Samuel lives in a village called Bujagali. The area used to boast one of the most beautiful waterfalls on the Nile river, but was flooded by a hydroelectric dam. Landowners were displaced, and for subsistence farmers who have lived in a place for generations that is a hard blow. It’s a crossroads where old whitewater and tourist attractions still do their best to survive without their main attraction.
Samuel was born in bujogali and the year he turned one construction started on the dam. The year he turned six the floodgates closed and the water crept up the steeply cultivated banks of the Nile.
Now ten years old, Samuel has seen a lot. He’s seen his community fall on hard times. He’s seen his family fall apart. He’s seen his brothers and sisters get so many jiggers they could barely walk to school. But until recently he’d never the wider world.
When sole hope picked up Samuel and his siblings he’d never made the six mile journey to Jinja where Sole Hope’s outreach is located. He opened the car’s windows and stuck his head out, feeling the whipping wind and dizzying speed, listening to the roar of the engine and the crunch of the dirt roads, memorizing each turn.
Joel lives with his grandfather. The man loves him, but he has enough financial and health problems of his own that Joel largely fends for himself. At twelve years old he is developing the resources and skills he needs to make his way in the world.
Several months ago Joel saw Samuel go to Sole Hope. He saw him return jigger free and he continued to watch as Samuel lived. He lived in the same home and seemed like the same guy, but he wasn’t getting jiggers.
Joel’s feet itched. They burned. It hurt to walk and people were mocking him. He had a case of jiggers and it was getting to be too much to bear.
“How did those people treat you,” joel asked Samuel.
“They treated me well,” Samuel answered.
“What kind of people are they?” Joel asked again.
“They are kind,” Samuel answered.
“You must take me there,” Joel said.
This Sunday, Joel and Samuel of them set off at 9 am, Joel walking barefoot on jigger infested feet, 10 year old Samuel relying on memory to lead the way. With each step, Joel took in his surroundings. It was his first time to leave his village. It was his first time to see so many things.
As the miles passed, dirt roads turned into pockmarked pavement, then smoothed out. Fields gave way to crowded markets, and the two travelers emerged onto a highway with a traffic circle, heavy loads rushing in from Kenya. They walked along the road, passing restaurants and multistory apartment buildings. As noon came and went the tropical sun set the pavement ablaze with heat, and still Joel and Samuel walked without food, without water, they cooled their feet in the shade where the could, pressing on towards hope.
At 1pm Joel and Samuel arrived at Sole Hope’s gate. They knocked and waited for the door to swing in.
Sunday afternoon the shoe shop was closed up tight. The nurses were spending time with their families, and it looked like the two had made the journey for nothing. Aisha fed them
lunch, gave them a drink, and sent them home.
Today when we pulled into Bujagali Samuel and Joel were not at all surprised. We brought them to outreach, fed them lunch and treated Joel’s feet. His case was not so severe, so we got them both new Sole Hope shoes and took them home. Riding in the back of the vehicle, drinking sodas, the two friends had grins stretching from ear to ear. And as they stepped out of the car and strode back into their yard there was a dignity and a pride in the way the walked in their new shoes.
They were two young friends who set out on a journey on foot to a far away town. They were looking for help, they were searching for hope, and together they found it.