Chapter #1 - The Early Days
It all started in 2005 when an independent filmmaker traveled to Uganda to find a story. With little money or plan, but discontent with their comfortable existence, Shana Gilbert and her crew set out to make a difference in Africa during their 3 month trip. When 'helping' people seemed to backfire and nothing went as planned, they flew back to Colorado feeling discouraged and hopeless.
During their time in Uganda, they discovered a house of 65 street kids and orphans who who stole their hearts. They were living on top of each other in a rented three bedroom house, malnourished and diseased but full of joy - often saying “Jangu Tuzine!” – meaning, “Come, Let’s Dance!” It’s this phrase that persuaded Shana and a friend to go back to Uganda two months later, leaving the film footage in a cabinet to see what happens if you keep on loving despite the pain and disappointment.
After getting established as a 501(c)3 non-profit in 2006, our focus for the first year and a half became keeping these kids stay alive by living and working alongside of their Ugandan caretakers who shifted everything we thought we knew about ‘foreign-aid’.
Today, we look back and marvel at those early days when there were only two or three of us Americans living in Uganda almost year round with no budget and no thought out plan. The only priority was going to the hospital everyday with 5-10 kids at a time, spending countless hours in waiting rooms and lobbies, dreaming of the day when no one would be hungry, and staying healthy would be normal life.
Chapter #2 - Our Friends Came
By year two, our friends started showing up. The hour drive to the airport became a familiar one as welcomed those who heard the story and accepted the invitation to ‘come & dance’. Roommates, sisters, friends of friends, the teacher with the summer off… CLD quickly became equipped with the most powerful resource: PEOPLE. Their love, time, listening ear, and willingness to serve propelled us into a grassroots movement toward discovering the root of the orphan cycle and finding a long term solution to poverty.
While walking alongside this community of street kids, each day was an adventure as everyone gave what they could and offered their skills in creative ways. These were the days that the relationships and trust were built, bonds we are still cultivating ten years later.
Chapter #3 - We got organized
After living in Uganda for a few years, we were finally convinced that money would never be the solution to poverty. All over Uganda we watched as money damaged relationships and created crippling dependency.
We were hopeful and excited as we began to see that donations could be invested in lasting ways: digging wells, 20-acres of farmland, a house for the kids to live and sewing machines to teach tailoring to the moms of these kids. These types of investments began to empower our friends and break dependency on cash-flow for basic human needs. Our vision in developing people over projects had begun, and there was no going back. Eventually, we also launched a primary and high school to provide education to the local community.
Chapter #4 - Our GREATEST LESSON
What is our greatest lesson in the last 10 years?
People Over Projects.
The core of Come, Let's Dance is ultimately about serving the poor while developing one person at a time to go and influence their own community. We have come to the realization that each project in Uganda is simply a platform for systematically growing the character and skill sets unique to each individual, equipping Ugandans and Westerners to love and serve their community
Along with the Ugandan programs that have been birthed in this way, it has been our privilege to watch many of our American Volunteers return to their homes with the tools they need to be leaders and visionaries with a sacrificial heat to serve and love the 'least of these.' They continue to inspire everyone around them.
Overall, CLD continues to care most for people in broken places. The orphan and widow who have only known poverty and despair, for the marginalized, for the hungry and those who go without. Our heart is to see people's mourning turned into dancing.