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

Lessons from Sir Samuel and Lady Florence Baker

As we prepare to leave Uganda, I can’t help but think of the day we spent at Fort Patiko.

One slower day when Laura and I were waiting to hear from villages with decisions about some of our projects, I suggested that Ivan drive us to visit Fort Patiko. Ivan fueled up his van and we set off on the bumpy dirt roads that lead to this somewhat hidden monument. I wish I could adequately describe to you in words the funny looks we got, two mzungu women rolling strong with dreadlocked Ivan in the Rasta Mobile. They were priceless.

img_3148
Laura, Ivan, and Alicia rolling strong in the Rasta Mobile

Fort Patiko, also known as Baker’s Fort, is 30 kilometers beyond Gulu on the same road that leads to Pawel. Fort Patiko isn’t an easy place to visit, both because it’s off the beaten path and because it tells the grisly history of East African slave trade.

It is place you won’t forget and a place you’ll wish had never existed. It’s a stunningly beautiful natural rock formation that Trip Advisor shamefully calls “a romantic picnic destination.” I assure you, there is nothing romantic about what happened at Fort Patiko.

For nineteen years East Africans were abducted and taken to Fort Patiko where they were kept in caves, stacked upon one another day and night, until they were “sorted.”

img_3102
The cave where the women were chained and kept, forced to live, sleep, and defecate stacked upon one another until they were sorted.

Men were sorted into two groups: healthy and strong and healthy and weak. The healthy and strong men were shackled around their necks and marched for weeks until they reached Egypt where they were sold as slaves.

Those deemed unhealthy or weak were sent to Execution Rock where they were laid down and beheaded with machetes. The places where the machetes struck the rocks can still be seen today. Execution Rock slopes down into a ravine so that the dead bodies and heads were easily rolled into the ravine where lions were kept expressly for the purpose of devouring the bodies.

img_3105
Machete marks on Execution Rock

If you were a captured woman, you’d be sorted into two categories: beautiful, healthy, and strong or ugly and/or weak. If you were beautiful, healthy, and strong you’d be shackled around the neck and march for weeks until you reached Egypt where you’d then be sold into slavery. Both the men and the women were only shackled around the necks, not the ankles, so that if you fell sick or weak along the journey or if you tried to escape, one slice of the machete would behead you, instantly separating and then  releasing your body and your head from the chains so that the rest of the line could keep marching.

If you were deemed a weak, ugly, or unhealthy woman, you’d be taken to Execution Rock, beheaded, and then fed to the lions.

Anyone who tried to escape from Fort Patiko faced a firing squad on the edge of the ravine so that when you were shot, your body fell to the lions and was devoured likely before you were even dead.

Samuel Baker, or Sir Samuel Baker as he later became known, was an unlikely abolitionist. He was a mapmaker, a writer, a big game hunter, and an explorer. His goal in Central Africa was to discover and map the source of the Nile. He discovered Lake Albert and discovered that the source of the Nile had ALREADY been discovered. His wife, Lady Florence Baker, travelled with him and in their explorations, they happened upon Fort Patiko and the bloody East African Slave Trade.

Upon discovering the human holding tank and execution ground that was Fort Patiko, the Bakers returned home to England to ask for ships and army personnel to overtake the fort. This was no easy request because Samuel Baker wasn’t looked upon well. He was a widower at the age of 34 and his second wife, Florence, had once been a slave. Samuel Baker had fallen in love with Florence and then escaped with her from a Hungarian slave market. Florence travelled with him everywhere as his wife, but because they’d not had an officially recognized wedding ceremony in England, Queen Victoria refused to even meet Sir Samuel Baker or the woman who would later be given the title Lady.

Sir Samuel Baker was eventually granted ships and man power to return to Uganda and overtake Fort Patiko,with Florence at his side every step of the way. I imagine this was a personal cause for her, having experienced the inhumanity of being bought and sold herself.

