By NOREEN HYSLOP
Kyle Carter, who currently resides in Sikeston, recalls that years ago he told his lifelong friend, Bobby Garner, "Anywhere you go, I'll support you, but don't expect me to go with you!"
Carter and Garner met before they were two years old and have remained close friends throughout their lives, graduating together from Dexter High School in 2000. The Garners, in their role in Uganda with the Kibo Group, work in the poverty stricken area of the Busoga region in Jinja, Uganda with very specific goals in mind. Efforts focus on digging and rehabilitating water wells in the area, thereby changing the hygiene culture of the area and ensuring a hygienic and sanitary environment. As standards of public health are raised, the focus turns to education and economic viability within the communities in which Garner and other missionaries work.
Another focus of the Kibo Group is women's empowerment. Within that effort, the group works to build fuel efficient stoves and provide education on preventive healthcare while promoting gender equality -- something that is very much a foreign concept to most within the Uganda culture.
Along with the well projects and the building of stoves, other primary focuses of Garner's have been the planting of trees and constructing latrine pits.
"Instead of going forward," Carter explains, "the people of Uganda have for several years, moved backward."
It is the mission of people like Bobby and Candice Garner to bring the East African people forward.
Many of the families seen in the area where Carter visited trek a mile or more for water. The walk is made daily. Natives can be seen walking along the dusty roadways carrying multiple jugs of all sizes and shapes -- most of them clearly unclean. Before the Kibo Group came, the walk was much further and the water less clean. While wells are still being installed, an almost daily task is also to maintain the wells that exist.
As evidenced in over 2,000 photographs Carter took during his stay in Uganda, the sense of contrast in many instances is mind-boggling. Within clear sight of shanty structures -- many of them without roofs -- with no running water and no heat, lie modern nine-story condominiums.
And on the streets of the nearby cities are small, but modern Smart Cars, running alongside bicycles with tribesman carrying tractor tires roped onto the backs of the bikes, and in one photograph a wooden door is strapped onto the seat of a bicycle as its new owner pedals along a dusty trail. The door was likely found discarded in the city, but was salvaged by a native of Uganda who now counts it among his luxuries.
Perhaps the most notable contrast of all, says Carter, comes in the form of communication. While the large cities in Uganda are progressive and technilogically up to date, in the villages of Jinja there are no televisions, computers or landlines in the huts and humble dwellings. Yet, with tattered clothing and often bare feet, there is a cell phone in nearly every shirt pocket!
"I never did quite figure out how that came to be," laughs Carter. "They may be distributed through the school system. I'm just not clear on that, but it was certainly an interesting observation."
One of Carter's most often told stories from Uganda involves the manner in which he was perceived by the natives there. Kyle Carter is a large man. He is an imposing figure when he enters a room. He explains how his size, combined with the fact that he was a white man in a black man's world, was perceived.
"I learned that in Jinja, just as some parents in the states still tell their children that if they misbehave the 'boogie man' is going to get them, parents tell their young children that the 'munene munene' is going to get them."
Translated, the 'munene munene' is a very large white man.
Clearly expressed on the faces of the children of Jinja, Uganda, upon Carter's arrival, was the mistaken impression that the minema mazungu had arrived!
Carter explained away his imposing figure and quickly warmed to the natives in Jinja. He was impressed by a number of characteristics of the residents of Jinja, but one element that most impressed him was the manner in which the Ugandans greeted him and greet each other on a daily basis.
"You are extended a warm handshake and a hug, but then everyone you encounter asks about how you are feeling and initiates a pretty in-depth conversation. I came away feeling that they really cared about how I was feeling that day or what I was going to do that day. There were no casual waves or brief greetings. It was very warm and inviting."
"These are intelligent, caring, and perceptive people who have been forced into poverty generations ago during the reign of Idi Amin."
Amin's rule in Uganda in the 1970s was characterized by human rights abuse, political repression, ethnic persecution, extra-judicial killings, nepotism, corruption, and gross economic mismanagement, all elements whose outcome is now evident in the people of Jinja and across East Africa.
But through the work of the Kobe Project and within that the Mvule Project through which 16,000 Mvule trees have been planted, the people of Uganda are beginning to rise from poverty. Through education and through a partnership with the Busoga Kingdom that allows Kibo to work with cultural leaders in each of the 11 chiefdoms along the banks of the Nile, East Africa's people are learning to be self-sufficient in a healthier environment.
Carter says he was told before he left for Uganda that he would not come back the same person he was when he left for Uganda.
"And that was so true," he says. "I was also told that I was going to get an education that money can't buy, and I did."
Perhaps most importantly, Carter is now able to explain to the donors of the Kibo projects at home what is transpiring as a direct result of their generosity.
"I was able to see the work that Bobby and his people have done. I can tell people here first-hand about the amazing ongoing efforts there."
The Uganda mission experience, Carter says, taught him just how missions work.
"It's no longer just a check mark on a box toward a donation," he says. "This made the mission work real. It was an experience that I will take with me for the rest of my life."
Carter was supported on his mission trip by the Advance Church of Christ, the Gideon Church of Christ and U.S. Bancorp Investments Inc. and Insurance Services, LLC, for which he serves as a financial advisor in addition to his ministry at the Advance church.