Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Why Not To Start an NGO in Uganda

Many times when people come to visit Zion Project in Uganda, they often ask me, how did you manage to get this thing started?

Well, the short answer is, Non-Profits for Dummies and lots of late nights and frappuccino's.

But nothing, nothing prepared me for the challenge of doing the whole process all over again in Uganda.

Recently I was inspired and prompted to outbreaks of laughter, by the words of Becky Straw on Why you shouldn't start a non-profit. So I decided to write my own version, specific to Uganda.

For all of you who are absolutely committed to helping people, you may want to consider other methods before you traverse down the perilous path of trying to register your non-profit in Uganda. Like a CBO for example. (Community Based Organization) or a Socially Conscious Business. And most definitely read books like The Trouble with Africa, and When Helping Hurts, so you don't just contribute more to the problem you are trying to solve. Dependency is not the same thing as dignity.

And if you come to my town and start handing out money, I might have to cause you physical harm.

But like me, if you are fabulously determined (ie- stupid) and have lots of time to kill, then here are a few things you should know:

Prepare to not know what you are doing and not have any clear instructions

I was pretty much looking for some kind of simple, manageable A, B, C, list. Like, step 1. Build a Board of Directors, etc. Or maybe an example. Yeah, that doesn't exist. Pretty much every Ugandan will tell you a different way of starting your NGO. My recommendation: listen to none of them and hire a lawyer. Believe me, its worth it. And it will save you many hours in the internet cafe trying to get your Ugandan friend to write a logical constitution. It will also save your computer's life. As you will want to throw it out the window when the power goes out and you lose all your information. On a document you had no idea how to write any way.

Prepare to lose a lot of sleep and gain 10 pounds

If you like to wake up after 7am, do your hair, eat a well balanced meal, and then do yoga. This is probably not for you. Most days you will fall asleep with your clothes still on, sweaty, stressed, hair afrizz in the middle of typing an important document which strangely enough is required to be in a certain specific format, (we are in Uganda after all--let's be professional) after stuffing your face with pizza. And forget exercise. The only running you will do, will be after someone whose title begins with "LC or RDC." Or funny enough. CAO (pronounced "cow.") I am not making this stuff up.

Prepare to watch your life slip away in front of you

Yeah, you know those documents you spent hours writing? Yeah, you have to get those signed. By people who like to take long lunches and never seem to be in their office. By people you actually had an appointment with, but for some inexplicable reason have not turned up due to excuses like "the rain." By lots of people who have absolutely no involvement in the work you will be doing whatsoever. But we do have due process here, people. Get a butt pad, bring a book, and cozy up on a bench because you'll be doing lots of waiting. I like to daydream. Because that's where I'm a pirate.

Prepare to be asked for things you didn't know existed

Lots of names will be thrown at you. Work Plan. MOU. Constitution. By laws. Certificate of Incorporation. Organizational chart. Did you have your name saved with the Companies name database? Really, we have one of those? And of course, your criminal background check which is about as easy to get as unicorn tears. And getting a bank account? Whew! That's fun. Is this the only place in the world where you need a Bank Resolution to give people your money?

Prepare to want to throw yourself off the Golden Gate Bridge

You will do all these things. And you will feel really good about it. Until you step into an office and they ask you for some "official" stamp which you don't have. Or someone will slyly ask for some "facilitation" or "appreciation," which is code word for-- money, fool. Or maybe you don't have enough copies for everyone. Or, my favorite--"you must first make a copy of this form and bring it back because we don't have any." If you like efficiency. My friend, please brace yourself, or you will become suicidal.

Prepare to cry a lot and then have people tell you its going to be alright but then do nothing to help you

Oh you're gonna cry like a baby. Especially when you realize that while it took 6-9 months to get your NGO approved, at year 1 you have to go and renew it, which is like doing the process all over again. Not the sweet, one tear roll cry. But the ugly, snotty kind. People in Uganda have an unusual habit of saying, "Sorry," like when you trip on a rock when you're walking and almost bite it. It's endearing most of the time. But when you're knee deep in paperwork "sorry," just won't cut it. And while your friends might love you, they are going to be conveniently unavaible when it comes to putting in the time to see this thing through. Just think, "All by myself...." soundtrack.

