Friday, July 03, 2015

Help the Batwa Pygmies of SW Uganda - Go Fund Me

The Batwa forest pygmy tribe were evicted from their forest home so recently -- just in 1991 when Bwindi Impenetrable and Mgahinga National Parks were established in SW Uganda, Africa. They were given no land or money in compensation and have struggled to thrive ever since. While many churches and charities have helped, they are facing an uphill battle to gain some dignity and a better way of life.

I visited the region in January 2014 as a journalist ( and was so moved by the poverty and their plight that I sold my house in the U.S., and moved to Uganda to start a nonprofit charity/ministry to help the Batwa help themselves ( The Kalehe Batwa were the "forgotten" village that no one felt could be helped. They drank too much, they said. They were lazy, they said. They won't work together, they said. They also face discrimination and abuse at the hands of locals, at times. The women are raped because some locals believe raping a Batwa (Mutwa) woman cures HIV (or backache). HIV rates here are higher than average, there is prostitution, single motherhood, child and spousal abuse, kids dropping from school by 1st or 3rd grade. We've begun to turn their world around in just 10 months and need your help to keep going.

I'm raising funds for the Dignity Project: getting the people of Kalehe (and after that, neighboring Batwa settlements) the basic necessities of life - food, clothing, healthcare, and the self-sustaining income-generating of basket weaving. When I arrived they were sleeping on dirt floors with rats running over them at night without mosquito nets and risk death from a preventable disease, malaria; eating from banana leaves because they have no dishes; drinking unboiled river water that contains feces and parasites; and kids were wearing their only t-shirt with no underwear or pants for months at a time. We've provided clothing, got them enrolled in health care programs (including HIV treatment and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings), created an artisan co-op that sells their baskets in the U.S., and facilitated the community to build their own bedframes so they're off the dirt, and to build drying racks for their pots they cook in so they don't dry on the ground. We just spent our last funds on Lifewater drinking water kits so they have clean water, and on mattresses with waterproof pads and sheets for each family. We need more help to keep going.

Help me raise the money to buy more mattresses, sheets, dishes and utensils, washing basins, "jerry cans" to keep clean water in from our Lifewater kits, and other basic items. But more importantly, our work - which I believe is inspired by the calling of Jesus Christ on my life and to serve here - is truly helping the community help themselves. Despite the community's reputation (and continued problems), they have come together to do these development projects. To get mattresses, they all had to improve their homes with "mud" as well as help at least one other family. They all helped build a new home for a single mom with HIV. They built a bridge across the River Munyaga so the kids wouldn't risk drowning. And they have put themselves into certain healthcare programs, but our work is far from finished. Some women here struggle with escaping prostitution, excess drinking, spousal abuse, child abuse, and daily struggles of life caring for children when there's not enough food to go around. Just out of the forest 2 decades ago, they are only newly learning agriculture.

The Karehe Batwa have become my family. Let's improve lives and spread God's love.

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me." -Matthew 25:35-36

Friday, February 13, 2015

Artisan Co-op photo album online!

The Redemption Song Foundation started two artisan co-oops benefitting the impoverished communities surrounding Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. One co-op serves Karehe village, home to 11 families of Batwa or Twa "pygmies", an indigenous people who were evicted from their forest where they lived from time immemorial as hunter-gatherers when Bwindi Natl Park was established in 1991. Another includes non-Batwa women in Buhoma, Nkwenda and Rugando villages.

Net proceeds from artisan sales are pooled & the basket weaving artisans decide how to spend it, with the caveat the money goes to better the community. In Karehe, we are discussing "kits" for each family that will have some basic supplies they cant afford, like basins for washing, new plates and cups and utensils, towels for drying off, or drilling a well or connecting the community's water supply closer so they don't have to get their water from a river that people urinate and defecate and wash in. The village decides! That is the core of the Redemption Song Foundation philosophy! In fact, from the first round of sales for Batwa, they decided to build a bridge across Munyaga river so they don't have to wade which is a serious danger for kids in the rainy season. Comment on the item you want to order, plus message me here your shipping address so I can estimate shipping (US addresses only, or Uganda addresses). If you cant comment, message me or email me at Even if you're not on Facebook this should be viewable, without the need to join FB!

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Redemption Song Foundation hard at work!

