The Grace Congregational Health Network (Grace Network)

One Need. One Voice. One Church

The Church is an amazing organization and as I grow in her service I marvel at God’s ingenuity of this organism. Another thing I have reflected on in the past months is how much credit COVID-19 has gotten for pretty much every happening in the human race since February 2020 (and December last year in some places). Yes, I might add another … this global event has hastened our local partnerships, and also made us more agreeable with each other than ever before.

Our Community Benefits and Partnership’s program was launched last year, with the aim of formally recognizing, supporting, developing and equipping local community care programs to do what they do best. One such indispensable community leader in our local communities is the Local Church.

Like her God and LORD, she is also the only organization I know to reveal herself under a new name to meet the new need in her community.

The local church has confronted and met head on every problem and need known to human kind, and if she has not succeeded at some, it’s not from lack of trying. In the very least, her ministry of presence remains legendary, and with every growing meaning for every generation she cradles in her arms.

And now by a new name for the new need, 10 local churches have come together as network of local congregations under the umbrella coalition “The Grace Congregational Health Network (Grace Network). They are working to address the hunger, medical and educational growing needs as just a few of the challenges in their local communities during and beyond COVID-19. To learn more about this initiative, read more here.

By Dr. Pam

How are you doing?

lake victoria

If you are like me, you have probably been surprised at the many responses COVID-19 has evoked in you. Perhaps you have seen similar or different responses in others.

On the inside and outside, we go around in circles that often have lament, cursing, fright, trembling, … and then hope, laughter, catching up with family and longtime friends, praying, fasting, … and we dial back to 0 …and on and on …

I am concluding that’s it’s okay not to be okay, for as long as we maintain some sight of hope. Just a little bit of it, every day.

With everything down and almost running out (if not already run out) this coronavirus lockdown continues to shake our individual and global lives. Here in our rural Uganda communities, the sting of bitter paralyzing days is beginning to set in and affect everything. Not to be negative. We are learning that calling things out by name helps us better deal with what we are able to name.

People are still off the streets, the usual Sundays gatherings are no more, learning institutions are still closed, shopping malls and restaurants all not functioning, public transport means no more …, and no where close to returning to normal as we had hoped the President would announce in his last address to the country.

In the last few weeks we have scripted messages of hope for ourselves and others.  As lazy and self-serving as it may sound, we are letting people know that taking care of themselves is now the first line of protection against this cononavirus. For us who are still blessed to live in low risk communities, our major issues will likely continue to be concern about having enough food and mental health.

As self-absorbing as it might sound, some days your best job and service to humanity will be taking great care of yourself. Please do just that.

So, a question to you friends, what measures have you put in place to ensure your safety, as well as that of your loved ones and neighbors?

Please share your tips with us, and if you have yet to figure these measures out, we are more than happy to make some helpful suggestions.

Stay well…

Emmanuel Kasomba

Piggy bank giving: To small a gift, for so great a need?

piggy-bank

It seems to me that our world seemingly finds itself in greater need than are resources. If you have been tasked with the ministry of giving, like me, perhaps you find yourself a bit overwhelmed, and very aware that your tiny COVID-19 response is so small, and almost too embarrassing to give to those whose needs are so much greater than all your best efforts to supply.

Even worse, perhaps some of you have experienced what I have. You have presented 1 kilogram of sugar to a family of 6 that needs so much more than your meager gift, and they in frantic despair have pointed out the obvious to you, “Madame, I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but how do you expect me to feed my family on just this?”

And you go away with mixed feelings. Should you continue to make this very small gift available, or feel ashamed and embarrassed that you have so little to give, and unable to meet a need so vast?

Well, this morning as I pray for all the people that I wish I could bless with so much, I am grateful for the witness of the Holy Spirit, that calms me and reminds me to submit my smallest gift to God, and look to Him to use it to present more than I ever can. Beyond sweetening tea, and giving that much needed energy to a hungry body, I pray that God would add His value and unfailing fragrance of hope, peace and love to a small gift that demonstrating expressed care and concern. Long after the sugared tea has been digested and wasted, I pray that the warm feeling of hope will linger much longer in each fearful heart.

And so I sing on, because I too have experienced these mixed feelings – as often I come to God’s table, asking for more, demanding for more even, before I express gratitude for what He has already done for me. It’s not that I do not appreciate my Fathers expressed love and care for me. It’s that I am too over burdened by the fear and doubt concerning tomorrow needs, my gaze, transfixed on tomorrow’s giants, skips over today’s supply placed in my hands now.

