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Discovering Hope For Island Child Orphanage

Updated: Mar 23

First time the children ever saw "white" children.
March 2014, The first time as a family visiting the island to bring supplies. Ashtyn dancing at Hope For Island Child

In the fall of 2013, our family moved to Entebbe Uganda, we had a lovely house just up the hill overlooking Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest freshwater lake. One Sunday afternoon, after church, a friend of mine, Phil who was visiting from the USA, and I were a bit on the bored side and decided to venture down to the lakes edge, find a local boat captain, and go off in search of hippos and crocodiles. Soon after leaving shore, I asked the captain, Captain Rogers, if we had enough fuel for our adventure. He replied with an honest “no”, so I asked him what his plan was. We did a quick 180 and headed back search for enough jerry cans of fuel for the afternoon. With round 2 underway, we soon came across some small islands which we quickly conquered, one of which I’m pretty sure a massive hippo had just slipped off of at our arrival. Side note, according to an article in the BBC Wildlife magazine that reads, “How dangerous are hippos? The hippopotamus is a very aggressive wild creature and is the deadliest large land mammal on the planet. It is estimated that hippo attacks kill 500 people each year in Africa. It is not only their size and weight that makes them dangerous, but also their very sharp teeth!” Thankfully the death toll did not rise that day. After exploring a few more small atolls, the Captain brought us ashore on a larger inhabited island named “Bussi”.

We started the exploration process and came across a dirt road that led inland. We journeyed down the path that was lined with small houses and shops, and endured stares from the locals at these 2 out of place travelers. Approximately 1 mile into our journey we started hearing the melodious voices of children, rhythmically singing “mzungu, mzungu”. According to Wikipedia, Mzungu is the southern, central and eastern African term for a person of foreign descent. Literally translated it means “someone who roams around aimlessly” or “aimless wanderer” (from the Swahili and Ganda words). I would say this pretty much summed us up. 

When we finally arrived at the source of the song though, our adventuristic vibe took a somber turn. What we walked up onto was a scene that I can’t hardly describe. Before me lie a group of children, joyful and playing, but clothed in tattered, ill-fitting garments (I use that word loosely), standing next to a pitiful swing set and in front of a small, rudimentary built mud / brick “building”. Behind them to the left was a partially built structure, and to the far right several stick made lean-to canopy’s. As I was sucking in the scene, an older gentleman with a big white smile came out walking towards us with hands in the air and exclaimed “Welcome, we have been waiting for you!” The man, now my dear friend known as Pastor Charles, first introduced us to himself and his wife, and then to the orphanage, “Hope for the Island Child” (“HFIC”). He gave me a tour of the “facilities” and pointing to the building that had been started but long from finished, he explained that that was going to be the school once they come up with enough funding, but the stick lean-to structures are the current classrooms. And in case you didn’t know it, it rains a lot in Uganda – a WHOLE lot. The building in the center spot served as a dormitory for the give or take 160 children who call HFIC “home”, and it was pitiful. Split up into a room on the left for the girls, a small room in the middle which served as an office and house for Pastor Charles and his family, and then the boys side on the right. The furnishings were atrocious and barely hanging on, and the floor on the girls side was dirt and infested with mites. Mosquitos were another problem. The beds were miscellaneous tree branches, poles or other pieces of wood fashioned together with whatever soft material they could find to serve as a mattress. And many kids shared beds. It was truly a heart wrenching site. 

On the outside I noticed kids with jerry cans and was informed that they have to take the 1 mile walk down to the shore and fill up the jugs from the lake as their source of water. Lake Victoria is heavily polluted, and has a particular parasitic worm called “bilharzia”, that once ingested wreaks havoc in the body. Pretty much all of the children there had extended stomachs as a result of this and malnourishment. Food wise, they survived off of meager portions of poshu, which is basically a starch, and maybe some fruit here and there. 

