Bordered by the Sudan, Congo, Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania, Uganda is a beautiful country in East Africa affectionately known as “The Pearl of Africa." In November, I had the amazing opportunity to visit this breathtaking place on a mission trip with a ministry called 410 Bridge.

I first became interested in Uganda after hearing the Watoto Children’s Choir sing with Chris Tomlin at the 2010 Coca-Cola Scholars Banquet. The choir of mostly orphans out of Uganda tours the world singing at churches and various events. They blew me away! Fast-forward three years to when I was asked to join a team of people from Georgia and Alabama, including 1990 Coca-Cola Scholar (Kim Rash), on a journey I will never forget.

I found out soon after accepting the call to go on the trip that we would not be visiting the Watoto children in Kampala, Uganda’s capital. Instead, we would travel four hours southwest of Kampala to a village called Kaihura, where the only other African children’s choir is located, the Daraja Choir. The 410 Bridge ministry also supports this choir.

'I've never felt so welcomed in my life'

Kaihura, which sits at the foothills of the Rwenzori Mountains, is home to approximately 5,000 people. Most residents are farmers and live off of the land. The “town center” consists of a single dirt road with a few small shops and restaurants, and there are five churches and three schools in Kaihura. Many people there know some English, but their common language is Rutooro. Most do not have running water or electricity. It was a culture shock to our team to say the least!



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Carolyn, new friends and her 410 Bridge Team exploring the beautiful Ugandan countryside.


Upon arrival, we were greeted by local children crowding our bus shouting “Mazungas” (“white people”) and running after us waving. We felt like celebrities!  We were ushered to a nearby tree, where we were introduced to the local leadership, teachers and students at Kaihura Primary School. We were entertained by the children singing “We welcome you dear visitors” and dancing with grass skirts and bongo drums! I have never felt so welcomed in my life. 

The rest of the week was mostly spent learning about a ministry there called Bringing Hope to the Family, which consisted of a clinic, school and orphanage that helps provide proper care to adults and children in the community. During the week, we visited residents to learn more about their culture, assisted the community with building the foundation of a new school, taught lessons to students at vocational schools and in the orphanages, spent an afternoon with the Daraja Children’s Choir, played with children and took lots of funny “photo booth” pictures with props, like we sometimes do in the States. I even took my Coca-Cola bottle costume to let them wear in the pictures, and they couldn’t get enough of it! They had never seen anything like that.

'Noah’s Ark' 

I immediately fell in love with Kenneth and Beatrice, a married couple with two gorgeous children, who were our guides for the week and with us everywhere we went. They live in Kaihura in a modest home called “Noah’s Ark” that houses 99 children, mostly orphans, who they have rescued over the years. They even built a school for them on their property! 



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Kenneth Kabagambe, part of the 410 Bridge leadership team in Kaihura, poses with his wife Beatrice and children Daniel and Martha after church.

Kenneth told us about pet names that the villagers have for each other (12 in all), and that we would get one sometime that week. But for some reason, he gave me my pet name right away, just hours after meeting him. He said my name would be “Abooki” which means “motherly or nurturing.” Even though I am still single and don’t have children of my own yet, I have a strong desire to, and I love kids, so I was blown away by how appropriate that was for me! 

We also met Virginia and Jason, a couple from San Diego, who are in the process of adopting a beautiful little girl named Mercy. The laws just changed so that Americans must spend two to three years living there if they want to adopt a child! What a sacrifice! That’s how much they love Mercy. They are also taking care of a 22-year-old boy named Everest, who is paralyzed. For eight years, he lay in his own urine and feces with rats eating away at his legs on the floor of his home, which was a mud hut at the time.

Through Bringing Hope to the Family, he was rescued and now is sponsored by Virginia and Jason and others, and he is thriving in a small but clean home, making beautiful baskets that help to fund his immediate needs. One of my favorite memories on our trip was meeting him and getting to spend two hours with him and some of my teammates playing his favorite game: UNO. It made his day! He’s such a delight.



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Virginia and Jason Dunn from San Diego, pose with their daughter Mercy who they are in the process of adopting.


Too Many Stories to Tell

There are so many more stories I could tell of the people I met, the miracles I witnessed, and the perspective I gained from watching how they live, but there are no words or enough space to accurately capture the enormity of this experience.

What I can tell you is that Kaihura is a place of extreme poverty and red clay dirt with lush, green, rolling hills as the backdrop. Here are a few things I can tell you. For starters, children walk on dirt roads to school one to three hours each way, often without shoes because education is vital to their lives and they all realize that. Most classrooms have 80 to 100 kids packed in them with one teacher, and most people live in one room brick or mud huts and walk several hours a day to get clean water in buckets that they have to carry back home. They eat fried grasshoppers for snacks (we tried them too!). Also, you cannot catch ebola there, and most children go without lunch at school each day unless their parents can afford it.

I can also tell you that the people are absolutely lovely and filled with joy despite their poor circumstances.

This is partly because they rely on God daily to see them through every need, and they will all tell you that He has provided what they need, when they need it. This trip changed me, and it will stay with me forever. I went there to be a blessing to others, but came back feeling so blessed by them! If you ever get a chance to visit the Pearl of Africa, it will be a trip you will never forget.

Carolyn Norton is Alumni Relations Manager for the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation