Trek Talk - ElderTreks Blog


We had been driving for an hour en route to Abetavu, Uganda, when the first thing I notice as we near the village are several signs near the school which read: Do Not Accept Gifts for Sex.

What saddens me even further is that the school is for girls under the age of ten.

This was my introduction to the harsh reality that Carli Travers and her husband Robert deal with every day – and the motivation that led them to adopt 17 of the 21 children who now share their home in Uganda. It was also the reason why ElderTreks decided to help this family, and why I was so looking forward to finally meeting them in person.

As we reach Carli's security gate, we are greeted by many dogs, which I later learn are there for protection: there has been a recent influx of attacks towards them by people in the community, mostly men, angry that she has taken a stand for the wives and children in the community. Hard to imagine, but then, it has become clear this is a very different world.

A few moments later, Carli appears holding a newborn in her arms. The child was born in January - the result of a father raping his 13 year old daughter. Unmarried and pregnant, and therefore no longer worthy of a high bride price, the girl carries the blame for bringing shame to her family, and was thrown out by the same father who had raped her.

The daughter and baby are now both part of Carli and Robert’s every-growing family, making Carli a grandmother of sorts before she is even 30. But despite bringing this young girl and baby under her protection, Carli is still worried. The girl wants to go to school once the baby is older, but having known nothing but sexual abuse from the age of 4, she has no understanding of the difference between friendship and love.

I am reminded of the signs I first noticed in the village.

But not all our visit is as troubling. We sit and play with a few of the boys who are so excited to see visitors. They want to know if we are going to stay and if not, when we will come back to play.

They show us their pet turtle and monkey. It seems the kids have an art for bringing home whatever wild animals they find.

Walking around their property, we tour their garden, new bore hole, pigs and Robert's new game room. He tries to use it as an extra source of income and charges the locals 1000 Uganda Shillings (50 cents) to watch soccer matches.

As more children return from school, we are greeting warmly by them. I ask Robert and Carli how they do it, and their response was simply, ‘we make it work.” The kids are so thankful to have a life where they can actually be children, they all seem to just live happily together. Despite the hardships the kids have faced, they laugh and play together. You can feel the love they all share for one another. I watch as the older children care for the little ones. While not a biological family, you can feel the bond and joy they share.

At the end of our visit, Carli apologies for her being so tired and I laugh and think to myself, with 21 kids it is to be expected. She then proceeds to tell us she had spent the entire day before going between the hospital and the district police station to fight for a three year old girl who was raped by her father. She explains the worst part of the entire thing is that the police and father agree that it doesn't matter as the child was a "bastard".

Clearly, there is still much work to be done here, and as Carli thanks us for our donations and support, I can only think that it is us who should be thankful for people like her and Robert.

Chelsey Crossland, Operations Manager - March 19, 2014

As travelers we understand the transformative effect that visiting other countries and other cultures has on us. But at ElderTreks, we believe this works both ways, and that it is our responsibility to look for opportunities where we can give back to the places that give us all so much.

Two years ago we told you about a remarkable young Canadian woman, Carli Travers, and her efforts to help orphans in Uganda. Her story is one of generosity and love, and how at a truly grassroots level, she is making a huge difference in the lives of forgotten, discarded or abused children. At an age when many young people are not even thinking of starting a family, she and her Ugandan husband Robert had already adopted 6 of these unloved street children to raise as their own. Six soon became seventeen, and the challenges they faced grew as well. Carli’s story stole our hearts the same way the children had stolen hers, and in 2012 ElderTreks helped Carli and Robert construct the main building that would house this large and expanding family.

So much has happened since then that it seems long overdue for an update.

For starters, the finished house, “Abetavu Children’s Home”, is now home to 23 (Carli, Robert, 17 of their adopted children and 4 of their own) and the two young parents have recently become grandparents when their 13 year-old adopted daughter gave birth to a little boy, Jeremiah. Beyond caring for these children, Carli and Robert are involved in numerous outreach programs in the community where they live, offering financial support to girls attending school, teaching teenagers life skills and leadership, and working with local organizations to provide counseling, mediation and support for those who need representation the most.

Despite all this incredible progress, life isn’t always easy at Abetavu. Fundraising is an ongoing concern, and there is often resistance to the work that is done here, as incomprehensible as that seems. Which is why we are so happy to be an ongoing supporter of Abetavu. Just last month, Chelsey Crossland, the Operations Manager at ElderTreks, paid a visit to them, laden with clothing and supplies for the Abetavu children and got to meet some of the newer additions to the home. It made quite an impression on her, as she describes in her blog.

Beyond what we do from afar, these personal visits help us truly understand how small efforts can lead to huge changes in the lives of so many people around the world. We consider Abetavu a part of the ElderTreks extended family, and as one of our clients, we hope you will consider it as part of yours as well.

“We are so thankful that ElderTreks believed in us and gave our family such amazing support so that we could build our forever family home. Even in urgent crisis Eldertreks has jumped in without hesitation. Abetavu is forever grateful for our partnership with ElderTreks.” Carli Travers

If you’d like to know more about Abetavu, and the work that Carli and Robert are doing in Uganda, visit

Jane Canapini - March 19, 2014

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