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Beth Medved Waller joins Rotary International and visits Rotary Clubs and service projects in Uganda



Beth Medved Waller, President Elect of the newly chartered Rotary Club of the Northern Shenandoah Valley, “The Area ONE|ders” has just returned from Uganda, a country she has visited 7 times since December 2017 as an individual trying to make a difference but lacking the connections to maximize her efforts. Rotary now binds her with the power of 1.2 million+ like-minded members to collaborate with on projects in Africa, in Virginia and around the world. Rotarians stand united in their vision that “Together, we see a world where people unite and take action to create lasting change – across the globe, in our communities, and in ourselves.”

This trip was Waller’s first trip to Uganda as a Rotarian.  Though she only has been a member of the service organization for approximately one month, her trip to Africa with District 7570 Governor George Karnes (of the Warren County Rotary Club) enabled her to have already accumulated years worth of unforgettable Rotarian experiences. She was embraced beyond belief at meetings of The Rotary Club of Kampala Metropolitan and the Rotary Club of Mengo and met members from more than 20 clubs throughout the trip.  During two meetings, she was invited to speak about her work with the Ugandan based non-profit she has partnered with since 2017, Light up Life Foundations. Additionally, the Warren County Rotarians attended a presentation by members of the Rotary Club of Kampala North at the development site of the future Sam Owori Rotary Vijana POA Village. The village is a vocational campus being constructed to train the next generation of Ugandans in green energy, computer technology, agriculture, plumbing, electrical skills and more.

Waller and Karnes were also blessed to be able to attend the March 31st kickoff of the enormous “Sam F. Owori Memorial Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Project” in Tororo. The late Sam Owori (of the Rotary Club of Kampala) was an internationally renowned Rotarian who was to be Rotary International President this year (prior to his unexpected tragic death).  When construction is complete, nearly 20,000 Ugandans will have a safe solar-powered municipal drinking water system and hygienic sanitation facilities. In addition, through the project nearly 40 individuals have been extensively trained to install micro-flush sanitation systems. “Benefits of the Micro-flush toilet are no smell, flies or mosquitoes.  You build it once instead of every 2 years. The Micro-flush toilet is cheaper and better than a pit latrine,” according to Walter Hughes who was also on the ground in Uganda representing District 7570. Internationally beloved Rotarian Hughes spent time sharing with Beth helpful insight from his vast experience with dozens of successful service projects all over Africa. In March, Waller’s nonprofit, WHAT MATTERS, funded a pit latrine at the school she and Light up Life Foundation constructed in the remote village of Bunyade. Had she had Hughes advice along with the power of Rotarian wisdom behind her then, she would have instead installed a more affordable and more environmentally sound micro-flush system.

As a part of the Owori Memorial Grant, one such toilet system has been installed adjacent to a maternity ward  (where 50 children per month are brought into this world).  A 1000 liter water tank will also be brought to the birthing facility that currently turns away women if they are not able to provide 200 liters of water prior to admission. When visiting the less than ideal medical facility, Waller noted a tattered paper sign taped to the wall that shares the Tororo District’s vision, “To have a healthy, productive and prosperous people living in a clean environment within 10 years.” The community is now many steps closer to fulfilling that dream thanks to Rotary International.

District Governor Karnes was the lead for the Tororo Owori Memorial Grant, a project which united the entire organization and nearly every continent in the world by raising more than $228,000. George and Rotarian James Serugo (of the Rotary Club of Kampala) worked tirelessly on this project that was identified in 2016 and has involved more than 48 Rotary Districts across the world (and over 60 clubs), ranking as the largest singular international grant to date.

Norah Owori, in her comments at the kickoff ceremony in Merekit on Sunday, March 31st, eloquently shared, “I’m very grateful for the Rotarians from around the world because they have given the people of Merekit a new relief of life. I’m especially grateful to DG George (Karnes) and Rotarian (Walter Hughes).This project was promised to my late husband by his Rotary friends when he was elevated to Rotary International President Elect. The fact that you worked so hard and made this project a reality even after Sam has passed on is a great testimony to Rotary’s service to humanity.”  Waller and Karnes were kindly included in a lovely intimate breakfast and a community lunch hosted by Mrs. Owori at her home. They were also fortunate to have been able to pay their respects at the graveside of Sam Owori and attended a beautiful service at the Owori family church.

Waller met countless friendly and inspirational Rotarians and was hosted in the home of esteemed Rotarian Sarah Odongo, of the Rotary Club of Kampala, who has pledged to be a mentor in Beth’s Rotarian work as Sarah has served in many Ugandan and Rotary International leadership capacities.  Rotarian Emmanuel Sabiti of the Rotary Club of Bunga, has kindly offered to help Beth find Light up Life Foundations a new location for the Maisha Home for Children (since they were forced to vacate their prior rental). Many other kind Rotarians have expressed an interest in working with Beth and her club in future projects.

