Rachel Hamilton

Author | Writer | Traveler | Child of God | Kiwi Girl

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Life is a blessing. 

Five weeks ago, I arrived back in Uganda. I hate saying this because it means I only 3 weeks left here. 

But I remind myself every day I have in Uganda is a blessing. 

I’ve learnt a lot. 

Friendships have grown deeper, new connections have been made and wonderful experiences have happened. 

Like visiting the zoo and holding a huge snake, feeding a lion, and interacting with so many amazing animals. 

Reunions with friends. 

Some not so great but moments of growth.

White water rafting was one. 

I’ve always wanted to do rafting and I thought no better place than the mighty Nile river. 

So a group of us volunteers decided to go. 

I had talked to others who had done it and they said it was great fun, so I was excited. 

The first rapids were fine, in fact I thought they were a bit boring. Little did I know what was up ahead. 

We hit a grade 6. A long rapid with a strong undertoe. 

Let me just say we weren’t meant to hit a grade 6, but somehow our boat drifted into it. 

We flipped. 

I was pushed under the boat.

Everything went slow motion. 

As I was being thrown around in the water, struggling for breath, I thought of my family back home, my life up to that point, had I done everything I was called to do in this life. Deep thoughts.  
I came up for air but found I was trapped under the side of the raft, finally the guide managed to pull me out and onto the upside down raft. I was still clutching tight to the paddle. ( don’t ask me why.) Josh ( the guide) shouted to hold on, but as I looked up another raft came crashing down on top of us. 

White water, couldn’t breathe, fatigue. Trapped again under something. 

The overwhelming feeling that I was going to die. 

Little voice in my head said “Time to give up fighting.” 

Then pure sweet lifegiving air, and a canoe who took me to a raft. 

Smooth waters.  Safety. 

I’ve never felt that close to death before.

Was I? I don’t know. Nile river rafting has never lost anyone. 

 But the experience gave me a reality check. 

Life is fragile, priceless and the future isn’t promised. 

Am I living a life, that if today was my last day, 

I could look back and say “I gave it all” “I made my life count.” 

Do I love enough, care enough, am I leaving foot prints of good behind me? 

Do I realise that each day has a purpose, and reason. 

Life is a miracle and I must make it count. 


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Joyful Journey.

I’ve been back in Uganda just over a week now. Such joyful days. Days pass by in a happy blur. Dishes, dirty nappies, cuddles, warm welcomes, baby laughs, bumpy bus rides.

Coming to Uganda for the second time has been everything I dreamed of and more.

My heart overflows.

I feel so loved, so welcomed and so wanted.

Ever since I was a little girl I dreamed of Africa.

Dreamed that one day I would be loving little babies in Africa.

Each year the pull of Africa grew stronger.

15 years old I listened to a couple talk of their time in Africa.

I felt deep in my heart I would go..

At 17 I saw the Watoto choir perform.

I felt a deep calling to volunteer with Watoto at the babies home.

But I was too young.

Finally I turned 19, this must be the year I thought.

Still the door was closed tight.

Instead I went on a mission ship, sailing from Dubai, to Sri Lanka and India. Three wonderful months of well cleaning, volunteering at a boys home, rasing awareness for HIV and Aids and so much more.

I came home with renewed passion to serve.

More years past.

Still the door was closed.

Then I got really sick, the doctors couldn’t find out what was wrong.

All my dreams of Africa came crashing down.

Finally I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis.

Two years I struggled with daily pain, no job, little hope, but still Africa called me.

My family and I moved to Australia.

My health improved a little I started a full time job at a beautiful Hotel, a place I imagined myself long term.

The dream of Africa started to fade.

I was comfortable, happy, settled.

But things happened.

Suddenly I could no longer work at the place, I adored.

I cried.

My life was a mess.

Africa called.

I looked into trips but door was still shut.

So I traveled to Cambodia and Thailand.

Saw the realities of sex trafficking and child slavery.

It broke me but also gave me passion to do my part to help.

A month past.

I got a new job.

I whispered to God, “Am I ready for Africa yet? I’ve waited so so long.”

I heard yes.

I couldn’t believe it.

So I applied to Watoto.

