Shared Blessings is a grass roots, all volunteer, non-profit organization. It began officially in January, 1998 as an outreach program of Family Connections Adoptions. It started as a sponsorship program for orphans at Dorcas Orphanage Home in Mbale, Uganda. I first heard about this orphanage in the spring of 1997 through a Ugandan clergyman, Stephen Mungoma, a dynamic preacher who was in southern California studying for his doctorate at the time. Stephen was speaking at churches in our area and my husband Tom, also a clergyman, brought him to my office at Family Connections Adoptions.
Our hearts were moved when Stephen told us about a group of Christian mothers in Mbale who felt they must do something about the increasing number of ragged and hungry orphans living on the roads. Under the leadership of Elizabeth Madaba, the ladies stepped out in faith and began the work of caring for dozens of orphans, relying on prayer for their supply. They named their orphanage Dorcas Home based on the Bible verse Dorcas was always doing good.
It was at a point of desperation, when there was no money to feed the children and all but Elizabeth and her husband, Wilber, had given up, that my letter arrived, asking if Family Connections Adoptions could begin a sponsorship program and send money to them each month.
Elizabeth wrote back praising God for this answer to her prayers. Always efficient and resourceful, she sent small black and white photos of eighty children, with names and ages attached. The quest for sponsors began and people came forward. The project was set up so that a sponsor would send $25 a month to cover the care of a child, with the whole donation being sent to Uganda. Family Connections would cover all administrative fees, such as postage, printing, etc; and all work done for the project would be volunteer. We made it clear that the monthly sponsorship money would be used to buy food for all the hungry children, not just the sponsored one. The project would be named Shared Blessings because I strongly believe that both sponsors and children would be blessed by the relationship. This has proved to be true!
In the spring of 2003, a team of twelve people made the first mission trip to the Dorcas Orphanage to provide medical services and other help. We saw for ourselves the difficulties of daily life in Uganda and witnessed the courageous spirit of the people in the face of their troubles. Several teams have gone since then, bringing supplies, building a new dormitory, teaching sewing classes and AIDS prevention, working at the medical clinic.
It was coming home from a mission trip in 2005 that I met the Rev. Otto Naptali, founder and director of the Keziya Orphanage Home (KOH). I was exhausted physically and mentally when I boarded the plane that would take us from Entebbe airport in Uganda to London and then to San Francisco. I had been hobbling around Uganda for two weeks with a broken ankle (acquired before the trip began). The needs we had seen in Uganda were quite overwhelming and I was wondering where to begin with more help. I looked for my seat number and found I was not sitting with a team mate, as had been arranged, but was next to a small and quiet looking Ugandan man wearing a clergy collar.
Otto introduced himself and asked what I was doing in Uganda. When I told him, he lit up and said, “Maybe you could help my wife and me. We have started an orphanage in our home in Gulu. With 11 children, our house is full, but the children keep knocking at our door and it is so sad to turn them away. We would like to care for more children. Maybe with your help we could do that. Come and visit us. You will see for yourself what we are doing.”
“Gulu?” I asked. “That’s northern Uganda where the LRA is terrorizing the countryside, shooting, kidnapping children and making child soldiers, committing all sorts of atrocities. Isn’t it dangerous where you live? Sadly, Otto admitted that it was not safe in Gulu. We talked in more detail about the twenty year civil war in the north that has left countless casualties, many of them orphaned children. I was very drawn to Otto’s humble, courageous spirit and the life of sacrifice he and his wife were living in order to help orphans. My heart reached out to them, but as far as taking action to help them, I felt my plate was full. I was already working with more needs than I could handle.
When we exchanged addresses and said goodbye, I was strongly moved to tell Otto I would sincerely pray for him and his wife, Filder. So, I did pray for them daily for many months, with a growing sense that God was saying, “Do something more, but wait until I show you.” One hot summer day, a letter and pictures unexpectedly arrived from Otto. It was not a request for help, just a friendly letter describing life at Keziya. I was moved to tears and full of joy at the same time. I knew then that I must begin helping Keziya Orphanage, even in some small way.
The small beginning eventually turned into a sponsorship program which led to a dormitory to house the children, a primary school with a building, a trade school program, a clean water well and much more. For fifteen years, until Rev. Otto's retirement at the end of 2020, the Keziya project dramatically improved the lives of many Ugandan children.
It was unimaginable to me that we would add another program to Shared Blessings, especially one that was not even in Uganda. That is why, when a visiting official from India was at our Family Connections Christian Adoptions office and asked if we would include a remote mountain area of India in the work of Shared Blessings, I politely declined without hesitation. I really did not have time to fit in more work, and besides, we were just sharing our blessings in Uganda, right? Odisha, India did not fit into my neat little equation, Shared Blessings = Uganda.
