Take a look into a personal account from former ROTOM USA executive director, Andrea Riedner’s visit to Uganda this past springtime. Please take 10 minutes to read how much her trip blessed our seniors! We have included a photo gallery of some of the seniors as well. To all of those who know and love her, please enjoy this heartfelt account of her trip!!
ROTOM UGANDA VISIT APRIL 2022
I spent 4 wonderful days with the different ROTOM teams and loved each moment! Their love for the seniors and sacrificial service is a beauty to watch and very contagious. Once again, I was reminded of the significant impact a visit makes on a person, even me, who knows it all inside and out. Many of the programs, buildings, and special projects came about because people came and saw, caught a vision and went home to do something about it. -Andrea
ROTOM CENTER VISITS
- It was lovely to walk around the office and greet ‘old’ colleagues and friends, hear stories from their families, listen to changes in work responsibilities, and observe the same glow and passion in their faces for the seniors that I experienced years ago.
- There were some new staff members and jobs added, which is always a sign of growth and health of an organization!
- The grounds, offices and health center were spotless, well taken care of, some things got improved and upgraded… an absolute joy to see.
- I stayed in our beloved Team House, our home away from home for teams, individual visitors and missionaries. It is as beautiful and comfortable as on the first day. In fact, it also got some significant upgrades, especially in the area of some extra furniture in the bedrooms, fans and a dividing glass door that separates the entrance (living, dining, guest toilet and kitchen) from the hallway that leads to the bedrooms. It has 4 self-contained bedrooms (toilet, sink, shower in adjacent bathroom) and can sleep up to 4 people in each room. There is also a guest restroom in the hallway for day visitors and staff. The close proximity to the office and health center has exceeded all our dreams and expectations in regards to the advantages of having guests stay close by. This goes both ways, for staff who interact and take care of guests and guests who can really feel part of the ROTOM family. There is a tremendous amount of saving time, money and stress, when not transporting guests back and forth to other accommodations. General security and safe food preparations by ROTOM’s loving and trained staff are values not to overlook. There are additional smaller guest rooms/apartments and one older mission home on the compound that can be used for larger teams as ‘overflows’ or different groups.
- We had planned a fellowship with the management team and I, but my schedule got changed by outer circumstances. Instead, I had conversations and interactions with most of the team members outside of a formal meeting.
- The ROTOM Health Center is the key focal point for outside visitors, either ROTOM supported seniors or family members or people from the surrounding communities. The new doctor and staff seemed to have everything under control.
- Field Nurse addition: During Covid, when travel was very restricted and it seemed quite the ordeal when the need arose to transport seniors to the health center, a new strategy was tried out and fine-tuned. The position of a field nurse was created. This nurse would travel to a different area of ROTOM supported seniors each day and check on them, train and connect with village volunteers who assist in some basic medical checks and tasks within their village, deliver prescription refills and of course identify seniors who need to be brought to the health center for further testing and treatment. The efficiency of taking care of the senior’s health has greatly improved, including the fact that the seniors would be spared the tiring trips from their villages to the ROTOM Health Center, when it wasn’t necessary.
- The week I visited, preparations were underway to hold the first Fellowship Days since Covid started in March 2020, two years ago. The excitement among staff and seniors could be compared with getting ready for a long-awaited Christmas party. The joy was radiant and contagious. Timing of my schedule didn’t make it possible to attend one of the fellowships, but I was content to know I had visited many in the past and that they finally started up again.
Fellowship days are the most anticipated and valuable activity in the lives of ROTOM seniors. Coming together for singing, dancing, sharing of the Word of God and testimonies, supported by prayer sessions and a very healthy meal (more a feast), is life-giving and of utmost importance to the emotional, spiritual and physical wellbeing of those in attendance. Home visits and smaller fellowship meetings in homes have sustained the communal purpose during the absence of those days, however, the loss of this larger meetings and meals was still a point of grievance, but unavoidable under the circumstances of a pandemic.
- ROTOM Center in Rukiga/Muhanga is in the south of Uganda close to Rwanda and situated in the beautiful hills of Kigezi, the Switzerland of Africa. The distance from ROTOM in Mukono to ROTOM in Rukiga/Muhanga is about 400km/250 miles; is an 8-9 hour drive. This center is regularly visited by all or some select management team members who support the team leaders from their area of expertise.
