Love is an action word.

I have been saying all along that we must “do more than watch” per the children in Uganda and the project I am leading. It is not good enough for me to go to Lira, Uganda and you or anyone else to sit back and observe action-less. Well guess what folks, you did something. You did something great.

Less than two weeks ago I asked for your help, yet again. I asked you to partner with me so we could give one pair of running shoes to each of the incredible children I have been working with in Lira, Uganda. Your response was outstanding and I have begun giving the shoes out. I am so pleased to share some of the photos with you. Thank you for doing something. Thank you for getting involved and acting in a tangible, impactful way. Here is what your love in action looks like for some special kids in Lira.

This is where we began.

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These kids live with a spirit of gratitude, so they were not complaining. I think it is important that you know they were not expecting me to give them shoes. Instead they have taken to running with ease and excitement, eager to learn. They come to practice ready to have fun, even barefooted because they know nothing else…. this whole “give them shoes” idea was just something that came to me along the way.

I thought there was a chance we- “we” the collective caring body of people who are following this trip and vision, Childrens Running Project Uganda- could do better for these kids. I suspected we could all give a bit more of ourselves, our hearts and a little bit of our pocket books. I hoped that by giving them a small gift we could bless them in their pursuit of running and an all around better life. I must also add that we have not solved their problems, absolved their poverty or saved them from their pasts or their present lives. But we have shown them that they are loved and valued, and that is a good and necessary start.

These shoes help them run better, easier, safer, and also demonstrate love, your love in action.

So we raised some money (well… you raised the money and I was wowed!) This is the first of multiple bags.Image

I opened this bag up like a kid on Christmas morning!

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I sorted through all the shoes, making sure they were the correct style and high in quality. Then I went to practice and starting fitting the bare feet of some of the happiest, most excited runners I’ve ever seen.

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All together now, laced up and ready to roll.

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Don’t let some of there more-serious faces fool you. These guys are all types of kind, silly and sweet. But some of them insist upon looking as tough as possible in photos. Ha. The hill workout we did 30 minutes later had them all pretty humbled.  A two mile warm up, plus dynamic dills, then 10 times 200 meter repeats on dirt, running hard up the hill and easy down. They ran great. Good thing they had running shoes.

Thank you for making this happen, friends!

Awpoyo,

Kelsey

You can. I know you can.

It’s time for an update. There will hopefully be more pictures than talking here, but first I’ll need to set the stage for you and try (desperately) to do all this justice.

I have spent a week exclusively working with the children of Lira Integrated School but on Saturday we- myself, Dickens and Uncle Sam who are both CPU staff- headed out of Liratown and into the countryside to host a “running team try out” with the other two groups of children that CPU helps.

The two groups we met with are the children of Chorome School and the village of Orit. The children in these two locations optimistically wait to be sponsored by a CPU donor. (Maybe you will become a donor for one of them? Ask me for more info if you are interested, it is affordable and changes lives forever!) Once the child is sponsored she/he move to Lira Integrated School- which provides year around boarding. The education, feeding program, safety, counseling and rehabilitation resources at Lira Integrated are the child’s best shot at a better life.

Life at Chorome or in the village of Orit is very difficult. For example, because these kids live in small villages they are reliant upon caregivers for food and housing. These kids are orphans so the caregiver is usually a grandmother or aunt who is also caring for a half dozen other kids, not kidding. It is hugely overwhelming and near impossible for these honorable relatives that try to care for the kids… poverty here is extreme which means people have very little food to eat, drinkable water is limited, they sleep on the ground in mud/grass huts, conditions are unsanitary, medical care is nonexistent, and the economy is abysmal.

Also, since the children live so far outside of Liratown CPU can only meet with them once a week- as opposed to the daily programs for kids in town. This means these specific children are receiving far less support than they need.

The children in these photos ran hard, competing to be on the team, and most likely did so without having eat that day. Most of them have scars on their bodies from the war. They suffer from PTSD and before explaining (at least three times) what I meant by “high-five” they all winced the moment I held my hand up toward them, as if I am going to hit them in the face. They are all barefooted. Their clothes are dirty, stained, torn and tattered. Some have evidence of abuse and torture on their faces.