Dr. Pati, however, did not give up easily and he quietly persisted in asking. I discussed this with Shaila Rao, my friend and co-worker of many years. Shaila was born and raised in India and was touched by the needs of the poverty stricken children that Dr. Pati was asking us to help. She offered to manage the details of the Odisha program if I could get Board approval for the project. As I began to pray about this, my reasons to refuse no longer seemed valid. I decided we should give it a try. Within weeks of beginning, with no effort on my part, there were nine sponsors for Odisha. That number grew to 38 over time.
Shaila, who had already planned a trip to India to visit relatives, decided to visit the villages in Odisha and meet the children. Her first trip (pictured on our website) was challenging and physically strenuous. To reach the villages, she rode on a jeep, on the back of a motorcycle and waded through swollen rivers. Bridges were washed out from recent flooding and crossing the swiftly moving water on a makeshift bamboo bridge that swayed was very scary.
When Shaila reached the modest office of the social worker in charge of the area, she was impressed with his integrity and compassion for the impoverished villagers. As she made the rounds of the villages, she was stunned by the abject poverty. Having grown up in India, she thought she was prepared, but the conditions were beyond anything she could imagine. It was heartbreaking. And yet, the people were gracious and welcoming. “Thank you for what you are doing. It is making a big difference in the children’s lives,” they told her over and over.
After Shaila’s return here, at her instigation, Shared Blessings made a commitment to help build a school in Odisha, a boarding school for weekdays, with the children returning home on weekends and holidays. At this school, children receive nutritious meals, medical attention and hygiene training as well as book learning. The dream became a reality when the ground floor of the two story building was ready for use in March of 2010. The second floor was completed nine years later.
As the sponsorship's continue to increase, we try to find ways to improve lives in Odisha. One goal is to provide a goat to every child so they can have the benefit of milk and breeding goats. Shaila’s second trip to Odisha, in 2009, showed an amazing improvement in the children being sponsored. Their physical changes in health and hygiene were astounding; their self confidence was growing. That number grew over time.
When Moses Ssebaggala visited California in 2012, he was looking for someone to partner with him in his projects in Uganda. He had just taken over the life work of a saintly couple who had founded a Children’s Home, a school and a day care. Moses’ vision was to expand this with a self-help program among some of the most destitute people in the world.
While Shared Blessings dedicated volunteers were not looking for more work to do, God’s gentle but forceful nudge let us know that we should extend a hand to SLU. Before we knew it, we were looking at pictures and bios of 100 vulnerable children, whose families were trying to eke out a living as peasant farmers. Sponsors came on board and we began to send money. Then Moses sent us pictures and reports of those families, who under his direction, began to construct a school for their children. They hauled logs and made bricks until a rough structure was formed. Old grandmothers and pregnant mothers worked beside the men to erect a place where their children could learn. While they are all illiterate, they now have hopes that their children will have a better future.
When the school structure was good enough to keep books and children dry in case of rain, the Shared Blessings Junior School of Makukuba Village began operating. Now it has four grades, each with a teacher, and 115 children. Shared Blessings provides money for teacher salaries, school supplies and food. Just as important as the reading and writing that takes place at the school are the daily lunches and snacks. Most of the children have scant food to eat at home, so their simple meal at school sustains them.
Besides funding sponsorship's of children and the school, Shared Blessings has provided for a Baby Home which cares for infants and toddlers. An old building was restored and furnished with cribs, clothes and toys. Loving caretakers are there to comfort and nurture little ones.
Hope has been born in a community where there was none and a new spirit pervades. Now that some of their basic needs are being met, many people are open to develop spiritually. Moses and his staff work selflessly to extend God’s grace to the vulnerable people of the villages and we are blessed to partner with them.
Just when we thought our work was stretched to the max, we received a request that had a strong pull. It was from a Joel, a young pastor in Myanmar (formerly Burma), who with his wife, was devoting his life to raising a group of 14 children who had desperately needed homes. Pastor Joel was barely getting by in providing the basics of life for the group. He yearned to add more children to the Emmanuel Children’s Home (ECH) but he knew that he just did not have any resources to spare.
Because we felt like God was motivating us, one of our Board members traveled to Myanmar to check out the situation. He returned with a report that convinced us that we should take on one more ministry. We knew that if God was in this, He would provide. This proved to be true as sponsors came forward for all fourteen children and Joel was able to add many more children to the home. We were able to fund the purchase of a large building to house the group, a truck to transport them and a field to grow rice. Pastor Joel and his wife consider all the children to be part of their own family. By example, they are teaching the children God’s love and compassion. The children also learn how to work hard at school, do their part in the household chores, grow food in the family garden and praise God for His blessings.
Shared Blessings is inspired by the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:35 “I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me in your homes, naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me”
We will continue to depend on God’s guidance for all that we do. Each of the places that we sponsor has very basic needs, which we will continue to try to fill. We want to be a source of hope to the people we serve, providing ways they can learn to help themselves, something they are eager to do. Our work with orphans will remain central and from that we know will spring many projects. We are continually blessed by the gifts that we give and by the people who receive them. We thank God for the privilege of sharing our blessings.