By Ally Morrison
When you ask a high school senior what they did for spring break, you’ll likely hear about a week spent soaking up rays on one of Alabama’s beautiful beaches.
But nine high school seniors were repairing a well so people in a Ugandan village wouldn’t have to walk five miles to get clean water and teaching their children to speak English.
“We helped an entire community,” Hoover student Anna Dymond said. “They didn’t have water for nine years.”
Before the well was repaired, kids would drink water from the lake and get sick, Hoover student Sasha Fowler said.
The students are part of a youth group at Hunter Street Baptist Church, where Dymond’s father is the missions pastor.
Accompanied by eight adults, they kicked off their spring break by flying for more than 20 hours to East Africa, where they worked alongside the African Children’s Mission.
According to its website, ACM provides Christ-centered support to people living in the Nakasongola District of Uganda and Meru County, Kenya, reaching out particularly to children in impoverished circumstances.
African Children’s Mission partners with various churches and communities nationwide to support the people of East Africa through child sponsorships, education, school feeding programs, clean water and medical clinics.
The mission group had 17 members, including Wes Wilbanks, operations supervisor for Hoover City Schools.
After hearing about the mission trip and attending a meeting one Wednesday afternoon, Dymond and Fowler were excited to start packing their bags and preparing for their trip.
“I was excited,” Fowler said. “It was a new place to get to go to and also share the word of God.”
13 Trips to Uganda
Wilbanks is no stranger to the ACM; he serves on the board and has dedicated a large portion of his life to feeding, clothing and ministering to the people of Uganda.
“This was my 13th trip to Uganda to work with ACM,” Wilbanks said. “On every trip, the highlight is that I have the opportunity to introduce new people to ACM and the work they are doing in Uganda. I get to see the impact the mission work has on the lives of the ACM volunteers and the people in Uganda.”
While Wilbanks has served on the board of the ACM since 2014 and has led many mission teams in Uganda, he said he is constantly amazed by the progress the organization is making.
“There’s a dirt road about 70 miles north of the capital, and it’s about 13 miles long,” Wilbanks said. “We have to travel this road to get to our ranch. Traveling down that road from 2000 to 2022, I’ve seen the conditions people live in.
“Every year going back down that road, I get to see what used to be a mud hut is now a brick house. You can really see the influence ACM has had on that entire community.”
“What’s cool about taking new people every year, they go down that same road that I do. I go down the road with a completely different perspective. I get to see it on their faces.”
Mission group activities included reading to children to help them learn English, serving school lunches, mudding an outdoor kitchen and repairing the village’s water well.
Children Hungry to Learn
Dymond and Fowler were surprised at how eager the children were to learn.
“It wasn’t until I read a book that the kids spoke back to me,” Dymond said. “In America, when you read a book to children, they just listen. But when I read the children a line, they would repeat it back to me to learn.”
Fowler and Dymond explained the many things they learned about the culture while they were in Uganda.
“Their culture revolves so much around dance,” Dymond said. “It was fun to get out of my comfort zone and learn their dances. I really liked it. One of the things that stuck out to me the most is that the God we worship here is the same God they worship, and they worship Him in a completely different way. They’re more active in their faith, and that touched me a lot.”
“Their daily lives are much different from ours,” Fowler said. “They’re grateful for what they have. They don’t have a lot, but they are so grateful.”
As the mission trip concluded, Dymond said, she was grateful to have had the experience.
“It was definitely a different experience,” Dymond said. “We got to see how the local people live each day. We got to experience the food and culture and experienced how God works all around the world.”
The impact of ACM goes far beyond mission trips, as the ACM also offers child sponsorships to provide a child with food, education, medical care and opportunities to learn about Jesus.
“We go out and do home visits with the children we sponsor, and sometimes you’ll come to a house and a primary student that has been in school all day is at home with a piece of chalk teaching those children who don’t have access to an education,” Wilbanks said. “That kind of stuff makes everything real.”
Wilbanks emphasizes the importance of serving the people of Uganda, stating the impact it has on students after coming home is tremendous.
“I’ve never taken anybody that wasn’t profoundly impacted by what’s really important,” Wilbanks said. “It’s neat to be able to visit with other people from other cultures and realize we’re not that different. We all struggle with the same things at different degrees.”