Some of them have a look in their eyes that would break all our hearts in a moment.

Unexpectedly, I admit, they glow with dignity and with all this in mind please consider how impressive, amazing, and inspiring it was to watch them run… fast.

They ran hard and gave their full effort, with full joy. They raced each other full-heartedly. They ran all out because they wanted to show that they are interested and serious. They want to work hard and have fun. They want a shot at something unique, something special, brought to them by a crazy mono (white person) from America who sees their worth… who sees their potential as human beings, as athletes, as leaders… who wants to empower them with everything she has. Who considers it an honor to look them square in the eyes and say, “You can. I know you can.”

“Ready… set… go!”

We started with the younger girls race.

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Here the younger girls line up at the start.Image

The sight of them running round the first turn… we used this path as a race course.

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And here is our young girls champion!

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Accomplished and proudly lined up in finishing order, right to left.

Next up, the younger boys.Image

Umm, seriously look  at their running form. “Amazing” doesn’t do them justice.Image

Younger boys winner! This kid means business.

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Lined up post-race, left to right. The littlest guys at the end might have had a disadvantage… they are tiny but they sure tried hard.

Then the older girls gave it a try. Most of them are quite reserved, I guess they let their feet do the talking.

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Older girls winner. I’d heard from a some of the other kids, Dickens and Uncle Sam that she fast. Clearly.
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Here the older girls line up post race for a photo. This photo gives “running skirt” a whole new meaning. I am trying to locate light-weight athletic shorts, longer ones, so that running will be more comfortable for them.

Last but not least, the old boys get after it.Image

Pure focus and determination. I told them that I was photographing for my friends back in America and the UK. They seemed to be taking this quiet seriously. It was fabulous.Image

Older boys champ! Woot, woot! He ran a 77-78 for .28 of a mile (yes, I measured it out exactly.) For my runner and non-runner peeps, that’s 450 meters- aka a lap on a track plus 50 meters. Let me put this is even better perspective, he ran well under 5 minute mile pace (approx. 4:40 pace) for his first race ever and was all smiles afterwards. Mmmk. Dang!

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The older boys looking pleased post race!

Once all the races were finished, post race pics taken, high-fives distributed to everyone, we took a group photo together under a giant tree that sits just next to the path they’d just trampled all over and shown who is boss. The scene was beautiful. The accomplishments both measurable and immeasurable. Image

Awpoyo and ameri,

Kelsey

Sports bra mania.

Kopango (greetings) from Lira, Uganda!

Meet the newly formed Lira Integrated School girl’s running team!

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Remember those sports bras I collected? Take a look at the excitement that came when I gifted them out. Here I am fitting Juliet.

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Dillise gets her first sports bra, and Nissi and Gloria for wait their turn.

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The girls insisted upon trying them on, right there next to our practice field after today’s run and sprints. Concy wasn’t so sure about my fitting skills… but we got the right one eventually.

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Here the ladies gathering as a group and look so, so pleased with themselves!

ImageAfter our public “fitting session” we took a group photo, bras on (this was not my idea by the way.) Then the girls proceeded to dinner with the bra still fitted on the outside of their dresses and sports clothes. Okay then. Ha!

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Awpoyo (thanks) and amari (love) from Lira,

