Stories of You

Natalie: A Heart in Uganda

For most of us heading overseas, checking the Smart Traveller website and seeing the warnings ‘reconsider your need to travel’ and ‘do not travel’ and immediately we would change our plans. For others warnings on websites mean nothing. When you feel such a heart stir, such a deep set knowing that you must follow the whispers of your prayers, nothing can stand in your way. This is Natalie. This is her story.

Uganda

In 2010 Natalie looked to fill a void in her life, an emptiness that she couldn’t define. In her search to fill that void she began volunteering at her local Church. “The first twelve months were a real eye opener to what is out there, just here in Melbourne.” But local work wasn’t enough for Natalie. One service the pastor showed images of places that the church helped around the world and instantly something changed in Natalie. “I started feeling a real stirring in my heart; alright mission work sounds really great and exciting!”

A trip to the Philippines was coming up and Natalie wanted to go. Yet, it wasn’t as easy as just saying yes. Natalie was a wife and a mum to three little girls, at the time they were only three, seven and nine years old. “I had a young family and did not want to disturb the girls’ life – I’m always a mum first.” But with a supportive husband and amazing family, Natalie went on that Philippine’s mission’s trip and those five days changed her life. “It was the birth of something in me. I came back and I was just pumped! What next?!”

Uganda

Uganda

Uganda

Natalie did not have to wait long for the answer. The Barton family, who are the heart and soul of Operation Uganda, came to visit her church. Jenny Barton spoke about the work of Operation Uganda and the opportunity to volunteer with them. “I felt a real heart stirring again. I loved everything that they were doing and that she was saying.” A week later, not only was Natalie all set for Uganda, her husband Rob was just as excited to go.

“I wasn’t keen on taking the girls until I had been there and seen for myself what it was like and what to expect. Just Rob and I went and it was the best thing we have ever done – ever! It was just an amazing two week trip. We did renovations to the orphanage and school, we worked and it was hard, but what Rob and I felt in Uganda was like home, it felt like we could do this again.”

We came back and “one thing after another confirmed that yes we should go again.” But not everyone was as confident as Rob and Natalie. Family were concerned about their safety in Uganda and Natalie’s mum concerned that she would not be seeing her granddaughters for six months. “But we had a peace and no one could shake that. Many people told us it was crazy, but I never thought that myself and I still don’t.”

Uganda

Uganda

Since this next trip was a family trip, Rob and Natalie sat their girls down and asked them what they wanted to do. The two little ones were excited and ready to go, but Natalie’s eldest daughter was not so sure. “We wanted everyone to have the same vision, the same feeling, I didn’t want to drag anyone kicking and screaming there – it’s not a holiday destination. We just wanted to be real.”

Natalie’s eldest daughter came round and in 2013 the five of them traded life in Australia, to life in Uganda. “I thought honestly, six months all of us working and living together all the time – we were going to kill each other – but it was the total opposite.” Rob took long service leave, the girls were home schooled and life in Uganda became the new normal. “We would do one or two hours of home schooling every morning, then the girls would hang out with the kids at the orphanage all day and just do what we were doing.”

Uganda

Uganda

“There are things that you would never let your kids do in Uganda; they would never be out of my sight, everywhere you drive doors must be locked, windows must be up, because if you stop at traffic lights they will grab things and you never walk anywhere at night, you barely walk anywhere during the day. We told the girls the dangers, they would see security guards and police walking around with guns, but they were so resilient, they just went with it.”

Natalie being a hairdresser and Rob working in IT, their skills were not easily transferrable in Uganda. So they took over kid’s ministry for Operation Uganda. “We just flipped this thing on its head – it was incredible.” With a 100 children, everyone had a task to do, including their daughters. Worship, testimonials, giving thanks to God, and making sure the children drank enough water were all part of the job. Rob and Natalie brought “real structure into the program, so all the kids would focus.” Group work and craft work all part of the fun. “Many of these kids would not go to school, so to give them crayons and paper, they would all put their hands up ‘me, me, me!’ they were scared to miss out.” By the end, 100 children had grown to 180 and there was real empowerment within the community. “Rob and I just stood back, as the kids were able to run the whole thing on their own from start to finish.”

Uganda

Uganda

Uganda

“I look at my kids and think oh if only you had a little bit more gratefulness for all the things that you have, but they have now, after six months in Uganda.” Six months is about to turn into twelve, as they pack up their lives to go back to Uganda. Rob has quit his job and the girls are already enrolled in an international school. “When we left at the end of those last six months, it just felt unfinished. I walked in my house from the airport and I wanted to walk out. It just felt wrong.”

Natalie and Rob have their work cut out for them. “In the first three weeks we will hit the ground running; the Barton family come back to Australia for ten weeks, so we will be running the show. We will also work in a village ten hours away from Kampala, Abim; we need to build this community, volunteer teachers are teaching the 500 kids there – just sitting under a tree and being taught. We also have plans to build a child care centre and continue to help build the community library.”

Uganda

Uganda

Uganda

Natalie knows that this experience will be life changing. But it is not her own family she thinks about. “One child at a time, one person at a time, you are slowly building up hope and they start to think ‘I can do this.’ If you educate a child, that is when poverty starts to go, they won’t stand for the things that they have been told to stand, and if you educate the girls especially, they will be world changers, they will change the country. You are changing a child’s life from a life of poverty to a life with some hope, how could I want anything more than that?”


Many of us spend a lifetime seeking the answer to our purpose here. Some of us are lucky enough to find that answer. “This was the thing that was missing, we now had a life with the bare minimum and it was enough. For the person who is reading this, sitting there feeling that emptiness, perhaps sit, be quiet and listen to the whisperings of your heart before you fill that emptiness with things.”

