Holy Ground

Last week, I was in Uganda to see the land that we had just purchased next to the dumpsite there to turn into a family life center. Early on my first morning, I walked with David Kafambe, our team leader, on a muddy trail jumping on stones to cross a small stream of water on our way to the site. I heard drums in the distance. A little groggy from a long flight, I didn’t quite register that something larger was going onthat is until we turned a corner and discovered a group of mothers singing who, upon seeing us, turned it up a notch. This is that moment:

The mothers of Samaritan Scholars joined local dignitaries to celebrate.

Who needs coffee when you have a good set of drums!

Our scholars were all in school that day, but their mothers had joined local dignitaries to celebrate Mass with us on the grounds that will become our family life center. When I say “celebrate” Mass, I mean they celebrate it in Uganda! These are the mothers, in yellow T-shirts, singing as Fr. Jude dons his vestments to begin Mass on our team’s new land.

A Mass was held on the land that will hold the new family life center in Uganda.

When it came time to bring up the gifts, mothers brought fruit from home as their offering.

Mass in Uganda

Mothers of our Samaritan Scholars gave offerings during Mass.

The reading of the day was from Numbers 6:22-27:

The Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”’

“So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”

What a gift it is to be able to share in this blessing that has been passed down from generation to generation since God gave it to Moses the year after He liberated the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.

It’s a blessing that radiates in the hearts and on the faces of women who are now able to send their children to schooland not just the local school down the street. Most of our scholars in Uganda attend really good Christian boarding schools with their own bed and three square meals per day for the first time in their lives.  

Their mothers were robbed of the chance to ever go to school themselves as children, and they have formed literacy clubs with us. Some are learning their letters and sounds for the first time. Others are learning to read and write more proficiently. All want to be able to understand the report cards and books that their children bring home on weekends, and all want to develop a skill to put their work ethic to use in more fruitful ways.

literacy group-Uganda

The mothers of our scholars are learning to read and write,
either for the first time or to gain more proficiency. 

As I spent time with the mothers in literacy clubs and home visits, their joy was so overwhelming that I mistakenly thought they had stopped working in the dumpsite altogether. 

“Oh no!” They corrected me. They each still work in Kiteezi, the site that was supposed to be closed five years ago for safety reasons by the government but continues to be home to trash each day from the capital city of Kampala.

dumpsite-Kampala, Uganda

The parents of our Samaritan Scholars in Uganda sort through trash at the dumpsite, looking for recyclables to sell.

I showed them pictures like this I had taken there last year and how alarmed I was by the steel claws of the steam shovel that swoops down over their heads to move the garbage. They explained to me how that is the best opportunity to get the most valuable products out. That’s the danger they face each day, but it is no longer the future they are locked into.

When we talk about the law of supply and demand, we often think of it in terms of products to be sold. But in Kiteezi, I discovered the pent-up demand of dreams denied, and how irrepressible they become when women are given even the smallest and simplest of opportunities. With God’s blessings and your support, the opportunities that lie ahead will outshine the shame of how they have been treated in the past.

International Samaritan is a Christ-centered organization built on Catholic Social Teaching. Our mission is to walk hand-in-hand with people who live and work in the garbage dumps of developing nations to help them break out of poverty.

We provide holistic scholarships for students from kindergarten through college, and we’re currently supporting 950 scholars in Central America, the Caribbean, and East Africa.

Would your church or school group like to partner and travel with us? Learn about our Learn, Serve, Grow program.

Empower our scholars to change their lives. Become a monthly supporter.

Wear Your Support

We have new merchandise available for purchase! The designs are based on the Parable of the Good Samaritan. After telling the story of the compassionate Samaritan, Jesus urged his listeners to “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:37) Those words inspire our service today. 

All merchandise proceeds, $5 per item, support Samaritan Scholars and their families.

By Mike Tenbusch

Mike Tenbusch, President

Mike joined International Samaritan in 2018 after two decades of leading social change in his hometown of Detroit, Michigan. He’s a University of Michigan Law grad and author of The Jonathan Effect: Helping Kids and Schools Win the Battle Against Poverty. He and his wife, Maritza, have three children who keep them young.

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