- The rural setting and different people group (Bakiga tribe) makes for a very distinctive and endearing experience. The small trading center is surrounded by villages tucked into green hills on which about every spot of soil is being used for food cultivation or grazing of cows, goats and sheep. The ROTOM Center is located near the town center and just off the main road of the town of Muhanga.
- The Health Center, also with main focus on geriatric care like the one in Mukono, was recently blessed with their very own doctor, supported by an energetic team of medical personnel. The rural location makes it a bit of a challenge to attract the right caliber of staff, but they seem to manage to always have enough, although at times change of staff is a bit more of an ongoing stressor than closer to the capital, Kampala.
- On the second floor of the Health Center, ward and physical therapy rooms are the offices and a very nicely furnished and attractive guest apartment. Just like the Team House in Mukono, it serves individual guests, missionaries and members of the Management team when they visit this remote location. Again, close proximity to the ROTOM Center, being secured in a fenced and guarded compound, clean water and cooking facilities, Wi-Fi, electricity (at times supplied by solar or a generator) make a stay a pleasant and safe experience. I’ve stayed there before and extremely enjoyed being welcomed ‘home’ by my friends and former colleagues. I just wished I could have stayed longer. One night was my utmost pleasure!
- Staff gathered for a fellowship and introductions and it was a joy for me to get to know or meet again anyone who was available that day. I was also invited to share a ‘challenge’ and I used the content of a recent sermon series which was called Pre-Decide. Decide ahead of time of situations in order to be a faithful finisher.
- One comment from Norah, who is the leader of the Rukiga location, stuck to me and made me grateful. She said that it is no problem that they no longer had a program director at this location and instead worked closely with the management team from Mukono, because I taught them to be responsible for their area of work and know what they need to do and take care of and do it without being told and supervised every day. So, she is encouraged to do just this and in turn leads her colleagues to do the same. She feels empowered and energized by it and for that I am so thankful.
VISITING SENIOR FRIENDS in UGANDA
- The main goal for spending time with ROTOM was to visit our beloved senior friends in their homes. Something that I had the privilege of doing about twice or three times a year while I worked with ROTOM and travelled to Uganda frequently. As the years have gone by, several of my senior friends have passed away (expired, as they say in Uganda). Although always tragic and sad news, not completely unexpected when the mission is to give hope for today, tomorrow and ETERNITY. Many seniors in ROTOM’s program are either extremely old, sick and weathered by the circumstances of a very difficult life, or both. The greater the joy when a relationship grows over many years of visits and exchanging letters, pictures and gifts. Below is an account of my very sweet and touching reunions with my longtime, old friends.
- MUZUNGU and ZIRIYATI are a very old couple, who must be in their 90s. They are aged and sickly ever since I became their friend in 2016. Not in my wildest dreams have I ever expected them to live long enough to give us yet another chance to meet! They live in a very remote and poor area with little infrastructure. Ever since I have known them their home accommodates a large number (like around 20!) grandchildren and some of the parents of these children. It is hard to nail down who is a child, grandchild or great-grandchild. And every time I have come, there are a ton of more small children while the older ones seem to get moved to other relatives. We couldn’t comprehend how all those people had enough food, let alone a place to sleep at night. On top of this challenge, the old man decided in recent years that he is in need of a younger wife to look after him. So, he actually had moved out and came home for just the occasion of my visit. But this was not a surprise to me, since he had informed me of his life changes in a letter. Friends we are and we share as friends☺. Since my husband and I sponsor both, husband and first wife, we came bearing gifts of groceries and other essentials for each of them, since they no longer share a household. Mr, Muzungu was challenged to leave some of his gifts with the first wife, as her household is so much larger than his new one; he smiled and said he will think about it. This is a predominantly Muslim family, but they have the opportunity to experience and receive teaching of the love of Jesus through their involvement with ROTOM. Granny Ziriyati passed away a few weeks after I visited; I am thankful we could be friends.