Kelsey

Field notes

Reflections from my first run with the children, my beloved former child-soldiers…
Over 160 children showed up today for our first run! OH MY GOODNESS it was a freaking circus!
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We had former child soldiers running with other children, stride for stride– and as they quickly found out, no matter what’s in your past… running is a leveling agent.
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Running makes you honest. Running makes you vulnerable, humble.  And as they are finding out, running together is fun.
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We all ran for 20 minutes together. Some of the younger children took off too fast at the beginning of the run, they found out quickly how much that winds you. I kept reminding them, “slow, slow.” The older, more mature students had to wisdom and insight to pace themselves.
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At one point I was alongside about a dozen younger student- 9-12 year old girls and boys. They were having the time of their lives, they were singing and chanting. One child would called out, the others responded in unison. Later I found out what they were chanting, “That one, catch that one. That one, catch that one.” They were competing together and having so much fun!
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The sun was setting when we finished. We gathered in a huge circle- I mean seriously this circle was an acre round- in the center of the field. Shouting at the top of my lungs (like a fool) I instructed them through a few stretched and then we did pushups… they laughed and counted along with me “1-2-3-4-5-6…”
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When our pushups were finished we gathered closer together in a giant bundle of sweaty bodies and bright smiling faces. I asked them what they thought, “Was running fun? Was running difficult? Did they want to try it again tomorrow?” I got a resounding, “YES!” Then I asked them for their ideas, how would they like to train? These older boys have a lot of great ideas. Tomorrow the boy in the purple jacket is leading our run off campus.
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The beauty in these children’s eyes, the brightness of their smiles and their stores of energy and enthusiasm are immeasurable. I wish you could all come see this for yourself.
Love from the Pearl of Africa.
Apwoyo owotena,
Kelsey

Tour Kampala

I am about to head up to Lira! For my brief time in Kampala I got to see the real, authentic (non-tourist) side of Kampala…And that said, here is a tourist-like photo of me outside the St Francis Chapel.

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This also serves as proof that I really am in Uganda and let me tell you, it is awesome! Big thanks to my new Ugandan friend Professor Janestic Twikirize, for her kindness, sense of humor and hospitality showing me around her city and welcoming me into her home. She is an amazing social worker who teaches at Makerere University in Kampala. Today we made a special trip to the Sanyu Babies Home, that visit was seriously life changing.

Want to know more about what I have been up to? Watch my latest video-journal on the CHILDREN’S RUNNING PROJECT UGANDA Facebook page!

First run : The lovely faces and sights of Entebbe, Uganda

Good morning from Uganda! My first run was awesome and hopefully will rust-bust my jet-leg. Here’s hoping.

As I am sure you can imagine I was not the only out early this morning… check out these photos from my run.

Having stayed near the airport I ran a route that took me out near Lake Victoria. The scenery was beautiful- the humidity was intense.

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About a mile into my run I met Liam, a little boy smiling alongside his mother tending her garden.

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Further down the road I ran past a church full of people worshiping at a mid-week service. The sun is not quite out yet, and the sky really makes for a beautiful backdrop.

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As I continued on I met school children on their way to class. When I asked these two for permission to take their photo the older sister replied, “Yes please.” So Sweet.

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Near the turn around point of my run I noticed this huge building/house. My best guess it that it is an abandoned colonial. Despite it’s worn condition it is still really beautiful and makes me wonder how it could be restored and used today?

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Toward the end of my run I saw a boy out for a run himself- granted he was probably in a rush to get to school, but still, seeing him jogging out there was such an exciting reminder of why I have come to Uganda.

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It is hard to explain just how happy I am to be here! Uganda has welcomed me kindly and I could not be more grateful. Happy running to you today… get on out there and get your miles in!

From the Pearl of Africa,

Kelsey

Arrival Day!

Hello friends. An hour ago I landed in Uganda. What an amazing and crazy day it has been!

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In 24 hours I have flown over 5000 miles, had an incredible amount of good luck (say for example, I got bumped to a nicer seat for free and also got to hangout with one of the cutest, most chubby babies ever on my flight out of Kigali, Rwanda), have met a handful of interesting and cool people from all over the world, exchanged stories and contacts AND the Runner’s World article went live!

Now that’s a productive Tuesday.

At this very moment, I am happy, excited, and incredibly tired… but still adamant upon saying thank you to everyone who has been involved in the launching of this project. I have been preparing for this for quite some time. It is surreal to actually be here. YOU made that happen with your support, donations, encouragement and prayers.