Uganda

You can follow Natalie and her adventures in Uganda on her blog: Aguis Family’s Ugandan Mission

Natalie and Rob will be volunteering their time in Uganda for the next twelve months. They will not earn a wage during that time. They still need to cover their living expenses for the twelve months they will be away. If you would like to donate in any way to their trip, supporting their work in Uganda, please use the donate button below. All donations are most appreciated.

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 Do you listen to the whisperings of your heart?

 

All images (except those watermarked always Josefa) are copyright to Natalie Agius.

If you would like to nominate someone or yourself to be part of Stories of You, please email me directly at josefa@alwaysjosefa.com. I’d love to meet you over coffee and hear your story. Read the other incredible stories from the Stories of You collection here.

  • The Plumbette

    Omigosh Josefa, I got goosebumps reading this post. It is ten years ago this June that my husband and I went to Uganda to assist with Watoto and help build an orphanage and volunteer our time at a babies home. The pictures bring back memories and while I don’t believe it’s my calling to go back, I am equally supportive of families that do want to live there and do this vital work. Natalie and Rob, what a courageous decision you have made and may you see the fruit of your work as you live and work in Uganda. I pray for strength, protection and provision as you live in Uganda. One thing I will never forget (ok maybe two) were the smells and the smiles of the children in Uganda despite their circumstances. x

    • Bec that is both incredible and amazing! So many people have told me today that they have worked in Uganda or know someone who does, really quite empowering to think of the the community that is there x

  • Wow, what an amazing story. I bet it is the most awesome feeling in the world helping others less fortunate. So awesome.

  • Nat ahmet

    Josefa I loved reading this so much x what an inspiration and determination. Natalie has provided her girls with the experience of a lifetime and taught them the most valuable lessons in life. Standing up to make a difference and bringing about change ! Good on you nat

    • It is an experience of a lifetime, and perhaps something so very few of us will ever do. So glad you enjoyed this Nat xx

  • What an incredible thing to do and journey.
    My cousin works and volunteers in and now lives in Africa and my stepmother and little brother have spent so much time on so many visits in East Timor, which has been so inspiring for us to see in our own family.
    They all tell me that despite everything, the children in these places are the happiest children you will ever meet. X

    • That is so inspiring Bek, so many people are doing such great work, truly inspirational xx

  • What an amazing story. What amazing people.

  • Phenomenal story – what an inspiration… much to think about!

  • What amazing incredible people. Thank you for sharing their story Josefa 🙂

  • Wonderful and inspiring story. Thank you for sharing Josefa. x

  • Wow! Thanks for sharing this story Josefa. I’m in awe.

  • So inspiring, thanks for sharing, Josefa. There certainly are some special people around!

  • Pip (@melbournelass)

    Must be amazing to identify a life mission like Natalie has and to have the courage and the feeling of fulfillment upon chasing and achieving it. An incredibly generous family and mission. Thank goodness for people willing to help those less fortunate. Beautiful story and photos.

    • I think I walked away from talking with Nat thinking over this one point the most – how many of us even find out what our life mission is, our life purpose, let alone pursue it at all costs? Takes my breathe away x

  • Oh I wish I could have a cup of coffee with Natalie. Mission work has been something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.

    • Jess, I wish you were there with me – you guys could have talked for days on end! She is amazing and I think you guys may just have quite a lot in common xx

  • I admire Natalie and Rob so much, I would love to spend a few months with my children in a place where they could realise the value of their own lives. The world is a better place with people such as Nat and Rob in it 🙂

    • I often say to hubby that we should take the kids and just be somewhere where we volunteer and the kids can realise that life should never be taken for granted and they should be so grateful for their own life – but I honestly can never see us taking the leap of faith that Nat and Rob have x

  • Thanks so much for sharing! What an amazing family and experience for the kids to have. I remember reading Meg Masons’ book ‘Say It Again In A Nice Voice’ and she recounts upping sticks with her two young kids and husband and moving to Russia for a short period to work in an orphanage and I was just amazed at what the experience could and would mean. Thanks again for sharing!

    • Experiences such as these can truly be life changing, there is no doubt about it – and inspirational, to us who can learn so much from these stories xx

  • I’m emotional already today, but this tipped me over the edge. What a special family. Thanks for sharing their story.

  • TeganMC

    Wow what an amazing opportunity for their girls. Natalie and her family sound like they are doing great things for the community over there.

  • A beautiful, heart-warming story – humbling. 🙂

  • Emma Fahy Davis

    What an amazing, selfless and brave thing to do! Thank you for sharing a little piece of Uganda with us 🙂

  • Wow. It makes you wonder what are you doing we have it all wrong. So inspiring. Life experience money could never buy for those girls. The pictures are amazing too of the Ugandan countryside.

  • Kathy www.yinyangmother.com

    Lovely story Josefa. Congratulations to Natalie, Rob and the kids for their work in Uganda. And it is really obvious how much they gain out of how much they give. I would really love to make a long-service-leave overseas community development trip a reality for our family one day.

  • Loree

    What a courageous family. It just shows you that we can all do our little bit to make this world a better place.

  • I wish I was this generous, kind, giving and courageous. Once Africa is in your heart, it never, ever leaves you. x

  • What an incredibly inspiring story – thank you so much for sharing it with us Josefa. Things like this make me want to be a part of something so incredible and to do more selfless stuff for others xx

  • Renee at Mummy, Wife, Me

    Wow! What an amazing story and an amazing family. It truly is inspirational what they are doing. I have friends who have worked in orphanages before. The stories they share are so uplifting.

  • I love this story and dare I say it, there is a tiny whispering in my heart to do something similar to Natalie and family. I am new to your blog Josepha and love the Stories of You idea – wonderful and inspiring.

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