This trip was neither Waller’s nor Karne’s first experience as the beneficiaries of Ugandan hospitality and friendship.  This visit was DG George Karne’s third trip to Merekit, the community that will benefit from the Owori Memorial Grant.  Waller was shocked when she first learned that another local citizen frequented Uganda and of Rotary’s remarkable service in what has become her “home away from home” country.  Prior to this trip, which was their first time in Africa together, she heard DG George speak of the Owori project and recorded his presentation about it at the Rotary District 7570 Conference in April.  Tears streamed down her face in anticipation of their upcoming trip as she listened to Karnes describe the project.  But even at that time she never dreamed their trip would be as heartwarming and life-changing to her as it was.  She most definitely concurs with George’s words in that presentation when he shared, “Rotary has changed my life. Having the ability to do something like this project has made a huge difference in me. Rotary makes you a better mother, a better father, a better employee or employer. It makes you a better member of your community…Rotary helps us become the people we were meant to be.”

Upon return to Virginia, Beth shared with fellow members of her club, “I feel as if we have truly become a part of a new international family of like-minded humanitarians.  I’m looking forward to being able to make more of an impact in Uganda as a Rotarian and will be immediately working to identify a partner club in the Kampala area to start developing a Rotary International Grant to benefit the children I have grown to love there. The friendly Rotarian welcome I received in Uganda has also inspired me to help to coordinate a Friendship Exchange between District 7570 and District 9211 in the near future.”  James Serugo (of the Rotary Club of Kampala) says of the Friendship Exchange Program, “Rotarians from one district visit Rotarians in another district to become friends and extend service through friendship to their communities.” Waller hopes that Rotarians and non-Rotarians alike interested in working her on Ugandan projects, or joining her on a future trip to Africa, will reach out to her through her Facebook page, Beth Medved Waller or

Community Events

Upcoming performance of Disney’s “Aladdin Jr” at Front Royal Christian School




This is the third video of our talented area youth that I’ve been blessed to share this last week as the spring performance season fast approaches. I’ve been so inspired and impressed by the gifted students and their dedicated teachers who touch the lives of our youth! “Break a leg” to the dedicated kids performing at area schools!

This video highlights an upcoming performance of Disney’s “Aladdin Jr” at Front Royal Christian School.

From a Press Release:

Front Royal, Virginia – Students at Front Royal Christian School will present Aladdin live on stage for three nights: April 11 at 6pm, April 12 at 7pm, and April 13 at 6pm at 80 N. Lake Ave., Front Royal, Virginia – the New Hope Church building. Tickets are on sale now at and at a reduced rate for a limited time only.

“This is the tenth year of FRCS presenting musicals on stage to the community,” said Lorraine Hewitt, FRCS Head of School. “The performing arts program is important to the philosophy of FRCS and it allows students to develop their creative gifts through classes such as art, chorus, theatre/improv, band, stage band, music theory, and advanced illustration.”

Thirty-six students are participating in this year’s Aladdin performance as actors, singers, and dancers. Students have attended sessions in voice and choreography, as well as nightly rehearsals to prepare for this production. In addition, there are students trained and participating in make-up, lighting, sound, and stage management.

When asked how would you describe the musical and all that goes into it, eleventh grader Colt Barham, who plays Aladdin in the musical, sums it up as “hard work that is designed to bring smiles.”

The cast will be present this Saturday at C&C Frozen Treats on Main Street, Front Royal from 1:00pm – 2:30pm and Rural King Supply Royal Plaza Shopping Center from 3:00pm – 4:00pm. Princess Jasmine, Aladdin, Genie, Magic Carpet, and more characters will be dressed in costume and make-up and available for photographs. This will be a great opportunity for children to meet their favorite Aladdin character.

Front Royal Christian School is a Pre-K through 12th grade school in Front Royal, Virginia, that fosters your student’s innate learning potential. From special needs to gifted, FRCS is committed to the spiritual, moral, and intellectual development of its students and mediates a sense of competence, confidence, and belonging. FRCS provides the 21stcentury learner, exceptional and challenging educational experiences, including college preparatory courses with a dual enrollment program with LFCC, performing arts, life skills, and athletics. For more information, call the school at 540-635-6799 or visit


Are you or your group in need of a free video that could be created to help market your cause or event?  Beth’s WHAT MATTERS Warren videos post on Facebook and YouTube. They are also shared with the Royal Examiner online (most are distributed in their daily email blast to thousands of local residents). Sign up for Royal Examiner Email Alerts HERE and check out the “WHAT MATTERS Warren” tab under “Features.”

Visit “Community” section to request a TOWN TIP or WHAT MATTERS WARREN BETHvid.

