Musana 2017

Two years ago, my trip to Musana was as much about me as it was about the people of Uganda. Of course, I wanted to go so that I could use my skills to make a small ripple in the world’s ocean, but I was also coming out of a really hard period in my life. I had been simply putting my head down and surviving for too long. The trip was part of my anthem–my declaration to the world and myself–that I was ready to thrive. I was stepping out and doing the things that I had dreamed of for years. During the trip I was inspired by the women that I met who who working hard to provide a better life for my family. I decided if the women in Africa could do it, so could I, so I determined to go back to school to get my master’s degree.

This year, the trip is different. It’s more of an act of obedience than an anthem. When I left Musana last time, I vowed that I would be back after I had completed grad school. I felt that I was just beginning the work that I needed to do. I learned so much about the people, the culture, and the educational system. Now I feel much more prepared to work with the teachers and help them develop the skills that they need. However, I also know the hard work that it takes to get there–the fundraising (way out of my comfort zone), leaving my family for 11 days (missing spring break with my kiddos), and all of the personal and work prep to get there. This isn’t meant to be “woe is me”, because I am excited to go and I know the trip will be so worth it and a blessing in many ways. It’s just an acknowledgement that sometimes we do the good thing because we have all the big feels, and sometimes we just recognize that the world feels crazy and out of control and we need to not give up hope but keep on doing our part to make the world a better place. 


When I give my limited money and time resources to an organization, I always want to make sure my resources are being used wisely, such as actually going to the people and not providing an extravagant lifestyle for an administrator. When I give my resources to Musana, I feel even better because their goal is to receive resources now so that they don’t need them later. Millions (maybe billions?) of dollars in aid have been given to Africa, yet it still has too many children orphaned and people in poverty. Musana isn’t just a school, or a children’s home, it is a community development organization that wants to break the cycle of dependency on foreign aid. They “promote an innovative social business mentality by creating enterprises focused on health, education, agriculture, and skill development” ( My role at Musana directly impacts the people of Uganda because I will be working with the teachers at the primary school. Musana primary school educates over 800 children and serves to go beyond traditional Ugandan curriculum by providing students with the critical thinking skills that they need to innovate change in a developing country. The teachers at Musana are fabulous teachers, but they only receive instruction in the traditional “chalk and talk” curriculum. I will be co-teaching with the primary 4 teachers, helping them implement ideas and solutions that work within their culture.

Thank you for listening (reading) as I shared my heart. If you would like to support me as I support the teachers in Africa, here are two ways you can give:

Send in a Check: put Tabitha Burgtorf Uganda 2017 on the memo line

Flatirons Community Church, 400 West South Boulder Rd. Suite 1700, Lafayette, CO 80026

Give Online via Credit Card:




These Women Hold up Half the Sky

Did you know that investing in women is one of the most powerful ways to lift a family out of poverty? Women invest around 80 cents of every dollar that they earn back into their family, while men are more likely to invest  only 30 cents from every dollar in their family. Women are more likely to spend their earnings on education, nutrition, and health care. (Half the Sky) While I was in Uganda, I had the opportunity to meet some of these amazing women.

Our first visit was to Musana’s women’s project in the village of Bkonko. The route to the village was an incredible cultural experience.  The road was too bumpy for our usual ride, a fifteen passenger van that we crammed at least sixteen people in, so we had to ride bodas (motorcycle taxis).  Everywhere we went we had seen bodas carrying unusual cargo, entire families with babies in baskets, a futon, televisions, towers of plastic crates, so I trusted that my boda driver could handle one little me without too much trouble. There are no helmets anywhere and the bodas share the road with the much faster and bigger van taxis. The vans and semis full of sugar cane just barrel up behind the bodas while honking their horn and the bodas veer over to the side of the road and play chicken with the pedestrians. Fortunately, the road we were traveling on wasn’t very crowded. In fact, it wasn’t challenging enough for my driver, so he had to make it more interesting by talking on his cell phone as we drove! Despite his one-handed driving, he managed to smoothly avoid all the potholes and our Mzungu (white person) parade arrived safely at the village.

