It Already Hurts

Katie & goat

Let me just tell you, it already hurts. The thought of leaving this place and these people is slowly breaking my heart. The kids have become my family and this place has become my home. I think you know you really love something when you love the bad parts of it as much as you love the good. I love the struggles of living here. I love that I can say I’ve had to lay in bed for several days at a time–more than once–with a bacterial infection. I love that when I’m sick, I have roommates who will text me from downstairs to keep their extroverted roommate sane. I love that I have to strategically place my shoes every morning where I know the kids can’t steal them and hide them from me. I love that my day isn’t complete without at least five hugs and a few kisses on the cheek. I love that when I leave even for a day, I miss the children deeply.

People always tell me to love these babies like Jesus would. Honestly, though, I think these kids do a better job of loving me like Jesus, than I could ever do for them. I wake up very frustrated some mornings, thinking I just can’t do it today. I can’t have 54 Ugandan children screaming all around me today. But as soon as I walk downstairs, I have 54 precious smiling children screaming for me with open arms, and I realize once again why I love calling these people, and this place, my home. Home for now that is, and that’s what is really hard because I am leaving in a few weeks.

I’ve been learning so much about love here. When you choose to truly love something, you can’t give up on it no matter how hard it gets. One of the hardest things for me is feeling like I’m letting these kids down by leaving them. So another thing I have learned is that I have to find peace in the fact that I have completed my time here, and that my season is coming to an end. I’m comforted in I knowing these kids will get to be loved by some even more wonderful aunties. I am also comforted in knowing that all the mamas who love these children day in and day out will still be here. But my greatest comfort is knowing that God is real in Jinja–in the huge African sky, and the breathtaking Nile River, and the monkeys who swing from the trees. The God who gave me a chance to see and experience so much here, is the same God who will forever love and care for these children. I am convinced that these children have front row seats in the Kingdom of God, and I will forever be grateful to have been a part of this piece of heaven. So this is faith–letting go and trusting that all shall be well.

I am so very grateful for the love, prayers, and generous support that made my time in Uganda possible. My world will never be the same.

Fully Loved

This past Sunday, I turned 19 and it was pretty much the best birthday ever! It was my first (and maybe only) birthday in Uganda. This birthday was a huge celebration for me–in my second home, with my second family, surrounded by some of the best friends on earth. The thought that kept coming to me all weekend was that I am fully loved and that is the best gift ever.

There are so many babies and children I wish you could meet. They have taught me so much and they have reminded me that life is good. The other people I would like to introduce you to are the mamas–amazing women who work day and night, loving and teaching the babies. These are the people who have given me the name “Auntie Katie,” a title I will always cherish. On Friday, we celebrated Amani’s March birthdays with singing, dancing, and cups of orange soda. Cheers to you, babies and mamas, may you know that you are fully loved!



Right now, there are four girls besides myself volunteering at Amani. They are simply the best and I thank God every day that they are my friends. They spent all day Saturday and Sunday helping me turn 19 in high style and reminding me that I am fully loved.  On Saturday, we journeyed  to the capital city of Kampala for a day of shopping and fun. On the way, we took a detour to the equator. We took pictures to prove we were there, and then we ate our lunch right on the equator! Afterwards, we went to Kampala and enjoyed hanging out in the mall and eating at Cafe Sserie. Everything is awesome with this group of girls!



On Sunday morning, I woke up to a house full of decorations. What thoughtful roommates I have! We went to church that morning–another experience I wish you could have. When we came home, my roommates told me they had a special gift for me. They took me to the yard, blindfolded me, and then they poured water all over me!!



One of our Sunday afternoon activities included trying every Ugandan soda we could find. In case you are interested, we found that about 90% of the sodas were actually disgusting–but it was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon! We also baked a birthday cake for me and we topped off the afternoon with some fun baby holding.  For dinner we headed out to the Source of the Nile restaurant where I had some of the best ribs I have ever had in my life. The highlight of the day came when we got CONE BIRTHDAY HATS! What can I say? I am 19 years old and fully loved. For this time in my life, Uganda is my home and God has surrounded me people who are my family and friends. Life is good, and I hope that you know that you are fully loved.


