Stories from Uganda
Jan., 28th, 2010

Stories from Uganda
Vanessa and I just spent a week in Uganda, Africa with World Vision. The purpose of the trip was to see, firsthand, the work that World Vision is doing in Uganda. We met with staff, community volunteers, families, sponsored children– we visited Medical Clinics and schools provided by World Vision, pumped water from new bore holes, visited lush farms and proud farmers trained and supported by World Vision. We saw desperate need and we saw transformation. We saw that child sponsorship works. It really does. That’s why we sponsor five kids. The people we met were proud, grateful and filled with hope. They asked us to share their stories, to tell the people in America not to forget them, to help in any way they can. Here are a few of their stories. It is my prayer that their stories won’t fall on deaf ears, hard hearts, or tight purses. Mine included.


Dennis
I met Dennis in a hotel in Gulu, Uganda. He worked at the hotel and helped me bring my bags to my room. He showed me how to turn on the TV and access the two channels available. Football/Soccer was on. We started chatting about football and other lighter fare. He had a strong accent, but his English was pretty good. Much better than my Acholi. He started sharing a bit more about his life. He was going to graduate from Secondary School next week. He seemed a bit old to be graduating from high school, but there was a reason. Both of his parents had died and he was left to be the head of the household. He had become parent to his four younger siblings. He worked the hotel job during the week to provide for his family, and went to school on his off hours, mostly on the weekends. His smile seemed incongruous with his life story, but it was a large, genuine smile. I came to Uganda expecting to encounter orphans and lives touched by tragedy, but I wasn’t expecting to in my hotel room. In Gulu, you don’t need to travel far to meet those in need. Everyone is touched by tragedy. Every family. Every child. Even Dennis.


The Waiting List
We met a family that broke my heart. Their three huts were bordered by graves. A constant reminder of a lost mother, siblings and other family members. A frail grandmother was head of this household. The father was mentally ill and unable to care for his four boys. Grandma was not much better off. She was nearly blind and had a prominent wound on her right hand (I touched it inadvertently when I took her hand). The four boys introduced themselves. The oldest was eighteen and was attending primary school. He was in 7th grade. Physically, he looked to be around fourteen. His younger brothers were equally behind in physical development and schooling. They ate one meal a day. They spent much of their day fetching water and trying to coax crops from the dry ground. School was a luxury, survival came first. Their eyes, their whole demeanor was cast down. There was a heaviness in that home. I could feel it. They lived it. The youngest boy was on the waiting list to be sponsored through World Vision. On the waiting list. If only somebody knew... surely they would respond. Surely we would respond. These are the kinds of families World Vision seeks to help first, but they need sponsors like you and me to join them. They specifically find and reach out to the poorest of the poor, the marginalized, those who are easiest for the world to forget, but whom Jesus leaves the other ninety-nine to find. Oh Jesus, please find them. Help your Body to find them.


Gloria
We walked a red-dirt path to meet Gloria, a sponsored child, and her family. We were instantly greeted by music, whoops and clapping. Gloria, and her younger sisters were flowers- wearing colorful dresses for the special occasion. This was a ceremony, a celebration, a party. It can be all too easy for us to see sponsorship as writing a $35 monthly check, but to Gloria and her family it meant hope, joy, peace, life– something worth celebrating. Her father stood, beaming. Gloria and her sisters sang a song for us. We were invited to sit in the shade of the mango tree (while the family sat in the hot sun). They served us bottled soda (which cost them about ten-days wages). There was only enough for the guests. Many of these kids have never even tasted soda and here we were about to drink our 2nd or 3rd of the day. But they insisted. It was a gift and we weren’t about to refuse. We gave Gloria and her family gifts on behalf of her sponsor, Mark, who wasn’t able to join us on the trip. The family was so grateful. They gave us another gift. A rooster. Another gift we couldn’t refuse. This was a prize animal and a big sacrifice for this family (worth nearly a week’s wages). How much does sponsorship mean to this family? If you spent about 2/3 rds of your monthly income to say thank you to someone I suspect that would be quite a statement. Gloria and her family, in their poverty, gave their first fruits. What might happen if we give ours?


