Guttenberg native on Hands of Love trip to Uganda

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This group of students at Kiteezi enjoyed making crafts. After hearing the story of the disciples casting their nets as Jesus directed, the children made and decorated fish of their own. (Jenny Elsinger photo)

Jenny Elsinger shows pictures from home to a group of students at Kiteezi, during her June trip to Uganda. (Photo courtesy of Jenny Elsinger)

Guttenberg native Jenny Elsinger recently traveled to Africa with the organization Hands of Love USA  to volunteer at their schools in Uganda. This is what she had to say about her life changing trip:

“I’ve been aware of Hands of Love for awhile now because my nephew’s sister-in-law, Nora Charlesworth, is the director of the American fundraising division. She took her sister, Joanna Finch, on a mission trip to Uganda a few years ago, and I told them I would be interested in going along sometime if I could ever get it to work with my schedule.”

As it happened, a small, last-minute mission trip was organized to go June 15 for ten days. The five members of the group consisted of Nora and a married couple, all of Atlanta, Georgia, Joanna Finch of Minneapolis, and Jenny Elsinger. “I remember Nora was pleased when our mission team shaped up and it was so small. She said it was much easier to fit in the van!”

Transportation was only one of the challenges the group faced. “I was warned there might be a lot of power outages and Wifi could be unreliable. Ugandans also have a different sense of time than we do. We joked about that a lot. We were working closely with a group of Ugandans from Hands of Love. If we set a pick up time for 8 a.m., that could mean 9:30, but you just learn to go with the flow. It’s a different world and they have their own ways of doing things. I often reminded myself that I was there as a guest and honestly, our hosts treated us so well! I had been told Uganda is one of the safest and friendliest countries in Africa and I believe it.”

The group flew into the Entebbe airport and were greeted by their hosts. It was late, but even so, a group of school children were there with bouquets of flowers. They traveled by van to the capital city of Kampala where they would stay most of their trip. “The hotel was really nice! Surprisingly nice! And the food was so good. It was always an adventure to order because even if you ordered the same thing it would be different every time!” she said.

Hands of Love has two schools. The first was originally founded by Pastor Elijah Sebuchu in 2004 to help care for the many orphans in Uganda. Close to half of the country’s population is under the age of 15. The adult population has been decimated by years of civil war as well as the HIV virus. “Children are either orphaned or abandoned by their parents and left to raise younger siblings,” said Elsinger.  Uganda is one of the poorest nations in the world and over a third of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day. 

“We visited the rural school in Namadhi first and spent two days there. I sort of fell in love with that place. Uganda is a very colorful and tropical country, very close to the Equator. It was beautiful at Namadhi, lots of big shade trees and chickens scratching in the red dirt. They don’t have any electricity out there yet. The power lines simply don’t run that far. There is one well to get water but somehow all 900 kids were neat and tidy. I don’t know how the house moms do it,” said Elsinger.

The house moms care for the children at the schools and there is also a small teaching staff. At Namadhi, one house mom looks after 120 kids, who are never referred to as orphans. “It’s still a stigma to be referred to as an orphan in Uganda, and Hands of Love is all about educating and empowering these kids, so they call them students or leaders,” she said.

The second school at Kiteezi, near Kampala, was built in 2009. It is now ranked the third best school in Uganda! Because of this, it is highly sought after, and students throughout Kampala can pay a tuition to attend.  As the students enter secondary school, the fees to continue their education increase. All expenses at the Hands of Love schools are privately funded, none being offset by the Ugandan government. “They rely a lot on child sponsors. They have close to 2,000 kids now between the two schools and close to 60% are sponsored. I think that’s an amazing accomplishment!” Elsinger said. The difference of having a sponsor or not can mean having mosquito netting over your bed and basic hygiene supplies.

If you are interested in learning more about Hands of Love or even sponsoring a child, please visit their website at All donations are tax deductible.

When asked what was the highlight of her trip, Elsinger responded, “For a photographer, it’s a dream come true! I came back with over 2000 images. Thank goodness for digital! A lot of my pictures will be used by Hands of Love to help promote the organization and that makes me really happy!”

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