A Birthday in Uganda

To me, HEAL meant a new start after a long four years in high school.  To me, HEAL now means a lot of things.  I never really knew what to expect when I packed my bags and moved to Jinja.  Yes, I knew I would be working with women and children but what I didn't know is how much those women and children would mean to me.  HEAL and the James Place are now the reason why I get up every morning with a smile on my face.  If you would have told me in my first week I would grow to love this place as I do now, I would have told you to wake up from a deep dream.  HEAL is a place for me to live a care-free day surrounded by people who love me as much as I love them.  HEAL also just means getting a hundred hugs a day, usually instigated by saying “huga.” HEAL has been a place of pure happiness for me.  

My days at the James Place are anything except normal, but a few things have become a new normal.  For example, I am awake every night from about 2am-3am, and I can always count on it.  My alarm clock is the banging of pots as children fill them with sand outside my window.  Cathy screaming “WHITE” while going over colors during English class.  Hearing “Halina, come” during morning play time.  Somehow bathing 60 kids everyday in basins that some are becoming too tall for.  The sudden quietness as the children go down for nap time.  Pouring jerrycans of water into the same basins that were used for bathing to doing chores with the staff.  Watching 60 half-awake children walk from the gecko house to the tarp for an afternoon fruit snack and water.  Watching one child pedal a bike, while two kids ride in the back with a staff member pushing hard to make the bike actually move.  Watching children leave one by one only to know it will be a short 14 hours until they are back on the property banging pots.  Saying a hard goodbye to Kisakye every evening, not being able to wait for the 14 hours to be over so that I can hug her again. And finally, retreating back to the house where I am usually ready for bed before 8:30.  Yes, my day seems like a whirlwind, which it is, but I wouldn't trade my days for anything else.  

This past week was my birthday and I was a little worried about how it was going to go being away from home for the first time.  Let’s just say I have really never felt more love than I did on my birthday.  As I walk in to English class, sweet Cathy sits right by the door and she sings me happy birthday.  Yes, it was on her own because none of the other kids chose to join in but that made it just that much better.  Once Cathy finished, the rest of the class then sang all together.  After class, one kid after the next would come up saying “Birthday girl Halina” or “It's your birthday" or something along those lines, without stopping all day.  During PE, the finally activity was to sing happy birthday to me. Even if it was just the baby screaming in the background because he really didn't know the words, to the oldest child belting every word to make sure everyone heard her, they sang happy birthday.  As I said, I was nervous about spending my first birthday away from home, but let it be known that I wouldn't have traded my 19th birthday for anything, and now I wish I could celebrate every birthday here.  

-Halina Hannon, Volunteer Long Term Intern