Amarowu Bene

Every morning, Laura and I start the day with Luo lessons just after breakfast. Our tutor is Opiyo Chris, one of my most skilled writing students from the first year I taught in Uganda. You may remember his face from my second year when I taught a writing workshop about what my students and I believe.

I love everything about this kid. He’s funny. He’s kind. He’s hardworking. And he’s ever so patient with us as we, his faithful students, struggle to learn basic things like the alphabet, numbers, months of the year, days of the week, and the basic things every good kindergartener in Uganda already knows.

Opiyo Chris is 22 now and has completed all six years of high school. He works at a restaurant and earns enough to buy food and keep the electricity on, most of the time.

Opiyo Chris.jpgChris shows up every morning dressed sharply and on time, just like a real teacher. His language skills are excellent, something I knew from the very first essay he wrote with me, but beyond that he is an natural teacher, always striking the right balance between challenging us and encouraging us. He reminds me of the kind of teacher I want to be when I get my new batch of first graders next month.

We pay him out of our Work Study Scholarship Project, which allows students and families to use their gifts to earn school fees. Leku Ivan and Babu Ojok paint. The Bungatira Beaders and the Art Factory Gulu Girls make paper bead jewelry. Opiyo Chris patiently instructs us on things like how to make our very American mouths say the troublesome Luo ng sound.

Our lessons are $5 per person for an hour long intensive lesson. At the end of our first lesson, I reached into my wallet to pay him and Chris stopped me. “Mom, can you pay me at the end? It’s a lot of money and I don’t want to waste it. Can you hold it for me so I can have it all at the end for my school fees?” I agreed immediately, so proud that he didn’t want the temptation to squander a single shilling.

One of my favorite phrases in Luo is, “Amarowu bene.” It means, “I love you all so much.” Vigilantes, your generous donations to our Work Study Project allow students and families access to education. You are changing lives and for that I say to you amarowu bene.

Meet Babu Ojok

In one corner of Art Factory Gulu there are bold, beautiful paintings, brighter than all of the others in the shop. They’re made with bright colors mixed with the bold prints of traditional African fabrics. When I asked Leku Ivan who the painter was, Ivan replied, “He’s one of my students.”

Yesterday while I was in Art Shop Gulu visiting and working out the details of purchasing paintings and paper bead jewelry, a quiet young man in a baseball cap approached me.

“My name is Babu Ojok.” He looked at his feet and spoke so softly that he had to repeat himself three times and even then I couldn’t hear him. I made him write his name in my notebook and I introduced myself.

“I want to show you my paintings.” He spoke a little louder this time and lifted his eyes to meet mine.

“I’d love to see your paintings. Show me.” I followed him to the corner of the Art Shop where all of his brilliantly colored paintings stood.

“You made these? I’ve been wanting to meet you!” I squealed, momentarily forgetting my manners. “You have a great eye for using color and pattern.”

“Thank you,” he smiled and looked at his shoes again.

“Are you in school?” I asked, the wheels in my head turning, hoping this kid would qualify for Work Study Scholarship money.

He shook his head. “No, I completed my Senior 6 year, but I failed to earn school fees for university. I live with my uncle and he is struggling to pay my school fees. I want to go back to school, but the money isn’t there.”

“I think we can help with that. Tell me about your paintings.” I smiled.

Then Babu Ojok’s face absolutely lit up as he talked about each of his paintings, their names, what they mean to him, and how he made them.

I collected all of the information including prices for each piece so Laura could crunch the numbers and see if there was any possibility to include Babu as one of our Work Study Scholarship recipients this year.

As I was preparing to leave, Babu Ojok handed me a painting. “This is a gift for you, to thank you for all of the good work you’re doing.”

“Thank you so much. I’ll accept it on one condition. Will you let me sell it so that the money can go back into our scholarship fund to send more students in Uganda to school?”

He smiled. “Yes, that would be good.”

Back at the hotel, Laura crunched the numbers. Buying all of Babu Ojok’s paintings will take our Work Study Scholarship down to nothing and I can’t think of a better way to spend our last penny.

As I drifted off to sleep last night I smiled thinking of Babu Ojok, about how glad I was that this quiet artist tucked under a baseball cap was bold enough to introduce himself, bold enough to ask for the chance to go back to school.

