Friday, October 7, 2011

Helping Hands

It would be impossible to list all of the incredible people who need to be thanked for their efforts and sacrifices toward the building of Restore Leadership Academy. The contributions have come in many forms: hours of prayer, financial partnership, and even traveling all the way to the other side of the world to join hands in the physical work.

In July of this year, the Restore construction team welcomed Mike Wire, Kelly and Ryan Sumner, and Eric Ryan. Each of these men possessed unique skills which they employed with rolled up sleeves and willing hearts.

Mike Wire, Ryan Sumner, and Kelly Sumner stand over a recently poured slab for the girl's dorm

Mike, with a background in metal fabrication, helped design and make the metal forms which enabled for smoother mass production of monolithic concrete slabs for our foundations. He worked with Jack, an Acholi man in Gulu who owns the metal fabrication shop that produces our doors and windows, and who was excited to have the opportunity to work with someone of Mike's level of expertise.

Mike drilling holes in a metal form as Cosmos and Komakech assist and learn

Kelly Sumner, who has years of experience as a general contractor, and his son Ryan gave a monumental effort during their month in Uganda. They lived in the hut on the land, and grew close with many of the Restore construction team members as they worked together side by side.

Teaming up to lay A-98 metal mesh on foundation 4

Eric Ryan is one of those unique individuals who can adapt to incredibly diverse environments and rise to the challenges. Despite never having traveled abroad, Eric agreed to fly all the way to Uganda to help with the construction effort for 2 months. He had 3 days of training with me before taking the reins to cover a two week period when Shane and I could not be here. Imagine going from the U.S. to one of the least developed places in the world- struggling to adjust to the heat, dust, poverty, and shear shock of the new environment, as you drive a construction truck on the opposite side of the roughest road you've ever imagined to a project you're leading for the next two weeks...exhausted after finishing the day alive, you go home to find the power's out, and the generator is broken, making communication with the states you decide to go turn the shower on, and the water is out, so now you attempt to splash the dirt and grime off yourself using bucket water from the bore-hole which your neighbor fetches for you... Eric did an incredible job for those two weeks, and the rest of his two months with us in Uganda. He continues to assist with communications, logistics, and finances from Goff & Dewalt's offices in Gig Harbor, Washington.

Eric Ryan hammering away with the assistance of Cherobino

Each of these men would express deep appreciation for the dedication, hard work, and welcoming spirit of the men of the Restore construction team. As I thanked Eric, Mike, Kelly and Ryan for their efforts and sacrifices, without fail they mentioned what a privilege it was to work with the team, and what a blessing their efforts are for the future of Restore Leadership Academy.

Restore construction crew mixing cement for the pouring of the girl's dorms

So we're pressing on here, facing new challenges each day, but asking God for the strength and grace to pursue this endeavor He's given us.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Willing Life

It's been an unbelievably busy 6 months, and once again I find that the time has flown by without blogging. There are volumes of incredible stories to catch you guys up on, so let me start with the first one:

Joined by my cousin Shane in at the beginning of March:

Shane in front of our new Hydraform Machine

It’s difficult to put into words what a blessing it’s been having my cousin Shane here. We grew up little rug-rats together exploring the Puget Sound at the family cabin, climbing the heights of the Cascade Mountains, and swapping stories of our latest gridiron or outdoor adventures. I’d always known Shane, his older brother Jake, and Uncle Mark to be man’s men- knowing how to tear apart and rebuilt anything mechanical, proficient hunters with a bow, muzzle-loader, bush gun, or sighted rifle, telemark skiers, mountaineers, avalanche patrolmen, sailors, fishermen, divers, dirt bike riders…and on and on… my brother Grant and I always joked that they were born in the wrong century, and had a blast just trying to keep up with them when we’d get together for family reunions and holidays.

I had an idea then, just what a massive impact Shane would have if he were to join us for the construction of Restore Academy here in Gulu. I had no idea though, how masterfully he had refined his craft in the last decade. Most of the carpentry you see in the following photo was done by Shane’s own hands:

I knew he had been building upscale homes in the Seattle area, but seeing his work recently was an eye opener. What’s unique about Shane though, is that he’s one of those rare individuals who’s mastered something to this level, and yet can just leave it all behind to go pour his knowledge and life into a community where he knows he can make a meaningful contribution to those in need. He truly cares about his fellow man more than his personal success or accomplishments, revealing a character he’s imparting, quietly and patiently, to the young Acholi men with whom he now works. Shane recognizes the importance of learning first to be good men, and then good tradesmen.

