Touch the Slum

When Things Are “Mostly” Free


Have you ever been up in the middle of the night, finding yourself watching infomercials (am I showing my age here?!), ready to dial in for some FREE STUFF?

If you did, you likely discovered that the FREE STUFF cost you money to ship, or required a subscription, or some other back-door way of getting your money.

Uganda’s school “system” is like this.

First, there is no system. Not locally, regionally, or nationally. There are a very few “government schools” but not in the sense we in America and the West understand them. They aren’t open to everyone, and they aren’t free.

Second, “school” is a bit generous! They use a very antiquated semi-British colonial system requiring rote learning and endless repetitions of facts. Most are hugely underfunded, teacher pay is terrible, and the pandemic lockdowns where schools were closed for almost 2 years shifted many good teachers into other jobs.

Third, even at a government school, it’s not “free.” Students are required to bring many of the things we would consider the school’s responsibility, like toilet paper and brooms. They are required to wear uniforms including shoes, which many Ugandans don’t have. They have to bring paper and pencils and pay for testing. Even in a free school! If it’s a fee-based school, even if it’s very inexpensive, they have to pay at the beginning of each term.

This is why only about 60% of Ugandan children go to primary school on any regular basis, and less than half of those go on to Secondary. This is doubly true for girls, who many families refuse to spend money on.

This is why a program like Touch the Slum is so vital to the vulnerable teen girls in the slum. We actually ARE free. 100%, never-any-cost FREE.

We provide Literacy, Skills, food, medical care, daycare, sanitary pads, diapers, clothes and shoes, mosquito nets, water bottles, and, to those especially vulnerable, assistance to the family. AT NO COST.

I don’t know about you, but to me…. that’s what FREE means!

How do we do it?

YOU! You and others donate so our girls can create a self-sustaining life. It’s pretty amazing — and we can’t thank you enough for the impact you are making every single day.

Mwebele nnyo!


PS We’re halfway there on our reviews at GreatNonprofits – can you take a couple of minutes to leave one today??


PSS We’ve got a bunch of projects up right now on DonorSee, like this one for disposable diapers for our 20 teen moms. But check them all out, watch some videos, and see what we’re up to every day!


To visit our website, click here! And for great tees and sweatshirts supporting 1018, check out our Bonfire page here!

What Does “Game Day” Mean To You?


We’ve recently started using Dropbox to share all our media back and forth, so I get to go on and click through so many fun photos and videos looking for a good photo for you.

I was clicking through photos of a recent Game Day, and was really taken by the focus and intensity of every single person playing every single game in every single photo. Even Chutes & Ladders!

I thought about it for minute and realized why:

PLAYING is a big deal to everyone in our program.

They don’t have the kind of life where you just get to play a game, watch football on television, even just sit and do something fun, with no “work” purpose.

They have the kind of life where you start doing at dawn, and you’re still doing well after dark. Hand washing clothes. Walking to fill jerry cans of water and carrying them back home — multiple times a day. Cooking on a small charcoal stove. Washing dishes in a bucket. Doing day labor or a small hand-to-mouth business. Tending mostly-naked small children as they run around in muck-filled canals. Walking a half a mile for a workable toilet (that you have to pay to use).

Over the last couple of years, you have donated for us to buy board games and balls and balloons and art supplies and toys.

You have brought a totally new concept to hundreds of lives:


I would argue that it’s (almost) as important as the food, clothes, lessons, and medicine you also provide — because it gives the WHY for those things.

I love this quote: “Play is our brain’s favorite way of learning.” -Diane Ackerman

What really makes you guys amazing is that you don’t “require” us to to show you all the terrible things about the slum to want to give. You also give to bring joy and fun and sparkle and laughter.

Basically… you rock!



PS Are you following us on Instagram and YouTube? You need to be! We’ve been working on some new short documentaries with more in the works, and our daily Instagram at both Ten Eighteen Uganda and Touch the Slum are full of great content to keep you up to speed!

“I want that report on my desk yesterday!”


See my face? That’s kind of what my face looked like when Ronald said that the government body regulating community organizations told us on Monday that they’d passed a new rule on reporting, so we had to have a detailed accounting of ALL our activities for the year-to-date. ON FRIDAY

I love Uganda. I really do. But this? Nope. Don’t love!

It’s not like we couldn’t do it — and they did do it, for which I’m very proud. It’s just a reminder of how many things are out of our control.

