Story by Jill Vine.
Keith and Cheryl Kowalski have faithfully served with MAF since 2008 when they first moved from Canada to Botswana with their five children - Jacob, Abigail, Johnathan, Lilly and Xander. They then moved to Kampala in Uganda in July 2017. They tragically lost their 3-year-old son, Johnathan, while living in Botswana. Cheryl and Keith set up a trust in his name called ‘Johnathan’s Seeds’ which has enabled the family to reach out and help many of the most underprivileged people they’ve encountered in their time living in Africa. Johnathan’s imprint has continued on through this impactful charity.
While being in lockdown due to COVID-19 in Kampala, Cheryl has continued to reach out to street boys in the slums where she usually meets with over 50 boys once a week. Johnathan’s Seeds has helped provide these boys with food throughout the crisis. Cheryl explained, “I wasn’t able to get to the street boys due to the restrictions but through a trusted contact the boys have been receiving food.” Johnathan’s seeds along with the Kowalskis' Canadian supporters have also helped the Feed5000 Appeal initiated by their colleague and friend within MAF, which has fed 13,023 people to date. The Kowalskis have been able to help feed more than 3000 of these hungry people and their help came at just the right time when funding for the appeal was slowing down. Both Keith and Cheryl have always had a huge passion for helping the poor and even more throughout this crisis.
Talking about some of the positives that have come out of the COVID-19 period, Cheryl says, “I’ve really enjoyed hearing Keith working from home, making calls to ministry offices and partners. It was like watching a miracle unfold when the Kasese relief flights came together. It gave me renewed respect for what Keith does because I’d never seen first-hand all that his role entails because he’s usually [at the MAF office]. I’ve also cherished the opportunity to home-school my kids. I felt like school was getting the best hours of the day with them and having Keith working from home together with all of us has meant we’ve had some beautiful memories through this time”.
Cheryl also shared some of the harder aspects of life in Kampala in this season. “Increased security risks have been hard. I had been enjoying the freedom of walking around our area, getting to know the neighbours, until one day I had 2 men surround me along with my daughter and 2 of her friends and they grabbed my bag and disappeared on a motorbike. More than just my bag was taken that day - the freedom and safety I was enjoying beforehand was also gone. We are thankful, regardless of this, to be here and do whatever we can to help.” Keith has a very logical and strategic mind and has been a great asset to the programme, weaving together the operations schedule which is usually very complex and busy. He can carefully see how to make the most of each flight leg and ascertains what’s best for our partners and our programme. Keith is also a pilot and has put flying aside for now to fulfil the need of operations in Uganda. Keith revealed what he has most appreciated throughout COVID-19, “One of the most fulfilling things for me has been being a part of the Feed5000 Appeal, making an immediate impact in people’s lives. One of the hardest things was not being able to use our own vehicles, especially when trying to access cash quickly for the appeal from ATMs 10 kilometres away. Now that we’re back at work, we’re kind of on the upswing — we can use our own cars, the curfew in now at 9pm and more businesses are open. But for the national staff that knock on affect is that they have more people depending on them. It has made me more aware that I want to do more to help some of our national staff. For example, our flight follower, Jackson, has been maintaining a vegetable garden. I have some ideas that might help with local projects like his, but I’m not sure they would work in [this local culture].”
Keith holds out hope for MAF Uganda’s current situation waiting to begin flying again. “It seems like it’s trending towards things continuing to open up, but I don’t know for sure if or when it will happen.” We are so proud of this amazing family and their heart for those in need.