We were greeted by a beautiful sight. The women had paused their digging in the fields and were waiting to welcome us with song and dance. They performed a traditional dance for us that involved quite a lot of fancy hip rolling, and then pulled us all into the circle to dance with them (happily none of my teammates has released a video of me attempting to dance). These women sew bags and tie dye fabric that Musana then sells through Flatirons church or an etsy shop. They get paid per project and then use that money to support their family and pay for their children’s school fees.


The amazing women of Bkonko getting ready to greet us with dance.

I felt such a kinship with these women. They are doing everything they can, though their opportunities are few, to provide a better future for their families. They didn’t speak English and we didn’t speak Lasoga, but we communicated our hearts through our smiles and laughter and dance. They shared their traditional dance with us and then we taught them a silly camp dance game (which they loved!). The language of laughter is universal.


Tabitha and I


One of the ladies shared my name, which was quite fun. At the end, she came up to me told me (through a translator) how she prayed that the same God who brought me from far away would guide me safely back home again, and that she was so blessed that I came to visit. I wanted to tell he how proud I was of her, for working so hard for her family, and that we were so much the same even though we were worlds apart, but I was too choked up to be eloquent, but I hope my love shone through.

The next day, we visited Musana’s first women’s project. Most of these women have moved away from the sewing market and have received micro-loans to start a small business. Some of the businesses, include a piggery, a small store, and two brick-makers. They are very motivated to pay back their loans as once an individual’s loan is repayed, another woman in their group is able to get a loan.


Our team with Florence. The pile on the left are all the bricks that have failed.

Florence is the original brick maker in the group. She digs mud, mixes it carefully with water that she has hauled, and then lets it dry in the sun. She talked about persevering through all the hardships and setbacks to create a successful business. Through her business, she has been able to send four children through school and is currently trying to earn enough so that she can build a four room house for her family (a mansion in rural Uganda). Her joy and work ethic were inspiring! She digs in the red dirt in the hot African sun, back-breaking labor, but she does it with joy and pride because it has helped her take care of her family.

When we left, I didn’t pity these women for their lack of electricity or running water or other comforts. “I want to be more like them,” I thought. “I want to work hard with joy and thankfulness for every opportunity.” These women truly do hold up half the sky.

Uganda Recap

Here’s a brief recap of my time in Uganda. I have much more to say, but I know I will be processing through this trip for awhile!

Setting the Stage

Sixty-seven percent of Ugandans live in poverty. It is a country full of children, with child-headed households comprising 79.9 percent in rural areas! Twenty-seven percent of Ugandan adults are illiterate, and the primary school (up to seventh grade) dropout rate is 68.2 percent. (statistics from

Uganda has no lack of aid from the outside, as evidenced by all the other aid workers sharing our plane from Entebbe to London. Aid, however, doesn’t do long term good unless its purpose is to render itself unnecessary. Just as a good therapist’s goal is that her clients no longer need her, effective aid aims to provide community development until the locals are providing aid to each other.

Musana is a development organization that seeks to improve the lives of Ugandans through education and job development. The goal is not to be another outside aid organization, but to empower the local community to be the change for the future of Uganda. One of Musana’s main projects is their primary school. The school provides education for 600 students, both students who pay tuition and students who are vulnerable children on scholarships. Increasing the quality of education at Musana increases the number of future leaders that Musana is able to train, which then has a direct impact on Uganda as a whole


The future leaders of Uganda (photo credit: Brian Dawson)

Our mission, as a team of teachers from the United States, was to develop relationships with the teachers, ascertain their needs, and then come alongside them to help them grow the quality of education at their school. The teachers are amazing, intelligent, passionate individuals who care deeply for their students, but do not have access to information and professional development like we do here in the U.S.  We observed them in their classrooms and then took turns providing workshops while the rest of the team attempted to manage the chaos of providing activities for 600 children! Once we had established trust and relationship, some of our team even had the opportunity to team teach with the Ugandan teachers. I was able to be a part of phonics, writing, and reading comprehension workshops.

Most of the teaching in Uganda is “chalk and talk”, what we call teacher-directed lessons that involve the teachers presenting information and the students repeating it back and then writing it down. One of our main goals was to help them develop more interactive lessons. Another goal was to increase English literacy. English is the national language of Uganda, but most Ugandans speak another language at home. They learn English in school, but only through rote memorization, and reading and writing outside of school work is almost non-existent.