Shane, Kerobino and Kennedy pouring foundation #2

You’ll find him one minute brick in hand, sweating and dirty, grinning and joking with the boys as they lay the foundation of the school- and the next minute he’ll be drafting new improved engineering for the doors and windows, or patiently and humbly engaging the boys in a teachable moment. It’s a skill he’s developed thoroughly during his 10 years of service as a wilderness guide for kids, and base-camp construction leader at a Young Life Camp in the mountains of Canada. He felt called to use his mountaineering experiences to help guide kids through formative and meaningful challenges and adventures in the mountains- helping them to overcome fears, and appreciate the God's beautiful creation and our need for each other. Shane has embraced the truth that we're given gifts in order to give back to those who are hurting and in need. We can live with much less, hold it in loose hands, and be used to bring relief to the least of these...all signs of the life and sure hope of this coming kingdom...

Shane and Kerobino discussing the design of Teacher House #1

There's an incredible story God's writing here, and amazing people who are being written into it. In the coming weeks I'll do my best to continue to share them with you...

Friday, April 15, 2011

Emerging Victorious

It was a monumental achievement. Restore Leadership Academy's boys and girls soccer teams not only won the Amuru District Championships, but also emerged victorious in last week’s Regional Championships. For a tiny little academy of 240 students to rise to this level was an incredible achievement- they are the champions of a Northern region spanning 7 districts and well over a million people.

The most astounding part of this success is the way in which they did it: with uncompromising integrity and solid teamwork. It is common here for teams to bring "mercenaries" (older and highly talented players that are paid) to help their school succeed. Player documents are forged, bribes are paid, and the resulting games are often violent clashes, fueled by the insatiable desire to win at all costs.

Our boys facing a "mercenary" from Kitgum District

Restore’s kids quietly and steadily defeated each of the loaded teams they faced this year, letting their unselfish feet do the talking, and their united spirit the rebuking. Restore's conduct and success sent a clear message to the region: These games are meant to develop children’s character, unity, and respect for each other- virtues that not only lead to success on the soccer field, but also to the kind of leaders this society will need as it breaks free from the corruption and evil that has stifled its past.

We are so proud of our students, and so thankful for our teachers and staff that have poured love and life into them. It’s already bearing fruit: we’ve witnessed these young men and women challenge and inspire their peers, honor God and their fellow man through their actions, and emerge victorious on the field and in life. I have every faith they’ll continue to lead their families and communities into a brighter future.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Land Title for our "Promised Land"

After three years of toil, and an incredible amount of patience and persistence, Restore Leadership Academy finally has it's land. John emerged from the Ministry of Lands office 1 week ago with title in hand, one of the only official land titles in Amuru District. Land is an incredibly difficult issue in Northern Uganda, and we've been able to greatly assist the district in building it's administrative infrastructure in order to get it done. It's a remarkable achievement, a tribute to John's steadfast resolve, and God's providence.

Upon returning to Gulu, we jumped on the bikes and headed to the future home of the school- it felt like entering the Promised Land. There's something about toiling at a task for three years, which makes it so meaningful to finally complete. It feels like relief.

Here's a video of John and I on that day, riding past our water well toward the future entrance of the school campus...almost all of the land you can see in the video is part of our 40 acres...

I can feel the page turning, see the fresh ink of this new chapter, the building of the school. You educators can smile with me, anticipating the ways this school will enrich the lives of children in this community for generations to come. This will be one of the few secondary schools in war-ravaged Amuru District, where the need is desperate: yesterday we had over 100 applicants for 30 spots in our freshman class. Restore Leadership Academy will be a launching point for so many amazing young people, the training ground for young men and women of virtue who will go on to write the future of Uganda.

It's been overwhelming how God's woven our stories together to bring us to this point, and He continues to call amazing people to join in this inspiring journey. It feels right, it feels like the time, and I'm ready to roll up my sleeves...

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Nebbi Wells a Success!

Hello all!

Here's a summary how things turned out with the wells in Paidha, Nebbi District on the border of Congo: (it's a little technical, but perhaps nice change of pace from the normal blog diction)

Well #1 named “God Given” by the local community

Location: Two hills (10 minute walk) away from Sister’s Cathedral, a site chosen by her trusted Brother for good community access.

Diameter: 5”

Total Depth: 33’

Pump set at 31’ (12” above gravel pack)

Feet of water: 12

Notes: We had the well down to 39 feet, but made the mistake of pumping out the well to try to reduce hydrolock that was causing us to lose loads out of the auger. Ended up collapsing the well to 33’, and at the time our 6” casing hadn’t arrived, so we set the pump at 31’. Lesson learned. After two days of pumping, the water has clarified, but is still slightly cloudy from sand particles. The well cannot be pumped dry.

Well #2 (not yet named)

Location: Down the hill from Sister’s Cathedral, located in a cassava field owned by Sister. It’s about 150 feet away, uphill from the open water stream.