Selfie of myself and Moses, a Twa child, on the way to his first day at boarding school with his best friends!

I have been remiss about blogging but busy in Uganda getting the Redemption Song Foundation (RSF) off the ground. Things are going great, but there's only one of me, and so much to do! Please check out the RSF Facebook page, for ongoing photos and stories of our work on the ground, with the Batwa (Twa) "forest pygmy" population around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and other marginalized and impoverished communities. We are now officially approved as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, so any donations are tax deductible. Join us in Giving Hope by Building Healthy Communities and Sustainable Ecosystems! We have a women's artisan co-op -- you can order products via commenting on the Facebook page and they'll be shipped to you after payment is received! Check below for all the people-clothing, hungry child-feeding, getting kids in school-doing, hope-giving, basket-weaving, income-generating, latrine-digging in preparation for house-building and classroom-building we are doing with the photos below (or on the Facebook page).

Mutwa (Mutwa is the singular of Batwa or Twa) child Beckham, who I adore! You will recognize him as the "face" of the Redemption Song Foundation on the website, and RSF Facebook page, and one of the 2 kids who really inspired my move to Uganda.

Beckham and his brother Shivan -- such cutie pies!

 My latest two articles:
  • The WASH Approach: Fighting Waterborne Disease in Emergency Situations. To report this story, Wendee Nicole visited two refugee settlements in Northern Uganda, Arua District’s Rhino Camp and the settlements of Adjumani District. She celebrated Global Handwashing Day 2014 with dozens of young children at Rhino Camp. Environmental Health Perspectives Jan 2015 plus many of my images! PDF version here
  • Is the Human Cost of Saving Gorillas Too High? Forest dwellers known as Pygmies were evicted when their homes became national parks a generation ago. Now they're fighting back. My feature published at Take Part on Nov 25 2014 plus a photo gallery of my images: Up Close & Personal with Endangered Gorillas.
At the Redemption Song Foundation, I have been busy...
Giving boys and girls a safe and fun place to play (my yard!).
Building the 5th grade (primary 5) classroom at the Rugando Parents School, starting a "classroom sponsorship" program & giving hygiene packs for girls who menstruate so they don't drop out of school.
Giving kids' shoes for school, and...
clothing for boys and girls (dress here and many others donated by Made with Love).
Feeding hungry kids,
Including some who were left alone, who were way too young to be left alone...(and playing with my two sweet kitties, Amashemererwe and Rokundo)
Washing kids (with warm water!) or giving them a place to clean (in the shower here), if older.
And trimming toenails and fingernails to help prevent "jigger" infestations.
Starting a women's artisan coop which pays women directly a fair price
and raises additional money to be spent as the coop decides.
Getting kids in school, including these three wonderful Batwa ("pygmy") boys, who I am so proud of. They started Bishop's boarding school yesterday, and had dropped from school altogether before this.
Helping parents enroll their families in health insurance, and getting kids to the hospital for care, like sweet Beckham...
who has an unusually large belly, full of worms. And we had him treated for malnourishment a few months back. This is him on the way, they stopped to bathe in the river (I know, I know... old habits die slowly)
And facilitating the Batwa men and community to build a pit latrine,
and covering it so kids don't fall in,
So this young boy Moses (far left) and his mom don't have to live in a stick teepee, hopefully by the time the rainy season comes in March. Join us, we welcome donations and need volunteers who are good at ... updating websites, starting a Mail Chimp newsletter, running the RSF Twitter feed, doing accounting or just working with Excel spreadsheets with financial info, and much more!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Visiting Refugees from South Sudan

Recently I visited two refugee settlements in Northern Uganda to report a story - Adjumani and Arua's Rhino Camp. This shot is from Adjumani's Ayilo settlement camp in North Uganda. Hundreds of thousands of refugees fled from South Sudan -- the world's youngest nation (formed in July 2011) -- after violence erupted in Dec 2013 and early 2014. Around 60,000 live in the Adjumani settlement which is unlike a traditional refugee camp in that they live on land donated by nationals (Ugandans) and have land to grow crops and build temporary homes. All photos Copyright (c) 2014 Wendee Nicole