Damalie, one of the amazing Musana teachers. (photo credit: Brian Dawson)

The Impact

It has been very hard for me to attempt to concisely describe the impact of the trip, both on us and the Ugandans. Words cannot describe the beauty of our two groups coming together and learning and laughing with each other. I would not have believed that I could have so much in common with people half a world away or that I could become so close to them in just a week. I will share some of their words in an attempt to paint the picture for you.

“Teach a man to fish and you have fed him for a lifetime.” Tappy, a dynamic older teacher at the Musana school, quoted this proverb to us as she reflected on our impact. “You have taught us so much,” another teacher said. My heart was so full as each of the Musana teachers stood up and said something specific that they were going to use in their classroom and then shared their heart with us.

“Stay with us another week,” one teacher asked.

“Stay until December. We have free houses and free air!”

“Stay forever! You could become a Ugandan citizen.”

The tearful goodbyes and heartfelt hugs from both sides showed how much we all had become entwined in each other’s lives.

“We need you!” One teacher implored me, “We still have so much to learn.”

“No,” I replied, putting my hand over his heart. “What you need is already inside you. We gave you some skills and techniques, but you have so much to give these kids in your heart. You have what it takes to change the future of your country.” And with that, I wiped the tears from my eyes and handed the baton to the Ugandans as I boarded the bus for the airport.

What’s Next?

I would love to return to Musana. The work of professional development will be ongoing for awhile, and it makes sense for those of us who have already established relationships to go back. There is tentative talk of a trip this summer, but I already have too much going on. I will have to wait and see when it will work out for me to go again!

Also, one of the biggest educational needs at Musana is literacy development. They do not have a culture of reading. Plus, all of their books are from the U.S., which means that they are very difficult for the students there to understand and relate to. I have this crazy idea of creating literature that the students can connect to. I am thinking of writing a children’s book that connects a child in Musana to a child in Colorado.


Can you tell how much fun we had together? (Photo credit: Brian Dawson)

To Uganda or Bust!

Many of you have already asked how you can support my trip to Uganda, so here are the nuts and the bolts of the trip.

I am going to Uganda in February with a group of teachers from my church, Flatirons Community Church in Lafayette, Colorado. We are going to a place called Musana, which is a school and community development organization in eastern Uganda. Musana not only has a school, but also a farm, a craft department and a restaurant. Musana’s goal is to  be self-sustaining and to provide jobs and teach the children and community members valuable vocational skills.


Musana Sustainably gives Hope to vulnerable children and widows by Inspiring, eNlightening, and Empowering them to make a difference in their communities.
– S.H.I.N.E. (from

My team is the second teacher group from Flatirons that will be traveling to Musana. We will be observing the teachers in their classrooms and then providing professional development for the teachers. The teachers at Musana are very dedicated and committed to the children, but have limited training and teach sixty kids at a time with only a chalkboard and chalk for materials. The teachers write the information on the board and the children repeat it and then write it down. The children sit all day and the teachers rotate through the rooms. Last trip, the US teachers taught the Ugandan teachers about brain breaks and review games such as bingo. They also realized that the teachers, who teach in English, had no phonemic awareness. They didn’t even realize that the letters have sounds! Imagine being able to read and write only the words that you had completely memorized. The teachers were excited to learn that phonics existed. They have since bought a phonics curriculum for the whole school. We are going in February, right after their school term begins, and will be helping them unpack and teach the curriculum. The Musana school already has a great reputation in Uganda for the high number of students who pass the seventh year test, and they are hoping that introducing phonics will help the students even more. The test scores are a huge determining factor in the students’ futures.

I am so excited to be able to use my skills as a teacher to help impact Uganda’s future leaders.

The cost of the trips is $2900, and I only have a short time to raise funds, so I would love any help you can give. Thanks in advance!

To give by check:
Flatirons Community Church
355 West South Boulder Road
Lafayette, CO 80026
Please make sure the check is clearly labeled with Tabitha Burgtorf and Uganda trip as it’s a big church!

To give by credit card:
Flatirons Uganda Trip

Click the green donate button and then choose my name from the list of team members.