I nervously waited to hear if I was accepted.

Maybe this would be just another closed door.

The door opened wide.

I arrived in Uganda.

For the first month I struggled so much, I couldn’t understand why God had called me to come. I felt unworthy.

The remaining two months were wonderful, I fell in love with the country and people.

Weeks turned to days and before I knew it, I was going home.

But Africa still called.

As the plane left Africa.

I knew I would be back soon.

I arrived home.

Settled back into work, everyday life.

But day and night all I could think about was coming back to Uganda August/September this year.

I reapplied to Watoto.

Would the door close?

It stayed open.

Every tiny detail came together and here I am.

This journey has been long, it’s been painful.

But I wouldn’t trade anything for the path I walked.

I still don’t know the reason I am here or why Africa is so much a part of me.

After these two months I don’t know if it’s possible to come back again.

The door may close.

But for now, I’m making every moment count and embracing the joy of this wonderful journey.

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4 months ago, 4 days to go.

4 months ago I arrived home from Uganda. After three months of living in Africa my whole world view, the way I looked at life and even how I viewed myself had changed.

It was like my life restarted.

I know it’s crazy to say but it was like I had a fresh start.

My emotional, physical and mental wellbeing has completely changed.

4 months on and in 4 days I board a plane to Uganda again.

It’s so crazy.

I would have never imagined I could go back to the country I have grown to love so soon.

Ever since I arrived back I’ve felt Africa pulling on my heart.

This time I go back with greater passion to serve. Aiming to be worthy of the privilege of living in Africa for two more months.

Excitement to see the beautiful people I have grown to deeply love.

Joy to see the babies that stole my heart 4 months ago.

I pray that my heart is pure and I act in a way that honors everyone I come in contact with.

I just wish everyone could exprerince love the flows from Uganda.

It changes your life.

I’m so honored and overwhelmed I get to go back once again.

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I had no idea it would be this hard. No idea I would feel so alone. 

People never talk of the aching and breaking of obedience. 

Sometimes the aftertaste doesn’t seem worth the sweetness of  the fruit.

Re-entry is painful. 

How do I live in this state of change. 

My world seems shaky. 

Where is home, what is comfort, how is normal meant to feel. 

Am I doing this right? 

Stepping out in faith was hard but in the moment your grace seemed to give me wings. 

Now I’m struggling to keep from sinking into the pit of dispair, questions, fear. 

Jesus, hold me, teach me, help me to do this next stage. 

Give me hope, joy and peace. 

Just as you gave me strength in stepping out, give me strength in the coming home. 

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I’ve Been Changed. I’ve Seen Hope.

Two weeks since I arrived home and it’s finally hit me, a painful reality that I’m no longer in Uganda. I’ve pushed the feelings away, with everything being a whirlwind of activity it’s been easy,  jetlag, three days in Australia then jumping on a plane and coming to New Zealand, scraping wallpaper, painting, falling into bed each evening so tired and achy from the physical work. I don’t want to face theses feelings or look back, but process I must. 

Uganda my third home, how I adore and love you, its strange to think the first month I would have given anything to jump on a plane and fly home. 

It was Christmas time and I missed my family greatly. I felt like a huge failure as a volunteer and questioned my purpose for being at Baby Watoto. 

But as the days turned to weeks and a month past I began to adjust, adapt and see how Watoto and Uganda was deeply impacting me. With each country I visit it contuines to amaze me that I arrive with the goal to change lives yet everytime I am the one left changed. 

Each situation was an opportunity for growth, insight, healing and restoration in not just the lives around me but my life too. 

My other mission trips I have been on, I have come back feeling broken by the injustice, sin, sorrow and sadness of the world. Broken by the things I have seen. 

Memories of the woman who looked at me with deep pain in her eyes in the red light district trapped in a life of slavery and pain in Thailand, the little boy who asked me to be his mother in the ophange in Sri Lanka.

But this time something beautiful has happened, I have come back, healed, filled with joy by the things God is doing and the joy that there IS something I can do to make a difference.

I’ve seen hope, in the laughing eyes of a happy healthy baby at Baby Watoto, in the new school where 100s of Children can now safely study year round. 

