Sunday, October 26, 2008

Melisha's House is Complete!

Last weekend Kristi and I were able to go and check on Melisha's house. We are pleased to announce that the entire house is complete! As we arrived, we could see the joy spread across Melisha's face. She lifted her eyes and her hands to the heavens and started to pray out loud. Kristi, Damali (our coworker) and myself decided to take the 3 grandchildren to the market in order to buy them some much needed supplies. While we rode in a taxi to the market, I could see little Charles with his eyes glued outside the window. Harriet, the eldest, informed us that despite living in Kampala his whole life, Charles had never been to the market. Upon arrival, we had what looked like a children's fashion show as each one of the kids picked out their 5 favorite outfits and a pair of shoes. As a surprise, we bought the boys a bike and Harriet a doll. On the drive back we stopped at a furniture store to get a triple decker bunk bed and a regular bed for grandma. Neither the kids nor their grandmother had ever slept on a proper bed!
Round 5pm, while I was taking pictures of the house, little Charles came up to me and said something in Luganda. When I asked Damali to translate, she said he was ready to go to sleep in his new bed and not wake up...ever!
Seeing grandma rejoice in front of their house, the boys riding their bike around and Harriet playing with her doll, I realized how truly privileged we are in West and how often we take things for granted. I realized that many times we see only what we don't have and never take the time to see what we have been blessed with. How can we get to the point where happiness and joy are completely separate from material possessions and where to give is to gain?
Finally... thank you to everyone who has chosen to become involved in the life of this family. Your prayers and support have completely transformed their lives. You have not only become an answer to their prayers but given them a new hope.

"He is no fool, who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose" - Jim Elliot

Grandma Jaja
The family rejoicing in front of their new house
Charles eating fried chicken and drinking a coke
The family, the builders, Kristi and Damali
Charles and Ivan showing off their new bike
The kids on their bunk bed
The family
The house before

The house after!
Kristi and the kids in the taxi to the market
Me with the kids in the back of the truck

Friday, October 24, 2008

Final Farewell to Kamwenge

Well... we actually left Kamwenge District almost a month ago but since I had left over pictures, here we go. The pictures were all taken during our time with the MET program. MET is a HIV education program that trains local youth leaders to mobilize their communities around topics related to HIV.

In other news...
Joseph Kony, cowardly front-man for the Lord's Resistance Army, is once again burning villages, abducting children and killing civilians. After a short period of peace, he has regrouped in the DRC to continue his campaign of terror. During the last month, more than a hundred kids have been aducted (between the ages of 10-15) and over 5000 civilians have fled into Uganda to seek safety. For more recent news articles see here BBC Article and here New Vision

Monday, October 13, 2008

Karamojong street kids, innocence lost and a stolen childhood

Kristi and I recently returned from a short trip to Karamoja. Located in the North East corner, Karamoja has unjustly gotten the reputation as Uganda's problem child. The region has lagged behind in development efforts, and experiences regular violence as cattle raiders have gotten access to guns. In attempts to bring peace to the region the Government has enforced heavy handed disarmament plans often resulting in lootings, beatings and detentions. This has merely compounded problems and reinforced the feeling of distrust towards the government. A UNICEF representative recently reported that "Karamoja is the worst place to be a child, with highly elevated levels of early childhood mortality and morbidity. Health indicators are the worst in the country, decidedly worse than in LRA-affected [rebel Lord's Resistance Army] northern districts and the rest of the country." Maternal mortality rates are 50% higher than the other regions in Uganda. During the last 8 years HIV infection rates have doubled and primary school attendance is round 43%.

Walking through the streets of Kampala, you inevitably run into begging kids. Most of these have come from Karamoja in search of a better life but many are forced into begging either by their parents or because they have simply been abandoned. In 2007 when the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting took place, the Ugandan Government decided to respond by rounding up all the Karamojong and dumping them 40 km outside the city. (see this BBC article) Rather than address the problem, they merely tried to save face while the heads of state were visiting.

One evening while at a roadside cafe, Kristi and I observed as a little girl maybe 2 years old was forced to sit in the middle of the sidewalk with her hands stretched out above her head. As it reached 9 pm, the little girl's head started to bob up and down as she fell asleep. No sooner had her tiny hands sank into her lap and her eyes closed when her mother came running over to violently shake her awake. Dressed in her dirty rags, I saw how her sad eyes followed other little girls in pretty dresses as they passed by.
Here are some pictures of Kampala's forgotten faces... the ones that have had their childhoods stolen.