If you have any questions, feel free to email me at

Thanks! I couldn’t this without you!

Happy Birthday to Me!

I am 37 today. 37! I have never cared much about my birthday, but this year I am shout it from the rooftops excited! I feel like a little girl in a flowing skirt who can’t stop twirling. This is my year. This year, my 38th year here on earth, is a turning point year for me.

I have always been a practical, no-nonsense sort of person. I don’t make demands. I don’t make waves. I don’t ask for much. I simply deal with whatever life hands me and learn to be thankful. As a child, I ate the boring lunches that my mom packed for me without complaint. Then, one day my lunches started getting much more exciting, and random things like pudding cups started showing up next to my sandwich and carrot sticks. The difference? My younger sister, who is much better at voicing requests, started attending the same school. In my typical water-off-a-duck’s back attitude, I held no bitterness about preferential treatment. Even then I knew that the squeaky wheel got the grease, and I knew I wasn’t willing to squeak, even if the reward was a pudding cup. I would rather eat dry bread than ask for something.

These traits have come in pretty handy over the years. I am a helpful person to have around. I faithfully do my job without complaining. I soldier through when life gets tough. If anyone asks me to do something, I get it done, but I am not very good at making things happen just for me. The problem with this is that I become some sort of Eeyore-ish martyr. I have an idea or a dream and I sorta wait and wait for the perfect timing, which of course never happens. Or my dreamer husband will come up with a great idea and I will shelve my ideas cause I figure only one of us should be crazy at a time (even though he never asks, or even wants, me to do that).

But I have things on my heart too. And the things on my heart aren’t just for me. You probably have heard the quote:

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” (Howard Thurman)

So this year, 37, I am going to start doing what makes me come alive. I know my family, and the world, will be better for it. I am not going to make these things happen because of my amazing Amazon woman skills, I am going to make these things happen because I am going to have courage. I am going to have the courage to ask for help from my community. I am going to have the courage to say that the skills I have can make a difference. I am going to have the courage to look up from the grindstone and plan for the future.

My newly 37 year old self with my never been used passport!

My newly 37 year old self with my never been used passport!

First, I am going to Uganda with a team of teachers from my church. We are visiting a school and working with the teachers to help them more effectively train Uganda’s future leaders. I have been almost signing up for trips like this for a couple of years, but I was always too afraid of the fundraising to follow through.

I have also applied for graduate school at the University of Northern Colorado. I am going to get my masters in Educational Psychology so that I can have a greater impact on our educational systems and also, because that practical part of me is never going away, so I can help provide a better future for my own family.

37. Here I come. It’s going to be a big year!

Giving Thanks

I started out November cranky. Maybe it was the skies that matched my grey, dark mood. Maybe it was the howling wind that transformed the trees from fiery works of art to barren skeletons. Maybe it was the heavy burden of the responsibilities that I was carrying. I struggled this way for a week or so, trying to be more light-hearted but only succeeding in small moments. Then, the weather became worse and my attitude became better. It got cold. Bitterly cold. Scarf over your face during the dog walk cold. The grey cloud over me lifted and I became overwhelmed with thankfulness. I had a warm house to sleep in at night when the temperatures dropped below zero! I had central heat with a programmable thermostat that starts pumping heat out before my feet have to hit the floor in the morning! I was humbled as not everyone has that privilege on frigid nights. Everything around me soon became an object of gratitude.

Fuzzy warm socks!

Hot coffee!

Snuggle buddies!

Beans in the crockpot!

Pumpkin pie!

Fur-lined boots!


For these things, and many more, I give thanks in this season of Thanksgiving.

winter weather

My Son is Smart

My son is smart. Not graduate from Harvard when you are 17 smart, but top of the advanced group at school smart.

We’ve mostly downplayed it, especially around people who have kids of a similar age. You can talk about how many goals your kid scored in soccer, or the first prize they won in a singing contest, but it seems a little braggy to talk about school smarts. It was especially hard when he was reading at the age when most kids only have rudimentary alphabet skills. I was so proud of my little reader, but I was reluctant to show it because I didn’t want to be a braggy pants.