But my Father knows and sees all this, and loves me deeply still in this experience of my mine – needing to believe and hope on Him, whose unfailing love is already much greater than ever a need I can present Him with.

Soon enough, soon enough, His Spirit will teach my heart, to praise and thank Him as I ought. Soon enough!

For today, I thankfully acknowledge this:

“Weak is the effort of my heart, And cold my warmest thought;
But when I see Thee as Thou art, I’ll praise Thee as I ought.”
  

Are you a minister today? More overwhelmed by lack than the awareness of God’s surplus to provide for the needs of those you serve and the world over? Be encouraged. Keep serving. Do not grow weary of expressing love, care and concern. There is a much greater force at work behind each phone call you make, each small need you help meet – soon enough, soon enough … Loves great tide building up now, will steadies us all, to keep fear away, to sooth tired hearts and minds, to cause us to sing yet another happy chorus.

As it is, you haven’t been called to do all. You have been called to BE all.

I pray you will enjoy and medicate on the words of this hymn, and be strengthened to BE in Christ Jesus.

How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds | John Newton

How sweet the name of Jesus sounds,
In a believer’s ear!
It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,
And drives away his fear.

It makes the wounded spirit whole
And calms the troubled breast;
’Tis manna to the hungry soul,
And to the weary, rest.

Dear Name! the Rock on which I build,
My Shield and Hiding Place,
My never-failing Treas’ry filled
With boundless stores of grace!

Jesus! my Shepherd, Husband, Friend,
My Prophet, Priest, and King;
My Lord, my Life, my Way, my End,
Accept the praise I bring.

Weak is the effort of my heart,
And cold my warmest thought;
But when I see Thee as Thou art,
I’ll praise Thee as I ought.

Till then I would Thy love proclaim
With every fleeting breath,
And may the music of Thy name
Refresh my soul in death.

Shalom!

Dr. Pam

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How are you caring or serving?

WHO COVID-19 Strategic Plans

For me, volunteering with RIBHO has provided a much needed outlet of my desire to so do something to help others … which I find, helps me the most in return.

Does your community have organizations that are offering safe ways for you to express the love and care I know you feel inside?

How about the numerous online serving opportunities we are hearing about? Are you able to be part of these service opportunities? I hope so. Perhaps you have no clue where, how and with whom to begin. Keep seeking, listening and looking.

At RIBHO we have had numerous opportunities to contribute to efforts in helping each other and our community members to stay above the waters. This has been done through using the seemingly small resources available in practical ways.

I have taken all the COVID-19 training courses that RIBHO has offered. I can’t tell you how much I have surely appreciate setting my eyes on those course notes, and then later sharing this wise information with others.

A few weeks ago RIBHO sponsored our community partners, providing them with resources for making face masks using kitengi fabric material that is 100% cotton as recommended by the Health practitioners. I was blessed to work with one of the recipient tailors of this initiative. She had this to say about this project.

“It was a great pleasure and opportunity to spearhead the making of masks. It was something I had never thought about but when RIBHO brought the opportunity and chose to work with me, I got the chance to learn a new skill since I was given the guidelines of making the recommended type of masks.” – Pastor Naume Biribawa.

She is a pastor, professional tailor and a RIBHO volunteer who was empowered by the organization to take on this activity. This activity was very timely, as only a few days later, the government made it mandatory for everyone to put on a face mask when going out in public places.

You see what I mean? Engaging in these prevention activities has been very rewarding for me. If you haven’t already (and I know most of you have or are on the verge of), please take on a safe volunteering opportunity, and when you do, perhaps you can share it with us. We can always use more motivation!

Emmanuel Kasomba

How are you sharing?

Hand-washing soap and bleach

In our rural communities, a bar of soap can often make a difference between life and death. This is not an exaggeration, especially now, with scientific news stating that this coronavirus can stubbornly stay alive on a surface for 72 hours (or was it 48 hours?).

In our poorest communities, as many of 600 infants will die from diarrhea, often resulting from poor hand hygiene. So you can see why I have a whole different appreciation for hand washing and a bar of soap for those who can’t always afford one.

So anyways, I was really happy to participate in handing out RIBHO’s free bars of soap to various people in the community, to empower them properly wash their hands. In such difficult times when some people’s probability of missing the next meal is more than a half, will they be able to buy soap? Thankfully, for those within reach of our project services, the answer doesn’t always have to be no.