A Servant’s Heart

Katie and little girl

The mission field is hard. It’s physically and emotionally draining. It will make you cry tears of hurt and scream out for help when you think you just cannot do it any longer. It is also the most rewarding and life changing thing you will ever do in your life. It will make you scream hallelujah and cry because you are overwhelmed by happiness.

My last five months have been filled with all these extreme emotions. It’s hard, and I’ve never been so happy to be pushed beyond my limits. I have now been back in Uganda for an entire month. When I returned this time, I made the decision to give up social media in order not to miss my wonderful and exciting life in Uganda.

This last month has been filled with more crazy stories and more amazing people than ever before. My cup is overflowing.

The minute I walked off the plane in Uganda, breathed in the fresh and dusty hot air, I felt right at home. After grabbing a mango and chicken on a stick, we were on the road to the orphanage. After a long six hour traffic jammed car ride we arrived, I ran out of the car to be greeted by the kids screaming “AUNTIE KATIE” running toward me with open arms. I think that’s what true love feels like, all you can do in that circumstance is smile and cry and say “Thank you, Jesus.”

No matter how difficult my days may be here, at the end of the day I know I am where I am supposed to be. This trip has been filled with many ups and downs and crazy adventures. In my four weeks here I have met some of the best girls I have ever known, gotten pulled over by the Ugandan police, kayaked the Nile, been sent to the hospital due to a bad bacterial infection, and many more crazy adventures. My cup is overflowing and I cannot wait to see what the coming months have in store.

God calls us to always have a servant’s heart and therefore I will, no matter the circumstance.

Returning to Uganda

Photos from my first few days back in Uganda.

Mama Cook, a Wedding, and Feeding Hungry Children

riding in the back of a truck

I especially love Saturdays in Uganda. Saturdays are Kids Club days, and every other week, it is my chance to visit the village and play with the local children. This past Saturday, I had my plan all set for the day. I planned to wake up, make breakfast, go to the village with the other volunteers, do some home visits, do Kids Club, and then come home exhausted but happy. That was the plan–but I need to stop making plans, this is Africa.

I started my day by going downstairs and finding out that I was the only volunteer going to the village. I was a bit disappointed about this news because I am an extrovert and I like being with other volunteers. Then, a few minutes later I found out that we were not going to the village at all. Things were not going as planned and I was not happy about how my Saturday was turning out. I decided go to the clinic to help feed the triplets. There is nothing like holding a baby to make a disappointing day feel better.

washing dishes for a weddingJust as I was settling in with one of the triplets, our cook at Amani (who we call “Mama Cook”) came walking into the clinic. She had blood dripping down her face, her cheek was gashed open and her arm and leg were cut up and bleeding. She explained that she had been in a Boda Boda (motorcycle) accident. Boda Bodas are the number one way of transportation in Uganda. We tried hard to convince her to go to the hospital but she refused, saying hospitals are too expensive and they don’t treat patients correctly. The nurse (Kayla) who is volunteering here at Amani, patched her up the best she could and gave her pain meds. Mama Cook was insistent that she go back to cooking, even with blood rushing down her cheek. She had about five other ladies with her helping her prepare to cater a wedding for about 350 people. After Kayla and I persuaded her to let us help, Mama Cook asked us to wash over 350 plates, but this was a challenge since the water was out. Funny how you begin to find things like this normal after living here. We compromised by thoroughly wiping down the plates.

After we were done with the plates, Mama Cook called us over and asked us to please attend the wedding with her. Without a second thought Kayla and I said “yes,” thinking it would be later in the evening. Mama Cook continued by adding that we would be leaving in 30 minutes. Not even knowing the people getting married, Kayla and I ran upstairs, got dressed, hopped in a truck, and rode to the wedding. Kayla and I stuck out like two sore thumbs as we rode up; we were the only mzungus (white people) at the entire wedding.

Kayla and I made the best of it; we had an amazing time dancing and eating and celebrating the marriage of this couple as if we had known them our whole lives.