Learn more Beth’s nonprofit, WHAT MATTERS, a 501 (c) (3), at – check out the “Community” section to request a TOWN TIP or WHAT MATTERS WARREN BETHvid or contact her at 540-671-6145 or


WHAT MATTERS is a 501(c)(3) that focuses on local and global outreach to help spread the word, support and raise funds for causes that matter (primarily through Facebook). WHAT MATTERS has ZERO overhead as 100% of the expenses are funded by Beth’s real estate business thanks to her clients and supporters.  Every cent raised goes to the cause she’s promoting and most are matched by Beth. If you’d like to get involved, or travel to Africa with her on a future trip to work with the children of Light up Life Foundations, please visit

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Community Events

An interview with the cast of “Freaky Friday,” the Warren County High School spring musical




An interview with the cast of “Freaky Friday,” the Warren County High School musical performance coming up this week on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 6:30pm! Don’t miss your opportunity to be entertained and inspired by the talent, teamwork and enthusiasm of our acting and singing youth in Warren County! A special thanks to all the adults who are leading these amazing kids and all those supporting them in this experience.

From Director, Chris Whitney: Warren County High School’s Maroon Masques present the brand new musical ‘Freaky Friday’. Based on Mary Rodgers 1972 comedic children’s novel, this story was made into three Disney films and now a new musical. See what happens when a daughter and mother have to switch places and learn what it’s like to walk in each other shoes. This musical’s themes include relationships, family, loss, love, and empathy. It’s the perfect show for the whole family and the music will have you swaying in your seat.

Performances are March 28th, 29th, and 30th at 6:30pm at Warren County High School. Tickets are $10 for adults and $7 for students and children, which can be purchased at the door. For more information, please email

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Community Events

Town Tip Thursday: “Taste of Broadway” to be held at Warren County Middle School



Town Tip Thursday, a WHAT MATTERS Initiative – TIP: Don’t miss your chances in the next few weeks to enjoy performances by many talented youth in our community! Stay tuned for a trio of WHAT MATTERS videos announcing performances at Warren County Middle School, Warren County High School and Front Royal Christian School…

WHAT MATTERS Warren Interview – “Taste of Broadway” featuring 50 students from area middle schools to be held Thursday 4/4/19 at 6pm at WC Middle School.

In this video Beth Medved Waller interviews Director, Todd Martin and singers Dillon Lewallen, Abby Knesh and Olivia Kelley.

Todd Martin, Choral Director for both Warren County and Skyline Middle Schools, is pleased to announce a joint performance and fundraiser for both WCMS and SMS Choral Departments.  An event called “Taste of Broadway” will be held at Warren County Middle School on Thursday, April 4th at 6pm. This event/fundraiser will include food (light hors d’oeuvres and desserts from local businesses will be provided), raffles and the beautiful singing of 50 students from both middle schools.

“During our first school semester of 2018 we had a Talent Show at Warren County Middle School and it was a huge success. Shortly after, I had the idea to showcase the talents of both middle schools, given that I’m the choral director at both schools” said Mr. Martin, the proud director.

Family, friends and the community are all invited to attend the program and hear fifty middle school students perform songs from favorite Broadway Shows.  The evening will include songs from the Broadway musicals Annie, Wizard of Oz, Wicked, Sound of Music and more! “These students have put in over 50 hours of rehearsals to make this possible. Please come out to support the arts and local talent of our middle students in Warren County,” added Martin.

Community ticket sales will begin on March 27th and can be purchased at the Warren County Middle School’s main office located at 522 Heritage Drive between the hours are from 7am to 3pm. Price per ticket for students is $10 and the adult price is $12. Seating is limited to 400 guests, and these performances tend to sell out, so be sure to get your tickets early for what should be a fantastic evening to witness and support the talents of local youth. Mr. Martin, the volunteers working with the program, the student performers and both school administrations thank the community for their support and hope this event will provide much needed funds to enhance the already dynamic choral departments at each school. Call WCMS at 540-635-2194 for more information or to find out how you can help support the arts in our community.


Are you or your group in need of a free video that could be created to help market your cause or event?  Beth’s WHAT MATTERS Warren videos post on Facebook and YouTube. They are also shared with the Royal Examiner online (most are distributed in their daily email blast to thousands of local residents). Sign up for Royal Examiner Email Alerts HERE and check out the “WHAT MATTERS Warren” tab under “Features.”

Visit “Community” section to request a TOWN TIP or WHAT MATTERS WARREN BETHvid.

Learn more Beth’s nonprofit, WHAT MATTERS, a 501 (c) (3), at – check out the “Community” section to request a TOWN TIP or WHAT MATTERS WARREN BETHvid or contact her at 540-671-6145 or


WHAT MATTERS is a 501(c)(3) that focuses on local and global outreach to help spread the word, support and raise funds for causes that matter (primarily through Facebook). WHAT MATTERS has ZERO overhead as 100% of the expenses are funded by Beth’s real estate business thanks to her clients and supporters.  Every cent raised goes to the cause she’s promoting and most are matched by Beth. If you’d like to get involved, or travel to Africa with her on a future trip to work with the children of Light up Life Foundations, please visit

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What Matters Warren

Rotary’s Group Study Exchange Team to Tiawan



Rotary District 7570’s Group Study Exchange Team began their adventures in Taiwan this week after a local send-off from area Rotary clubs.  Meet the team in this video and read on to learn about the GSE program. To discover more about Virginia’s Rotary District 7570, please visit their website and follow the team’s trip by liking the team’s Facebook group page.