After the tour, the children gathered together and dawned some handmade outfits and sang us a few songs while they danced around and enjoyed entertaining us. It was a bit surreal to witness honestly. As we came to the close of our visit, Pastor Charles led me into the office and asked if I would sign his visitor log. He opened it up, and I signed my name next to the last visitor who came to see them, some sort of local worker from the capital city Kampala. Their visit was dated 2008…mine was 2013. 

I left that day with the absolute knowledge that God had just placed a calling and purpose on my life, and my heart was on fire to be involved in lifting those children up. 

I need to lay the foundation here and give some context, some background info as to my experience with this sort of thing. Growing up in South Florida in the mid 80’s, my dad worked for an aviation company named Missionary Aviation Fellowship “MAF” who catered to groups traveling throughout the Caribbean and elsewhere, that were doing various projects with churches, missions, orphanages etc. His job was to help organize the trips, and to even go on some of them to help ensure things went smoothly. When MAF pulled out of Haiti, my dad then started an airline called Lynx Air International, who’s initial main route was from Fort Lauderdale to Cap Haitian, Haiti. As a young buck my dad would carry me in tow with him to all of these wild and wonderful destinations that MAF would fly to, and then of course it continued on with Lynx. I cut my teeth in Haiti at a very young age, I would say really before travel to there was as prominent as it is now. We would go on weeklong trips up into the mountains where electricity didn’t exist, and you got to fall asleep to the rhythmic sounds of the voodoo drums off in the distance. I would join him on church building trips, visiting hospitals, orphanages, business meetings, – you name it. I was thrust (thankfully) into this environment at a very early age. Then later on in my early 20’s I worked for him at Lynx full time, doing various jobs, one of which had me traveling around extensively in the field trouble shooting challenges, meeting with the clients, meeting new clients etc. All this to say that I have a lot of experience with orphanages – real ones and fake ones. I’ve seen the well-oiled, properly funded orphanages, and I’ve seen the fake, set-up-shop-overnight-to-collect-money ones, and everything in between. When I laid eyes on Hope for the Island Child, my heart broke because it was in the poorest condition of any of them I have ever witnessed. 

Since that unexpected day in 2013, myself and others have come along side Pastor Charles and his wife and changed the trajectory of those children’s lives. I immediately went back to Entebbe and met with the US pastor, Craig, at the local Calvary Chapel church and asked him if he was aware of this orphanage, and said he was intimately aware of every orphanage throughout the islands, and that this particular island did not have one. I assured him it did and pulled up Google Earth in search of it. Wouldn’t you know it that on that particular day the map was clear except for one cloud, which sat right above HFIC blocking it from view. Pastor Craig was in full support of helping out however he could from day one, and introduced me to a few members of his team. Calvary had a mission whereas they would partner with the local Red Cross and send medical workers out to the various islands, maybe once a month, to host clinics for the island communities. I joined a couple of these trips to be hands on seeing how things are done and learning about the water filtration systems they were a part of.

With this new on the job training underway, I set out to make changes from day one. Quickly we solved the girls dorm mite problem by pouring a concrete floor. We bought them school supplies, medical supplies, food, toys, much needed mosquito nets and whatever else we could get our hands on. Soon after that we dug them a well so they would have onsite access to clean drinking water. Once this was completed we brought in a medical team to purge the parasites and address any other health concerns. As it turned out, by Divine Providence, we dug the well during a drought which meant we had to go deeper than normal, so in later years when another drought hit our well was the only one on the island pumping out clean water. Dysentery or one of the other devastating water borne illnesses ravished the island but skipped over the orphanage due to its clean water source. 

From there we hired a full time nurse (she saved a kids life once who was snake bitten), and even school teachers, and provided them a place to live. We bought new beds and mattresses, a van for transportation, built the girls a new dormitory and finished building the school house, even installed solar panels on it (the kids thanked us because they could now do their homework at night under the light bulbs.)