After attracting more than our share of attention for one day, Kayla and I decided to go join Mama Cook sitting on the side behind the food away from people. As the wedding guests finished eating, we began to clean off their plates. To my right I saw some kids sitting off to the side, wearing torn clothes, covered in dirt and wearing no shoes. Mama Cook explained that they were street kids who had probably walked hours to be there. I had read stories about these children, but didn’t think I would ever witness it. They had come to eat the leftover food. We watched as the kids found every bottle of leftover soda they could and chugged them; they did the same with water bottles even when there were just drips left in them. Then we watched as the women working the buffet collected all the leftover food in one bucket and took it over to the kids. The kids acted as if it was Thanksgiving! They were extremely happy and grateful. How wild is that? You go to a wedding and see the hands and feet of Jesus.

We ended our day by hopping on the back of a tiny truck with fifteen other Ugandans, laughing till we cried and talking about how wonderful the day was. My life is a dream! How lucky am I to live out my dreams!!

How Boring

Katie with Ugandan children

Recently I have been looking back on my days thinking, “Wow my life is so boring.” I may be living in Africa but life starts feeling bland no matter where you live.

Sometimes I need to take a step back and consider what I think is “boring” again. As soon as I take a step back I realize that my life is pretty insane. I live in a house with 47 kids that barely speak English. Someone is always laughing, someone is always singing and most of all, someone is ALWAYS crying. Silence is a blessing that some of us don’t understand until we don’t have it.

It’s crazy how we can adapt to new environments. It’s crazy that it has become completely normal to me that the power goes out almost every single day, the WiFi rarely works, and that I cannot remember the last time I had a hot shower. It’s crazy that I have almost become completely blind to the poverty here because I see it every single day.

I’m used to all these things because Uganda now feels like a second home to me. I am showered with blessings daily! The children here are so happy! It’s a happiness so contagious you want to roll and play in the dirt with them until your clothes are stained bright red. My experiences are ridiculous! I frequently find myself eating foods that I absolutely hate. Foods like fish with eyeballs still intact, Posho (which is cornmeal and water), and smashed matoke (plantains)–the list never ends.

But it is the most wonderful thing in the world, that the gross food I have been eating is changing my life daily, making me grow as a person and making me go outside of my comfort zone. Living here has taught me that it is important to be very flexible and calm. For example, when your house gets invaded by cockroaches and you aren’t allowed to sleep in your house, or when a boy gets a crayon shoved up his nose by another kid and you want to lose your mind, but you can’t.

How can I think this is boring? I spend my weekends on the Nile River, the longest river in the entire world. I meet people from all over the world constantly, and I get to feel Jesus at my fingertips every single day. What a blessing it is to be so far away from everything you know and then fall in love with it.

The Mighty River Project Visit


My journey to Jinja, Uganda really began over a year ago with a conversation in Janice Sherrill’s home. I was attending a Noonday Collection party, which is an organization who sells  beautiful fair trade jewelry and accessories made by artisans around the world. At that party, I was given the opportunity to model a necklace made in Uganda. I started talking with Meredith Smith about my deep desire to go to Africa, and Meredith looked at me and said, “We can get you to Africa.” She then introduced me to Erin Littleton who was also at this party. Erin is one of the founders of The Mighty River Project and Meredith serves on their board. My world changed forever on that day.

Last week, a Ugandan woman named Lois came to Amani and asked for “a girl named Katie.” Lois works for The Mighty River Project and she invited me to join her this past Monday to visit the artisans who work for this wonderful organization. I was thrilled beyond words to be given this opportunity. The artisans live in Kampala which is the capital city and is about three hours away from Jinja. I had been to Kampala before, but not like this.

Monday morning, I took a boda boda (motorcycle taxi) to the taxi park in Jinja and I arrived around 10:00. This was my first experience traveling alone in Jinja and I was in an area I had never been before. Let me give you an idea of what it was like.  Imagine that you are in a stadium parking lot, then add 1,000+ people, then add hundreds of taxis. Picture every single person you pass saying “Kampala! Kampala! Kampala! Mzungu! Mzungu [white person]! Kampala!” Then picture yourself being an eighteen year old white girl by herself trying to find one Ugandan lady and there is not a single white person in sight. By the grace of God, I found Lois.

