sweet bubbly little girl who could be no more than 6 years old with the friendliest eyes and brightest smile I had ever seen. For whatever reason she picked me to be her friend for the entire time we were there. We sat and talked for a bit and took a picture together. Then she told me the most precious things I had ever heard and my heart just melted right there. Caroline, looked me in the eye and with the biggest smile told me this: I like you very much! You are my friend, you stay here. She gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek. I gave her a big hug and told her I liked her very much and that she was my friend too. I could smell the lingering scent of Ivory soap when she hugged me. I remembered that so vividly because for the past week we were entrenched in so many bodily smells from the poverty and lack of hygiene due to the unfavorable conditions that to smell something so familiar and being 8,312 miles away from home was refreshing.
She grabbed my hand and together we bounded into the TV room to watch a children’s sing-a-long movie. We sat with part of the team and the other kids as we sang right along with the DVD. Songs from my childhood blared out of the TV screen speakers and there was such peace in that moment. Caroline swelled with knowledge and information as she sang the songs back to the television screen and told me which animal was which, clapping her hands in excitement.
And I miss her.
Maybe that’s odd to miss someone you hardly know. But that little girl warmed my heart and took up residency. I don’t know much about her other than the tid-bits of information here and there I found out at the orphanage and on their website. I found out later that Caroline has a twin sister named Josephine who is just as sweet as herself. Both girls were placed in Amani’s care after their mother died shortly after they were born. Their father at this time can not take care of them and this is why they have resided at Amani. But one thing is for sure I will never forget Caroline and the way she impacted my world within only a few hours of a visit. Maybe she knew how much my heart has longed for Africa or the pain I felt just weeks prior to my arrival in Africa after losing my Grandma. Maybe, just maybe God put her in my life to remind me of how good and faithful He really is. And how He takes care of every orphan, every life, even in the smallest places of the world. (John 14:18) I always look for those little moments. Those little whispers from God that only He knows heals my heart or brings me joy. Those moments that no one in the world would know except God.
I think about our short time in Africa and our visit to Amani Baby Cottage often, it’s hard not to. Those kids and people impacted my life and reaffirmed my passion for Africa and where God is leading me.
I will never forget Caroline and her precious heart or any of the children we met. I believe that those kids will impact my life for many years to come.