Young girls from the Ayilo settlement.
Big smile!
Love this shot of this young refugee boy.
I turned around as we were walking and a line of boys were following!
Boys will be boys!
Getting water from a tap stand. The yellow plastic jugs are called "jerry cans" and they are what everyone in Uganda uses to collect water for drinking, cooking and cleaning.
Me and some of the sweet refugee children at Adjumani.
A "tippy tap" is a contraption made for making it easier for people to wash their hands!
The Baratuku settlement camp is in a beautiful spot.
A colorful lizard on the rocks
The River Nile from Baratuku
This boy was perched on a boat on the River Nile, which we crossed by ferry going from Arua's Rhino Camp (pics below) to Adjumani.
After he jumped in! 
The sunset was beautiful over the Nile.
When I arrived, the first place we visited was actually "Rhino Camp" near Arua. There are no rhinos anymore, they all went extinct! Here they were celebrating Global Handwashing Day at one of the "child friendly spaces" with songs, dance, and a march.
Girls performing a song about the importance of washing hands to change their lives for the better.
Kids checking out the posters.
Kids watching the performance.
Breastfeeding is encouraged in women for healthy children!
The boys seemed more "worldly" than the kids in my area of Uganda. They all made hand signs when I'd photograph them. I got them singing songs in their local language for me right away! It was fun. I got some cool videos.
More of the refugee kids making signs for the pictures.
This woman is so picturesque! She and the boys played drums. It was a really wonderful week, and Oxfam, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) & the Uganda Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) have done a lot for these refugees since the chaotic beginning early this year. It hasn't received a lot of media attention in the U.S. but it was a major humanitarian crisis, which still hasn't stemmed in South Sudan. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Rugando Parent's School - empower these girls!

Three young girls attending Rugando Parents school in Uganda in primary level 3 sing a song they wrote themselves when I visited. Joan, the tallest is one of the brightest in her class, according to the Director David Matsiko. Her family cannot afford a uniform, which isn't required to attend, but the Redemption Song Foundation purchased her a uniform as a one-time gift to support her, because of the initiative she showed in singing the song for me, as an unexpected visitor. 

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Getting settled in Uganda...

"Stubborn gladness doesn't come out of nowhere; you fight for it. You push back against despair. I look hard for miracle and beauty and joy every day.” - Liz Gilbert

Some updates from my life in Uganda so far... These are from emails I've sent to friends and family. To give some background in case you are new, I visited Uganda in Jan/Feb, and felt God calling me here to serve and love the people, I don't know completely why or how, but I know I felt His strong call, and so here I am. I raised 2 amazing young people, my Sam and Savannah, who are now in college, and am here starting a nonprofit, the Redemption Song Foundation (which is officially now registered as a 501(c)(3) [pending status] charitable organization - and all donations will be tax deductible!). I arrived in the country mid-Sep and stayed in Kampala/Entebbe a few days getting supplies, and then came to Buhoma Village, near Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (home to half the world's remaining mountain gorillas!) where I've rented a house that will be my home and RSF office. My vet friend Ben came to help me get set up, and would work with us but is going to Israel for further studies very soon. But he's helping so much! David is another local friend who is helping. Please "like" our Redemption Song Foundation (RSF) page on Facebook or follow us on Twitter (we are slower to get the Tweets coming, but soon!) In fact, if anyone wants to volunteer and do some social media, accounting, legal work, t-shirt/graphic design, or anything else let me know!

Sep 24... I went running this morning - very different at elevation compared to at sea level!! My chest is still heaving, hours later I have a massive headache today too that wont go away.

The Redemption Song Foundation met with local leaders today at my house/RSF office and it was great to meet them! Work is proceeding on the hot water system despite the random stray goats in the house (!) and yard yesterday (only in Africa!) and them stepping on the concrete LOL.

The family living out back, I gave the kids each new t-shirts and brought the mom/dad hot tea, and then a bit later the dad went around and got the avocados from way up high in the avocado trees and I now have 10 gigantic avocados! :) They also clean up around the yard. I took some photos of them and me holding the baby/toddler girl today, and will send sometime. They are so sweet. The two boys have a weird fungus one all over his scalp and I am going to get them to the hospital so they can get care.

Ben leaves tomorrow and it will be so much harder just me and Charity, though it will be nice to be in my house and able to settle in and get some work done planning and getting my house settled. I ordered a large table & chars to be made, a desk and a countertop/pantry. I am getting the toilets fixed and the hot water and the leaking roof fixed. Within 3 days I should have hot water – God willing!! Pray for that LOL! I have it here at the monkey house I stay at but have to leave here Friday.