You can also enjoy reports of their experience by following team member Tammy Yang’s vlog.


The Team Leader is Beverly Pitzer of Martinsville Uptown Rotary. Beverly is eager to connect with the GSE team members and help to make this the best learning experience and leadership development experience possible for both the visiting team and for their hosts in Taiwan. She is prepared to generously share of time and knowledge of the Rotary projects in her area that may be of service to their hosts in Taiwan, and she is hoping to learn and bring back ideas and best practices from their hosts’ home projects.

In her role as Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) & Fair Lending Officer at Carter Bank & Trust in Martinsville, Virginia, Beverly focuses her time and energy on understanding the communities’ needs across the bank’s footprint in Virginia and North Carolina. With this understanding, Beverly collaborates with colleagues at the bank on community development projects. These projects include: revitalization and stabilization, economic development, essential services, and affordable housing. This comes in the form of lending, donating, and serving in low and moderate income areas and distressed and under-served areas. In addition to Community Development, Beverly also focuses on Fair Lending, which is driven by the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. Her work in Fair Lending includes a proactive approach to lending, investing, and serving all communities fairly.

Outside of her service and work in Rotary and Carter Bank & Trust, Beverly is involved in a number of other community organizations. She serves on the Board of Directors of the United Way of Henry County & Martinsville and is involved in the Community Impact Committee and Executive Committee. Beverly is active in the Bridges out of Poverty initiative in Martinsville/ Henry County/ Patrick County and is on the Implementation team for their first set of “Getting Ahead in a Just Getting by World” classes. Additionally, Beverly serves on the E3 Advisory Council, a project of the Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS). Beverly is a member of Christ Episcopal Church in Martinsville, Virginia.

Blaine Elliott is a charter member of the Blue Ridge New Generations Rotary Club in Roanoke, Virginia and currently serves on the district conference committee. He is excited to join the GSE team and help make this experience meaningful for both the team and hosts in Taiwan. Blaine is currently owner of CaZiWa LLC, a real estate investment firm. Blaine’s firm is focused on investing in single family homes in the Roanoke Valley and surrounding areas and improving the homes and neighborhoods by providing quality, affordable housing for a growing community of people with the desire to rent rather than own. CaZiWa also provides a platform for investors who wish to enter the real estate investment asset class passively. Outside of his service work with Rotary, Blaine is an active member of his church, First United Methodist Church in Salem, Virginia. He is a member of the Genesis Praise Band on the drums and involved with the youth as an adult leader helping with everything from mission trips to leading the Senior High Sunday School Class.

Wendi Goods Everson serves as Senior Program Officer for Danville Regional Foundation (“DRF”), a private independent foundation whose mission is to revitalize the Dan River Region by making long term investments in economic development, education, health, and community capacity. At DRF, Everson focuses on community development and civic engagement. Everson holds a bachelor′s degree from Temple University, an MBA from Averett University, and a certificate in nonprofit management from Duke University.  She is a Southeastern Council on Foundation Hull Fellow and graduate of the Chamber of Commerce Leadership Southside. She serves as a board member of River District Association and CIC Head Start. Everson is the 2014 recipient of the Danville Pittsylvania County Chamber of Commerce Pace Award for Community Service. In her spare time, Wendi enjoys coaching youth basketball. She is the founder of the Virginia Owls youth basketball program where she mentors young athletes aspiring to play sports at the college level. Wendi is married to Jason and they have 3 children: Jada, Jenesis and Wesley.

Asia Malone is a member of the Rotary Club of Bristol Virginia-Tennessee. She serves on the Public Relations Committee and as Co-Chair of the Rotaract Committee. Asia is the Chief of Staff for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Mountain Empire. She handles the day-to-day management of personnel and insures all staff issues are addressed properly. The Boys & Girls Club is an after-school program that provides life enhancing opportunities for children and teenagers who may not have access to life developing resources. Outside of her service/work in Rotary and The Boys & Girls Club, Asia is involved in several community organizations. She serves on the United Way of Southwest Virginia Early Childhood Success Council, is an active Reading Buddy for the Reading Buddies Bristol Tennessee/Virginia, and serves on the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee. Asia is a member of New Hope Baptist Church.

Tammy Yang serves as the general manager of Sake House Japanese Restaurant located in Blacksburg, Virginia. Though she has many roles, her main focus is becoming a community icon for their establishment. Yang is currently a member of the South Main Merchants Association in Blacksburg. She also serves in the Blacksburg Junior Women’s Club (BJWC). Yang is sponsored by the Montgomery County Rotary Club. As a Taiwanese American, she is eager to learn more of her family’s origins on the GSE trip to Taiwan. She is also hoping to view how other businesses provide different interactions with their community by building lasting connections and strong networks. By viewing their examples of collaborating with other businesses to help better their community, she can learn about different business models and opportunities that can be implemented in her community.


