When the Ladder Has No Rungs


14-year-old Rachelle, on the left, lives with her aunt and five other children in a bad part of the Namuwongo slum. (Yes, even in the slum there are bad parts!)

Earlier this month, Rachelle started in our Literacy program, the first time she has ever attended any kind of school. As you can see, she is now beginning to read simple books out loud! Hesitantly, with a little embarrassment, but still — she’s READING.OUT.LOUD. in less than a month!

When we were planning our Literacy program, we knew that most of the girls who came through would have never attended school before, and even those that had would have had only a few terms under their belts. Teen girls are not known for their ability (or desire!) to sit still and be serious — as my mom, Susan, said on our trip a few months ago, “They are JUST like giggling teenage girls everywhere!”

But they are consumed with a desire to learn, to speak English, to read and write and know how to use money (and not be cheated). To be MORE.

Without Touch the Slum, the girls in our program will always only be less-than. They are less than the boys in their family, who get to go to school if there’s the money for it. They are less than the younger children, who get food first because the teens should be able to “go out and get money” (meaning from sex work) if they need incidentals like food and sanitary pads.

They know they are at the bottom of the social ladder — and that, without basic literacy and a skill, that ladder has no rungs.

But YOU believe in them, and so they believe in themselves!

And that’s enough.

Mwebele nnyo!


PS Our monthly sanitary pad project for June is 87% funded – we just need $44 to get sanitary pads to 250 girls. If you want to help, click the button!


PSS The well contractors have still not shown up. (Don’t worry, we haven’t paid them anything except for the surveyor who came twice.) Apparently, they’ve been trying to line up multiple jobs in the region to do back-to-back, but didn’t tell Gideon that until Friday. Our Touch the Slum team took the overnight bus back to Kampala Sunday night, and will return once the trucks are ON SITE! This is Africa…

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Ugandans know what Ugandans need.

There, I said it.

Let’s be honest, very many (most?) nonprofits define a mission first, then go do it somewhere. Very often, it’s NOT what the beneficiaries themselves think of as their most pressing need.

I have witnessed this first hand:

  • A group that painted a house — without asking permission — because “it needed it”
  • Groups that distribute clothing, shoes, and/or candy AFTER a presentation, and think all the desperate people waiting for the free stuff cared about the presentation
  • Building a clinic when there was no doctor, nurses, or money to pay for staffing or medicines (The organization wasn’t paying, they were just building!)

Okay, these are needs. (Well, not that first one!) These are “good works.” But they are things done TO people, maybe even FOR people, but not WITH people.

Uganda is poor, yes. Desperately so for most people. But Ugandans aren’t stupid. They can look around their communities and see what the needs are.

What they lack are the things Ten Eighteen strives to provide:

  • OPPORTUNITY – Money, yes. Introductions to fellow Ugandans in other areas who are doing similar work.
  • ACCESS – Again, money helps. So does the technology that facilitates communication and research. Bringing in materials and training that can move their programs forward.
  • COLLABORATION – By forming strategic partnerships, instituting regular video meetings (and audio ones when the speed of the internet doesn’t allow video!), and taking advantage of our own life experiences and education, we can collaborate on programs that bring huge success without a huge financial investment.

In order to create lasting change, we focus on the change Ugandans truly want. We all know how being forced into change feels — who wants to be forced to give up caffeine, or live without power thanks to a hurricane, or put on bed rest?? We want choices, and we want to buy in to the changes. We’ve been able to achieve so much with so little over the last 12 years because we’ve trusted our Ugandan partners — and because you’ve seen the impact and wanted to make an difference!


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