Sep 25… Today I went shopping in the local market :) It is about 10 stalls with lots of veggies. I learned how to ask "how much is it” but I already forgot – I think it is nazengahi? Something like that. I went a bit overboard and bought a bunch of Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, a cabbage, several tomatoes, 4 eggplant, lemons, a pineapple, a huge bunch of matoke (green non-sweet bananas that when cooked taste like potatoes - there are a lot of carbs in their diet!), and a Ginormous jackfruit (the size of a watermelonŠ -- we ate half and I gave away a bunch and there¹s still a whole half left! They taste like Starbursts!).

Charity made lunch for me, David, and Ben today which was a cabbage dish with Irish potatoes (they call regular potatoes Irish potatoes) and it was really good; however, I discovered the "margarine" I thought I bought was actually lard. :/ Oops.

I bought some other random things today like paint for the shower/toilet rooms as they are kind of gross. The workers are still finishing up the plumbing work to get the hot water system working, and then we will add a big double sink as right now the only sink in the house is one small shallow porcelain one. We don't have any counter space at all in our makeshift kitchen so I had ordered something that will have counter space (wood) and pantry/storage space below. It isn't ready yet, as the same furniture maker is doing my desk which I thought more important because it will be where I lock up valuables like my camera and laptop. A different furniture maker is doing my 3 x 7 table and chairs.

Ben left this evening and is headed back to Kampala, though he may come back a few days before he heads off to Israel. He has been such a great help! If

David is also gone over the weekend so it will be just me and Charity for nowŠ and the family that lives out back. :) I give them food like boiled eggs and jackfruit and they help around with various things.

Sep 26… So my new android phone dropped (twice) and the screen cracked and so it is completely dead. I now have to use my old "dumb phone” for my Uganda #.

I am getting my bedroom set up as I like. Today, I got the 4 dining chairs I ordered, and I am spending way too much money but HOPEFULLY soon I can stop spending money on the house and start spending more on kids. Today I brought the mom and boy Posiano (living behind me) to the hospital because he has this terrible infected wound on his leg, and he had a fever and I worried it was becoming systemic but they cant give antibiotics without admitting him and it was after hours and he didnt have a fever despite his forehead feeling hot, so we will bring him and the other 2 in tomorrow (they all have worms and have a weird fungus infection on their skin). Actually Charity is going to bring them in and pay (my $) because I need to go to Kihihi with my hot water guy to get $ from the ATM!

Sep 27… Today was a stressful day. I had my first ride on a Ugandan "taxi" (more like a small mini-bus with several people) to go to Kihihi, the nearest town with an ATM (2 hours away) but it wasnt working... I am totally out of money and have nothing to pay everyone who I ordered stuff from with. I was with Charity (who helps me at my home) and James, who is doing my hot water system. No one seems to know when the next taxis come, or how to get from A to B. I wanted to go to the next town (Kanungu) to get money, but all these boda (motorcycle drivers) swarmed around me and it was very stressful. We missed the 2pm taxi back home though we met on the road at 145pm. James seems clueless how to get around even though he lives here... he doesn't speak as good of English as Charity does, but anyway the whole thing was a bit of a nightmare! We rented a private car for 100,000 shillings (about $40) to go to Kanungu only the 2 banks there only work for Uganda banks, and so we left home with just a couple of groceries and a toilet seat... And (TMI for the guys) having your period when there are only pit latrines with no toilet paper unless you ask 10 million people for TP is really not fun!! I guess today I have to be thankful for small things like safe travel, my new toilet seat, and Charity who is a total sweetheart and calls me “mum”.

The knob on my NEW propane stove broke (it broke earlier but we got it on, now it wont go on at all) so only 2 of 4 elements work (the black part of the element that was here the 1st day is missing since that day- where in the hell did it go??) And I cant get any cash, not even Western Union is working it sent from my bank, but I cant retrieve it on my mobile money account), and I am PMS and right now I am not happy!!