The Group Study Exchange (GSE) program is a unique cultural and vocational exchange opportunity for young business and professional men and women in their initial years of professional life. Rotary districts in different countries are paired to send and receive professional study groups of four to six non-Rotarian team members and one Rotarian team leader to travel for four to six weeks, staying in the homes of Rotarians when possible.

Launched in 1965, this dynamic program has built a successful track record at the personal, community, and international level. With good planning, a goal-driven itinerary, and active participation of dedicated Rotarians, a GSE can be an exceptional educational experience for both the visiting GSE team and local Rotarians.

Goals and Objectives

The GSE program is designed to develop professional and leadership skills among young adults, so that they can address the needs of their communities and an increasingly global workplace. GSE participants follow an extensive and rigorous program of international travel and team activities.

  • Vocational visits
    • Provide opportunities to observe vocations as practiced in another country
    • Impact team members’ long-term careers through exchange of ideas in their respective fields
  • Cultural experiences
    • Allow participants to study another country and its people, language, and institutions through experiences in an organized and meaningful host program
    • Promote an appreciation of cultural diversity worldwide
  • Fellowship opportunities
    • Encourage team members and hosts to meet, communicate, and live with each other in a spirit of fellowship and goodwill
    • Consider each other’s problems, aspirations, and community concerns
    • Foster lasting friendships and international understanding
  • Rotarian involvement
    • Offers Rotarians specific, practical, and meaningful opportunities for international service by providing young, formative professionals a different perspective of their vocation in another country and culture

Learn more about Rotary International at

“Rotary is a global network of 1.2 million neighbors, friends, leaders, and problem-solvers who see a world where people unite and take action to create lasting change – across the globe, in our communities, and in ourselves.”


Are you or your group in need of a free video that could be created to help market your cause or event?

Beth’s WHAT MATTERS Warren/Town Tip videos post on Facebook and YouTube. They are also shared with Royal Examiner online (most are distributed in their daily email blast to thousands of local residents). Sign up for Royal Examiner Email Alerts HERE and check out the “WHAT MATTERS Warren” tab under “Features.”

Visit “Community” section to request a TOWN TIP or WHAT MATTERS WARREN BETHvid.

Learn more Beth’s nonprofit,  WHAT MATTERS, a 501 (c) (3), at out the “Community” section to request a TOWN TIP or WHAT MATTERS WARREN BETHvid or contact her at 540-671-6145 or


WHAT MATTERS is a 501(c)(3) that she started this year to enable people to have the benefit of a tax deduction for their donations through her fundraising matches.

Here is the Current Match Campaign for the children of Bunyade school project (in Uganda, Africa).

WHAT MATTERS has ZERO overhead as 100% of the expenses are funded by her real estate business (THANK YOU CLIENTS AND SUPPORTERS for making that possible!). Every cent donated goes to the cause. Beth focuses her support on local and global outreach to help spread the word, support and raise funds for causes that matter. If you’d like to get involved, or travel to Uganda with her on a future trip to work with the children of Light up Life Foundations, please visit

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Community Events

Donate blood, the gift of life, this Saturday on Main Street



Photo by Jody Lane/American Red Cross

WHAT MATTERS will be sponsoring an American Red Cross blood drive for the community on Saturday, March 2, 2019, on Main Street in historic downtown Front Royal. Members from The Area ONE|ders, a new Rotary Club forming in the region, will be showing their support. “As a soon to be new Rotary club in the region, we are eager to begin our commitment to Rotary’s Five Avenues of Service. This WHAT MATTERS initiative is a great opportunity for our involvement in Club and Community Service,” said Doug Sexton, who will be President of the new club. The drive will be held from 9am-2pm at OPEN HOUSE, the WHAT MATTERS community meeting space. Located directly beside the Daily Grind coffee shop, OPEN HOUSE is in the Middle of Main building at 213 E. Main Street.

Blood is routinely transfused to patients with cancer and other diseases, premature babies, organ transplant recipients and trauma victims, according to the Red Cross. “The short amount of time it takes to donate can mean a lifetime to a patient with a serious medical condition. We hope that our community will join us in this remarkably easy way to truly give the gift of life this weekend,” shared Beth Medved Waller, who is President Elect of The Area ONE|ders and Founder of WHAT MATTERS.

Donors of all blood types are needed, especially those with types O negative, B negative and A negative. According to the Red Cross, type O negative is the universal blood type that can be safely transfused to anyone, and is often used to treat trauma patients.