- JOSEPH MUGERWA is our son’s supported senior and friend and from the beginning of this friendship I’ve had the joy to visit this family regularly and interact with them with loving appreciation of each other. Joseph and his wife also live in a very small mud house and look after several grandchildren, a common occurrence in poverty-stricken families. Parents drop their kids at the grandparents’ home in order to have more freedom to look for jobs and money. More often than not this results in grandparents struggling to keep the family from starvation, while the adult children disappear and the promised support is not forthcoming as it should. So, the grandparents try their best and any little support they receive from ROTOM is so very much welcome and appreciated. For some of our seniors I brought a foldable walking stick that had an LED light in the handle, shining a bright light on the way while walking around in the dark at night. Joseph immediately had three things on his mind when he discovered the benefits of this new gadget: 1. He instructed the kids not to touch it, 2. He was going to donate his old walking stick to another ROTOM senior who doesn’t have one 3. He will use it as ‘standing’ lamp in the middle of the house to give them light when they eat their dinner in the dark. A man with a vision and a big heart!! Joseph and his wife sent us on our way with a basket full of fruits from their own garden. Such precious people with a generous lifestyle!
- FALISTO used to be supported by my parent’s Bible Study in Germany, through ROTOM’s German partner, MFB. Since the beginning of Covid, the Bible Study didn’t meet and now my parents ‘adopted’ him personally. When I visited him with my parents ten years ago, we found him living in a tiny hut, as small as a walk-in-pantry. So small that a normal sized single bed didn’t fit. The land where he lived was not his own (see blog), he had no family and the land owner wanted him gone. This, coupled with the regular challenges of ‘homeless’ seniors, birthed the idea to purchase land that ROTOM owns and uses to house seniors like Falisto, who have no one they call family and nowhere to go. (It became a combined effort between ROTOM USA and the German partner through my parents to fundraise and build out this dream together with the team in Uganda.) Like during all visits we shared from the Word of God and a prayer and exchanged greetings and life stories- sweet times! Falisto now shares his little home, that used to be one living room and one bedroom, with 5 other people, three beds in each room and he is happy to do it, rather enjoying the company than moving somewhere else. More about his place, he now calls home at the Village Outreach Centers.
- ELIZABETH is a supported granny of my parent’s. She is a tiny person, with a huge smile and contagious joy. Elizabeth received us dancing and praising God for bringing us to her home again. Even more praising and joy came forth when she sorted through the gigantic bag of treasures we brought for her. Rice, maize flour, salt, sugar, tea, soap, matches, milk, and much more. For each senior I had prepared a collage of family pictures, that included our kids and their spouses and my parents as well as my sisters. All in a simple frame. It was a joy to talk about my family and have them compare older pictures of us and see how everyone has ‘grown’.
The above concludes my senior visits in Mukono. And now to my two granny friends all the way in Rukiga/Muhanga. I had wanted to drive further south anyways, because this is the area where our life in Uganda began in 1990 and where I wanted to visit my African twin sister, my very special friend of 32 years. Kenneth, ROTOM’s Founder and Executive Director and my friend and brother, kindly drove me halfway and then handed me over to the ROTOM driver from the south location. It gave me a chance to have interesting conversations with both of them on this long journey through my beloved land of Uganda.
- TEREZA is a devout catholic who loves God and Jesus and is diligent in praying the rosary, as is catholic practice. As in the homes of most of our seniors, also in her humble abode, our family pictures from Christmas’ past, are ‘nailed’ to the mud wall, in her case, right next to a newspaper clipping from the pope. She brought me to tears when exclaiming how she prays for her muzungu (white person) friend every day, that God protects us from Covid and other harm and keeps us safe and how she would have never thought we meet again on this earth, since she is also quite old. We shared from Psalm 121, like in every home, prayed and sang about God’s saving grace. She sent me on on the way with one of her chickens, which of course I couldn’t bring all the way home, but gave it to the ROTOM team, so that it stays in the family. There is really no option to deny a gift like that. It is given whole-heartedly and with great joy and thankfulness for all they receive by being part of ROTOM and the senior friendship program. Also, as part of the conclusion of each visit there is a family picture being taken that shows great smiles and love on all faces. Precious times!