We then embarked on our three hour journey to Kampala in a taxi (a van) filled with about twenty people. I must add that it costs only $1.66 to get to Kampala from Jinja in a taxi. We arrived at the taxi park in Kampala at about 1:00 pm. I have never seen so many people in one place in my entire life. We began walking from one taxi park to the other to get on another taxi. As we were walking through one of the local markets, my necklace was ripped off my neck and stolen by someone. I think I am still trying to get over that experience. All I can say is, this is Africa, and you truly never know what is going to happen.

many basketsWe got in the second taxi and arrived in a village right outside of Kampala that was obviously not regularly visited by mzungus. We climbed probably half a mile up a hill to reach a group of artisans gathered in a home making beautiful woven baskets for The Mighty River Project. Lois led the group in a devotion and then I had the opportunity to spend the day watching the women skillfully create these colorful baskets. It turns out, I actually own one of the baskets made by the hands of these women. I bought it in Winston Salem at Meredith Smith’s house and I bought it from Erin Littleton who was selling goods for The Mighty River Project. I now firmly believe that every home in America should own at least one of these baskets.

After spending several hours there, Lois and I began the journey back to Jinja. In our last taxi, there was a chicken walking back and forth all over my feet the entire three hours.  I was crammed in a seat made for three people but we managed to squeeze in six. My day ended with a “bang” (literally) when our taxi got a flat tire which caused us to be late arriving home, but I noticed for the first time that Jinja really felt like home!  I then got on a boda boda and rode 15 minutes in the dark with a stranger. By the grace of God, I made it home safely and grateful for another day of living in Uganda.

Triplets Arrive at Amani

Safaris and Ugandan Weddings

Katie on safari

Uganda is pretty much all I dreamed it would be, and more. There are so many things to do here and people are always inviting me to experience new and exciting things.

This past Saturday, I was invited to a Ugandan wedding. I didn’t have to think twice before saying “yes” to the invitation! The wedding was scheduled to start at noon. If you aren’t aware, time in Africa is very different than time at home. Everything in Africa is slower; people in Uganda are far from rushed. We arrived at 11:55 knowing that the bride would most likely be a little late, so we sat in our seats and waited. Two hours later, the bride and groom arrived and the wedding finally began. It was an amazing celebration with singing and lots of dancing. At 4:00, we went to the reception where the bridesmaids, groomsmen, bride and groom entered the party with perfectly choreographed dance moves.

There was so much joy and excitement the whole time, and 75% of the people joined in the dancing—African dancing is the best! The party went on until about midnight. It was my kind of wedding! I am so lucky to have been given this very special opportunity.

Volunteer Rate Safari

The next morning, three other volunteers and I embarked on a seven hour trip to the border of the Congo to go on a safari! We were all very excited to be able to do this since safaris are usually very expensive. However, we found a company with a “volunteer rate” that allowed us to go for an incredibly low price. I suppose we should have been suspicious about why it cost less than half the price of an average safari.

All was well the first day when we arrived at Murchison Falls National Park. As soon as we entered the park we saw at least ten baboons, some monkeys, some water buffalos, it was amazing! At about 4:00 we started our first game drive. We saw every animal there was to see our first night at the park! We were excited to see how the rest of our journey would go.

Well–little did we know we would be sleeping in the “bush” of Uganda, miles away from civilization and miles away from any other muzungus (white people). As we drove toward our camp site that was 40 minutes away, almost every single person turned their head to see us, as if they had never seen a white person in their lives. When we arrived at the campsite, there was a small campfire and dinner, which consisted of rice and potatoes, was ready. That was not bad, but it turned out that the “volunteer rate” meant rice and potatoes for every single meal the entire weekend. The showers were outdoors and freezing and we had no power except one light.

We were the only guests at this camp in the middle of nowhere, run entirely by men we did not know. It was faith building! It was scary. But, we survived and had a wonderful time. You really never know what is going to happen here. Living in Africa for sure builds character and I love it!

Sometimes I feel like Jesus is laughing at some of the experiences He has given me here, because they are so ridiculous. Ridiculous but amazing. The things I have seen and the people I have met are changing my life daily.