We can’t control that there is no universal, free education so all girls get to go to school.

We can’t control that most people, from those in government to those living in expensive houses literally a street away from the slum, think that people living in the Namuwongo slum “deserve it” for some reason.

We can’t control that employment opportunities for youth are so bad (unemployment for youth in Uganda is over 60%) that sex work is often the only choice left to desperate young girls.

We can control our response, though.

We can seek to change all those things by rescuing, educating, and empowering one girl at a time. Going deep to bring healing from trauma and abuse. Redirecting pain and anger into learning skills that will empower their futures. Teaching and showing them that they have inherent worth — and it’s much more than fried chicken or pizza.

Plan International was looking for the “hidden mzungu” who was “secretly” adding funding to our work at Touch the Slum.

Well, that’s YOU! You all are the not-so-hidden mzungus who are giving, encouraging, praying, and even going over to Uganda to keep Touch the Slum going for our teen girls.

We can’t thank you enough!

Mwebele nnyo,


PS Here are some buttons for you. We got about 30% of the reviews we need at Great Nonprofits for our 2023 Top Rated Nonprofit award (THANK YOU!), so if you’d like to take 5 min and leave a review, that would be great. We have 2 projects that are over 60% funded on DonorSee, plus some other great project, so you can check those out. And if you aren’t following us on Instagram, head over there to see daily updates!

Oh, and new 2024 tees and sweatshirts are now available!

I’ll leave a review!

DonorSee Projects

Instagram Feed

So Many Updates, So Little Space


I don’t usually do bullet-list updates, because I love to tell stories. But sometimes we just have so much going on that you should know about… Today is that day, so here we go!

  • Ronald is doing training with Plan International and one of their partner organizations, and has repeatedly been told that they can’t believe there isn’t a “hidden mzungu” somewhere funding everything because we get SO MUCH DONE on such a small budget. Y’all can take a bow, because that’s all YOU!
  • Ronald has also been asked to do a guest lecture at Mkerere University on our work with teen girls and children in the slum! Way to go, Ronald!
  • We had two sewing machine projects funded this week on DonorSee, one for resident teen mom Harriet for her new life in the village, and one for Husinah so she can support her family in the slum. It was all done in one day and both girls were so excited! Harriet is holding the sign, in the black and white strips. We’ll sure miss her!
  • On Sunday, Betty boarded a bus for a week-long intensive training with Neema Development, the provider of our Entrepreneur Training Course. This is going to enable us to expand this course to more girls, and also add the second half of it. Because you all have supported our Literacy program, we can move deeper into the training. Mwebele nnyo!
  • Our new nurse, Brenda, completed her time learning our compound Haven Clinic with Nurse Sherry and is now our full time nurse. We will miss Sherry so much, but we’re excited to welcome Nurse Brenda to the TTS family.
  • And last but definitely not least, we have now had 275 projects funded on DonorSee! That’s over $113,400! If you haven’t checked out our page there, just click here. We always have 10-12 projects up, and we have a new large project in the works which is super exciting. (Yep, that was a teaser… more to come!)

You all are the lifeblood of Ten Eighteen Uganda and Touch the Slum, and the only reason we can do so much to change lives and culture in the Namuwongo slum. We honestly can’t thank you enough for your generosity and support. (Really, take that bow!)

Mwebele nnyo!


PS Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram where we have daily video of all that’s happening. When you get 100 people in a small compound every day, there’s always a LOT going on! We also have a YouTube channel with some fun video.

A Tale of Two Girls and Two Machines


What do you think of when you hear the word “entrepreneur?”

For most of us, it’s tech startups and Elon Musk and a new coffee food truck in your town. Things that have a pretty hefty start up cost, and are reserved for the rarified few who are brave enough to enter “nothing ventured, nothing gained” territory.

According to the Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs, Uganda is the 2nd most entrepreneurial country for women in the world. And I’m sure you’ve gathered from these newsletters that these women aren’t getting multi-million dollar venture capital investments and renting entire floors of office space in Austin and Raleigh.

But the extremely high unemployment (over 60% when you only count “jobs” with the government or businesses) and very low number of available paid jobs (many do multi-year free internships before ever getting paid!) means that women (and girls) are forced by default to become self-employed entrepreneurs.

Today, I sent the funds for two such young ladies in our program.