Prepare to have people try and crush your dreams

So you made it! The paper work is filed. You have this great idea and this Mother Teresa glow. Nothing can stop you. Except for those academic types working on their PHD's who wonderfully package cut-downs disguised as compliments that people love to give. "Oh you're doing that? Isn't that great...Well, you know you really should do this..." Know it all's. Steer clear. And I know it might sound like I'm being one of those right now with this list. But trust me, I'm just trying to prepare you for the worst. But I still believe in miracles.

Prepare to attend long and boring meetings which have no point

This is a real drawback of becoming an NGO. There are all sorts of district meetings you are supposed to attend which never start on time, and go on and on, without any decisions or resolution. It's basically one big gripe fest. And there are no donuts. Seriously people, where are the donuts?

Prepare to be harassed (And by that I mean lots of random people showing up asking you for money)

Oh yes. It's not good enough that you left the comforts of your country to genuinely try to help people. Nope. What you really need to do is give money to all the "quasi-officials" who bribe you every day so that you can actually do the job of assisting their country men. It's "Restore the Hope of Youth," day, It's sensitize your neighbor on safe sex practices to fight against AIDS radio announcement day. Don't you want to give your hard-raised money which has already been budgeted for something else?

Once you do make a friend in this system, someone who is good and true. Know they are probably part of a different political party (even though you have no clue about political parties) and you'll be punished for it. Yeah, politics. No good. I am not political, by the way.

Prepare to be accused of being a spy

This is one of my favorites. Didn't you know that all Americans are deep under cover James Bond agents who carry guns and try to topple down governments? Yeah, I wasn't aware either. I mean, I know I look like a spy, but I think if I were--I'd do a better job of hiding it. Someone's been watching a little too much late night TV.

Prepare to have incredibly outdated systems like “macros” to deal with

I love Uganda. But I would have to say technology might not be their strong point. It's a stretch, I know. But when you ask me to file for taxes in a country in which I'm not even paid. And then ask me to do it "online," in a country where the power goes out like every other day and the internet cables from Kenya get "knocked," and go out and then on top of that ask me to figure out how to "enable macros," on my Mac so I can then "upload," my files onto your incredibly slow and inefficent website so you can take more of my money. I'm going to have to say it's not on the top of my priority list. Especially because most people will die here without ever receiving their "retirement" fund. Not a big seller.

Prepare to be humiliated

I threw my pride away and sense of "injustice," a long time ago. Oh, I've begged. I've graveled. I've gone to pointless meetings and humored plenty of "big men" to keep this thing alive. Don't judge me. You don't know. So I showed a little cleavage. So what? Just wait and see.

Then finally prepare to have it all be taken away from you

Ah, the absolute gut-wrenching truth of the fact that we are playing their game. And we have no control at all. So chin up, buttercup. Start doing meditation exercises and join an Ashram or a gym (you fatty--ps--good luck finding that!) where you learn to actually breathe and let go. And maybe start trying to shimmie up to God because you might just need a Plan B.

And after all of this, if you are really a glutton for punishment.

(And God likes you.)

A not so understandable list of instructions.
If you get stuck, I'll try and help you out--

There are actually good reasons to get your NGO, like getting a work permit.

ps-In the end, it all works out! :) 5 years and still going.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

It's funny that I used to think Gulu was my dream. Was really living life on the edge. Used to think it was pretty adventurous that I learned how to drive a Toyoto truck on a road full of long-horned cattle and never killed a pedestrian.

Today I saw a mzungu girl (“whitie”) driving her little mzungu girl friend on a scooter.