Convenient parking can be found in Waller’s real estate office parking lot at 27 Cloud Street (located adjacent to the street directly behind the Middle of Main building) or along Main Street. For information about eligibility or to schedule an appointment, please contact the Red Cross at 1-800 RED-CROSS or visit Walk-ins on the day of the event are welcome, but donors can save time by registering prior to the drive and are now able to speed up the process by filling out the health history questions online.

blood drive

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What Matters Warren

Herbie: The Love Man, a man and a mission



WHAT MATTERS WORLD – This video is footage from December 2018, as Herbie Skarbie Kawuma shared a bit about his background with the Front Royal Rotary Club (when he made his first visit to the USA over the holidays).  The video concludes with a few clips of the song, “What Matters is your Heart” being danced to across the globe. Written by Beth Waller and sung by Herbie Kawuma (with Beth in the chorus), the song is available for download on all major music outlets. Beth is returning to Uganda on Sunday and invites all Royal Examiner readers to join her virtually by joining the Facebook group, “WHAT MATTERS/Light up Life Fan Page.”

Professing, “Love is my Religion,” Herbie travels around the world representing his Ugandan based NGO, Light up Life Foundations as he spreads love through singing, dancing and generosity. His efforts have been recognized worldwide with awards for both his performing career and his remarkable outreach efforts. In 2012 he was named Norway’s “Role Model of the Year” and just this year his most recent music video (staring his 8 year old son, Malcolm, an aspiring actor) has earned honors at many international film festivals.

Sharing his message of overcoming adversity with faith, love and hope, Herbie shares his inspirational life story to compel others to live and give in love. “The only thing worse than having no hope is having hope and then losing it,” says Herbie when he reflects on the many times growing up in the slums of Uganda when he lost hope for a better life. His mission is to foster continual hope, faith and love in the lives of as many children as possible, setting no biological or geographical limitations to those he embraces as “his children.”

“I didn’t choose this, it chose me,” he says of the calling he’s embraced to use his talents to light up lives.  After singing his way out of extreme poverty in his late teens, Norbert Kalyesubula, a popular Kampala area radio announcer, heard him perform at a church in 2003 and took the young artist under his wings. Herbie fondly recalls the first time he heard his song, “Sitani Vawoo” (which was the number one gospel hit in Uganda in 2004 on the radio). “I was struggling so hard and barely had enough money to buy food.  The feeling, I can’t express it, when I heard my song blaring on the radio of a fancy car that passed me by.”

Kawuma’s life has blossomed far beyond his childhood days spent learning to dance like Michael Jackson by using his neighbor’s lights to reflect his shadow as a mirror. As a kid, to entertain himself after the sun went down, he sang and danced outside with his shadow instead of going into his dark home that had no electricity.  His sister tells stories about his dancing as early as age 4 or 5 to entertain visitors at their family’s home. Their father would call Herbie to dance for guests and subsequently give him a small coin in appreciation after “the show.”

Herbie’s life was relatively normal until he was 8 years old.  Of course life wasn’t easy living in the ghetto, and money was scarce, but he always had food to eat and a loving family surrounding him.  He remembers the first time he danced in a public setting. It was at school when he was eight, and he fondly recalls how he could hear his mother’s voice above everyone else’s in the cheering crowd.  He treasures such memories of his mom, and remembers how she loved to lovingly rub her hands through his hair until that fateful day when when the HIV/AIDS virus took her life. As a nine year old watching her last breaths, he sprinted from their home to the nearest church and proceeded to make his way up to the pulpit (the pastor was preaching). Young Herbie grabbed him by the hand and started tugging at his clothes, begging him to visit his mother immediately.  The pastor quickly realized that he was not going to take no for an answer, and they rushed to his house only to find his mother had already passed on. At that moment, a devastated Herbie heard words that would comfort him for the rest of his life. The preacher said, “If you make it to heaven, you’ll see your mom again there.”

The years after his mother died were hard on the young boy, and he went through a rebellious period with his father.  When he was twelve years old, his dad became ill and moved out of their home to live with a woman who had come into his life after he became a widower. Herbie recalls that difficult time in his life when he turned to drugs to ease the pain of missing his mother, disliking his father’s girlfriend, and watching his dad become ill,  “I made some bad decisions I’m not proud of. I started to hang out with gang members, sniffed petrol, experimented with “Tina,” and smoked marijuana.”

As he continued to struggle with drugs and teenage challenges his relationship with his dad grew stronger as the man he admired so much became weaker.  His “General,” as he refers to him, taught him a great deal, and Herbie was his dad’s primary caregiver until he died in his arms of the same disease that took his mother.  At 13, as the oldest male in the family, Herbie stepped up to the role of the head of his household and took on the responsibility of providing for his three younger brothers and older sister.

Though the next years were not easy (he remembers working as many odd jobs as he could to earn enough to support his family), his singing and dancing skills provided a way for Herbie to earn enough to send his siblings to school, and to help support other friends who needed a home and financial support.  It was at that time he started assisting his best friend, Freddie, who is now a leader in Light up Life, and he provided help to many other young friends. “Thankfully I had singing and dancing as constants in my life and they got me through that rebellious patch that lasted until I was 17, and helped me to support my family and others in need,”  he added.

