Uganda is a small landlocked country located in East Africa. Kenya lies directly to the east, Sudan to the north, Democratic Republic of Congo to the west and Tanzania to the south. In square mileage, Uganda is comparable to the state of Oregon; however, the population density of Uganda is equivalent to that of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut combined. Uganda was reverently nicknamed “The Pearl of Africa” by Winston Churchill because of the friendly nature of Ugandans and the vast physical beauty of the landscape. Uganda boasts many attractions, including the Equator (which divides the country), several national parks that serve as homes to exotic animals (lions, giraffes, elephants, gorillas and chimps), beautiful Lake Victoria and the majesty of famous mountains (Mount Elgon and Mount Rwenzori). The tropical climate creates an ideal environment for growing cash crops (coffee, sugar cane and tea), as well as staple food crops (potato, corn and cassava).
Uganda is a fascinating combination of tribal traditions and modern day influences. The majority of Ugandans live in small villages scattered throughout rural areas. Most Ugandans still recognize their native tribe by celebrating traditional customs, rituals, language and cuisine. English and Western influences are interwoven into Ugandan society. English is the country’s official language for education, the court of law and business. Especially in large urban areas, specifically the country’s capital city of Kampala, western influences are noticeable in fashion, music and business practices.
Like most African countries, Uganda has had a turbulent history. Since 1962 Uganda has been independent of English rule. The country endured the tyrannical rule of Idi Amin during the 1970’s before establishing its current democracy. A civil war raged in the northern region of Uganda for almost two decades as rebel LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) soldiers attempted to overthrow the government. The devastation included the destruction of thousands of villages, the brutal slaughter of more than 10,000 people and the capture of over 25,000 young boys who were systematically converted into child soldiers. The AIDS epidemic has swept through Uganda, resulting in the deaths of millions over the past couple decades. As a result, there are over 2 million orphaned children in Uganda, young ones who are either living in orphanages or on the city streets.
Visitors to Uganda are saddened by the extreme poverty, awestruck by the beauty of the countryside, calmed by the simplicity of daily living, captivated by the overt generosity and friendliness of people (especially the children) and inspired by the genuine gratitude for small gestures of kindness. It is a country with great needs, but also one of great love and joy.