Sep 29… The family living out back has some health issues, so I paid for their care at the hospital (only 5000 shillings, a couple dollars) - for an infected foot, fungus on skin, worms. We’ve been feeding them extra food we cook and buy, and I’m trying to raise $ to put the younger son (Posiano) in school, its about 100,000 shillings including supplies (beans, pens, TP etc) which is about $40 US per term. If anyone wants to donate you can through the site, or send a check to mom/grandma: Redemption Song Foundation PO Box 876, Frisco TX 75034. The older boy, Justus, is so cute, he came and showed me his school book with his grades (some good, some medium LOL) and he only can attend because the mother works on the vegetable gardens for the school.

It rains every day but not all day. It can rain buckets, but then it stops. They’re putting a new tin roof sheet on now because there was a leak. Yesterday was a hard day emotionally as was the day before BUT I am putting things in perspective (thanks Tim! LOL) and learning patience (not my strong suit) and read some amazing words from my fave author Liz Gilbert… "Stubborn gladness doesn't come out of nowhere; you fight for it. You push back against despair. I look hard for miracle and beauty and joy every day.”

And even more so, David who is a friend of Bens (the vet helping me who is going to Israel soon) & has also been helping me get settled in, got a call this morn here at my house, and his 35-yr old brother in law had died after falling ill, leaving behind 4 kids and a wife. Very sad. Death is all too common here.

Oct 2... Yesterday, I went to the town of Kanungu on the back of David’s “boda” (motorcycle) which is 2.5 hours away (my butt was sore!) to try to retrieve the Western Union money I wired myself 3 days ago to my “mobile money” account (money that you can access through your cell phone almost anywhere – only the WU network on mobile money had been failing to work…). So we get there and they told me the system was down, and they were having trouble… are you kidding me? LOL. NOTHING WORKS IN AFRICA! So after some number of attempts he manages to get me my $200 US in shillings. Hooray for small miracles.

We then went to the town of Kihihi (which is actually closer to home) to open a bank account (their ATM was down Saturday for international withdrawals, and is still down and will be down until next week apparently). So I opened a local account in the hopes I can wire money there from my US bank account, only I left without an account number or any verification that I’d deposited anything… I insisted he give me this one piece of paper. I only put in 20,000 shillings which is like $8 so it’s not a big deal but I should be able to get money from all Uganda ATMs once I get money in there (mind you, Kihihi is the nearest ATM to Buhoma & is 1.5 hour by boda and 2.5 by bus…).

Driving on the boda with music in one ear (one open so I could hear!) was pretty cool, looking so closely at the African landscape that is so foreign and yet feels like home. All the children get so excited to see a mzungu (white person) and they all wave and say “Mzungu!” and laugh and smile when I wave back.

Before we went, I had gone to the Victory Primary School across the street to see about getting Posiano into a nursery class, but apparently theres only 1 mo left in the term before a 3-mo break (equivalent to our summer break) so they said it’s best to wait until next year. Im teaching him some English words like nose, ears, hello :) And tonight after I got back I was walking on the path to the back door (where I enter the house, usually) and I feel this little tug and it’s him – he adores me, it’s so cute. And then later I was inside and I heard dancing and drum beat (the mom Vastine tapping on a plastic “jerry can” - used for water) and went out and saw the 3 kids and Charity singing and dancing so I joined them and did some videos and I cant seem to upload them but will soon! It was super fun and they all giggle to see a mzungu dancing and carrying a bag of flour on her head (yesterday) etc :D I say to everyone I am a mukiga hahaha (mu is person, mukigas is a local, or bakiga is plural, like batwa is plural for mutwa the forest pygmies).

Some photos from recent days...all mixed up...

A baby pineapple in my front yard
The street running through Buhoma, where I now live
I have my very own "egg man" who delivers!
My home and office of the Redemption Song Foundation!
Miriam, Justus, and the legs of Posiano who had an infected foot. 
Matoke (green bananas) and jackfruit (a massive yummy fruit!) Both grow in my yard. 
We gave baby Miriam some millet porridge :) 
My amazing front yard!
Posiano by the building he and his family live in on our property. 
I rather like my frog laundry basket I bought in Kampala, you? :) This is my bedroom.
Elephants on the savanna in Queen Elizabeth National Park which we went through on the way here.
A big elephant in Queen Elizabeth! He was very close!
Ben holding baby Miriam! :) 
Me holding baby Miriam with the family. These t-shirts were donated by a friend to bring to the kids here.
Moving selfie on a boda from yesterday!
Boda ride!
Sweet Posiano and I yesterday