Last night I couldn’t sleep; in fact sleep has been a struggle for me every night since arriving in Uganda. Usually by now, my body has adjusted, but this time is different. So as I laid awake in my mosquito net in the quiet of the night, I wrote some stories, I read a few chapters in a book, I tried to sleep, I tossed and turned, and then I talked to God. Sometimes I think God keeps me awake at night because He wants to talk to me and I’m so busy during the day that I don’t make time to listen.
This trip is going better than I could’ve dreamed. Our projects are going like clockwork and we really are thrilled. While I’m grateful that everything is going so smoothly, as I laid in bed part of me was missing the magic of unexpected projects that come our way, the ones so far beyond my imagination that I never could’ve dreamed them up.
So in the stillness of night, I prayed a simple prayer, “God, if you have something more, I don’t want to miss it. Tell me what to do and I’ll do it, I promise. Just don’t let me miss it, okay?”
The next morning Laura and I visited a village called Pawel. Pawel is about 80 kilometers from the border of South Sudan and it’s the most impoverished place I’ve ever been; in fact it’s the most economically depressed place I’ve ever seen in real life or on television. During the reign of terror inflicted on Northern Uganda by Joseph Kony and the LRA, Pawel didn’t have a police force or an army. With no protection, the people of Pawel were sitting ducks for the LRA attacks. The LRA forced people out of Pawel by slaughtering the men, raping the women, and abducting the children. Only those who ran for their lives into the bush or into the IDP camps survived. For ten years from 1996-2006, Pawel was void of residents as the LRA used Pawel as their central hub for decimating the land and the people.
I learned all of this from my friend, James, who was born and raised in Pawel. James is a teacher at the first school I taught at in Uganda. His impeccable kindness to me, to his students, and to anyone he encounters is one of the things that makes him a truly special human being. His family had to flee to from the LRA. James calls himself one of the lucky ones because he attended a boarding school and wasn’t killed. His story is the exception, not the rule in Pawel.
For years James has wanted to start a school in Pawel, to bring education back to the children of the people who have returned home to reclaim Pawel.
In August of 2017, James and his wife, Beatrice, opened a nursery school, New Hope School. Beatrice is one of the teachers there. New Hope currently has 40 kindergarten students. Next year they will expand to first grade and the following year they will expand to second grade, etc.
But New Hope doesn’t only serve the children of Pawel. On May 28, 2018 they opened a children’s home for Sudanese refugees without parents. They are careful to call the refugees children, not orphans, and the home a home, not an orphanage, because they want these children to know they are safe, they are home, and they are loved.
Unfortunately, being loved, being held, and being safe are forgotten concepts for some of them who lived in the camps for so long. Many of these children saw their own parents be murdered, either in the war between Sudan and South Sudan or in the tribal wars in South Sudan that are concurrently ensuing. Some of these babies crossed the border into Uganda with older siblings, but some crossed on their own and were left to fend for themselves in a refugee camp with roughly a million refugees. Some were found eating out of trash cans in order to survive.
Worse yet, some of the children lived in the IDP camps and were then transferred to the homes of volunteers, who received extra food rations for taking in refugee children and then turned the children into house slaves. Their young lives have been like jumping from the mouth of one shark into the mouth of another.
Two of the founders of New Hope are Pastor Amos and his wife, Sarah. When I asked them what things they were teaching the children, they told me that the most important thing they’re doing is loving the children and showing them they’re worthy of being loved.
Secondly, they’re teaching the children that fighting isn’t the answer. With South Sudan bludgeoning itself to death year after year, all these children have known is violence.
Sarah is teaching the children how to speak English because English is the language of instruction in Uganda and they want the children to be educated. This is no easy feat considering they speak seven different languages.
Lastly, they’re teaching the children how to play again, an important lesson after living hand to mouth in constant peril.
New Hope Children’s Home currently houses 21 refugee children with the help of 2 house mothers, 2 cooks, and 2 night-time security guards. The children arrive to New Hope with maybe one change of clothes and any other small belongings in green plastic bags. Imagine losing your parents, your family, your home, and your country, and having only a plastic green bag to hold all you have left in the world.
When Amos showed me the homes for the girls, my eye caught a Hello Kitty shirt and a beaded bracelet on one of the beds. One of my students from last year wore that same shirt and I swallowed back a lump in my throat at the thought of her enduring such hardship.
When I asked Amos what their most immeciate needs were, he let out a heavy sigh and said, “The needs are so many.” And it’s true they are. They need money for food to feed the children. The children need shoes, especially the nursery children who walk long distances to school without shoes. The refugee children need small foot lockers so they can move their things out of plastic bags and have even the smallest place to call their own. The school children need uniforms and the refugees will need them next year when they finish their course in English and begin school. They need school supplies, like books and pencils and notebooks and chalk and chalkboards.
Vigilante Kindness is committed to helping New Hope in the future, but we’d like to begin now by purchasing foot lockers for all 21 refugee children and shoes for all 61 children because we do shoes, oh yes, we do shoes. The cost of foot lockers and shoes is $452.00. If you’d like to help the children of New Hope, please click the link below.
As I was taking photos of of the homes, a hand colored sign above the bed of one of the girls caught my eye. It read, “Happey.” Happey is the name of one of the refugee girls, but what I saw today were 61 children who by the grace of God are safe, loved, and happy.