Please continue your efforts because in lots of ways this journey has just begun. I invite you to comment on the blog, please ask questions, let me know you are “listening,” and let’s keep the dialogue going– this is a two way street.

I can’t wait to share this experience with you. Know I will have photos up for you to see as soon as possible, but the internet situation here is different than in the US so please be patient with me as I figure that out and then upload photos. I really, really encourage you to “Follow” this blog, by clicking the Follow button on the top of the page. This way you will receive notification with each new post vs. having to keep checking back on your own periodically.

Awpoyo (thank you), my friends.

Love from the Pearl of Africa,

Kelsey

Good enough.

Today there are three things I want to share with you… okay, no, more like four things.

1.) In one week from today I will have landed in Uganda and be (hopefully) miraculously adjusted to the time zone, gracefully embracing the culture shock and not the least bit jet-lagged. (Start praying people!)

2.) Runner’s World will soon be publishing an article about the project in Uganda! Hooray! The Sports Information Director at Pacific University is also planning on writing an article. Double Hooray!

Which brings me to my next point…

3.) Because of the article(s) that will soon come out I was asked, “What is official name of your project in Uganda?” Well, the first thought that came to mind was, “Good freaking question! Ummmmm…. official name?!?” When my slight  panic attack subsided I started seriously brainstorming. Long story short, this is now known as the Children’s Running Project Uganda. In the future if there is a website, NGO, etc. it will be known as the Children’s Running Project and each country or city served will be inserted at the end of the name (such as “Children’s Running Project Tanzania”, “Children’s Running Project Belize”, “Children’s Running Project Portland”).

And lastly…

4.) This morning the writer from Runner’s World sent me a follow-up email and asked me to elaborate on something I had said in our first phone interview earlier this week. Here’s what she said, “…you mentioned that running has saved you from time to time, helped you heal… what (has) running helped you heal from?”

My internal dialogue went something like this… “Oh sh*t,” and other expressive thoughts.

How much do you say to someone who is writing an article to an audience of a few hundred thousand people? I mean really?! How personal do you get? I wanted to be authentic, honest, and explain the depth of what running has done for me– but I also wanted to be cautious and not totally unload on this woman and then see my own words in print. That could get ugly.

After I calmed down I decided to call my college coach, Tim Boyce, to hear what he had to say. He knows me really well..and he operates with a level of calmness that I could only dream of. After talking with Tim I wrote out an answer to RW question to be a guide for answering this and other questions that might come up in the pending phone conversation with RW. Here is that answer.

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“People worldwide suffer disappointment, sickness, the ache of broken relationships, and experience humanity— it’s beauty and pain— uniquely. Every life has a story, one worthy of telling for it’s ups and downs. My story is a testament to this and running has been my way of working through the hardest parts of life.

Though my struggles seem to pale in comparison, I can identify in some ways with the children of Northern Uganda. They too have lost loved ones, been told negative things about who they are, been forced into awful situations outside their control, and miraculously survived and even thrived against the odds.

No child is exactly alike; each has suffered, struggled and survived in their own way. My story is also unique, I have suffered losses, heart ache, the brokenness of my own humanity, the consequences of poor choices and learning the hard way—but also the redemption that comes from picking myself up again, putting one foot in front of the other. The children of Northern Uganda have courageously picked themselves up again and again too and kept moving forward.

Running became hugely significant in my life in high school and continued into college. However, between 2004-2006 I had some especially hard years. Some of those difficulties are too personal to tell here but I will say, without a doubt, running kept me going; running kept me alive; running gave me a purpose; running gave me intentionality each day.

In 2004 I entered college at Northern Arizona University and struggled to keep up with the team and the training. A year into my time there the then head distance coach told me, “You will never be good enough to run for me.” After saying so, he cut me midseason from the team. I heard his words much like feeling a knife. They were sharp, they cut deep and they wounded me. I wondered if he was right, and if he was right should I really run at all? If I could not be on a team, what would I do? My dream had been to be a college runner, at that point this dream was over.