I had a wake up call the other day, though. Caedmon and I were chatting about his advanced math test grade, which led to a boring “motivational” speech about all the different kinds of smart, and how school smarts was just one kind and everyone was on equal terms once school was over, blah, blah, blah. Then I looked up and he had tears in his eyes, and I realized that I had been downplaying the kind of smart he was. My intent was that he recognize the good in everyone, and not think that being smart makes you better than anyone else. I was in the smarty pants group at school, and I too often witnessed the superiority complex of my high IQ peers. My competitive spirit would emerge, and I would study hard for the sole purpose of wiping the academic floor with the “smarter than thou” folks. Even though I didn’t think I was better than anyone else, I was proud of being smart. I was a scrawny, awkward teenager with crooked teeth, no fashion sense, zero musical ability, and only a smidge of athleticism. Despite my shortcomings, I knew that I could step into any academic environment and excel, and that was my one talent that I would cling to and use to motivate myself that I wasn’t a total loser.

I don’t want to downplay my son’s gift anymore because I am too afraid of being braggy. Really, it is probably all in my head anyway. I have another son who is on the more average academic track, and I don’t feel threatened by the kids his age who are excelling academically. I know my struggling reader is amazing on so many levels, whether his report card screams “advanced!” or not.

Academic intelligence is Caedmon’s gift. He is left-brained like his mother and right-brained like his father, and it is a beautiful thing. Not only can he remember all the random facts and details in history, but he can invent new ways to solve problems or write a story that will give you every detail about the respiratory system while simultaneously making you laugh out loud.

I don’t think that he is better than your kid. I believe that every kid has beautiful gifts and talents that are their God-given tools to change their world. And, of course, I believe having good character is much more important that getting perfect grades at school. But he has an incredible gift that can change the world, and I am going to start celebrating it.

smarty pants

Just an average test day for the whiz kid.

Adversity and Beauty

Not too many months ago, my family faced a period of hardship. This hardship stretched on like the ocean. We knew (or hoped) there was another side, but we couldn’t see it, and the distance seemed unfathomable. Each day was a pounding of the waves. Not the gentle current that is replicated in all those soothing white noise machines, but the rough waves that wreck ships and pound and pound and wear away at even the biggest rocks. Each day was a put one foot in front of the other day. Stay focused on the task at hand. Keep your head down and keep plodding through life sort of day. One of our task to focus on was the daily dog walk. No matter what was going on at home, the dog had to get out. The kids and I would take him out every day, and as I put one foot in front of the other, I would also practice those deep cleansing breaths that you learn in childbirth education. Those cleansing breaths are just as handy for emotional pain as they are for physical pain. So I would walk and breathe in the fresh Colorado air. And I would pray long, elegant prayers like, “Help!”, and remind myself, “Life is hard, lean into Jesus.” But mostly, I would lift my head up from focusing on the path and my plodding feet and find some beauty to focus on. This beauty, such as my kids playing in their imaginary world or a woodpecker performing his musical hunt, would ground me and bring me joy and remind me that beauty is everywhere.


Our walk always led past a field that was polka-dotted with bright yellow flowers. Even though there were only a few bunches scattered throughout the field, they never ceased to bring me joy. I often braved the thistles and errant barbed wire to pick a bouquet to brighten my kitchen. I tried not to feel sad when the thresher came and mowed the field. I would just find other beauty to focus on. Not too many weeks later, though, the field was blanketed with yellow. The mowing had scattered the seeds and the flowers had risen from the proverbial ashes in greater abundance. Now every day when I walk past the field I am reminded that adversity creates the opportunity for even greater beauty, and I am determined that my life’s challenges will make me bloom even brighter.

Beauty from ashes

I asked my sister, whose photography skills far eclipse mine, to take a picture of the field for me.

How to Raise Giving Kids

My kids aren’t perfect. They talk with their mouths full, leave dirty clothes on the bathroom floor, and fight with each other. I am not anywhere close to the perfect parent, or I don’t think my kids would do those things (and all the other naughty things they do). However, one thing my kids do well, despite living in an entitled society, is give cheerfully and abundantly.  I am going to take at least partial credit for that, because I know that my oldest (like his momma) didn’t come out of the womb a natural giver.  I’ve tried to categorize some of the things that we do in our family to encourage giving.