It took 2-3 years to defeat the Arabs, set the captive East Africans free, and claim Fort Patiko as a military base for England. The overtaking of Fort Patiko was one of the key factors in ending the East African Slave Trade.

img_3131
Sunset at Fort Patiko

Sir Samuel Baker and Lady Florence Baker continued to live at Fort Patiko for some time after its liberation. Florence was loved by the Luo tribe living in Patiko and was given the Luo name Anyadwe, meaning daughter of the moon for her pale skin and blonde hair. Though she was looked down upon by British royalty, she was known for her charm. She spoke three languages. She rode horses, mules, and camels, and she was handy with a pistol. She was the fierce counterpart to her explorer husband.

Sir Samuel Baker continued his work as a mapmaker, explorer, hunter, writer, and abolitionist. He would go on to be knighted and awarded the gold medal from the Royal Geographical Society.

I’ve visited Fort Patiko twice in my travels to Uganda. Both times have left me horrified and inspired. Horrified by the brutal treatment of humans and inspired by the explorer and his wife, who, when faced with the inhumanity of it all, decided to do something about it.

When you visit Fort Patiko, you can see the marks made by the machetes in Execution Rock, but if you climb high onto a different rock, you can see another mark, a cross, painstakingly carved in stone by Lady Florence Baker.

There are so many lessons to be taken to heart from Fort Patiko and from the Bakers, but it always leaves me thinking about how I want to live my life. I know which kind of mark I hope to leave in the world.

img_3106.jpg
A Cross Carved by Lady Florence Baker in a Rock at Fort Patiko

 

 

The Underbelly

I wish I could say that the whole of our time in Uganda has been positive, and for the most part it truly has been, but I’d feel untruthful if I omitted the parts where it hasn’t been.

But how do I tell you about the things that regurgitate themselves in my nightmares? How do I talk about what it’s like seeing people beaten in front of my very eyes? How do I talk about feeling like I have rocks in my stomach for the country I so dearly love? How do I talk about the ugly underbelly?

I guess I just swallow the lump in my throat and begin.

Violence against women was brutally thrust in our faces multiple times on this trip. The first, and most horrifying, instance we witnessed involved a young, homeless, seemingly mentally ill girl standing too close to our outdoor table at our hotel restaurant. She wasn’t harming us, bothering us, or even speaking to us when she was chased off and then repeatedly beaten with a metal rod in the hands of the security guard of our hotel. She ran into the street where the security guard chased after her and kept beating her.

It was shocking and brutal and horrible and the scene is one that haunts my nightmares every night, partially because of the brutality of it all, and partially because I’m ashamed to say that I was too stunned to move. I couldn’t believe it was really happening.

I don’t know if shock is why nobody else in the square moved either, but I fear it’s a regular enough occurrence that to the residents of Gulu, it wasn’t shocking at all.

That girl is someone’s daughter. Maybe someone’s sister. Maybe someone’s mother. She is a human.

When the security guard went after her a second time, I asked one of my adult Uganda sons to go and make him stop. The security guard stopped and said he would “just scare her” from now on.

As if that is somehow less terrorizing.

I had heated words with that security guard and then spoke to the hotel manager later that night. The manager assured me it wouldn’t happen again because it was “unprofessional.”

Try inhumane. Or unconscionable. Or barbaric. Or all of the above.

The girl was not beaten again while we were there, at least not in our presence, but the boulder in my stomach tells me that her reprieve ended when we checked out.

The second instance of violence against a woman came while we were in the main market. We were on the third floor and down on the first floor, the food floor, a woman walking with a bag of potatoes was beaten by a man who was yelling words I didn’t understand. I think she was mentally ill as well or perhaps she’d stolen the potatoes. I really don’t know. The whole of the market stopped and to our horror they all laughed and pointed as she was beaten. Even people we know and love in the market stopped to laugh and point.

I’ll never forget the sight of her bag of potatoes breaking open and the sound as each one thudded to the floor, rolling in all different directions.