With RIBHO’s hand washing good initiative, a good number of beneficiaries have been able to keep safe. Many of these individuals were identified by the various partner local churches, who reach out to the targeted group of people in most need of the soap. … and not just one piece of soap, but half  a bar (that is at least 3-4 pieces of soap).

With such practical love, and sharing coupled with prayers, it was wonderful to see some of these families cut off a piece of soap and share it with their neighbors. After all, their children play and get sick together. Still, love over a bar of soap goes a long ways of many hand washings.

Have you shared anything with anyone outside of your family and friends during this COVID time? if you haven’t already, or have done it again in the last 7 days, do it again, and please share your thrill of sharing with us.

Please stay well. Stay safe. …

Emmanuel Kasomba

Embracing downtime with “new essentials”

By Dr. Pam

Amidst this crisis, we’re still open for work and rethinking our gotta-haves, need-it-nows, and can’t-work-at-home-withouts. Our community in-person activities have come to a temporary halt, but we’re doing all we can do to re-skill quickly and stay relevant in addressing the current felt needs of our patients, participants and partners.

Yes, like many of you, we are RIBHO are gaining some experience working at home. This new culture work shock is still somewhat of a zing-zing, but we must admit, it has made lots of new learning room for us. Embracing it all is our winning response!

Until March 17th, we made an approximated total of 1248 trips on foot delivering food, and providing medical and pastoral care to our neighbors in food insecure low income households.

Now at home, we are taking full advantage of this time to advance our digital technology skills. We also have a whole new appreciation of cell phone use beyond social connection. We are using cellphones for work. How about that! Yes, it’s not a new concept, but it’s certainly a new strategy for us.

Emma (in the above picture), one of our Lead Volunteers has successfully accessed, submitted and received funds to support our first time ever community wide Call-Line. We are using the cellphones of our volunteers to look-in on our clients, participants, partners and supporting some local churches to stay connected with their congregants who still need pastoral care. “Cell-phone Pastoral Care”, works just well for the talk, talk, talk social culture that we are.

We are keeping the “LoveAlive”, and so grateful to our sponsors for supporting us to expand our work. We are taking on new territory, and it’s an incredibly awesome opportunity.

Aren’t you glad someone out there is seeking ways to shine a little love into another’s life today! You get to be that special someone too – holding the Flood Light of Hope in these shadowy days!

We know you want in on this. You are already special. We just get to shout it out loud one more time.

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Ahhh, you did it! Welcome, welcome, welcome in! We are glad you brought your mask with you! Bless you!

Our First Ever Community Wide Call-Line

By Dr. Pam

Cell phones have allowed us to stay Open for Work, lighting candles of hope all over our communities during this time of uncertainty.

On March 21st, we established a call line, and in just 15 days our call team has grown from 2 to 19 callers. Why?  The COVID-19 isolation and related stress, worry, anxiety, low mood and boredom are taking a toll on us all.

Our volunteers are committed to providing our communities with trusted information and support to help everyone’s mental health and well-being during this pandemic.

In addition to simply checking in with our neighbors, we are providing accurate facts about COVID-19, tips for maintaining good mental health, and how to keep everyone safe and connected.

This is how you can participate!

1. Buy 125 Minutes for 5,000/- (1.33 Dollars USD)
2. Buy 300 Minutes for 10,000/- (2.66 Dollars USD)
3. Buy 2,400 Minutes for 35,000/- (10 Dollars USD)
4. Buy 4,500 Minutes for 50,000/- (14 Dollars USD)

Your $14 allows one volunteer to make approximately 642 (7-minute) calls or send 10,200 text messages of encouragement and accurate COVID-19 information.

Please Donate here!

Thank you for supporting this service of providing a loving presence for those who need it now.

COVID-19 Home Stay: Child abuse and Intimate Partner Violence

By Dr. Pamela Mukaire

“Yes staying home will save me and my children from COVID-19 but not from the fits of my husband on my body and my children’s small faces.”

This is the story of a woman who has endured abuse for years. As she tells her story, she speaks of how her husband’s going to work has given her and the children a break from his abuse these past 7 years. A sweet man she says, but one who does not do well with anxiety. Now in the face on no income, three children and a wife to feed, curfews and no place to go, she finds herself “jailed” with a loved one unable to work through the mounting anxiety, … taking it all out on her and the children.

Women in abusive situations do an incredibly good job using a variety of methods in seeking assistance, halting or minimizing the abuse inflicted upon them and their children. In countries like Uganda, where court orders of protection do not do much, an abusive partners going to work, and the abused being able to get out of the house a few hours each day (for the children too – going to school), can be the only temporary relief. With COVID-19 in place, everyone is at home – the abused are having to stay in the same house with their abuser 24/7.

