Ben David ’12 was not homesick. Home for Ben was Uganda—he grew up there and lived in an orphanage after his parents died. When he graduated from Calvin with a degree in media production, he had no desire to go back. He and his wife, Kari David ’13, a speech pathologist, settled in Grand Rapids. Kari had what she called her “dream job.” Uganda seemed very far away.
But something changed.
How their hearts broke
The director of the orphanage in Uganda called Ben one day and asked if he could help find a speech therapist for two kids with disabilities. The director hinted that maybe Ben and Kari could come to help with these children.
“I told him that we would look and try to find someone else,” Ben said. They started researching and looking for services for these children half a world away. And their hearts broke.
Even now, five years later, the Davids know the statistics off the top of their heads. In Uganda, people with disabilities make up 24% of the population of 45 million people, and most of those people will never get the services they need. They learned that in Uganda, people with disabilities are considered a curse and are locked away. Their parents carry deep shame, and there is a high risk of children being abused or even killed.
They started praying together for God to send someone else to Uganda to help these children. “And then,” said Ben, “I started to feel really homesick.”
Kari was also deeply moved. “The situation seemed too daunting to address. We felt completely unqualified to make any impact whatsoever given the size of the need,” she said. “We continued to live our normal life in Michigan, but over time, I couldn’t get those two children off my heart and my mind.”
How they follow God
“It absolutely seemed crazy,” said Kari. “But it was so clear that God was telling us to go, and we had peace about it.”
“And we were scared out of our minds,” Ben added with a laugh. They sold everything they had in Grand Rapids and flew to Uganda.
After a few years of working with the kids at the orphanage, the Davids launched Hope Speaks in 2017. The nonprofit has a mission “to inspire hope and raise voices for children with disabilities through speech therapy, education, and advocacy.”
Hope Speaks serves more than 800 children with disabilities and their families.
Kari discovered that speech therapy only scratched the surface of the kids’ needs. “The families lacked a support system and the education to advocate for their kids,” Kari said.
“At the first parent support group, parents could not believe that someone else was going through what they were going through,” Kari said.
This led Ben and Kari to develop a holistic approach to meet the needs of families. They hired social workers. They created systems to empower families economically. They established outreach locations in the kids’ home communities so they could start educating neighborhoods. They started hiring Ugandan speech pathologists and providing resources to grow the field in Uganda. And they made connections in the government to advocate for people with disabilities.
“It’s been so cool to see these families’ perspectives change and their view of their children change,” Kari said. “They go from seeing their children as a burden and a curse to seeing them as a gift and a child made in the image of God.”
“If you would have told us five years ago that this is what God would do through the ministry in this short amount of time, we probably would have freaked out and left,” said Ben. “It’s amazing to see how he provided and so many lives have been impacted.”
How they are staying connected
Even though they are more than 7,000 miles away from Calvin’s campus, the Davids are still connected. In January, the speech pathology and audiology department brought a team to learn over interim. That team included Judy Vanderwoude, Jill Bates, and Brian Kreisman. VanderWoude and Bates have also served on the board of directors for Hope Speaks. Erika Leicty ’13 volunteered as the clinical director for two years and Brittany Zuidema ’18 volunteered as a summer intern.
To hear an interview with the Davids about their work, watch a video on Calvin’s Facebook page.
To learn how you can support Hope Speaks and about the 2020 Calvin interim visit to the organization, visit hopespeaks.org.