Moses’ Vision
Moses welcomed us to his farm. He introduced his family and pointed out, with pride, that two of his children were attending boarding school, an expensive and rare honor in rural Uganda. How could Moses afford such a future for his children? World Vision offered training to local farmers, showing them improved farming methods and sustainable techniques. Moses was inspired by what he learned. He said that through the training he got a “vision” for his farm. World Vision encouraged him to submit a proposal. He did. They were impressed by Moses’ vision and came alongside him to make that vision a reality. We got a tour of the farm: chickens for eggs, a cow for milk, leafy banana trees shading the coffee trees, cassava, pumpkins, mangoes... tree after tree... bounty upon bounty. I asked him how many people he had to hire to help him work such a sizable farm. “None,” he said. He couldn’t afford to. He needed all the money so that two children could go to boarding school and prepare for University. Wow. That’s sacrifice. Yes, his vision was for his land, but ultimately it was a vision for his children’s future. World Vision helped him discover that vision and came alongside him to see that vision become a reality. For him, and his children.


Grace

The first thing I noticed about Grace was her smile. It was buoyant, hard to suppress. It seemed, when she talked, she tried to keep the corners of her mouth from curling up, but they always did, that smile always appeared. She was kidnapped at the age of thirteen. She was given away to be “the wife” of the 2nd in command of the L.R.A (a rebel army that terrorized Northern Uganda during the 20 Years War). The L.R.A grew their army by abducting children and forcing them to commit atrocious violence, often against their own villages and families. At the age of eighteen Grace decided to flee. She felt compelled to invite another abducted girl to join her in the escape. An especially risky prospect because the other girl had a young child. Escaping alone would have been much easier. They fled during the night, running, running, running. They made it safely to a city and were eventually brought to the World Vision Children of War Center in Gulu, Uganda. Through counseling, prayer and art therapy Grace began to be rehabilitated. She also received medical care because of a bullet wound in her chest– she began to heal, physically, emotionally, spiritually. She returned to school. She was determined to catch up so she did double time– attending both Primary and Secondary Classes simultaneously. Against the odds, she graduated from University and now works with World Vision in peace-building and advocacy for women. She was awarded “Woman Achiever of the Year” in Uganda last year for the work she is doing with World Vision. She’s articulate, strong, passionate, and overflowing with life. Grace is astounding.


Struggle
A word I kept hearing over and over again in Uganda was “struggle.” When I think of struggle, I think of the overwhelming odds they face: war, famine, disease, lack of water, hunger. But they used the word in almost a positive sense. They saw struggle as a necessary means to hope, to life, to change. The World Vision staff (all of whom were local Ugandans) shared that people seldom change if they are just given a handout. World Vision comes alongside to provide training and resources, but the people are encouraged to invest their time, energy and resources to make lasting change happen in their own lives and communities. And that model works. We saw it. People need a sense of ownership and accomplishment. World Vision provides the catalyst for change, for sustainable change. The people of Uganda struggle, but it is a struggle filled with hope, vision and purpose.


Florence
Florence stood out in a crowded room. Her face was well-wrinkled, but the wrinkles were upturned in a nearly-permanent smile. She was one of over twenty Caregivers who volunteered with World Vision to care for the vulnerable in her community. She worked with her church to minister to those who were HIV positive. World Vision trained her to engage and counsel people who were shunned by the rest of the community. She took them to be tested and treated. She helped them live “positively,” with HIV. She radiated life and joy as she spoke. Her speech was peppered with “Amens”. Finally she shared that she, herself, was HIV positive! Even though death (HIV) was in her body, life radiated out of her. I would have never suspected that she was battling the illness. I thought of the verse, “Where O Death is your victory, where O Death is your sting? Death has been swallowed up in victory!” HIV was not getting the last word in Florence’s life. Nor in the lives of those she ministered to. Victory. Sweet, improbable victory.

 


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