Uganda and Watoto has shown me I want to devote my life to something bigger than myself, I want to use what I have to make the world a better place and it’s possible. We can do it. 

Hurt is everywhere, need is everywhere but we can be the change. I don’t just  have to be in Uganda to make a difference, I just have to have open eyes and hands ready and willing to help those around me. 

So dear Watoto staff, nannies, volunteers, babies, Ugandan friends. Thank you all so much for what you have taught and shown me, thank you for the love, kindness, healing, hope and joy you have brought into my life. For the way you show me anything is possible if we devote our lives to Christ and be his hands and feet to those around us. 

All I want to do is get back on a plane and come back  but for now I will take the knowledge and lessons I’ve learnt and aim to make a difference where I stand right now. 

But I will be back dear Uganda. I will be back. 

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New Normal.

It’s 4:30am and in just half an hour I’m heading to the airport for the second time this week.

In this moment I’m thankful for jetlag which makes it easy to wake up early, it’s also a reminder I will have been in three different countries in the last 10 days.  

It’s a strange feeling not knowing where I call home anymore. It’s almost like I am a child of three families, I have a birth country New Zealand, Australia, my place of residence and work, and Uganda a place where I feel deeply alive, when every day is an opportunity to make a difference. 

Something about countries and cultures, that makes my heart sing. If money was no object, I would become a gypsy, sending my whole life falling in love with cultures​ and countries. 

So it’s hard coming back to reality. 

I’m struggling with the lack of freedom we have here to make a difference.

With all the red tape, legal, and political correctness that binds us from being able to practically get in and create change. 

It frustrates me that you have to have a degree, do a short course, or wade through piles of paper work to be able to do anything worthwhile​. 

Don’t get me wrong I know there is, brokeness, needs and opportunities to make a difference here. 

This is not a hate on the the western culture. 

It’s just as someone who doesn’t have any great wonderful talents or useful skills but passionately wants to make a difference in the world I struggle in this culture of degrees and systems.

There is a reason I’m back home, a purpose for these frustrations, feelings and thoughts. 

Each day that goes by I’m learning to live this new normal. 

I’m thankful to be a New Zealander/Australian and the opportunities these beautiful countries provide me.

But now I’m thankful for these feelings because it means Africa changed me, grew me, challenged me and opened my eyes. 

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Wonderful Uganda 

When I first came to Uganda I had a idea that it would be this adrenaline filled adventure where everything was new, strange and overwhelming. 

While I have had moments like that, I didn’t realise how normal it would quickly become.

 I have traveled and lived overseas enough to know, before you come to a country, you hear the scary, unique and unusual things of that country. 
When I moved to the Australia I was nervous about all the dangerous animals its famous for, I believed deadly snakes would crawl up the toliet into my house, that spiders would bite me in the night and kangaroos would be jumping all over the place. 

In reality I’ve only seen one dead snake, killed a few small spiders and seen a few kangaroos peaceful eating grass by the side of the road. 

Like Australia, I had fears coming to Africa. Yet in the 6 weeks I have been here all my fears have died. 

Uganda has been through difficult times and you can see the aftermath of that pain and struggle, but oh what beauty has been born from the ashes. 

You will never meet more kind beautiful lovely people. 

There is a joy, sweetness and compassion in this country that is so inspiring. 

Life here is wonderful, daily I enjoy rich hospitality, wonderful food and loving community. 

I believe that Uganda is and will quickly become a powerful nation that reaches and changes the world. 

So my dear international readers, I hope and pray, you too can come to the pearl of Africa and let it change and inspire you as it is daily doing for me. 

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Life With Babies. 

How do I put into words how truly grateful I am for the time I am spending in Africa. 

I can’t. 

Baby Watoto. 

A magical place where little lives are formed. 

Each morning when I arrive at work, I am greeted by smiles, hugs and little voices shouting “Momma” 

I started by making the beds and helping dress them. 

Then they have family time and play time.

When the babies arrive at Watoto they are placed into families with a nanny and five other babies. The nanny is the mother figure who for the first two years of their life raises them as her own. When they turn two they are adopted into the Watoto village. 

I am so inspired by the nannies for the way they care and love the babies. 

