Growing Old in Uganda by ROTOM Donor Nancy Wellnitz

A Lookback on 20 Years of ROTOM – Reflection from Journey for Change Member, Nancy Wellnitz – June 2012

Recently I had the privilege of traveling on a short term mission trip to Uganda with the mission agency, Reach One Touch One Ministries (ROTOM), that works with seniors age 60+ in rural parts of Uganda.  In Uganda there is no such thing as Medicare, Social Security or retirement benefits, so many seniors have a struggle making ends meet, often caring for grandchildren that have been orphaned.  ROTOM recruits individuals to sponsor Ugandan seniors on a monthly basis, and their staff provides on-going daily support and medical assistance.

This was a perfect trip for me, as I have worked with seniors for more than three decades! It was an opportunity to see how seniors over 8,500 miles away lived out their final years.  Uganda is a beautiful country with rolling hills that are full of green crops which offer contrast to the red dirt.  Now I know why Winston Churchill called it the “Pearl of Africa.”  This country is about the size of Ohio, and hosts over 32 million people, of which 90% live in rural areas. Life expectancy is 52.67 (U.S.A.’s is 78.2), with the median age being 15 (U.S.A.’s is 36.8).

When the Ugandan seniors were told I worked with seniors in America, they all had a lot of questions.  The most common one was, “do American seniors have the same aches and pains in their knees, hips, backs and such that we do?”  I informed them that we do.  They thought with all the advancement we had, seniors must be pain free.  I must admit that we Americans are blessed with a lot more advanced treatment for such pains then they are.

One huge contrast that amazed me was their hospital system.  If you have to go to the hospital, there are doctors to do medical procedures and nurses that bring medicines and monitor such things as IV’s, but a friend or family member is needed to prepare and bring food, and help with such things as toileting, bathing and dressing.  This kind of makes our hospitals seem like hotels.

I took a small photo album of seniors participating at the Apex Community Recreation Center and it was fun to share this with them.  They loved the pictures of luncheons, choir, dancing and art, as that is all a huge part of their culture.  They were a bit bewildered on the fitness pictures, as in their culture they get plenty of exercise tending their crops and /or livestock and hiking miles to the market and to carry water back to their homes.  When we got to the pictures of billiards and bridge the translator would not repeat what they said, as he said it was not nice.  After a bit of coxing I got him to tell me that only hooligans play billiards and cards in Uganda.  I don’t think I had them quite convinced that bridge was a great game for keeping minds challenged and sharp, and that billiards was a good social outlet.  Though upon my return, I have had fun calling our card and pool players “hooligans” and explaining this cultural difference. Take a peek into my experience from my video, HERE

The trip to Uganda was phenomenal as I visited seniors in their home (huts) and we sang, ate and danced with them at their senior fellowship gatherings.  It was good to encourage and work with the ROTOM staff who dedicate their lives to making sure their seniors get food, shelter, medical care, spiritual guidance and socialization. To hear more about the tremendous work ROTOM is doing, visit *The Journey for Change is a program originally started over a decade ago, by former executive director Andrea Riedner to give our donors a personalized experience with their senior in Africa.