Building Men in Uganda

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“What is your purpose?” The speaker posed the question to a group of teenage boys and girls but it struck me and I wrote it down. “List the things you want to do, rank them by priority, eliminate the things you should not be doing and work on the most urgent and most important things on your list.”
After traveling 21 hours by plane and 5 hours by van to a small village in the Ugandan countryside, I am sitting in a classroom on a farm with 45 teenage orphans—living with purpose.

This is my sixth yearly trip to the Bringing Hope to the Family orphanage. I arrived late one night but the next morning when I walked down to the village, a group of young men had already arrived from villages far and wide to greet me. When I later rode a motorcycle out to the orphanage’s vocational school and farm, the students all rushed over to shake my hand and give me a hug.
For over twenty years I have been a real estate litigation attorney in Los Angeles. I specialize in partnership and family lawsuits over property and businesses. In other words I deal in anger, frustration, pride and other seamier human emotions. In Uganda, though, I work with faith, hope and, yes, love.
“This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:17. Christian author John Eldredge explains that the first stage in the masculine journey is being the ‘beloved son’. “For we must remember that above all else, boyhood is the time of affirmation, the time when a boy comes to learn and learn deeply that he is the beloved son.” But how does an orphan boy learn that he is the beloved son?
Eldredge explains that “masculinity is bestowed. A boy learns who he is and what he’s got from a man or the company of men. He cannot learn it any other place. He cannot learn it from the other boys and he cannot learn it from the world of women.” While most of us learned how to be men from our fathers, these orphans don’t have a father or even many older men to serve as role models.
After my first visit to the orphanage in 2010, I was hooked but I left thinking about what my legacy would be. What was my purpose in volunteering at the orphanage? Instead of building physical things, I decided to focus my efforts on building men.
Among its many programs, Bringing Hope runs a vocational school on a farm outside a small village. The 15 or so boys learn carpentry and agriculture. The 20 girls learn sewing, craft making and beauty salon skills. Every year a small leadership team and I work with the boys on becoming men. We talk about their dreams, fears and plans for the future. We compete against each other on the soccer field. We work together in the fields.

This year we had a fantastic program that included both the boys and the girls in the school. Two Ugandan facilitators came out to the farm for a four day program. One facilitator taught business concepts—business plans, record keeping and more. The other facilitator taught goal setting, attitude and time management. We then had practical sessions where the kids learned how to cook healthy foods and even how to bake and decorate wedding cake. A local farmer came one afternoon to tell his story and later in the week we toured his farm. A lieutenant colonel in the Ugandan army visited to watch a presentation and to talk with the kids about success. The boys, my leadership team and I broke away for awhile to talk about girls. (And we need a woman to join our program who can spend some time with the girls talking about the boys!).
We talk about becoming great men and accomplishing great things. We focus on how we will achieve our goals rather than why we cannot. We live by a motto of “No Excuses” and when the boys make an excuse they must drop and do ten push-ups.

I am very proud of these young men. They are so eager to learn, to participate in the discussions and to accomplish great things. But for all the projects that we work on and all the things they accomplish, one idea stays at the forefront of everything we do—letting them know that they are loved. To let each one of them know that he is the beloved son.
We always end with Joshua 1:9: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” I hope that I inspire them to be great men. I know that they inspire me. I also know that they fill my life with purpose and that is priceless.

Laine Wagenseller is a real estate litigation attorney in Los Angeles. He has volunteered with Bringing Hope to the Family since 2010.

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