Harriet is a teen mom who has been with us for a year and a half. Her mother has decided to move back to their village, and she needs Harriet to go with them because Harriet is the only one with any skill to make money. In short, 16 year old Harriet is about to be the sole breadwinner for her family of 6.

Husinah, also 16, was in our first Literacy class, where she learned incredibly fast. She moved on to Basic and then Advanced Tailoring, where she was a shining star. She graduated when my mom and I were there in April and, as always, her smile was 1000 watts. Her single mother has been sick and unable to make any money for some time, and the family has really struggled.

Harriet is getting an exit package with a manual sewing machine, the supplies she needs to start a small tailoring business in the village, and money for transportation. We are also working with her to make sure she always has a working phone — we want to make sure that if she gets sick, she has a way to contact us. (We are all still grieving Kalunji’s death…)

Husinah is getting a semi-industrial electric machine which she will use at our compound. Our former in-house tailor, Vivian, has gotten a job elsewhere, so Husinah will take her place to fill special orders for items such as aprons and bags that come in. She will receive a small salary for that, and also be able to take special orders of her own for income. Additionally, being at the compound every day means regular food and a safety net for her.

Culture change is slow and requires flexibility and out of the box thinking. It’s very easy to look out at the sea of humanity walking around in bright gomesi dresses and American knockoff shirts and feel that it’s just too big of a job.

When I worked with Hospice Jinja at the very beginning, they had a motto:

Do what you can, where you can, for as long as you can.

We don’t have to do everything. We don’t have to solve Uganda’s problems (thank goodness!). We don’t have to shift from our go-deep philosophy. We just have to do what we can, where we are, for as long as we can.

And we CAN do that because of YOU!

Mwebele nnyo,


PS Harriet’s project still has $25 left to be fully funded, although we are getting the items today. Her mom wants to leave for the village this weekend, so we went ahead and funded it and trust the remaining balance will come in soon. If you want to help, just click the button!

Last $25 here!

Explaining Hurricanes to Ugandans


Well, it’s Friday, and Hurricane Idalia has wobbled off to sea. We had the “perfect storm” of king tides (full moon) and storm surge, but thankfully the water didn’t get too high. Eighteen hours of 50mph wind gusts was exhausting, but we now have sunshine, a morning temperature in the sixties, and no damage. We’re thankful!

So yesterday, I was trying to explain a hurricane to friends in Uganda. As a lifelong resident of hurricane alley, I’d never really had to explain one before.

It’s a big storm going around in a circle with an eye.

Well, the eye is hole.

Okay, not a HOLE hole, but a… hole.

I’m sure I cleared it right up!

There are a lot of things like this that come up when you work in a vastly different culture that’s on the Equator. Etiquette and witch doctors and fried ant balls and seasons and why our sunset is at 5:00pm sometimes and 9:00pm others. How people here actually drive in their own lane and stop for stop lights.

But some things are universal, like the wide grin of a girl whose family are refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who is learning English and having fun and changing the trajectory of her life.

Skills for Life and all of our programs at Touch the Slum are deep dives. Girls are with us for a year or more, learning skills and healing from past trauma. We believe that changing lives in ways that will trickle down to the culture is vastly more important than being able to say that we “served” a very large number. Changing lives, changing culture is slow and hard and sometimes frustrating.

But it’s lasting, and that’s what we’re doing, every single day.

Thank you for being part of this work with us — we couldn’t do it without you!

Mwebele nnyo!


PS We have three projects that are over 70% funded on Donorsee: the water tank at the farm, the food budget gap at Hopeland Primary School, and 14 year old Neema’s project for food and supplies. $15 will go a long way for any of these projects, and we have more to choose from, too! Check them out here


Community Cleanup (By Coercion)


This year was our third “invitation” to join a community clean up by the local government. They do it by zone, so this year’s event was in a neighboring one. Our team spent from 8am to 2pm doing what Sarah is doing above – raking out muck from ditches (you REALLY don’t want to know what’s in there!), hauling and dumping wheelbarrows full of filth and trash, and trying not to breathe.

The first year, when we were newbies to this endeavor, the LC asked us to chip in shillings the buy the equipment and supplies, then show up to help. It was obvious that the amount of money given was… under represented in the amount of stuff bought. This is called “facilitation” (otherwise known as a bribe).

We got wise after that, and now buy our own supplies and equipment — which we are “asked” to “donate” to the “community” after the event. In short, we pay 350,000 shillings a year, spend a day in filth, and add the bonus points to our “making people in government happy” tally.