“When will this end?”, she asks. “When do you think COVID-19 will end?”

In Vienna Virginia, we are still able to take small walks here and there – get out of the house and take an exercise and mental health breather. As I did my routine walk today I prayed for this colleague of mine in Uganda, and thought of the women, children and men in America who may be kept safe at home from COVID-19 but not abuse.

I found myself singing that familiar song from Psalm 61: 1 “when my heart is overwhelmed hear my heart and attend unto my prayer. Lead me to the rock that’s higher than I.”

And would you know it, my walk got me past a very happy family, playing music and barbecuing, with a child in her mother lap. It is heart warming to know that some families are bonding during this time.

For those that are struggling, we have prayed for you, hope you find the courage to seek the help and support you need safely outside your home. As I pray for my colleague, Psalm 59: 9 and 17 “O my Strength, I watch for you; you, O God, are my fortress, my loving God. God will go before me.”

In a time when our mental, social, financial, social, and physical strength fizzles, I am so glad that God is our Strength, and the One who has promised to go on ahead of us and ensure that tomorrow is a better day. It is a blessed thing to lean on a sure hope!

Digital Access and Literacy in COVID-19 Times: Who is missing?

Rural Uganda Church COVID-19 Community Needs Assessment Snippets – March 22nd to April 2nd, 2020

By Dr. Pamela Mukaire

“There are great COVID-19 resources online.”

“All our products and services have now moved online.”

“My child is able to continue school. All her homework is available online.”

These statements speak to the truth of the digital power and divide. For those of us who have the privilege of access to technology and the digital skillset, it’s hard to imagine the millions of people missing in our digital world. For all our sakes, and especially theirs, they should not be missing!

Like many nonprofits, we serve lots of people have never used a smartphone, touched a computer, sent an email, used Google to find information or buy anything. We cannot overstate the depth and breadth of the digital divide. Our low or no tech populations cannot access COVID-19 information via the internet, register for our online training course, access or use a mobile app, or our Facebook page, or your homeschool webpage resources.

On March 1st, we conducted our first no-tech and low-tech project sites survey. Little did we know that in just 10 days, COVID-19 would force us to think radically about our nonprofit technology use, and the truth that it’s no longer optional for even the most remote rural serving health, education, transport, economic (name it) program. The unthinkable alternative would be to suspend all our community services until May, June, July or whenever COVID-19 becomes motionless.

While technology has been a great tool and saver for us as international nonprofit health and development practitioners, it has also created this incredible and significant distance between us and our communities of service. With only 6 smartphones amongst our 35 Core Volunteer team, we simply can’t reach the communities and clients we greatly love and care about, let alone the dedicated Community Health Workers and Skilled Health Providers we serve alongside. Hundreds of our local partner patients and participants and local leaders fall into this category as well.

By Providence, we had a laptop donation campaign this February and we successfully obtained 7 of the 12 needed laptops for our major project site workers (thanks to our friends and supporters). We will at least maintain some continuity.

But what do we do for those who are missing? As a community based nonprofit RIBHO has monthly access to about 71 local churches, 200 youth, and over 600 households, yet this week alone, as we scrolled through our contact list to communicate COVID-19 resource availability to our church partners, only a handful of contacts could be reached via WhatsApp – an internet based communication app.

We do maintain vibrant community programs and events throughout the year. But all of this is made possible by a well-oiled word of mouth and in person systems of community mobilization that has remained more effect than digital announcements – until now.

As the everyday digital life sets a more central divide than the glaring COVID-19 life-changing events shaping our lives – we simply must keep nonprofit programs accessible to their no-tech and low-tech rural and urban population groups.

In trying to understand our low-tech challenges better, we have been on the phone with are rural watch volunteers daily (between March 22nd and April 2nd, 2020). This honest inside look at our loved ones on the other side of the digital divide, provides insights into the inevitable digital battles of our time, only hastened by COVID-19.

Below are some snippets that we will elaborate on in real tech catch up time.

Social distancing and “doing fellowship”: Social distancing is harder for close knit societies where close physical space sharing is an essential part of the culture and a way to express commitment to each other. “This no touch, no shake, no hug, no closeness 6 feet rules is not working well for us. We have always shared clothes, food, beds, drunk from the same cup and dipped in the same plate, even when we are rich. We shake each other hands first then say, “we are not supposed to do this.”