- ADRINE is a dear woman we’ve known since 1992 when her son was a student at Bishop Barham Divinity College in Kabale, where my husband taught and trained Ugandans for priesthood. During one Christmas break, Amos invited us to his parent’s home. There we parked at the bottom of a hill and climbed up a steep footpath, our first baby on my back, to share a meal and fellowship with his parents. Adrine was his mom. When I recognized her in the senior profile I decided to renew our relationship and become her senior friend. Adrine is not the typical needy ROTOM senior. Adrine has played a significant role in starting ROTOM in Muhanga, together with Kenneth’s mother. (Read more in our blog.) The two have been life-long friends and when Kenneth started ROTOM in Mukono near Kampala, they decided to also gather seniors for fellowship and support in their village and the two of them cooked meals and started the program out of their own pockets. It has long grown to a full-fledged ROTOM center with a health center and vibrant staff and offices that supports many seniors in surrounding villages. When Adrine grew older and her health declined, the ROTOM team decided to admit her into the program so that she can also benefit from ROTOM’s health care and be allowed to officially attend the fellowships and receive home visits and care. It is with great joy that we reunited and I have spent many delightful visits in her home. She is a very serious Christ-follower, fierce preacher and fighter for the good of her community. Despite her own frailness and the recent death of her good friend, she continues to be involved, in her weakest days, by praying from home for all the concerns, including for our family.
It is a blessing to have Adrine as my friend and prayer warrior! I thank God for her faithfulness and love towards my family.
VILLAGE OUTREACH CENTERS (VOC)
- This is the story that started with Falisto’s predicament of being chased from the little hut and land he had been allowed to occupy for many years. The development of the idea of VOCs is a direct fruit of bringing sponsors and friends to see, feel, smell the surroundings, meet their senior friends in person and actually experience first-hand the challenges that they and the ROTOM staff face. In addition, those visiting friends also get to witness the joys and opportunities that a senior, who is part of the ROTOM family, can experience. Above all else, the chance to see God’s love made real through his people and the evidence of the life-changing impact on the seniors is something a visitor will never forget. The power of their first-hand witness brings about utmost credibility when going home and inviting others to join the cause.
- The need to figure out a future housing situation for Falisto created in my parents a strong desire to be part of the solution and they went back to Germany and mobilized their friends in supporting the endeavor to help ROTOM find land and invest in housing for seniors
- One thing led to the other and the vision was born to purchase land large enough to build a duplex to house two seniors and a fellowship hall where to gather the seniors in this village.
- Falisto was at first quite lonely in the compound, but soon was made responsible to tend the garden and be the ‘guardian’ or the place. He took on ownership and welcomed staff and seniors in ‘his’ new home.
- Lwanyonyi currently houses 9 seniors, 1 male and 1 female staff to look after them and the compound. The seniors living at the VOC are not as fit as Falisto, some might even be bedridden and will be supported with tender loving care till their time on earth comes to an end. Seniors at the VOCs are also visited and supported by medical staff and social workers from ROTOM. Even though Falisto is now sharing his small home with 5 others, he is very happy and content.
MAGOGGO Village Outreach Center
- The concept was so successful that when ROTOM started ministry in a very remote and desolate area where there was no public place (school or church) in such a shape that the senior’s fellowship could be housed in a safe environment, it was decided to once again explore the idea of finding land and building a duplex and fellowship hall.
- Here there are also more seniors living than was originally intended, simply because more and more seniors are getting to the end of life without adequate support in their homes. At Magoggo there is one female worker looking after them.
- Since the end beginning of 2018, Magoggo VOC also houses the ROTOM School for grandchildren, born out of the lack of proper schooling opportunities in this community, paired with a church in Texas with a passion for children and a desire to support the seniors with their grandchildren’s education. The second classroom block is almost completed and there are new plans underway to build a small dormitory for kids who live too far to travel to and from home to school every day.
Special thanks to Justine in Uganda for coordinating my visits and stay and for everyone else that took me on visits or contributed to the joyful success of my time at ROTOM. May God bless you all!
Thank you ROTOM Team in Uganda!