We often sit outside in the sun.

Then it’s lunch time, feeding 20+ babies per room is a mission but it’s works out.

It’s so cute when they close their eyes and put their hands together for the prayer.

There are 5 different rooms, currently I am in the small toodlers room. 

I have been in Monkeys: ages 6 month – 10 months and Tigers: ages 10-18months. 

International volunteers change rooms every two weeks. 

After lunch we get a 2 hour break because the babies are having an afternoon nap.

During this time I often walk down to the  nearby village and talk to the children or join the babies in sleep. 

When we come back from break, it’s time for a snack and bible time. 

Then it’s play time again. 

You will never find more loving little people than the Watoto babies. 

Each day I am overwhelmed by the love they shower on me. 

Tight hugs, kisses, little arms wrapped around my legs as I try to walk. 

The moment when a baby places her hands on my face and looks deeply into my eyes. 

How am I so blessed to be in this place? 

After play time, it’s dinner, bath time, worship time and then bed. 

We get on the bus at 6:30pm to go back home.

It’s been a month since I boarded a plane to Uganda and already time seems too short.

Eventually my time here will come to an end but the impact these little lives have on me will last long into the future. 

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Below the surface. 

I have only been in Uganda three weeks yet so much has happened. 

The more I dig below the surface of the Ugandan culture, the more I see how deeply kind, caring and inspirational they are. 

A few days ago I had the privilege of going on a slum awareness tour. I had mixed feelings about going, I didn’t want to go and be the rich westerner that looked down in pity, then went home and forgot about them. 

But as we walked into the slum, I suddenly felt God’s presence, he was here in this place. 

Children ran past us and we greeted them with smiles. Women came out of their homes and waved. As we walked along I was aware a group of young boys were following us, but didn’t think much of it. 

We stoped by a house and a little girl came out with her brother and sister, we took photos. All of a sudden there was a commotion and our tour guide Syrill took off running. One of my fellow volenteers had had her phone stolen from her hand. 

Suddenly people around from everywhere, upset by what had taken place. We were guided to a seat and waited. Finally after a few minutes our tour guide came back and said “you will get your phone back within 30 minutes. This is Zebra and he has told the theif he has 30 minutes to bring your phone back. 

Zebra is a famous boxer who has come back to his country to train and inspire young men to become champion boxers. He had set up a network in the slum to control the violence and crime in the slum. 

While we waited for the phone to be returned we went to Syrills orphanage he had started. We meet the children and he took us to the school he runs for over 58 children. It was no more than a few planks of wood with a roof. He told us that when it rained the children can no longer study so they are unable to study as much as they need too. 

It was in that moment, I knew I wanted to help restore and build the school. 

Then before we knew it,the phone had been returned, safe and sound. 

We returned home feeling inspired and deeply impacted. 

To understand a country we need to look beyond the beauty and touristy parts and look deeply in the vulnerable places. What a great honour it is when we are gifted the opportunity to see the brokenness. 

The slum which I visited is home to over 500,000 people who live in extreme poverty, children raising children, women selling their bodies just to buy food for their children. People dying from HIV and AIDS. Children left alone. But in this darkness there is light, wonderful people like Zebra, Syrill and many more who are using their own painful experiences to do amazing things. Teaching, providing homes for the orphanaed, feeding the hungry, spreading God’s love and light. Though Christ the hopeless are receiving hope. Here stands greatness. They are God’s hands and feet. 

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My New Normal. 

I have been in Uganda just over a week and I am still struggling to put into words how deeply Watoto has already impacted me.

How do I describe how wonderful it is to have a life long dream come true. 

For as long as I can remember I have dreamed of working with children in Africa.

For a week it has been my reality.

Yet I feel so unworthy, why was I chosen to hold, love and help care for theses priceless children. 

I honestly don’t know. 

But when I hold these beautiful babies, look deep into their eyes and see hope from pain. I cry. Tears of hope. I see a God who rescues, redeems and lifts the forgotten to a mountain top.

My days aren’t all hugs and kisses. They are dirty diapers, babies who don’t want to eat, tears, cleaning and aching arms from rocking a tired baby to sleep. But right now there is nothing more fulfilling or wonderful.