In 2005, I sat down to dinner with one of my roommates and listened as she shared about her recent trip to Africa. I'd had a desire to visit Africa for years, so I was fascinated by all her stories. She finally got around to telling me about the “night commuters:” these kids who were walking into town, at least 5 miles each way, to find somewhere safe to sleep out of fear of being abducted by a brutal group of rebels - The Lord’s Resistance Army. I heard the stories about children being kidnapped, then forced to fight and die, and thought - how could this really be happening to kids, when I’d never heard about it on TV or the internet? I decided I had to see it for myself.

From the moment I landed in Uganda I fell in love. Beautiful, smiling faces greeted me everywhere I went – I saw amazing green, lush countryside and thousands of children – so cute, so joyful, but living with the scars of war.  Poverty, sickness, fear - needy children started appearing out of nowhere, and all I could think was “I can’t do enough for everyone.” I quickly learned, though, that in Africa you never have enough. But sometimes your love and your smile are all you need.

My first response was, “I’m going to start an orphanage.” But when I shared my “vision” with a couple of the locals, I will never forget their response. They said, “Westerners think they can save the world by starting orphanages in Africa. They don’t ever just stop and listen to what we need. We are dying to learn. You can give us money but we will just turn around and buy the fanciest radio we can find, you can give us clothes but in a year it will have holes in it from moths. But give us education and you give us life. You give us a real chance.”

That message couldn’t have been louder or clearer. I knew what I was meant to do.  In the Gulu region of northern Uganda, in the heart of the war’s wreckage, I would build a school.

And here we are, 10 years after I first heard of this beautiful country, and the Mercy’s Village school is standing, growing, and thriving.  Through the hard work and generosity of so many friends, both old and new, we are seeing the light of hope break through the darkness of decades of fear.  With every word the children read, with every letter written and math problem solved in their humble classrooms, the door to opportunity swings open a little wider.

I am so happy and honored to introduce you to the children of Mercy’s Village.  Despite their circumstances these kids have an infectious joy that words cannot describe. They are beautiful, they matter, and they deserve to have a fighting chance at life. They deserve Mercy.

- Jeami Duncan