Most poignant in that coaches statement where the words, “good enough.” “Good enough” was a phrase that had already caused me pain; “good enough” traced back to my own internal struggles and questions, wondering if I was loveable, valuable, and worthy of inclusion and care. His words cut me and for many years to follow I’ve worked through that phrase, “good enough.” Those words have haunted me on and off the track, in competitions and in relationships.

I left NAU, returned home and began looking for another school to attend. In this process I also began working through the questions that being cut and being told “I’d never be good enough” brought up. I spent months rising out of the disappointment and embarrassment of being cut, I felt like a failure. The words that were used, only made things worse. They were personal, that coaches assessment of me as unworthy to be on his team mirrored how I thought of my own worthy and value in all areas of life. His words were not just about running, they were about me, all of me.

But slowly, somehow I began to reconsidered a thing called hope. I began to have hope that I could someday run again, maybe for a team and maybe even fast. I began to dream a little bit and I realized that I had a voice inside me, almost like a whisper, encouraging me not to quit, not to give up on myself or the sport I loved.

It took some courage to start running again, but each day that I went on a run was like sending a message to myself, “You are here, you are worthy, you are doing something, you can do this, you are good enough.” Running helped me express myself, even if it was a slow-self at the time. Running was an art form. It became my artistic expression, just like racing is described as an artistic expression by the incredible Steve Prefontaine, “A race is a work of art that people can look at and be affected in as many ways they’re capable of understanding.” Running was the work of art that helped me understand myself and a catalyst for internal redemption.

Within a year and a half of being cut and transferring out of NAU I found out that the slow and hopeless fitness and racing times I had been experiencing were not because I was not “good enough.” I also was not lazy, or wimpy, or a case of talentlessness. But in fact my slow times, lethargy, sluggishness and even depression were because I was fatally anemic. At the time of my first iron test (April of 2007) my results showed that my Iron level was 9, and my Ferritin, 2.

I admit fully that my experience at NAU and the subsequent discovery of anemia was not the only difficulty I was facing during that chapter in my life. I had other challenges at the time that contributed to the soul searching I underwent. Having shared this story with people before, some have accused me of using running to run from those difficulties, however that does not capture the essence of what I was doing. I was running through the difficulty, much like we runners run through the burn of a tempo run or push through the discomfort in a race. Running helped me find myself. I spent that time, mile after mile, sorting out my own heart, wrestling with demons, sharpening my character, maturing my faith and feeling alive.

By the fall of 2006 I had transferred to another college, Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon. It was there that I met coach Tim Boyce, a coach who undoubtedly believed I was good enough, worthy of his coaching, and could see in me an outstanding potential, beyond even what I could have hoped for. Thankfully I had not given up on running or myself and soon after training with Coach Boyce I saw the fruit of my perseverance. After discovering my anemia, seeking treatment (I actually have to receive iron intravenously, supplementation doesn’t cut it for my body) and partnering with Tim, the coach I credit my success to, in a few short months I went from barely able to complete a 5k race to setting multiple school records. Coach Boyce’s belief in me, investment, time and mentorship helped me become not only a better person, more secure and confident in myself, but also Pacific’s first cross country All-American.

Today, I am taking the lessons I learned in those hardest years, the hope that developed by not giving up, and the wisdom and experience of training and competing, to the children of Northern Uganda. My journey through running now extends around the world to a worthy and deserving group of children—who often are not treated as such. I believe running will help them as it has helped me. Like Coach Boyce and others believe in me, invested in me, and gave their time and mentorship, I too will give to these children. There is more possible for them, they are worthy, valuable, good enough.

Running is a catalyst for that. Running is the mechanism I can use to help them heal and recover, giving them more purpose, gifting them an artistic way of expression emotion, a beautiful and positive tool to move them from their painful pasts to a positive future.”

-KO


 

Almost there : Fundraising thermometer : $1,174.42 to go!

Take a look! We have almost reached the goal! Wow! In the last three days nearly $800 has been raised. Please hear me when I say THANK YOU to all of you who have taken part in this!

