From Desolation to Hope: Transforming Lives in Karamoja, Uganda

Join us on a journey through the heart of Karamoja, Uganda, where the harsh realities of extreme drought have hit hard. Samaritan’s Feet has returned to these often forgotten villages, offering not just shoes, but hope and transformation. Take a look at the story to see the profound impact of community service, from shoe distributions to well digging, illuminating the resilience and joy of the people of Karamoja.

Share This Story:

It was a slow, gradual change. The lush green landscape with large fruit trees and farms had been replaced with a vast orange desert-like land. Trees became sparse, a river was completely dry, and there were no signs of the once lush green landscape. It was vast, open, and dry. But if you looked in the distance, you could see mountains appearing, and on the other side, Kenya.

“The mountains are welcoming you to Karamoja,” said Joseph Lochugae, a native of the region and a Samaritan’s Feet partner.

Karamoja is in the northern region of Uganda and has experienced extreme drought, which impacts any potential agriculture, food, sources of income, and generally, any growth in the area.

“Villages in this area are being forgotten,” added Lochugae. So, when Samaritan’s Feet returned to this region to do shoe distributions, along with a few other projects, they were welcomed with song, dances, and blessings.

A Community Transformed

As the team bus drove down the bumpy dirt road towards the community of Longoleki, kids began emerging from their homes to wave and even run alongside the bus. Many of the children wore nothing but an old shirt, yet they also wore big smiles and their eyes were filled with excitement and wonder. The bus parked and the women made a circle, inviting the team to join, as they clapped, sang, and danced with joy as they received the visitors.

The team would serve these nearly 200 families in this community in three ways: a shoe distribution, digging a water well, and a food giveaway.

Toddlers, children, young adults, and seniors were all lined up near the primary school eagerly awaiting for the shoe distribution. It was a jarring sight, as mothers were begging for their children to go first to ensure they received their new shoes.

Some of the teachers from the school sat down to help the team wash feet and distribute about 500 pairs of shoes. One older woman immediately began jumping in her new shoes, testing the comfort and durability. Another older woman clearly had signs of Elephantiasis, a foot-borne disease from a parasite that can cause extreme swelling in the feet. Her new shoes will provide some relief and protection from that soil and parasites that once infected her. Kids and adults could be heard and seen clapping and cheering just down the road in their new shoes—simply celebrating the gift and service the visitors bestowed upon them.

“We served the kids first and even though you can’t speak the language, you can see the joy. The purity that these people have and their true excitement to be a part of that was amazing,” said Hannah Buckley, a Samaritan’s Feet Uganda team member. “We were able to give a little bit to people who have nothing and they were so full of joy when you give them their shoes—they were jumping and celebrating. It was the most amazing experience I have ever had.”

Another Samaritan’s Feet mission team member and leader, Christina O’Connor, served in the Karamoja region last year and was inspired to fundraise to build a well with a nonprofit she helped start, The Good Good Life. After about 12 months of fundraising and planning, it was finally time to begin drilling. And the Samaritan’s Feet team was here to see it.

The rig was set up and dug deep below the surface of the ground. Kids and adults had gathered to see what the noise was and began clapping as they discovered it was drilling for water.

Previously, getting free water was a trek. The closest well was about a four-hour walk one-way. Often, the children are sent to fetch the water which leads to them missing school, making the school attendance rate quite low. Since water was such a rarity before, clothes were rarely washed and people bathe only once a year.

Now with a well and access to water right in the center of Longoleki, that will change.

“I think one of the major impacts of this well is people in the community will be able to start growing their own food and selling it. The water is going to be right there, on the school grounds. I think this is the beginning of such a great future for this community. One of the men in the community told me, ‘thank you for bringing life. Water is life.’ So, yeah, it’s the beginning of a good, good life for this group,” said O’Connor.

Once the water was running through the new well, kids began washing and cleaning the new shoes they just received, along with their faces. It was a moment of pure, refreshing delight.

Natiwaei Orphanage

As the team neared the Natiwaei school in Moroto, a sea of children wearing blue shirts could be seen swaying and dancing. Getting closer, the team heard the children singing and giggling, full of energy and smiles as they welcomed us as honored guests.

The Natiwaei school houses and educates about 200 orphans from the Karamoja region. The children ranged in ages, but each was so polite and kind as they sat down to receive their shoes. After being served, the kids gathered in the back of the school, running, playing, posing, and singing, just being kids. The head teacher thanked our team saying “everyone is smiling and everyone is happy.”

The children gathered together to treat the Samaritan’s Feet team to a few thank you songs, including a new rendition of the ABCs, and another song that had the lyrics “will you come back and see us again?” Coincidentally, the team did pass by the school the following day and saw many children still playing while wearing their new shoes.

“You can really see the impact you’re making,” said Cynthia Dumizo, a Samaritan’s Feet Uganda team member.

Nadunget Primary School

A young boy gave a thumbs up as he opened the gate to Nadunget primary school. Kids then came from every direction, waving and yelling, filling the school compound as far as the eye could see. Approximately 900 kids attended the school and close to 200 lived there.

One of the school administrators had organized a program to welcome in the team of volunteers before the shoe distribution. A choir sang the Uganda national anthem and another song with lyrics that said “we are happy to receive you. We will not forget you.” The school administrator noted that there is a saying in Uganda that if a visitor comes to your home, you are blessed, then insisting that now their school is blessed.

It would be a large distribution, so our team of volunteers set-up approximately 15 stations in the shade where the foot washing and shoe distributions could take place simultaneously. Every so often, the sun would peek through the trees, shining a beam of light on students’ faces as they smiled watching a team member wash their feet and then again as they got the first glimpse of their colorful shoes.

What makes these distributions truly remarkable is the sense of equality—volunteer team members and recipients seated on the same level. Despite their diverse backgrounds, being from different places, and speaking different languages, they all share in the human experience of happiness and sadness, hardships and opportunities.

“People are so thankful because of the way the team has washed their feet, the way people have been rendering service to each person,” said Pastor Simon Muwereza, Uganda country host for Samaritan’s Feet. “Wherever we have gone, we have seen people’s joy, we have seen people are being changed as they receive the shoes. So I want to say thank you to the people who are donating money and especially the team of volunteers who have come to serve the people of Uganda.”

As the bus began to exit the compound gate, kids gathered once more, just as they did when we arrived, this time blowing kisses and waving goodbye to their new friends. Farewells filled the air, representing all the connections made not only at Nadunget primary school, but in the Karamoja region.

“We have a dream in Karamoja. A bad dream to a good dream. That we can fix and help children in these communities, they go to school and get support. You can start by taking and helping one child. Then, when that child grows up, they can bring about good impact,” said Lochugae.

And as the volunteers who traveled on this mission trip heard and saw throughout their time in Karamoja, “anything is possible in Uganda.”