Just a warning – the stories in this post are intense.
True to how time works in Africa, we arrived at the CPU office at 9:00 (the time we were told we would leave for the field). We left at 11:30.
Look Mom, brand new helmets purchased especially for the safety crazed Mzungos!
We rode for about an hour past where the road ends (the lesser known Silverstein poem) past huts and sunflower fields to a road that was quite literally being constructed as we drove down it. We waited to the side at this road when the driver of my bike, Sam, realized that we had left the other two bikes in the dust. This is when we learned that one of them broke down further back on the road. So began the waiting, part two of many for the day. We sat on the side of the road and listened to goats munching on grass and calling out to their friends across the road under construction.
Children left school for their lunch hour and still we sat.
After an hour and many trips relay-style to get everyone to the same place, we piled on the remaining two motorbikes. I was safely sandwiched between Sam and Doreen, both Children of Peace Uganda (CPU) employees for the remaining half hour ride down steadily narrowing dirt paths.
The homes we visited were completely isolated. Groups of two to three huts were spaced out 5-10 minutes (walking) apart. All of the children in the area followed us as we moved around. Unfortunately, we were unable to get all of their stories, but they are in the photos below. Very noticeable in the photos are their extended bellies, indications of the malnutrition they face and possibly even kwashiorkor disease.
The first home we visited was a household headed by a 15 year old girl, Sharon. Their father was abducted by the LRA in 2004, he did not return. The mother was abducted as well, and she returned HIV positive. She died from the progression of the disease in 2012. Sharon and her two siblings, Daniel (14) and Viki (12) live alone (see photo below).
The hardest part of their story is that their paternal grandfather, grandmother, and uncle live just a few huts away, but they hate the children and refuse to care for them. They only come to the children’s homes when there are visitors. Recently, the children had a bag of soybeans and the uncle came over and stole half of the bag. The uncle is also trying to push the children off their land and claim it as their own. The last time CPU visited they brought the village chief with them to the land to question why the uncle and grandfather are not helping the children, but no good reason was given and nothing has changed.
An important figure in the lives of these children was an incredible woman named Lily. She lived down the road and came to care for their mother when she was dying. She took her to the hospital, helped her bath, and helped ensure the children had food. After their mother died, Lily continued to look after Sharon, Daniel, and Viki. If they were sick, or had health concerns Lily would help them and get medicine the health center (about 10 km down the road) if it was needed. There was a man who had pursued a relationship with Lily, but she turned him down, which is unheard of in Ugandan culture because it embarrasses the man. About three weeks ago, the man came to Lily’s home in the night and murdered her. That man is current in jail, but an incredible individual was removed from this world leaving behind her own six children and the three children she cared for as her own.
We walked ten minutes down the dirt path the Lily’s home. Here we met with her children, who are now orphans (their father was abducted by the LRA and never returned). The maternal grandmother took in three children and three remain at the home where their mother was recently murdered. While all of the children were clearly still devastated from the loss of their mother, they showed a kind of strength that is rare in adults. Doreen asked me at one point if I noticed which one of the children was not okay and after looking around it became obvious very fast. Jeremiah, one of the younger children probably around 7 years old, was alone playing in the dirt. He wouldn’t interact with the other people at the home, would not smile, and was not responding when people spoke with him directly.
Below are photos from the people at Lily’s home, still finding light in a time of such darkness.
I was particularly taken with the two women breast feeding in the photo below. I spoke with them and learned that they are Rapella (left) and Janet (right), both 26 years old, with their children Blessing (7 months old) and Agatha (3 months old). I asked them about the medical care they had available during their pregnancies and for labor and I learned that they walked a very long ways to a clinic where they received antimalarial medicine and iron. Janet repeatedly mentioned how far away the clinic was and how hungry she had been during her pregnancy. I asked her how many children she wanted to have and she told me two more (she already has two) and she hopes her husband will be okay with that. Janet has no access to birth control and her husband gets to decide when and how many children they are having.
The third home we visited is a household headed by a 15 year old boy. The father was a government soldier who was killed, and then the mother abandoned the children. Only one of the boys was home, the eldest took the younger two to the clinic about 2 km away to get ARV medication, the boys are HIV positive. A few weeks back, thieves came and threatened the children, so now they are sleeping in their grandmother’s hut at nights and returning to their homes during the day.
The last home we visited is headed by a woman named Sarah, she is now 34 years old. In 1996, she was abducted by the LRA. She returned in 2004, with two children. When she returned her immediate family welcomed her back, but those outside of her community stigmatized her and made fun of her. She found it incredibly difficult to get married because no one wanted to have to care for “rebel parented children”. She still faces stigmatization to this day and is incredibly frustrated at the lack of support from the government.
I should probably end this post on a more uplifting note- all of the children mentioned in the post above have been sponsored by CPU and will begin attending school. We are working with Jane to implement a Peace Center on the 15 acres of land they have recently acquired. An important feature will be a crisis center that provides safe space for women and children that face imminent danger and threats to their well being. More information about what we are doing her and what our long term project is soon.
Lastly, calling all doctors/nurses/medical professionals, any idea what this is? Many of the children had these deep sores on their ankles that flies are nesting in.