With 24% left we have just shy of a “quarter mile” left in this race! Can we do this?! I leave for Lira, Uganda in exactly 2 weeks! And as of today, July 16th, there is $1,174.42 left to raise.

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Who do you know who can help reach the 5k mark? Please pass this on! I will update the thermometer as we pass each $200 mark… that’s what the tick-marks stand for 🙂

With appreciation,

Kelsey

Do more than watch, HELP!

In the world of blogging (I say that like I am SO experienced) there really is something to be said for fellow writers who advocate on your behalf. What do I mean? I mean, when someone else takes it upon themselves to DO something for you, write about what you are doing, put a fresh spin on things… in this case, my project in Northern Uganda, my effort to help former child-soldiers.

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Plainly said, when someone helps me it takes the pressure off me to do everything myself. In the realm of blogs, tweets and Facebook posts I have discovered some people do a better job explaining things that I do… fresh eyes and perspective make all the difference! And frankly, I welcome that!

My friend Julia Webb (who happens to be one of the best steeple-chasers in the United States right now. I am a very proud friend!) took on such a task and wrote a really solid blog yesterday about my project. In her post she explained how the project came to be- which is vital.

I admit the “how” of this project, as in “how did this come together”, is very intricate and interwoven. The “how” follows a 3+ year chain of events. Honestly, I have been too overwhelmed to write it all out.

But Julia made a succinct and organized (albeit funny and inspiring) story out of it. She helped me so much by doing so. In telling the whole story not only did she provide a 20/20 look-back for me to see how far things have come, but she also took a lot of pressure off me to try to explain it all myself.

One of my favorite lines in her blog also articulates really well why running will help these children, here is what she wrote, “No doubt they have lots of stored up anger and what better way to cleanse themselves than to run their hearts out.” Well freaking said, Jules!

Then this evening another (very, very) high-level runner posted this on his Facebook page, along with a link to this blog. His words say so well what I have been trying to get at all along… and in a way that will make sense to runners, which I appreciate. I had to share this with you too, he says,

“What if “killing it” meant that a former Ugandan child soldier was hammering a workout instead of shooting a rifle? YOU can make that a reality, and this young lady will do the legwork (literally) for you. An absolute must read~”

My two word response, a resounding: THANK YOU!

Now, here’s where I get a little more vulnerable with you…ready? I have been feeling a little (okay, more like a lot) burnt out in the last two weeks. I have been preparing for this project specifically, mostly on my own, for nearly 7 months. Therefor, it is really nice when people speak for me, on my behalf, putting into words so well what I have been trying to say all along, giving a fresh take on what I am doing.

I also really value that these friends spoke up for me, advocating for my project and thus, the children in Northern Uganda. Their efforts are reaching larger audiences than I can on my own. So, for those who read this post, please, please do whatever you can to tell more people about this project. Re-blog one of my posts or write about it in your own words, Tweet this blog’s url and hashtag #kelsey+uganda, join the project’s Facebook page @ Kelsey+Uganda and then share this blog on your page, email your friends a post from this blog, tell your co-workers at lunch, bring it up at church, let your kids know about the kids in Uganda: Do something!

Please don’t read this and then forget about it. I need your help still! Please do more than watch me do this project, join me and actI know I may sounds a little intense here, but this is a big deal (and I also happen to be kind of intense anyways) 🙂

The more people that are aware and involved the better chances are for change, hope and healing for the children I will work with.

Big thanks to my friends who have stepped up to the plate for my project and for the sake of the former child-soldiers in Lira, Uganda. I am forever grateful and I can’t wait to tell them how much my friends back in America care about them too.

(Oh, by the way I leave in exactly 2 weeks + 2 days and I still have $2000 left to raise… please donate any amount you can to Paypal, see button below.)

To give please use the PayPal button below. All donations go straight to the project. Click this button, it will take you where you need to go. If you do not have a PayPal account that is no problem, you can still use PayPal. Just look for the “Don’t Have a PayPal?”

Awpoyo & ameri matek!