TIA. (This Is Africa.)

In spite of the various levels of government and bureaucracy, Touch the Slum continues to thrive. As I reported a month or so ago, we are the #1 Youth Led Organization in the city of Kampala. Because Ronald and the team are from the slum community, they know how to play the game(s) and make friends that matter and — most importantly — make a difference.

Because that’s what Touching the Slum means… making a difference, within the system that exists for both us and for the vulnerable teens girls in our program. We can not like the system (we don’t) while still being able to work within to create personal and cultural change.

I’m so grateful for Ronald and the team, and their willingness to ALWAYS go the extra mile. Touching the slum means touching the lives of those within it, and I couldn’t ask for a more dedicated group to carry out that mission.



PS We currently have 5 projects that are between 20-50% funded, including the new water tank for Mikisa Farm, a food budget gap project for Hopeland Primary school, 14 year old Neema’s project for food and household supplies, art supplies for the Literacy class, and the August sanitary pad project. Even $10 makes a big impact – to choose one today, just click the button!

Choose a project today!

Uganda Welcomes All Refugees. But…


Meet Neema, a 14-year-old in our Literacy class. She and her family are refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which has been war-torn for some time.

Uganda has a long standing policy of accepting refugees from neighboring countries, which has led to permanent refugee camps and UN offices in Western Uganda. Rwakobo Village, where we just put the well, was founded by Rwandan refugees that the government resettled there — and promptly forgot about.

Neema, her mother, and her 8 siblings live in a mud and stick house in the Namuwongo slum. Her mother has a hard time getting work because she speaks French but very little English, and none of the Ugandan languages but a little Swahili. None of the children have ever been to school.

You can see the problem…

So people are welcomed in, but to unspeakably hard lives. Less hard, perhaps, than their native lands in war, but desperate nonetheless.

Thanks to you all, Neema is learning to read, write, and speak English. This will not just help her, but it will held her mother learn English and be able to get more work. Neema is learning basic math, which will allow her mother to understand Ugandan shillings and know she isn’t being ripped off. When Neema moves to a vocational skill, she will have the ability to help her family buy food and pay rent and all the other things a family of 10 needs every day.

That is life changing for the whole family!

Every day, we can face challenges like Neema’s because we know that you all have our backs. You’re donating, encouraging, giving suggestions, sending people our way… You’re making the difference in entire families, which leads to change in an entire culture.

In short, you’re doing an amazing thing! We can’t thank you enough!

To help Neema’s family with some household items, food, and toiletries, you can donate to her project on DonorSee. Just click the button!

Help Neema’s Family!

Mweble nnyo!


PS I am opening up my January trip to Uganda to 3-5 people. If you are someone with a skill or talent that wants to go to Touch the Slum and help teach kids, teach our staff, work with Nurse Sherry, or do social work in the slum, just reply to this newsletter and we can chat further!

300 kg of Maize! What a Harvest at Mikisa Farm!


Most have you have followed us since we started fundraising for what is now Mikisa Farm over a year ago. You saw the shell of a brick house, the weeds, and two acres of land with nothing else. You gave, you cheered when we bought the land in August 2022, you’ve supported our projects since then, and have sent many comments here and on Instagram.

Now you can celebrate a huge milestone: our first maize harvest!

Ronald went to the farm on Friday with 3 others from the Touch the Slum team. They were joined by four of our teachers on Sunday. And this is what they did: pulled dry maize off the stalks, bundled the hundreds of cobs into bags, hauled them to the farmhouse, then helped bag the 300 kilograms (that’s 660 pounds!) of maize kernels as they came out of the thresher.


This maize will be milled to posho, and will feed our girls (and cut our grocery budget!) for many weeks. We could not be more excited, grateful, and (speaking for the team) tired!

All of us make up the Ten Eighteen Uganda team — you, me, our Board, our staff, our students, their parents and guardians, and the community in Namuwongo who has come alongside our mission to change the culture for teen girls in the slum.

We did good, y’all!

Mwebele nnyo!


PS We still need funds for the second irrigation tank at the farm. We’re 25% there, and just need $960 to get it purchased and installed, with the solar and piping. It’s dry season now — that’s why we could dry the maize on the stalks — so it would really help Derrick to have more irrigation to help him every day. Just click below!