On a scooter. Like she was in San Francisco or L.A.

Probably another young kid here doing research for 2 weeks. Another kid who has called my phone for an interview.

I stopped giving interviews. About 10 or so back, when they never bothered to send any of their “research” to actually help change things.

Takers. Take, but don't give. Go get tan in the African sun at the pool and talk loud.

Neveryoumind the blood that's been let in these streets.
The hard fought battles for this place.

Neveryoumind the stories I pluck from dusty hearts to string around my neck like a trophy, like the beads I wear in my dreaded hair. Neveryoumind someone lived it and maybe they don't want to tell you what it was like to be abducted. And maybe its rude to ask.

It's a different kind of rape.

I wonder if we would ever think to do the same in America. To ask September 11 survivors what it was like. To tell them its for our research project. Our degree. Ours. Mine. I. Me.

But it's “post-war,” “post-conflict,” A silver tongued word.
It's exploitation.

My home is a zoo. A tourist attraction. And the pain here is just another person's picture for their personal slideshow.

But they don't get it.

Because to give here, is to give your life away. Your heart, your being, your soul.

To live here is to weep with the women when they lose a brother in Congo because of lack of proper medical care.

And as I passed around the corner a little Ugandan child yelled, “Mono, you give me my money.”

It grates.

Entitlement. It digs teeth into my bones.

How Aid and ignorance has ruined this place. This place I loved.

I watch this happen in the juxtaposition of our volunteers who come to build. To spend hours letting hair be braided, and teaching ABC's, and giving ballet lessons. And our women who come each morning to pray.

Heaven is waiting. Waiting for hearts. Hearts that are desperate.

Relationships. Relationships that stay.

How can revival come to a home which is not hungry?

How can it remain.

There are no quick fixes.

There is only the journey. The journey back to our hearts.

Out on the farm, the pineapples suck water from the soil. Grow sweet under a heavy sun. Grow stronger in the African heat. Grow through hail and drought.

There is no fruit yet. Only roots and tended rows.

But the ones with too much rain, and too much shade, they died. The withered away.

I think dreams are like that. Hidden from sight. Months of incubation.

The flower still waiting to be birthed in morning's light.

The struggle with the angel.

The struggle which ended a fight.

The wrestler who saw the face of God.

And it healed him. The blessing in the joint of that deep pain.

These plants are a promise. And a testimony. All the sweat wrung out in these fields bear witness to the blossom.
Bear witness to those who bore the brunt to birth them.

Heaven can still dream new dreams. These plants tell me to remember.

Remember that it only starts with a seed.

This vision. It can happen.

Further out on the horizon in wide open spaces. The next frontier.

Where the hunger is.

Where the stones have yet to be turned.

Where the places which are won have yet to be named.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

From the very first time I came to Uganda and God spoke to me about beginning Zion Project, He told me that what we would bring would be different, because what we would bring would be healing of the heart so that people could feel His presence and know His love deeply.

After 3 years of living in Uganda, I have seen the brokenness and despair, the lack of hope, and the lack of faith and intimacy with God that comes from a wounded heart. A wounded heart which can only wound others. A heart which is marked with scars and disbelief, a heart which does not experience the love of God. A heart which busies itself with many things because it does not yet know it is good enough to be God’s child.

I believe God has used the last 3 years to prepare me for the work we are about to enter into. And I believe that the enemy has fought hard against this vision and has tried to dilute it and busy me with many things, many “good” things, so it would not be completed. I believe what God is asking us to walk into is not a deviation from our vision or what He has called us to, but rather a fulfillment of what He dreamed for us.

For many months now I have felt God speaking to me that He wanted me to focus on inner healing, on helping people encounter God, on building the healing center which would be a meeting place for Him. That it is what He created me for and that every day I do not do it, every day I am strung out by the many demands and responsibilities of managing our current programs, I am slowly dying on the inside. And I am not doing what He created me to do. Thus, I feel not only the weight of carrying responsibilities which I do not have the grace to carry, but also the lack of peace from knowing that I am not moving towards what God has spoken.

