Daughter of Pawel

New Hope Home in Pawel only had the money to feed, house, clothe and care for 21 Sudanese refugee kids from the IDP camp. It was a fact that broke the heart of Pastor Amos because there was one more kid in the camp in desperate need of rescue.

Her name was Skovia.

Skovia, after arriving at Pawel Home the evening before our last visit

The other pastors at the IDP camp begged Amos to take Skovia. They said she was the one out of all of the children in the camp who most needed to be taken to New Hope.

Skovia is without parents. She was being taken care of by a relative in the camp who forced her to be a slave and delivered a beating to her every night. The scars and bruises covering her little arms gave just a hint to the hell she was living through each day.

When the other orphan children, her only friends in the camp, were taken to New Hope and she was left behind, Skovia was bereft with tears, wondering why she alone was left there to suffer.

Her name is Skovia and Pastor Amos had to leave her behind.

I truly cannot fathom impossible choices like these. How do you choose between feeding the refugee kids you’ve already taken responsibility for and taking on another mouth that stretches the already scant beans and posho too thin? How do you commit to raising another child into adulthood when you already don’t have anywhere near enough money to raise the other 21? But how do you knowingly leave a child in the mouth of a shark?

Her name is Skovia and Pastor Amos went back and removed her from the IDP camp and from the hands of her abuser.

You go ahead and stand up and cheer a minute, I’ll wait right here. I’ll be cheering, too, because I can’t stop smiling and crying and clapping when I think of Skovia and Pastor Amos and his wife Sarah and of Mr. and Mrs. Ekanya and of all of the kids at New Hope.

Alicia, Laura, and Oceing Richard with some of the Sudanese refugee children living in Pawel Home

Her name is Skovia and last Saturday evening she was brought to New Hope to live permanently.

I got to meet Skovia last Sunday morning, when Laura and I attended church in Pawel. We saw the refugee kids sporting their new shoes and showing off their suitcases, already stacked neatly on their beds and packed with their special things inside.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We got to hear the stories of how they gleefully threw away the plastic bags the second the suitcases were handed out. We got to see photos of the ceremony held to pass out the shoes and suitcases.

Her name is Skovia and she was the only kid without a suitcase.

The other little girls, many of whom were Skovia’s friends in the IDP camp, were downright emphatic when telling Laura that Skovia didn’t have a suitcase. Laura assured them that we wouldn’t leave her out, but that we just didn’t know she’d started living there.

We immediately gave Mr. Ekanya enough shillings for shoes and a suitcase for Skovia. New Hope has beds for up to 24 students so we also gave him enough shillings for two more refugee children because if we can provide more expensive items like shoes and suitcases, we know that will make the beans and posho stretch just a little bit further.

New Hope insisted on feeding us because hospitality is truly the heartbeat of Uganda. While we were eating beans, posho, and cabbage, Mr. Ekanya gave me one of the greatest compliments of my life.

He said, “The next time you visit church, you can’t just introduce yourself, ‘Nyinga Lanyero,’ (My name is Lanyero.)

I asked, “Really? How will I introduce myself then?”

Mr. Ekanya smiled and said, you’ll say, ‘Nyinga Lanyero. An latin anyera Pawel.’ (My name is Lanyero. I am a daughter of Pawel.)

Indeed that is how I will introduce myself when I return. What I love most about being proclaimed a daughter of Pawel is that because of the work of New Hope, I’m in the good company of 22 Sudanese refugee children who have also been claimed by the community of Pawel. They, too, can say they‘re the sons and daughters of Pawel.

