Gladys’ Kitten

Last night we asked for $452 to purchase shoes and footlockers for the children of New Hope School. As of tonight do you know how much we’ve received?

$452!!!

Thank you Pat, Mary Kay, Arnold, Kathryn, Dorothy, Nora, and Margie. 7 people just changed the lives of 61 children. On behalf of the students and staff at New Hope, thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

I thought you’d like to meet one of the recipients of the shoes and lockers. Meet Gladys. She was rescued from the IDP camp just a few days ago and is the newest student living at New Hope. She is Sudanese. She doesn’t speak English. She has a stuffed toy kitten. And, as you can see from the photos, she has impeccable fashion sense.

While the adults were sitting and chatting, Gladys approached Pastor Amos with her kitten in hand and began hitting him with it. Pastor Amos gently took the kitten from her and started cradling it like a baby, cooing at it, telling the kitty that it was a good kitty. Ever so calmly he said, “We don’t hurt people. We don’t hurt babies.”

Though she doesn’t speak English, Gladys immediately softened, as if she understood.

It was at that tender moment that I knew Vigilante Kindness and New Hope would become partners.

The Sudanese refugee children were born into a country that responds hotly to disagreements with violence. In Sudan, murder is a common response to relatively small disagreements.

The staff at New Hope has seen first hand how small disagreements amongst the refugee children cannot go without intervention because the only way the refugee children know how to end an argument is with violence. The staff also knows that retraining a brain that has experienced trauma comes through small actions seasoned with large amounts of patience.

When Pastor Amos started holding the kitten like a baby, Gladys calmed down. When he started making the kitty make meowing noises, Gladys burst into giggles.

In the next couple of days, because of you, Gladys will have real shoes and more importantly, she’ll have a footlocker where she can keep her stuffed kitty safe.

IMG_6044
Gladys, happily installed on Beatrice’s lap.

New Hope for Pawel

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.

IMG_5974
James and Beatrice Ekanya

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.

IMG_5992
A kindergarten classroom at New Hope School

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 and they. 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.

IMG_5950
Nursery and Kindergarten Students at New Hope School

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.

IMG_5943
Teachers and Refugee Children of New Hope

Unfortunately being loved, being held, 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 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.

IMG_5975
Sarah and Pastor Amos

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, your country and having only a plastic green bag to hold all you have left in the world.

IMG_5991
A Hello Kitty shirt in the girls home.

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.

IMG_5985
A bag of belongings in the boys home

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.

imgres

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

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.

IMG_5939

Feel at Home in Bungatira

Laura and I rode boda bodas into the bush of Bungatira yesterday. I never tire of the feeling of wind in my face and the contrast of the red dirt against the lush, green landscape. There is a saying in Uganda when you visit someone’s home. They will say, “Feel at home,” which means you should feel free to be yourself there. Of all the places I love in Uganda, Bungatira, the home of my boda driver Denis and his family, is where I feel most at home.

My African Mama, Maria, greeted us, ever with a song in her heart and light in her eyes. She is one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen. She is the embodiment of joy and love and generosity and strength.

Mama doesn’t speak any English and I don’t speak enough Luo to carry on a conversation well, but there’s a simple and divine beauty in being able to sit hand in hand with another human when the only words you know are, “How are you?” “Thank you.” “Me, too.” and “I love you very much.”

I think it’s that same kind of simplicity that made me love this visit to Bungatira. It was just a day of regular life in Bungatira. Many times when I visit, I have community business to attend to, elders to meet with, groups to speak with, projects to discuss. Many times I’m seated with or in front of a group of fifty or more and while I appreciate each and every one of those times it makes the times when I can just sit on the papyrus mat with the mamas and their babies that much more precious. I truly feel like one of the family then.

Days like those are rare so I soaked up every detail. The banana tree leaves rustled in the. The roosters strutted about the compound calling out to the hens. A gloriously fat pig napped in the sun. A mother goat gave birth to her kid. Maize dried in the sun and we walked through the farms, our dresses and skirts prickled with black jerk.

Mamas strung paper beads into bracelets and necklaces while babies nursed, and cooed, and toddled nearby on the mat. The squeals and laughter of children, who are much taller than when I last saw them, playing after school was the soundtrack to our visit. Babies found swaths of sunshine for reading books. And beautiful Mama Maria tossed and sifted the corn in such a way that it made a rhythmic shushing sound almost like the sound of distant waves.