These few weeks of coming back to Uganda, God has done a shift in my heart. A shift which cannot be explained or denied. But only the truth of knowing that it is time for a change. A time to transition into destiny.

The dream I have for healing center (The Sanctuary) is God’s dream, and I know it as much as I know my own skin.

And I know to continue in the manner I have, would only be sin. Because I am currently not able to focus on the things God has asked me to because of the many demands upon me.

The hardest part about living here is that it is so easy to lose focus, so easy to respond to the needs instead of hearing the Father’s voice.

So easy to just do and try to be a rescuer of all, instead of allowing God to be the Rescuer.

I have many times fallen victim to that and have carried the heaviness of responsibilities to the point that my heart has broken a thousand times under it.

For so long I have filled 20 different roles, and emptied myself out, and tried to be strong enough to carry it all because I thought I was supposed to and I never wanted to let anyone down. Least of all God, or myself. Or the women and children I love. Or you.

God in His perfect grace and love for me has finally allowed me to come to my complete end. Because He knows how stubborn I am and that I wouldn’t give up any other way.

I believe in my heart that all the roads I took to get to this place, were not wrong roads, but rather that the season that God used to get me here, is now ending.

The mission of Zion Project is changing, in the sense that while my heart is to reach out to the broken (the prostitutes, the child mothers, those damaged by rape and by war) we will not be doing it the way we have been. The main thing I hear God saying is that I need to be freed up to look for land, build, and move into the counseling ministry He has called me into.

One thing Tyson and I have been realizing is that we are called to be apostolic in the sense that we are called to build and to plant and to establish and to do this we need to be freed up from day to day management of running things. I also want the freedom to follow my husband in the dreams God has given him and in our own desire to start a family in the next few years and we need to put things in place now to ensure that we will not continue to be completely overwhelmed.

To that end, in the coming months, we will be transitioning our Imani women out onto their own where they will not be completely dependent upon us for their survival, but upon God to sustain their needs.

Which means that after a year of them being with us, we will no longer be paying their salaries, but will connect them to local markets to sell the things they have learned to make (like school uniforms for schools.) The reasons for this are many: rising costs of materials in the market, lack of access to a US market, lack of people to run the program, but the main reason being that God used us for a season in their life to help them escape prostitution—but
Zion Project is not called to be a business.

There are plenty of other organizations here that are called to that. We want them to be sustainable so that if we are ever called to do something else---they will not be dependent upon us or a Western market. And we need to be freed up to do the part of reaching the Body that God has called us to do.

We just want to do the one thing God has asked us to do well.

Instead of being fragmented by many demands and running many “programs,” which are not that effective.

Already, I have seen God begin to expose the fear issues in our women's heart and begin to ask them the question, “Will you trust me? For all you need?”

I find God is also using this time to ask me a different question and expose the fear in my own heart. “Do you trust me with your daughters?” Do I trust God enough to let go, to allow Him to be their everything, instead of me trying to meet all their needs.

I see it as a growth step for all of us. As a chance to exercise our faith.

While we may yet dream of loving people in a sustainable community of raised up sons and daughters, where there is a healing center, a farm, the Rescue home, a school, a church, and a community of healed people who are loving God and discipling others---we know that The Sanctuary is Phase I of that process.

We will not look further until we complete the thing God has asked us to do. And that my role is not to fill all those roles, but to have the time to find the people God has called to partner with us, to join our hands in this work. We will be looking for people to help fill those roles--like managing the Rescue Home for children--so if you feel called, please contact us.

While my heart will always be moved by young girls who have been abused,

I believe God is calling us to a mission which is defined not by a people group, but by our calling—to heal the brokenhearted. To prepare the Bride for Christ.

Please pray for us as we transition into what God has called us to.

If you have questions you can email me at