Mission trip to Uganda a rewarding experience for couple

Raissa Tetanish rtetanish@trurodaily.com
Published on June 19, 2014
Jander Talen and his wife, Tiffany Blaauwendraat of Truro, connected with children in Uganda’s capital city of Kampala during a year-long working and volunteering trip.

TRURO - If they learned one major thing, Tiffany Blaauwendraat and her husband know things are more complicated than they seem.

That's what Blaauwendraat, a Truro native, and Jander Talen brought back from almost a year working and volunteering in Uganda.

"Things are more complicated than we ever could have predicted," said Talen, 25, originally from Charlottetown. "I thought I knew more than when I went there, but I realize I don't."

Talen said problems are evident in Uganda, Africa, however, knowing the reasoning behind them is more difficult.

"You know it doesn't work, but the root problem is hidden often," he said.

The couple, who have been married for two years, travelled to Uganda last August. Talen was teaching music at the Heritage International Christian School, while Blaauwendraat volunteered with Three Stones Preventative Health Program.

"It was always a desire of mine to travel and Africa was always in my heart," said Blaauwendraat, 24.

"And we were at a place in our life where nothing was holding us back - no mortgage payments or vehicle payments," added Talen.

So the couple decided to take advantage of the opportunity before them and head to Kampala, Uganda.

"With three stones, there is an analogy of cooking a pot on three stones over an open fire. In order to maintain and improve your health, you have to use all three stones," said Blaauwendraat. "The three stones stand for safe drinking water, hygiene and sanitation, and a balanced diet.

"When you teach all three of those, you're teaching them how to prevent common diseases."

She said by volunteering with the program, it was a chance for her to build relationships with Ugandans, whom she would visit on a regular basis.

When it came to teaching music, Talen said there were 27 different nations at the school, which is operated under the American school system.

"The international school started in 1994 with five different missionary organizations," Talen explained, adding the organizations' representatives didn't want to sacrifice their children's educations so they formed the school.

"There are a lot of businesses and government families, and they just started accepting Ugandans," he said. "It's a lot similar to teaching here in Canada and in the States, but in Uganda, you experience power outages almost every day."

With a tin roof over the children's heads, Talen said rainy days were difficult.

"It was so loud. And all the buildings are separate, so when they had music, they would have to walk through the rain and get soaked."

Along with volunteer work and teaching, the couple also became fosters for children in orphanages, something that Blaauwendraat is making a priority when the couple returns in August.

There was one baby that the couple cared for for two months - Brian - who was dying of pneumonia.

"We took him to the international hospital and got treatment for him, and then cared for him while his health improved and he gained weight," she said.

While she will continue with the health program, Blaauwendraat and some friends in Uganda will work on trying to find homes for orphaned children.

"I volunteered one to two times a week at an orphanage and learned that the orphanage is not a good long-term solution for childcare," she said.

With the couple living in an apartment while there, they said they have a night guard by the name of Carlistus that Talen will be helping out.

"I learned they make the equivalent of about $120 a month, which isn't enough to live on," Talen said. "So him and I are starting a hammock business and all the profits will go to him and other men."

The business - African Hang - came about after Talen went searching for a hammock for his wife's birthday but couldn't find any.

"There were none anywhere, so I decided to make one. The night guard didn't know what it was, so we'll start making woven hammocks. He's been learning and he's been experimenting, and we already have lot of potential buyers."

The couple leaves again in August for another trip, and will keep friends and family up to date on their adventures through their blog at talenstreks.blogspot.com.


Twitter: @TDNRaissa

Fast Facts about Uganda

- Lies astride the equator in Eastern Africa.

- Bordered by Republic of South Sudan to the north, the Republic of Kenya to the east, the Democratic Republic of Congo to the west, and the United Republic of Tanzania and the Republic of Rwanda to the south.

- It's where the East African savannah meets the West African jungle.

- Uganda is home to a vast bird population of more than 1,000 species.

- Languages spoken include English, Kiswahili, Luganda and Runyankole, Rukiga and Rutoro.

- Roman Catholics make up 41 per cent of the population, with Anglican (40 per cent), Islam (5 per cent) and other beliefs (14 per cent).

- Average temperatures run from 16 to 26C, with December to March temperatures reaching in excess of 30C.

Source: www.visituganda.com