Her name is Skovia. Welcome home, Skovia. In latin anyera Pawel. (You are a daughter of Pawel.)

img_3324-1

Shoes and Suitcases for New Hope

On Thursday afternoon I had the pleasure of joining Mr. Ekanya and one of my former students, Oceing Richard, on a trip to the main market to buy suitcases and shoes for the students and refugees of New Hope school in Pawel, Uganda. Mr. Ekanya and Oceing Richard are both from Pawel and their families were once refugees in the IDP camps during the insurgency of Joseph Kony, so caring for the Sudanese refugee children in Pawel is less of project and more of a calling on their hears that they let us be a part of.

img_3207
Mr. Ekanya and Alicia with suitcases for the Sudanese refugee children of New Hope

The original plan was to purchase lockers for the refugee children, but further thought revealed that suitcases for their clothing would be better. They’re softer and made of fabric, instead of hard metal that children can easily be hurt on. They have wheels and can be easily moved when cleaning. The suitcases have programmable locks which will help keep their items safe without the extra task of keeping track of a lock and key.

At the market, the suitcases were easy to find and even easier to purchase. They came in different colors and designs, but were all uniform in size and perfect for stowing under the bunk beds of New Hope.

No more refugee children living out of plastic grocery bags. Now they’d each have a place of their own to store their clothes and the few precious possessions they have.

IMG_5985
A refugee child’s plastic bag of possessions

Shopping for shoes in Uganda is, um, a bit different than shoe shopping in the U.S. Shoes are purchased from big racks or piles from stalls in the main market and second hand shoes are preferred because they’re made from rubber and leather, unlike the newer shoes mostly made of synthetics. Common practice is that second hand shoes are polished with black shoe polish and re-sold.

Oceing Richard had already traced the feet of all of the children and he brought those tracings with him to the market. I remember tracing the ticklish feet of some very excited Ugandan children when I bought shoes for a whole first grade class a few years ago. Tracing the feet of the 61 children of New Hope was no small task!

Mr. Ekanya and Oceing, with the help of three eager shoe saleswomen and one shoe salesman, set about the painstaking business of matching each shoe to each traced foot of each child. It was no easy task and after several hours on Thursday afternoon and several more hours on Friday morning, they found 61 pairs of shoes for 61 pairs of little feet.

For some of the children of New Hope, these shoes will be their first pair of shoes.

New Hope School doubles as a church and on our last Sunday in Uganda Laura and I will attend church at New Hope School in Pawel. I’m eager to see the children in their new shoes and to see their things stored in suitcases in their homes.

Vigilantes, I can’t thank you enough for providing for these children with such generosity and care. You’ve shod the feet of the future of Uganda and I can’t wait to see where these kids go.

img_3210
One of the shoes for the children of New Hope in Pawel, Uganda

Another Opportunity to Wait

It took a few days for the communities of Aparanga and Bungatira to decide on how to proceed with the minimal funds we’d raised toward a tractor.

It was decided that each community would receive 4 oxen and 1 plow. Oxen and plows are not readily available and are only available on market days. Since we were pressed up against other obligations and short on time before beginning our departure across the country and back home, we pushed this project back to our next visit.

It’s better to wait and arrange for the best oxen possible rather than to hurry and pick from only what’s available on a certain date.

Pushing back the purchase of oxen and plows also allowed us to move funds around a bit and purchase the remainder of the beads from the Bungatira beaders. They’ve been frantically working under the glow of solar lights each night to complete as many pieces of paper bead jewelry as possible.

We love their efforts and we know you’ll love their jewelry.

Team No Sleep

Old Sharon, Young Sharon, and Lynn didn’t disappoint as the latest branch of our Paper Bead Jewelry Project. We gave them 25 pounds of magazines and in the short time that we were here, Team No Sleep (aka Team No Sleep Only Jesus) turned all 25 pounds into necklaces, bracelets, and earrings.

We bought every bracelet, necklace, earring, and bauble that we could and these girls are so excited to get to go to school! I’m not at all embarrassed to tell you that I was a total First Day of School Mom and I asked them to send me photos of their first day of school.

It is so darn hard to be a girl in Uganda and earn enough money for school fees. In many places here, girls and women are still thought of as second class citizens. This is why we love the Art Factory Gulu Girls and the mothers in the Bungatira Beaders who are using old magazines to pay school fees to send all of their children to school.