Settling In

Katie Gambill

It has been two weeks since I arrived in Uganda, and I am finally starting to settle in. I’m getting used to walking to the produce market and having to bargain everything down from the muzungu (white people) prices. I am getting used to walking to the dairy once a week to pick up fresh milk that is packaged in recycled water bottles. I am learning to live with the smell of burning trash that fills my lungs daily. I am learning to live with the fact that the power goes out all the time here, so you have to learn to hand wash your clothes and candles are a necessity. I am learning how big God is and how big his love is for the world. Let me just tell you, He is big and His love is deeper than you can imagine.

img_1888So you may be wondering, what is it like to live with 37 kids? Well, it’s crazy. Every morning at 7:00 am the kids wake me up with crying, giggling, and the best part, singing. After showering and eating breakfast, I walk downstairs and immediately hear the kids screaming “auntie, auntie” as they rush to the door to greet me. The little ones raise their arms up high jumping up and down begging me to pick them up. These kids give me more love than I could ever give them. “Joy comes in the morning” is the most accurate quote here at Amani. During the mornings, the kids go to our preschool here at Amani in order to learn English. They also go outside to play, and they get to go to the playroom to play on the “ark” which is basically an indoor playground. It’s awesome. When lunch time comes, the kids go and eat a Ugandan meal, usually consisting of rice, beans, and sometimes some kind of meat. They eat this meal with just their hands, and they make a beautiful mess all over the floor every time.

IMG_3159After lunch, I have time off and I go into town almost every day. This might sound miserable to some people because every single store looks exactly the same—literally—maybe they have one thing different. But I find it completely addictive, because the people who work at these shops are sweet, loving and thankful we are here. I am thanked daily walking down the street for taking care of the babies at Amani. The people in Uganda are so friendly and inviting.

IMG_3472I haven’t been here long, but I love these people and this place. I have been asking myself over and over again, how did I get here? How did I get this opportunity? God reminds me daily that all I did was say “yes.” It’s that simple. I am so grateful for this wild and wonderful life, and I am also grateful to those who have made it possible for me to be in Uganda.

Getting to Uganda

After a short but wonderful three day stay in Paris, Dad and I finally began the last part of the journey to Uganda. We woke up early Friday morning, said goodbye to the 97 degree Paris weather, and hopped on our plane for the next stop, Nairobi, Kenya. After a nine hour flight, we finally landed. It was a layover to remember. We were sitting patiently during our four hour wait in the Nairobi airport, when a young woman in uniform came to the center of the room and calmly, but sternly, told everyone to please exit the building. Most people start running and swiftly walking to the nearest exit. Smoke filled the building. After a little bit of investigation we came to the conclusion that there had been a huge electrical fire at the airport. They sent us to a different terminal and after an extra hour and a half of waiting, we finally got on our plane and arrived in Uganda about 4:00 am. We checked into the Entebbe Airport Guest House and immediately went to sleep for a very short night’s rest. Our “night’s sleep” ended at 11:00 am but the beds were great, we had a wonderful breakfast, and best of all, we took refreshing showers!

At 3:30 that afternoon, a very kind driver sent from Amani met us and we started our journey from Entebbe to Jinja. All I can say is “Wow!” What an experience! My biggest surprise was that in Uganda people drive on the left side of the road–and traffic is crazy. I felt my life flash before me over and over again due to the fact that every driver weaves between cars and misses head on collisions by about six inches every time. As I looked out my open window, I saw shacks right and left made from scrap metal, people wearing tattered clothes, and I breathed in the scent of burning trash. Just how you picture Uganda, right?

Somehow people tend to leave out the other things I experienced, like the breathtaking views of the mountains, people smiling and laughing, singing and dancing. There is true joy here as well as poverty. It’s also a place with fewer of the technological distractions that keep people from interacting.

Africa is so much more than I have ever imagined. It’s heaven. It’s happiness. It’s beautiful. It’s home. I’ll end this post with a quote I like a lot: “Sometimes the place you’re used to is not the place where you belong. You belong where you believe you belong, where is that for you?” – Katende (from the movie, Queen of Katwe).

I have attached a few pictures from the past week. Understandably, Amani asks us not to post pictures of the children through social media, but please know that they are adorable and I have fallen in love with all of them!! I am so thankful for the opportunity to be here! It is better than I dreamed it would be.