When it came time for lunch, Denis’ wife, Vickie, served us traditional Acoli food in the cool dark of their hut. It was delicious and when the meal was over we attended to our small business of buying paper bead jewelry, giving them another supply of magazines, and handing over half of the solar lights, which will be useful when the ladies are making paper bead jewelry inside at night.

When it was time to return to Gulu, we all hugged each other a million times and then Laura and I climbed back onto our boda bodies and rode back to Gulu, feeling the complete peace and ease of spirit that comes with feeling completely at home.

Thank you for supporting our Paper Bead Project so that the children of Bungatira can go to school. It means a lot to me that you love my loved ones in Uganda so well. If you’re lucky enough to buy some of the beautiful jewelry created by these artisans, it’s my hope that when you wear it you’ll smile and feel just a little more at home.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Vigilante Acts of Kindness: Meet Sharon, Sharon, and Good Lynn

It is still a fact of life that in many areas near Gulu, women are considered property. It’s hard to reconcile that this still occurs in 2018, but it does.

When they are not thought of as property, they are still often looked at as second class citizens. If a family has to choose between sending their son or daughter to school because they can only afford to send one child to school, they will often choose to send the boy because he has a better chance of getting a job and earning a living.

To even have a CHANCE at an education, girls have to work doubly hard.

When Leku Ivan threw us a welcome party at his shop one of the things that most excited me was getting to meet his three female colleagues who take care of the books, do the inventory, promote the shop, and create their own items to sell. In other words, who run the world? Girls!

Ivan believes that men and women are equal and within his shop he and his partner, Mike, have established a culture of respect and fairness. That in itself is remarkable.

Meet Sharon, Sharon, and Lynn. Sharon and Sharon are cousins, both named after their grandmother, Sharon. One Sharon is 21 years old and the other is 19, so they call themselves Old Sharon and Young Sharon, naturally. Lynn is just 17 and is Aber Lynn, which means Good Lynn. Sharon and Sharon call Lynn their sister.

During the war when Joseph Kony and the LRA rebels were slaughtering villages of people and abducting women from their homes, Old Sharon’s mother was abducted. She was one of a group of five women who attempted to escape. Three were killed. Two escaped. Old Sharon’s mother was one of the lucky two.

After her escape and the end of the war, Old Sharon’s mother was taught how to make paper beads in order to have a skill to earn a living. Her mother passed this skill down to both Sharons who are now making and selling paper bead jewelry to earn school fees.

Aber Lynn is a war orphan and was living on the streets when Old Sharon found her, and determined that she wasn’t going to let Lynn become a prostitute like so many other young girls on the street. Old Sharon took Lynn to live with her and taught her how to make paper beads, too.

Aber Lynn asked Ivan for a job at Art Factory Gulu and he hired her. It’s always been part of his dream to use art to help homeless kids earn a living and get kids off of the street. Now his dream is coming to fruition and Aber Lynn is safe, employed, and working hard.

After the singing and cake cutting and festivities of the party, I was taking photos of Ivan’s paintings when Old Sharon mustered up her bravery and told me their story. She asked, “Would it be possible for you to buy some of our paper bead jewelry to support us in going to school?” I told her that we already have a Paper Bead Project in Bungatira. She looked crestfallen until I told her, “No, what I mean is that we already know how well the paper bead jewelry sells and we always run out of jewelry and we’d love to partner with you.” She hugged me and asked, “Do you need to consult with your organization?” I said, “We are a board of women who believe in education is for everyone. Believe me, our answer is YES! We have a Work Study Scholarship fund for students like you who have a gift and are willing to put that gift to work to earn school fees. We will buy all of your jewelry, so make as much of it as you can before we return home.” Then Old Sharon replied, “Thank you, thank you, thank you! We will be #teamnosleep because we will just be up all night making jewelry.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Vigilantes, I honestly don’t know how we are going to do it, but we are determined to buy every necklace, bracelet, and earring from the Art Shop Gulu Girl Beaders because we believe that when you educate a girl, you educate the world. And for us that starts with a pair of Sharons and a seventeen year old named Good Lynn.

Want to support the Art Factory Gulu Girls Work Study Project? Visit our Current Projects page to make a donation to the Work Study Project.