Vigilantes, meet Babu Ojok. Write his name in your notebooks. He’s a kid you won’t want to forget.

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A Welcome Party and a Sneak Peek

The welcome party thrown by Ivan and his colleagues at Art Shop Gulu was really just so sweet. Each time I walk up the stairs into Art Shop Gulu, it gives me chills, thinking of where Ivan came from and how hard he and his fellow artists have worked to create this space.

There was singing.

There was cake.

And of course there was art and paper bead jewelry galore! Here’s a sneak peek at a small selection of the pieces that will be available at our September 8th Paper Bead Jewelry and Painting Sale in Redding, CA. Any remaining pieces will be for sale online after that.

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The Land of Black and Green

A few years ago I taught a poetry workshop in Uganda. There are so many lines of their poetry that stay with me, but one that came to mind today was this, “I am from Africa, the land of black.” The poet went on to describe how she is from the land of black in her skin, black in the soil where her family grows potatoes, and blinding blackness at night where the hum of electricity hasn’t reached yet.

Today as we drove away from the airport, we travelled on a road under construction. Along the road were streetlights, the first in all of Uganda. They haven’t been lit yet, but all I could think of when I saw them was that poet’s words and how startling it will be to see rows of streetlights shining in the pitch black.

Though in the land of black, for me Uganda has always been the land of green. The equatorial climate makes every plant lush and verdant, with signs of life abundant in every leaf.

Alicia in Entebbe, Uganda.

When I think of green, I think of newness, of the urgency of seedlings breaking free of their seed coats for the first time, of blots of colorful flowers blooming while the dark green leaves do the work of collecting energy from the sun and making it into food.

It reminds me of this verse, which has been knocking around in my head for a few weeks.

“Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”

‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭43:19‬

Uganda has been a place for me where old things are shed and new things break free and grow with reckless fervency. It is my land of green lovingly tucked into the beating heart of the land of black.

P.S. I’ll be posting blogs and some photos here, but other things like live videos, short posts, and complete photo albums will be on the Vigilante Kindness Facebook page.

We Are Vigilante Kindness

Last night my Facebook birthday fundraiser for Vigilante Kindness was fully funded!!! There was a mad rush of donations at the end to donate the last $20 that had me absolutely giggling with delight!

We_Are_VIgilante_Kindness_pngMy sleep last night was restless because I couldn’t stop thinking about all of you, who you are, who I am, who we are as Vigilante Kindness.

I started writing out things that are true of you and I, what we do, things we love, what we’re going through, where we’ve been, and all the other things that make us who we are.

It leaves me full of love thinking about each of you and leaves me in wonder thinking of who we are collectively.

Thank you for choosing to be a part of our story.

I couldn’t love you more if I tried, so I made you a present, a story of who we are.

A Project Update

Hi, Vigilantes!

It’s good to be in this space with you again. There are only 5 days until I return to Uganda and I’m SO EXCITED to return to my African home!!! Sorry, did I get a little shouty there? I’m just really thrilled!

Many of you have been following Vigilante Kindness on Facebook, so you know we’ve been doing a fundraiser for my birthday, which was last Friday. Thank you for your generosity and for making my birthday so special. I love that you love my loved ones in Uganda so much.

In case you aren’t following us on Facebook, here’s a video update on our projects that I posted there. I’m so thrilled to get to do this work and to have you right alongside me. If you feel compelled to support any of our projects, you can click here to donate via PayPal.

Thanks so much and I look forward to sharing more stories of Vigilante Kindness with you from Uganda!

Vigilante Kindness Evening of Stories

Hi, Vigilantes!

You’re invited to an Evening of Stories on October 17th from 4:30pm to 6:00pm in the Community Room at the Redding Library. I’ll be sharing stories and photos from our latest adventures in Vigilante Kindness in Uganda.

Paper bead jewelry and paintings from our Ugandan artisans will also be for sale that evening.

This event is free and open to the public.

If you’d like to help out at the Evening of Stories, please email me at vigilantekindness@gmail. com. We’re in need of people to help with some light set up, to prepare snacks, and to man the paper bead jewelry table.

I can’t wait to tell you stories and show you photos of all the great things your generosity has done. This evening is a small way of saying thanks for partnering with us in acts of Vigilante Kindness in Uganda.

Fondly,

Alicia