As families around the region gather around Christmas trees and dinner tables, one Valparaiso family will be together in another place special to them. Their second home happens to be one of the poorest nations in the world; where the per capita income is $460 and the life expectancy is just 53 years. And it’s in this place that sounds to have little hope, that Lovelyn and Matt Palm and their nine children will go to learn and share and make a difference.
“Uganda is one of the 20 poorest nations in the world,” said Lovelyn Palm. Her friends and family appropriately call her “Love” for short. “Almost 40 percent of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day. Despite that, the people there are some of the kindest, most faith-filled, and joyful people I've ever met.” This will be Palm’s eighth trip to that country.
It’s where she has witnessed the reality of the phrase that “it takes a village to raise a child” as many are unofficially adopted by others through kinship care. “The land is beautiful with tea plantations, red dirt roads, lush bush areas where a safari can be taken. It’s one of the very few countries that mountain gorillas can be seen, the source of the Nile River and the equator runs through the country,” said Palm.
And while the family plans to include a safari, stand on both sides of the equator and enjoy exotic fresh food, like mango, chapatti, maooke and jackfruit, the purpose of the visit is more than a sightseeing adventure.
The Palms first visited Uganda in 2009 to complete an international adoption of their son Nick, now 12. “We fell in love with the country and its people,” said Palm. “While I was in country for the court proceedings of our second adoption, our oldest son, Nicholas (then 10) told me that he wanted to take me to a village he had once visited with a mentor.”
Nicolas wanted to gift a bicycle he’d been given to a boy he met there. “When we traveled there, the people were so kind and welcoming. They live in little huts with straw thatched roofs and warmly welcomed us into their homes. Then, they wanted to take me to see their well,” said Palm. “What they took me to see wasn't a well at all. It was a low lying area collected with run off water. It was extremely dirty and the only source of water. They drank it, washed with it, cleaned with it, had their animals drink from it.”
After the trip, Palm felt a calling to do something to help that village. On her blog, momentswithlove.blogspot.com, she asked her followers to donate $32 on her 32nd birthday with the goal of raising $3000 to install a well. Double that was raised in less than two weeks. “Hundreds of people all over the world donated their $32, and it added up to so much. We were able to spend time with people in the village and share with them that we did this in love out of the love that God has for all of us,” she said.
In January 2012, the well placement was facilitated by Holden Uganda. At that time Palm, Matt and their five oldest children traveled there to dedicate the well. “They allowed Nicolas the honor of pumping the first pump of fresh, clean water,” said Palm.
On this trip, they are returning with their brood of 11. The family will also spend time at their boys’ former orphanages. In all, the Palms have 3 sons adopted from Uganda (ages 12, 7 and 5,) and six biological daughters. The girls are ages 10, 9, 7, 4 and the youngest are 1-year-old twins.
A former medical-surgical and pediatric nurse at Porter Hospital, Palm said she and her husband had always talked about adopting. “He has a sister who was adopted from Korea, and I’ve had an interest in both adoption and the African culture since I was a young girl.”
So, why a trip to Uganda this Christmas? “Our girls actually are the ones that sparked the idea about going for Christmas,” she said. “They’ve been asking when we could go back and one night said that the only thing that they wanted for Christmas was to spend time in Uganda.”
Palm’s trip has turned into mission of her own to help the people in a country that gave her three sons as she has reached out through her blog for donations to distribute on the trip and by selling necklaces made by Ugandan women. “As of right now, we’ll be taking 50 soccer balls and hand pumps, six suitcases of medical supplies and 125 cans of formula, a digital camera for an orphanage’s social work department and a laptop for the director of an orphanage.”