Diameter: 6” to 45’, then 5” to 53’

Total Depth: 53’

Pump set at 48’

Feet of water: 25

Notes: Drilled with 6” to 45’, tried to get 6” casing down, but had to widen hole with bailing wire tied around auger. Finally drove 6” casing down to 45 feet (with an upside down table, 1000lbs of gravel pack, and Bitek and I jumping on top- photo coming…) Set 4” casing down to 52’, then put 6” large gravel, followed by 2’3” gravel pack, bringing the level to the 50’3” depth mark. Set the pump a bit high because we had 4” of sediment settle in the well overnight, and wanted to play it safe (we also have 25 feet of water in good aquifer, and don’t anticipate being able to pump it dry. After pumping for a few hours, the clay cleared, and only the cloudiness from the sand particles remains. Due to time constraints, we weren’t able to measure recharge rate. This is the location on which Sister plans to build a medical clinic, so we’re hoping that this well may clarify with time, and perhaps even support a solar pump sometime in the future.

Local youngsters helping out with the pipes

Brick and concrete foundation

We sure learned a ton about the fine art of working delicately in unstable layers, and about the importance (and challenge!) of using 6” casing. We’ve gone with a taller tripod, and 20-24 feet tubing sections for quicker transitions (and also due to a dearth of viable square to round end pieces!)

After pouring bleach, and leaving the first well for two days, the locals have already begun using the well. It has not cleared entirely of sand yet, but is already so much more pure than the muddy stream that it’s the best option, and the community is happy with it. We expect the water to become completely clear within a week or so, but regardless, the water should be free of the typhoid and other diseases currently wreaking havoc on the community members’ health.

Still thirsty?... a couple of videos:

Pumping Water...

Down Through the Layers...

A well deserved rest.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Happy New Year from Congo!

We spent New Year's Eve bouncing (literally) in the back of a truck from Gulu to a town called Paidha on the border of Congo. The journey took 9 hours, but the team (Kaben Kramer, myself, and 6 of the Young Men Drilling team of Restore Water) held tough, arriving at 1:00AM. I chased the truck on my Honda 250 dirt bike (Roxanne- the double Soul Safarian is still going strong!) Kaben's got a bruised tailbone, but you won't find him whining... he's been grinning the whole time- he lives for this kind of mission. Kaben is a water engineer from California, who arrived last week with his wife Jenn to lend a hand and some expertise to Restore Water's team. Jenn is connecting with the women leading Purse of Hope, and pouring into the girls' lives. It's a blessing to have them with us, and they're planning to move back here permanently in May!

Back to Paidha... the water situation is the worst I've seen, with people walking great distances to gather from dirty streams. The few wells that we have seen are either broken, contaminated, or locked with owners insisting on payment for water. After scouting for a half day around the area (including a quick walk into Congo), we selected our first drilling site, around 200 ft from the stream, on the downhill slope of one of the hills near town. The distance from the stream, and the lack of nearby latrines provides the best chances we've seen thus far from having a clean source of water. Here's a quick video of Kaben near one of the dirty streams:

We hit rock with the 6" auger at 15 feet depth yesterday, and battled it for the afternoon, calling it quits at dusk. Today we managed to dig around the rock with the 2" auger, and then proceed down with the 5" auger, to 25 feet, where we were thrilled to hit water!

The people of Paidha have been so overwhelmingly welcoming... and surprised to see Muzungus (white people), as it's extremely rare for whites to reach this town- we haven't seen a single one since leaving Gulu. It's been fun playing with the little kids who come up running and yelling (mundu, mundu! - the local word for white person). You get every possible reaction you can imagine, from standing stunned and dropping things, to smiling with delight and running up to shake hands, laughing with friends nearby at the rare sight. The babies and young ones are especially fun, usually either bursting out in fearful tears, or staring wide-eyed with wonder and smiles. They're learning quite a bit about us too... like what a sunburn is!

We're praying for these two wells, that we might have success, and perhaps pave the way for much needed attention to clean water in this area. The truth is, in our journey from Gulu we passed nearly 200 kilometers of places with great need for water, which has been overwhelming and daunting for Kaben and I. Such immense need... but we're looking for strength, and grateful for each step...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Do you guys believe in Lions?

We sure had a blast hanging out with John's folks, Dave and Janet Niemeyer, during their recent visit here to Uganda. The Niemeyers were kind enough to let me tag along on their adventures, which included an amazing safari through Murchison Falls National Park. It was absolutely gorgeous as we made our way though mud, muck, sand, grasslands, and bogs... and we were fortunate enough to see giraffe, warthogs, gazelle, monkeys, water buffalo, countless birds, and even a leopard and lion. The Niemeyers shot the following pictures from our Land Cruiser (in addition to that picture of the lion, which was resting after having killed a gazelle that we saw nearby):

I'm heading back up to Gulu tomorrow on my (Shane's really) recently fixed Honda XLR200. Just a small tweak to the fuel/air mixture in the carburetor and she'll be good to go...

It'll be nice to have wheels again around Gulu. The wells in Attiak were completed successfully, so we'll be scouting out the next project to complete before Christmas. Speaking of Christmas, we've been trying to play as much Christmas music as possible to get in the spirit! (Otherwise, with the weather we have around here, you'd never know it's mid December!)

Much love from Uganda~