“But the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.” Psalm 147:11 (ESV)
God has given me the gift of adaptability. I generally adjust to new environments and new cultures quickly and easily. I miss my family and friends but don’t feel homesick. I am so grateful that He made me this way.
That being said, there are times when I am going about my day-to-day business that it hits me like a freight train: I am in Africa. Sometimes it happens when I am crossing the Nile River on my way to work. Other times it’s when I’m hanging my laundry on the line. Or when I’m killing a spider whose body (not including legs) is the size of a quarter. Yesterday, it was while I was watching precious children get jiggers removed from their feet.
Currently, I am one week into a three-week break at school. My roommates and I are using some of that time to volunteer with other ministries in the area. We had the privilege of going with an organization called Sole Hope to a community about an hour’s drive from Jinja. Sole Hope is an incredible organization whose main purpose is to remove jiggers from the feet of the people they serve and educate the same people on jigger prevention.
Before I get into our experience yesterday, let me share a little bit about jiggers. Jiggers are not the same thing as chiggers. Jiggers are itty bitty tiny fleas that don’t cause any real harm until the females are ready to lay their eggs. When that happens, they look for the nearest warm-blooded animal and burrow into their skin, attach to their blood vessels, and lay their egg sacs. In each egg sac, there are roughly 600 eggs. So while one or two jiggers might not be a huge issue, it can quickly become one. However, prevention is fairly simple. Wearing shoes is a huge deterrent. Also, the fleas are so small that it takes 24 hours for them to burrow into a person’s skin, so if you are scrubbing your feet every day, that helps a lot. Unfortunately, in the places where jiggers are the biggest issue, there is a lack of resources such as shoes and water.
We met at Sole Hope at 9:00 yesterday morning. After waiting for other volunteers to arrive, learning about what we would be doing, and loading into the vans, we left at around 9:45, arriving at our location at about 11:15. While Sole Hope staff members were setting up the stations, we played games with the kids. Generally, Sole Hope goes to schools, but since school is not in session right now, jigger removal was open to the community. However, since Uganda is such a young country (over 50% of the population is under 15 years of age), there was a significantly larger number of children than adults present.
Once the stations were set up, the community members would go through a registration process, where they would fill out a paper with some demographic information. From there, they would get their feet washed by Sole Hope volunteers. After the feet washing, they would go to jigger removal. Jigger removal is completed by trained Sole Hope staff members. They use a razor blade to scrape the skin around the jigger site and then use a safety pin to remove the jiggers. Sitting behind the staff members were more Sole Hope volunteers, mapping the jigger sites on the registration paper, which also has an image of the bottom of a person’s feet. While each person was going through the jigger removal process, they were given a lollipop to enjoy (both children and adults alike!). After they were finished getting any jiggers they had removed, they would go to a station that would fit them for shoes. Lastly, they were educated about what jiggers are (it is common for villagers believe jiggers are a curse) and how they can be prevented.
I was one of the volunteers mapping out jigger sites. Whenever a jigger was removed, I put a dot on the paper in the area of the foot that corresponded to where the jigger had been. I also drew where jiggers had previously been removed and any areas where a person’s foot had rot or gangrene. There were multiple people who came through my station that did not have any jiggers; I celebrated silently whenever that happened! There were others who came in with only one or two jiggers or a wound that needed to be cleaned and bandaged. The last young man who came through my station had over twenty jiggers. He was only a child, but he sat through the painful process of removing jiggers without making a sound. I simply watched as the Sole Hope staff member I was partnered with removed the jiggers and took care of bandaging his wounds. I would occasionally offer a smile or words of encouragement, but they were met with a blank stare.
As I watched the line for Sole Hope get bigger (never smaller), it hit me again. I am in Africa. I am in a place so rich in beauty yet there is such extreme poverty all around. I silently prayed, thanking God that for some reason, I was spared the hardships that these sweet children face every single day.
The name “Sole Hope” is one that I have been pondering over. Ever appreciative of wordplay, I enjoy the cleverness of the organization’s founders. It could be so easy to lose hope when you see so many extreme situations of poverty in one area. But God.
But God has a plan for the people of Uganda. But God loves them so much more than I ever could. But God is full of miracles – who am I to limit Him?
In such desperate circumstances, there is still so much hope. I have seen people here who are some of the poorest people I know in regards to physical resources, who are simultaneously the richest in regards to their relationship with Our Father. While I pray for God’s provision over their physical needs, I also pray that God would create in me a spirit that is as dependent on Him as they are. They have so much hope in the One who loves them. May He be our sole hope as well.
Sole Hope volunteer washing a community member’s feet
Rachel and I ready to map jiggers