To the roughly 350 children living in the village of Nakaseke in central Uganda, Mason Satterfield is known as “Dad.”
“You can’t even express the joy that brings,” Satterfield said.
So the heartbreak he felt when he returned to Nakaseke after several months away only to find one of “his kids” gone after losing a battle with tuberculosis and HIV is “very hard to deal with.”
That’s a common problem in the country, but the grief it brings to Satterfield is not enough to make him quit his efforts there.
Satterfield, a 2010 Northwest Whitfield High School graduate and Varnell resident, never saw himself becoming a missionary until a fluke meeting with Simone Puccinelli while both were students at Lee University in Cleveland, Tenn. Puccinelli had started a Cartersville-based nonprofit organization called Simone’s Kids (simoneskids.com).
The organization has been building a school, called God’s Hope Primary, for the village since 2012, completing several classrooms and bathrooms last year and currently working to finish a cafeteria, clinic and kitchen.
The prior school was “dangerous, dilapidated and falling apart,” Satterfield said.
He said he heard about the need when Puccinelli temporary bunked with him and a friend for a few weeks during a roommate change.
“She told me that she was going on a month-long trip in June (2012) to break ground on the school and asked if I wanted to go,” Satterfield said. “I absolutely fell in love with it, being around all those kids. When I got home, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I realized this was going to be more than just a one-time trip.”
A different world
Satterfield’s first trip came with the culture shock most might expect from entering a Third World country. He described the village as a city with “two main roads that are paved and that’s it.”
While there were “parts of the capital (Kampala) trying to become first world,” most of the country is “very poor,” Satterfield said. Government-controlled electricity is scarce, food is limited to rice, potatoes, beans and occasional meat, and “desperation” is palpable on the faces of the country’s malnourished children.
Nakaseke, located south of Kampala, is a place where children “celebrate a soda,” Satterfield said. Marisa Roy, also a 2010 Northwest graduate and a student at Lee University who travels often with Satterfield, said “it takes a lot to adjust” to life there.
“For us, we’re coming from this place where you can get anything at any time,” she said.
Satterfield returned to Uganda in the summer of 2013, then again that following autumn on a solo trip for several months.
“Simone told me about going on longer trips by myself,” he said. “She said, ‘It’s a pretty clear sign that you’re cut out for it.’”
Roy also went on a solo trip for a few weeks, but there were times Satterfield was the only American in the village.
Satterfield said “there’s a lot of desperation” in Nakaseke that can be hard to cope with emotionally.
“For example, there was a little boy named Marvin,” he said. “He is roughly six years old. They don’t do birthdays over there, so it’s confusing with age sometimes. He came to school last summer, back in 2013, and he was moping around, looking sad, and he had knots on his head.”
Marvin’s father, Satterfield said, came home drunk one night and beat him “until he was on the floor.”
“He is one of the most malnourished kids at school, he had no defense,” Satterfield added.
In America, most people aware of such a situation would likely turn to protective support organizations like the Division of Family and Children Services. But in Uganda?
“Law enforcement is twisted,” Satterfield said. “You just slip them some money and they look away.”
After discovering a second beating, Satterfield said he and other school officials took it upon themselves to track down Marvin’s grandmother, who now has custody.
“She is really old, but she does everything she can to take care of Marvin,” he said. “He’s a really, really stubborn kid. Seeing how many kids come from a background like that, you realize that even a hug could make their entire week.”