1. Model a life of giving. Honestly, this is the base layer on the bottom of the pyramid, and if you don’t have this foundation, it’s going to be really hard to teach otherwise. I know that the Bible says to “not let your right hand know what your left is doing”, and in no way am I advocating bragging, but how are your kids going to know what you do if you don’t tell them? I don’t announce it from the rooftops every time I write a tithe check, but I try to involve them in the giving as much as possible. They help me pack up food for the food bank, and I give them the money to put in the compassion fund at church.

2. Don’t pretend that it is easy. Giving hurts. I don’t  always want to give, and often after I give I feel a re-0ccuring twinge of sadness for what I gave up.  Sure, there’s  the satisfaction of knowing that you blessed someone and the feel good feelings of doing the right thing, but there’s a selfish side too, at least for me.  Last summer I gave away a tidy sum of money that I was saving for a bike. I had an honest conversation with my kids about how much I wanted a bike, but that I felt that a certain special needs orphan needed a family more than I needed a bike. And when I got annoyed whenever the seat would start twisting on my husband’s old quirky bike, the kids and I would talk about “first world problems” and be thankful we could go on bike rides together. It was okay that it wasn’t a dream ride, because think of how awesome it was that the orphan had a new family!

3. Don’t force it.  I know some people have their kids give away or tithe ten percent of what they earn, but we don’t. Honestly, if we did that, my kids would give far less. I would estimate that they give away 50 to 75 percent of the money that they earn or are given. My youngest, the natural giver, gives closer to 100 percent.

Instead of buying each other presents for Christmas, the boys gave money to sponsor a child in Uganda.

Instead of buying each other presents for Christmas, the boys gave money to sponsor a child in Uganda.

4. Don’t try to manipulate them with false promises. Yeah, I believe that there is a spiritual principle of sowing and reaping, but it is not always easy to pinpoint. I didn’t give away my bike money because I believed that Jesus was going to bless me with a better bike (and I didn’t get a bike, I just rode my husband’s). I gave it away because it was the right thing to do. I didn’t give away the money because  it was going to make me “feel good.” I did it because God calls us to share what we have with others.

5. Provide lots of opportunities. We all have different things that move our hearts (unless you are like my husband and feel compassion for everything and everybody). Kids are the same way.  My youngest feels strong compassion for anyone with a medical condition. My oldest has more compassion for people who have lost stuff. In fact, my youngest gives all of his money to our compassion fund and then my oldest has compassion on his brother and buys him toys!  Follow your kids’ lead when they want to give. If they want to give to the panhandler on the corner, but you don’t think it’s a good idea, then go buy some food and give that instead. Or make a commitment to give to the homeless shelter and follow through! Or just give the panhandler some money. Your five dollars, even if it is spent on drugs, isn’t going to change the course of the panhandler’s life for the worse, but the compassion you demonstrated could change the course of your child’s life.

Giving money to 20liters clean water project

Giving money to 20liters clean water project.

6. Make sure they have money of their own that they can give! My kids earn money by doing chores, they get money for gifts, and I pay money to their chosen fund for them if they give up something that is a part of our regular budget. For instance, they pack lunch instead of buying lunch at school and I put the money in their compassion fund.

They raised $500 dollars to pay for cleft palate surgeries because Noah saw a picture in magazine that made him sad.

They raised $500 dollars to pay for cleft palate surgeries because Noah saw a picture in magazine that made him sad.

Daily Contentment

A life of simplicity requires a life of contentment. It is a fight against what we think we should have, or what everyone else has, and a satisfaction with what we do have.

I have had many opportunities to practice contentment, and I have found that the secret to contentment is thankfulness. In practice it looks like this: My husband is self-employed. This means lots of good things, such as flexibility in his work hours. It also means that his paychecks depend on someone else paying him. He does his due diligence in getting work and completing work, but that doesn’t always mean a paycheck right away. I can freak out (which I do occasionally), or I can choose to practice thankfulness. I look at the food in my fridge and say, “I am so thankful that I have enough food for today”. I might have to say it over and over a couple of times, but my heart rate begins to slow down and life doesn’t look so awful after all.