Herbie was primarily a rapper during those years and remarkably got connected with the most popular comedian group in Uganda through exposure from singing and dancing competitions.  “They called me ‘Baby Herbie’ because I was the youngest in the crew,” he recounts. One night, however, as his substance abuse continued, he found himself so high on drugs that he started to hallucinate, and he thought he was losing his mind. He raced to church and slept there through the night, because even when he had lost his way, he knew that he needed God in his life (as a song he’d later write called, “I Can’t Make it on my Own,” would testify – you can watch the music video on YouTube).

Though he continued to struggle with peer pressure and substance abuse (which grew to include alcohol), he found himself using drugs less and less, “I remember sometimes I would pretend to smoke weed and not inhale, because I knew if I kept up like I was, I wasn’t going to make it.”   But it wasn’t until one night when he was 17, after having an asthma attack and feeling certain that his lungs were failing, that his trajectory truly changed. As he feared he was taking his last breaths, he got on his knees and prayed that God would forgive him and welcome him into heaven so that he could see his mother again, “if I don’t die I will live for the rest of my life to serve you,” he uttered as he pleaded for his life.  The next Sunday, he went to church. It was the same church he had slept in that night when he had his terrifying high years ago. “I remember walking in and thinking people were staring at me and wondering what a thug was doing in church. But during that service, I made my way to the front of the congregation. It was then that I confessed Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior and was born again,” he said.

The years that followed were filled with blessings for Herbie, blessings he shared with as many people as possible.  He began using his personal life experiences to help motivate youth to make smart choices and embrace their own hope and faith.  He taught Sunday school, became a youth counselor about HIV/AIDS, and transitioned from rapping to singing & writing gospel music.

By the time he was 20 in 2005, Herbie’s exciting life was a sharp contrast to the life of hardship he experienced as a youth.  As one of the most popular performing artists in his country, Herbie soon forgot about the suffering he had experienced as a youth and had fame and fortune in the forefront of his mind.  As he walked through the same slums he’d race to work in after school (to try to earn $1 to feed his family of 5), people now recognized and respected him. One nine year old boy in particular, named Matthew, seemed particularly in awe of the now local legend. “Teach me to dance, Herbie” Matthew would shout as Herbie passed the ghetto area (a place known for drug dealings and crime) where the young boy spent his days.  Herbie ignored Matthew’s pleas for dance lessons at first, feeling annoyed that the child was not in school (since he had himself paid for his own and his four siblings’ education, even as an orphan). But finally, Herbie told the eager youth, “Go to school and I’ll teach you to dance” to which Matthew replied, “My father doesn’t have the money to send me to school.”

Herbie was outraged that a father would not provide for his children as he flashed back to the sacrifices his diseased parents made for him while they were still living.  He decided to use his influence as a local celebrity to talk some sense into Matthew’s father. “Take me to meet your Dad,” Herbie said, “and when his father opened the door it was just like what you hear people speak of when they talk about life-changing moments,” he confessed.  He looked at the ill man and memories of his own ailing father flashed before his eyes. He looked down at Matthew and suddenly recalled his own 9th year as he watched his sickly mother take her last breaths. When Herbie saw Matthew’s Dad (who was also suffering from HIV/AIDS among other illnesses), rather than scold him for not sending his son to school, he asked the frail stranger if he could provide for Matthew himself.

At that moment, in that doorway, the spark that would become Light up Life Foundations was ignited.  Because of that persistent boy not giving up in his asking his idol to teach him to dance, thousands of youth have benefited from Herbie’s remarkable passion to help children facing the same challenges he overcame.  After that monumental day, word quickly spread of Herbie’s altruism. Within a short amount of time, Herbie was providing for more than 25 youth. He continued his singing and dancing career, spent a great deal of time at church teaching sunday school and opened his home as well as his wallet to as many people as possible.

In 2007, Herbie met his biological daughter for the very first time.  Manuela’s mother, his girlfriend from ages 14-19, moved to South Africa after she became pregnant in 2004. She got married while abroad and didn’t return to Uganda until the baby was a toddler.  In looking back, as hard as is was to not be a part of his first born child’s life, Herbie believes everything happens for a reason. He thinks it is no coincidence that the year his first daughter was born is the same year he met 9 year old Matthew and started providing for him as if he was his own son.  “If Manuela was in my life I often wonder if I would I have only concentrated on providing for her. I may have never visited Matthew’s home on that life-changing day,” he ponders. He also reflects on the irony that Desire, whom he’s been caring for as his own daughter for the last four years (she recently changed her last name to Kawuma) was also born in 2005 and is the same age as Manuela. He met Desire when filming the music video for “Together we Can,” his song about fighting HIV/AIDS (you can find it on YouTube). In retrospect, he believes that video’s purpose was to allow him to find Desire so that Light up Life could care for her and her brother.

