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A Day in the Life: The Gash Family Makes its Mark in Uganda

Fourteen days in – a new routine was beginning to form.

The day started with a morning visit to the apartment complex's gymnasium where, as a family, Jim, Joline, Jessica, Joshua, and Jennifer Gash gathered for an hour workout. It is a ritual that Jim and Joline made a point to incorporate in their daily schedule when they made their temporary move to Uganda.

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"We were making a conscious decision when we decided to come here to make family time. To rebond and reestablish a healthy family pace," Jim said. "We wanted to get away from the busy schedules we all had. When something had to give back home, exercise was the first thing to go."

Jim was still basking in the good news from the day before.

Henry, the young boy he met during his first trip to Uganda, had beaten the odds.

In the two years he spent in a Ugandan remand home, the equivalent to an American juvenile detention facility, Henry was not allowed to attend school or even practice his English language skills. In November, he was faced with the country's national exam, similar to the standards of the SAT. The scores were released, and Henry placed in the top four percent of all test takers.

Jim couldn't have been happier – an ideal start to the day.

The family completed their workout and went back to their three-bedroom flat. Jim was anticipating a big day in court, praying for a positive ruling in a custody case. Joline and the kids were planning a daylong trip to Nakalanda, a remote village located off of a peninsula. The only way to get there is by boat.

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As Jim made his way to the courthouse in the capital city of Kampala, the remaining four Gash family members hailed a boda-boda, the country's motorcycle taxi system, and headed to the dock where they boarded a small, wooden ferry for a 30-minute ride to the village. There they would greet the widows and widowers with care packages, and visit a schoolyard to play with some of the local kids.

They walked through dirt roads to the mud huts that housed men and women whose spouses or loved ones had passed away.

"They didn't have anyone," Joline said. "No one to take care of them."

When the Gashes made their move to Uganda nearly a month before, the plan was for Jim to complete his work with the country's judiciary system while the rest of the family volunteered at the remand homes during their six-month stay. Still awaiting approval to visit the remand homes, the family came up with Plan B. Before this day, Nakalanda was nowhere on their radar. But it seemed they were where they were supposed to be, and found themselves welcomed with open arms.

Residents were handed tubs of fruits, vegetables and rice – small tokens that showed them someone cares.

"We prayed with them," Joshua said. "Mostly they prayed for life."

The next stop was the schoolyard.

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"When we got there, all they wanted to do was give us a hug and touch our hair," Jennifer said. "They were so excited to see us."

Despite the language gap, Jessica, Joshua and Jennifer engaged the native children in a game of tag. With the help of three children from the Gregston family, also Americans living in Uganda for six months, the young Ugandan students continuously laughed with their new friends.

"It didn't matter if they understood the game or not," Joline said. "What mattered is they were all laughing and having fun."

Meanwhile, Jim was in the middle of a ruling for a custody battle back in Kampala at the court of appeals.

Andy and Sara Ribbens, both American citizens, had been caring for 20-month-old Nya, a Uganda-born orphan for eleven months. The country's laws require that would-be parents foster a child in country for three years before adopting the child in Uganda. Some judges, however, had recognized an exception to this strict three-year requirement by granting legal guardianship to the parents, which allowed them to bring the children back to the United States for adoption. The Ribbens had been denied legal guardianship by a judge who questioned his authority to circumvent the adoption rules by granting a guardianship order. An appeal had been filed by Ribbens' Ugandan lawyer seeking permission to take Nya to their home in the United States as her parents. Not licensed to practice in Uganda, Jim had been informally advising and assisting the Ribbens and their Ugandan lawyer for the past three months.

After listening to a 20-page ruling, the decision had been made. Legal guardianship was granted.

"Tears. Lots of them," Jim wrote in his blog that day. "Nya slept through the entire thing."

When the Gash family came together again that night, they began their newest evening routine, which includes their "dessert" of a dose of Doxycycline, anti-malaria medication recommended for any visitor to Uganda – the malaria capital of the world. They also prepared the mosquito nets that surround their beds in an effort to prevent bites that can spread the disease.

Jessica began planning her new role as a lab technician in a clinic testing for HIV and malaria. The high school junior wants to pursue a career in medicine. She'll start in Uganda. In addition to her work in the lab, which will include sorting medications, she will also learn the skills of phlebotomy, putting her way ahead of her 16-year-old peers.

As a family, they strive to make a difference in the lives of the people they work with each day. They pray they can provide lasting ministry. But just as they are touching the lives of others, the residents of Uganda are making their own mark on the lives of each member of Gash family. A lasting impression, one day at a time.

Jim Gash is Pepperdine School of Law's Dean of Students and a professor of law. He is currently on a six month sabbatical. If you want to follow the Gash family adventures as they unfold, you can visit the family's website at www.throwingstarfish.com.