Hello! My name is Aleesha Roessler, and I am currently volunteering with Smile Again Families Uganda. I am staying with Fredie, Stella, and their wonderful, joy-filled children; I plan to be here for about 6 months! I am a recent college graduate from the University of Illinois, which also happens to be my home state! I encountered Smile Again Families for the first time three years ago when participating in a mission trip with FOCUS (The Fellowship of Catholic University Students) and knew that I had to come back and volunteer with this amazing organization long-term, so here I am!
“He must increase; I must decrease” – John 3:30
These words have been my mantra for a long time, but they have never felt truer than they have begun to these past two weeks. The mission of Smile Again Families Uganda is to ‘support abused and troubled teenage mothers- to help them discover their inner worth by restoring them emotionally, spiritually, and economically.’ When I first encountered the work that Smile Again Families does through Fred and Stella, I thought that it was a beautiful organization. However, I never could have come close to guessing the amount of absolute NEED for this ministry here in Uganda.
Currently, we are preparing for the annual ‘Your Worth’ summit – a day retreat with talks on self-worth and finding your potential alongside small groups and a teaching of a skill the mothers can use to earn profit. Due to the virus, however, we have had to split up the mothers and travel to some of the villages that are further away to bring this summit to them. Last Tuesday, we traveled to a small village about two hours from Fred and Stella’s home here in Masaka. We were expecting to have about 30 teenage mothers, but we had over 60 that showed up. 60 mothers under the age of 23 from ONE village here in Uganda. Take a moment to let that sink in… To say that I was surprised would be an understatement. Due to the virus, schools in Uganda have been closed, leaving many young men and women idle. This idle time has proven dangerous, as the number of teenage pregnancies in Uganda has spiked. This was very evident on Tuesday through the many soon-to-be mothers that we encountered and the stories that we heard. So many of these young women felt that there was nothing else in this life for them, and due to the large number of teenage pregnancies in this village, it was almost ‘normal’ to have a child so young. Our environments shape who we are, and if you grow up in a village which is stuck in the cycle of teenage pregnancy, it can be hard to escape such a mentality. When I say that the need for an organization such as ‘Smile Again Families’ is high, I cannot stress enough how high the need truly is. If the cycle of teenage pregnancy is to be broken in such places, there must be people sent in to help it be so.
“The harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few” (Luke 10:2). I have only been here in Uganda for three weeks, and already my eyes have been opened to the great need for laborers of this harvest. How can a hand full of people meet with over a hundred mothers one on one each month? How can those same people continue to take in new mothers and help them each individually as well? How can they supply resources for the needs of the mothers if funding is extremely low, and no funding is received from the government at all? These are just a few of the questions that have been rolling around in my head the past few days. It all seems so overwhelming until the Lord reminds me that we are simply His vessels.
I often hear Fred and Stella say “we do as much as we can, and we trust that God will do the rest”. Does God not say that, with Him, all things are possible? “…pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Luke 10:2). Let us never forget that it is HIS harvest, and though it is abundant, we need but ask and He will supply. I must remember that it is not I who does anything, but Christ in me. For “He must increase, and we must decrease”. The only way to fulfill such a need is to lay it at the feet of Christ day in and day out. I invite each of you reading this to join us in prayer- join us on this mission! Join us as laborers of this harvest. You are needed, and your prayers never go unheard.
Father, we thank you and we praise for seeing us, knowing us, loving us, and working through us. We ask for your protection and your guidance, but most importantly for your Holy Spirit to fill us completely. May we be vessels of your Spirit who give from Your great abundance and never run dry. In Jesus’ name. Amen.