When you buy and wear their jewelry, Team No Sleep hopes you’ll feel their love and gratitude for being an important part of making that happen.

img_3242
Team No Sleep Only Jesus (aka Old Sharon, Lynn, and Young Sharon) modeling some of their paper bead jewelry.

Light for Aparanga

IMG_6208
An elephant in Paraa just beyond Te Okot

Revered for their strength, tenacity, and intelligence, elephants are the symbol of Uganda and also the symbol of Ugandan women. While it was majestic to see a parade of elephants in the wild near Te Okot, life with elephants for the people living in Te Okot proved untenable.

In the years of my absence, the elephants continued decimating their crops and some bold elephants were not frightened away by the solar lights we’d previously distributed. Given the choice between starving to death in fertile, sprawling Te Okot or moving until they can build up enough food stores to return, the families Te Okot returned to Bungatira or moved to nearby impoverished Aparanga.

When we arrived in Aparanga, it was wonderful to see so many familiar faces. Mamas were braiding their children’s hair. Chickens and goats were milling around in nearby crops. And Musee Lapyiem and his daughter Agnes were waiting to greet us.

IMG_6193
Agnes, Alicia, and Musee Lapyiem

The faces of the people from Te Okot were no longer gaunt. When I hugged them, I couldn’t feel each rib pressing into my arms through their backs. Life with the elephants took its toll and seeing them have the healthy bodies that come from having a regular food intake was such a relief.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Agnes had prepared chicken and malakwang (my favorite meal) in her father’s house. As we entered Lapyiem’s house, I smiled at the solar lights we’d distributed on my last visit, charging on top of his roof.

IMG_6154
Solar Lights charging in Aparanga

After the meal, we talked with Musee Lapyiem about the issue of a tractor. We hadn’t raised nearly enough money to purchase a tractor, but we were prepared to continue fundraising (though it might take years) or if there was a more immediate need, we were prepared to entertain it.

Musee Lapyiem decided that the best thing to do would be to bring the issue up to the families living in Aparanga. I also still had half of my birthday solar lights to distribute and being so far from electricity, small Aparanga was just the kind of place where they’d be put to good use.

So we proceeded to a small room where all of the community members, including the children, had gathered to meet with us. Denis, my former boda driver and the chairperson for the families from Te Okot who had relocated to Bungatira, began by introducing or reintroducing us. Then Laura introduced herself.

Then I spoke, first about how happy I was to see them all and how much I love them, then about why I was so delayed in returning to Uganda. I explained how we’d raised some funds, but not enough to fund a tractor and that we were open to hearing new ideas about how to best proceed.

I found myself asking a familiar question. “What do you need and how can we help?”

There was a lengthy, animated discussion amongst the community members about what to do. Members spoke up about how they needed something sustainable to help pay for the school fees and the university fees of their children. They spoke about how they needed something that would help them farm their land to create stores of food so they could eventually return to Te Okot to farm. I listened intently, straining to pick out the Luo words I know and to understand the issues at hand.

After some time, the community came up with an idea, but before executing the idea, it would have to be agreed upon by the people who had relocated to Bungatira as well. After all, though distance separates them, they remain one family, and a decision for one half is a decision for all. We would have to wait another day or two to hear the final decision.

At the end of the community meeting, Denis gave the members a lesson on how to use the new solar lights. There was cheering and clapping and too many thanks to count. One community member didn’t even wait to leave the room to start charging his phone.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Solar lights mean less charcoal being burned and inhaled in homes at night. Solar lights mean  a reduced chance of house fires. Solar lights mean having a light to study with beyond sundown. Solar charging lights mean parents can pay school fees through their phones. Solar charging lights mean parents can communicate with their students away at school without having to use hard earned shillings to charge their phones. Solar charging lights mean having the ability to hear news right away via a charged phone.

Thanks so much to those of you who donated to my birthday fundraiser and allowed me to distribute lights to those in Bungatira and Aparanga. You gave light to those in need in so many ways. It was a terrific birthday gift and from the people in Bungatira and Aparanga I say to you, “Apwoyo matek!” Thank you very much.

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. 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, 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.

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, and 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.