Cell Churches – Small Group Church and related looming COVID spread challenges: As pastors and congregations seek new ways to serve and fellowship during these difficult days, some without digital technologies for live stream church services have resorted to small group church. “Cell group church is comprised of 4-5 people meeting weekly to pray together on Sunday for now. The challenge is that each of these people is coming in from “outside” and returning to their home. We do not know where they have been all week and if there is a chance they have been exposed to COVID. The church must go on but how? We need each other and we need our God, but very few of us have TV’s and smartphones. The radio stations help but they also give too much scaring information on COVID constantly. We will have to learn how to do only family church very soon.”

Emerging and evolving emergency preparedness for the rural church: As the local government issues additional guidelines on social distancing, for example discouraging gatherings of more than 10 people to prohibiting meetings (and using police force to enforce these laws), many churches have to change fellowship plans constantly. Something good has come of this scrambling in a quest to continue ministering and making disciples in difficult circumstances. Plans to provide low-tech pastoral care and establishing distribution points for print materials, hygiene practices and other basics like soap and food have materialized.

Daily hourly wage earners have no option for working remotely: Farmers, road side vendors, shop keepers, hair dressers, tailors, and food vendors make up the majority of our community population work situations, many of whom are in the service industry, self-employed and do not have the option to work remotely. “We have brought food home on a daily basis. Eat as you earn. Even during HIV/AIDS crisis we could still work. But to totally stop work for an unknown length of time, without any money coming in is the worst.”

Faith interpretations of COVID-19 that could create mental health challenges: “There is such a heaviness in my mind that this COVID-19 is a punishment from God. Even the pastors say so. We are pleading with God to end this soon. It is hard to breath fearing the future. Twelve days of no work and we already have not had sugar in a week. What will happen to us if this continues for 1, 2, 3, months? We are pleading with God to lift the judgment.”

Large family member homesteads and the COVID social distancing rules and guidelines: “Three of our bread winners have been working in the food market. We come home afraid of killing our family members … in case I was exposed to COVID-19. My family alone has 14 people sharing three rooms. The school sent them all back home. Which of my children or relatives am I supposed to send away and to who?. Some had come for a funeral and the travel curfew caught them here. Now how do we get them back to their homes without transport?”

Farming, enforced mobility limitations, and implications for household food security: “Some of us do not live where we grow our food. It’s planting season and without local transportation it’s becoming hard to monitor our gardens. We had not yet finished planting corn and beans but we also have grown matooke (plantain bananas) that we need to eat right now but can’t access. I know people around the garden will probably steal my ripe food while we have little to eat here at the house. For now some boda bodas (motor bicycle transporters) are helping us but for how long?” 

COVID-19 will continue to change how individuals, businesses and organizations operate. We recognize that individuals and organizations alike will need a long extra helping hand.

Our organization serves those individuals that need to be reached more than ever before. We need your help and creativity to reach them and continue putting our services, materials and products in their minds, hands, homes, and communities.

We have work to do, to drastically change our service delivery to address these technology gaps. Hope you can join us!

About the author: Pamela Mukaire is a Public Health and Development Practitioner. She raises funds for rural and urban low resource community based organizations, cultivates strategic partnerships and supports local leaders to implement health programs to enrich their services to the community.

Laptops open more windows of opportunity …

IMG-20200327-WA0015

Ms. Brenda – Youth Leader, Kyamagwa Project Site

The explosive innovation in technology has undoubtedly led to major developments towards the use of information technologies, … and we are not too far behind.  Late last year, amidst preparations to launch online training opportunities for our community members and partners, we identified technology challenges and opportunities for improving the health services they deliver to the communities we serve. 

We called on our support circle of friends and they responded with such generosity. Thanks to our friends, now our staff, local leaders and youth can keep up with receiving and delivering vital health information to continue solving the global and local health problems of our time.

We have designed a number of training courses to advance a broad range of health goals, particularly healthy lifestyles behavior promotion, chronic disease prevention, and NOW, the emerging COVID-19 and related emergency preparedness. In a time when most everyone has turned to the World Wide Web, these laptop gifts and Dr. Mukaire’s February trip to our project sites couldn’t have been timelier.

While print materials are still very popular with our rural projects, the pressure to use online technologies is upon us like never before.

Thanks to our friends, we are a whole lot better prepared to engage online than we were in January of this year. We continue to be expectant and are confident that much good will come from their generous gifts.

Thank you friends!