One time I had budgeted and saved up enough money to go and build a latrine and bathhouse, but when I got to the island I discovered another group had come in and already installed one, beating me to it. They had gov’t money and were looking for the orphanages that were in the most need and determined that HFIC fit the bill. I also organized with Calvary and funded a monthly medical trip to ensure the kids were staying healthy. As part of this trip, Calvary would send along their volunteers from the States who were in Uganda on mission trips. As a result, we have had world class surgeons from the top hospitals in the US visit this orphanage and provide attention to the kids. We have participated in getting surgery for one little girl who was born lame and drug herself around in the dirt. On one of my last visits I got to witness her running around with a smile so big on her face that you could see it from across the yard. I’m sure I’m missing other incredible stories and additional provisions that have been supplied, the list is long.

One other big project we accomplished was building the church. Sometime in 2016 I felt that God had placed on my heart to build a church on or near the HFIC property. I relayed this to Pastor Charles and he started the hunt for property. I also shared this with Pastor Craig by telling him I didn’t know the first thing about building a church but was in good company because I’m pretty sure Noah didn’t know how to build an ark. Pastor Craig then asked me if I would like a set of blueprints he has for churches “out in the bush”. I said “heck yeah” and he asked which size – big or small. I replied “go big or go home” so he sent me the blueprints for a 400-seat concrete building. Pastor Charles came back and advised that he had identified the land for the church which was just across the road from HFIC and backed up to the swamp, but the owner has not surrendered it yet. I got a kick out of that.

Sure enough soon after he struck a deal with the landowner and the plot of land was purchased. I came up with the money with a few others and the building process began. During this process a friend of mine, Joshua, visited the island with me and he asked Pastor Charles what the name of the island, “Bussi Island”, meant. Pastor Charles told him it translates into English “Murder Island”. Joshua then asked him what the translation for “life” was, and was given the word “Bulamu”. Joshua declared that from now on this island would be known as “Bulamu Island”, and then walked up and down the road asking the residents if they approved of this change, and when they agreed the change was made.


On the opening day of the church, Christmas 2017, the 400-seat church was at full capacity with the crowds overflowing out onto front yard, and across the road into the orphanage. Since the name change and addition of the church, Bulamu has witnessed a drastic change among its people. Crime is down and health is up. Tangible differences have been made in numerous people’s lives. 

At some point in time, I had a conversation with Robert, the young man with Calvary who was spearheading the medical trips. He advised me that there is a need for borehole restoration. Throughout the islands and communities, are many many many water wells, or boreholes, that various groups have come through and dug. The challenge is that after time they tend to break – either the pump loses suction due to a crack, or the handle breaks off or whatever the case may be. The borehole is now out of commission and the people must return to the lake as their primary source of water. I asked Robert and Pastor Charles to gather a list of broken wells, which they did, and Pastor Charles put a team together and we set out with motorcycles and boats to visit as many as we could in an afternoon. We would cruise around from one well to the other on our motorcycles (usually 2-4 people per bike, seriously) and then when we got to the water’s edge we would throw them into a boat and cruise across to the next island. We ended up identifying and subsequently fixing some 30 odd wells. That was a few years ago and we have already identified another 30 or so, 15 of which we have fixed. The point is new ones to be fixed pop up frequently and we need financial help to stay on top of this urgent challenge. Bringing clean, fresh water to villages is fundamental to life. 

As the cycle of life goes, a majority of the funding we enjoyed in the past is no longer there, but the list of needs continues to expand. The projects are endless, but so are the dreams and goals these kids can accomplish with a little help. This is my passion; this is what I was built for. But I can’t do it alone, I need your support. Alone I can drop a pebble into the water and watch the ripples grow and then dissipate. Two of us can hoist a rock into the water, and witness a bit bigger of a ripple that soon fades out. But a group of us can leverage a boulder that will cause a splash so big it sends shockwaves to the other side of the lake. My goal is to create ripples so big that these kids can surf them. Please consider partnering with us in this cause and truly be a difference maker.

Watch a short video of Justins trip to Uganda...

Thank you and God Bless,

Justin, Shelly, Jaiden & Ashtyn Southerland

The Pioneers

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