In flashing back to his younger years, an extremely monumental time was 2008 when Herbie moved to Norway after a missionary from his church told him about the educational system there.  The transition was extremely difficult. The language, culture and climate proved more challenging than he had expected. Studying, learning a new language, working many jobs and facing the pressure of being responsible for the financial well being of so many he supported in Uganda was almost too much to bear at times. But Herbie refused to abandon his faith, hope and love. “ I remember sitting in the snow and crying when I was delivering newspapers and had little income to provide for the children in Uganda. People would offer to buy me a cup of coffee but I’d ask if they could give me the coins they would spend instead and I’d save up and send them to my family.  I wanted to go back home and I couldn’t. I was caught up in two worlds and didn’t know what to do in life.” he shared.

His years in Norway (where he currently resides) have been filled with blessings and heartache. Finally, in late 2009, he landed a job as a dance instructor teaching kids with special needs, but it was a part time job once a week. Soon after, tragedy struck his family once again.  “I’ll never forget that terrible phone call in 2009 when I learned that my brother, Ivan, had been murdered. I thought his dreams were finally coming true and his life was taken by jealous boxers who were competing against him.” Ivan had just advanced in the competition that would have enabled him to move to Vancouver, Canada to represent Uganda in boxing. “Something changed inside my heart after losing my brother, a man I had basically raised.  I had loved and supported my sibling his entire life and he was gone in an instant.” It was then that Herbie decided to further eliminate the concept of blood/biology in his definition of family. He vowed to treat everyone with the same love and care that most people reserve for family.

Herbie’s big break came in 2010 when he had an invitation to sing at the wedding of a teacher from the bible school he attended.  After performing Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror,” one of the guests approached him and handed him a card. She asked if he could go to the address on the card and teach children to dance.  Little did he know that within less than a week from that invitation, he’d be at a national TV station choreographing for a popular children’s talent TV program. Because he looked like a youth himself, he was eventually asked to open the program with some of his Michael Jackson moves. Doors soon opened for Herbie and performance opportunities flooded in. “I called my sister in Uganda and told her that I was now the richest young man in East Africa and that she should find as many children in need as she could and tell them we can help them,” he recalls.

Herbie’s faith was further challenged in In 2011 when his brother Steven also died tragically. Steven was defending the family’s home place (from false ownership claims from a neighbor) and he refused to back down.  He was being beaten by police and died from related injuries. Herbie reflects, “I’ve had losses and I have had blessings. And I have learned much through my losses that has made me who I am today. I have a strong faith that I rely on and a personal relationship with Jesus.” His life-long journey to seek God, especially his path since his spirit was awakened that day in church when he was 17, has lead him to a belief system that goes beyond standard religious framework. “ Literally, love is my religion, and spirituality, rather than traditional religious practices, is my focus.  Religion has separated people on this earth and I believe all need to stand together as one in love,” he added.

“The search for God and the power beyond has been something deep in my soul, and I always run to God, especially in my times of desperation, to seek His guidance. He rescues my soul. At one point in my life I asked for God to give me a sign that he has called me to a higher purpose. A scripture came into my heart, Isaiah 42 6-10, which begins, ‘I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations’.

As with most performing artist’s careers, Herbie’s has come with highs and lows, wealth and struggling, but through it all he credits God for always ensuring he can provide for the people counting on his support.  “In 2012, I didn’t know how I could carry on at the rate I was having to work to provide for Light up Life and my three biological children. My savings were dwindling. But God saw to it that I received Norway’s Role Model of the Year Award and the $20,000 grant that came with it,” he recounts with a thankful smile.  “Again in 2017 I was feeling the pressure of increased numbers and needs from the children and youth under my care in Uganda. I decided start posting about Light up Life on Facebook and started sending friend requests to strangers. I didn’t want to overstep by reaching out to friends of my Facebook friends, so I started sending out random friend requests,” he added.  He had no idea that one of those random requests would lead to one of his mission videos being viewed in April of 2017 by someone who would chose to make one of her biggest missions in her own life helping him fulfill his. What you have just read is her attempt to share the story of his life before they met. Stay tuned to watch as the story continues to unfold, the story that will prove that WHAT MATTERS is your heart.

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Dawn McCarty – Book Signing @ Royal Oak Bookshop
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Thanks to the efforts of VGSR volunteers, Mickie was surrendered to the rescue and started a new adventure. Mickie was very special and it was not because of his feet. He was a fabulous companion[...]
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Jeff Ryan – Book Signing @ Royal Oak Bookshop
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Jeff Ryan - Book Signing @ Royal Oak Bookshop
Author, speaker, photographer and avid hiker Jeff Ryan was born and raised in Maine. His love of the outdoors was evident early in life. He was skiing at the age of three and spending at least[...]