Nor will I ever forget the sound of hundreds of people laughing as she was beaten. It also comes cackling through in the quiet of night when my subconscious is still trying to process that it actually happened.

There was nothing Laura and I could do from so far away and again my heart broke because she is someone’s daughter. Maybe someone’s sister. Maybe someone’s mother. She is a human.

The third time I became aware of how pervasive violence against women was in a letter/report from the Bungatira beaders, thanking VK for our support. In the letter the Bungatira beaders listed their top five reasons why this paper bead project is of such great importance to them.

Their top 5 reasons were:

1. It allows them to pay for food starts and not starve during famine.

2. It allows them to pay for medical care.

3. It allows them to pay their children’s school fees.

4. It’s a sustainable income source based on something they’re proud to create themselves.

5. It helps prohibit the gender based domestic violence that is a corollary in poverty stricken households.

It’s one thing to see random acts of violence committed to strangers in the city. It’s a completely new set of rocks in my stomach to know it’s a problem for the village women I know and love, who sit on papyrus mats with suckling babies in their laps while they wrap paper bead jewelry because they know having enough money for the basics means they won’t be beaten.

It’s another reason why the Bungatira Beaders and their paper bead jewelry are so important to us.

It’s why we took on a second set of young women beaders, so they can go to school and hopefully not ever experience such violence.

It’s why we love supporting Ivan the painter. He’s changing his community by hiring women, believing in equality, and painting countless images of strong Ugandan women.

It’s why we love Pastor Amos and Mr. Ekanya at New Hope School in Pawel. They rescue refugee children from the hands of violence and show them that there’s another way.

All of these girls and women are someone’s daughters. Some of them are mothers. Some of them are sisters. All of them are human.

Every penny that we invest in them and into their projects esteems them as all of those things and demonstrates that we, too, are daughters and sons, mothers and fathers, and sisters and brothers.

We are all so beautifully human.

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.

Piggery

On Saturday Laura and I visited my friends, JB and Jenifer, the couple putting 18 children, including their own children, their nieces and nephews, and their siblings through school.

JB's family
Alicia with Jenifer and part of her family in 2015.

They requested help starting a piggery, but we arrived to a completely wonderful surprise: they’d already begun their piggery! They started with six pigs, have already sold two, and now have four pigs. As of Saturday they also have six new piglets!!!

We were delighted that they were able to get the piggery started. In fact they’ve also planted cassava and now cook and sell cassava chips to offset the cost of school fees. Jenifer is a teacher and JB is principal, so they do all of this in addition to their regular jobs. They’ve even started a small school store. The school store serves two purposes. It gives them a little extra money and allows students to purchase small necessities without having to walk or pay for a boda ride to the nearest center. We love families who take initiative like they’re doing.

IMG_6142
Three of the children walking to visit the mother pig and her piglets.

Even with all of their efforts to create sustainable small businesses, it’s apparent that they’re still struggling. After walking out to visit the new mama and her piglets, Laura and I met with JB and Jenifer in their home. To visit someone in their home is like the highest honor you can give here and it broke my heart a little bit when I heard that none of the other mzungus J.B. and Jenifer interact with regularly have ever visited their home.

Once inside we found ourselves asking a familiar question.

What do you need and how can we help?

Their requests were simple. They needed better containment and some supplemental food for the pigs.

While their requests were simple, constructing the piggery proved impossible because the administrators of the school will not permit JB and Jennifer to construct a piggery near their home on campus. JB and Jennifer are from another town in Uganda that is about a day’s drive away and they have property there under the care of some family members. This is where they really wanted to construct the piggery. Unfortunately their hometown is about a day’s drive away from Gulu and we were backed up against some other obligations near Gulu, so it was decided that we would retain the money for the piggery until our next trip to Uganda when we could plan for transport, lodging, time to purchase the necessary supplies to complete the piggery, time to have it constructed, and time to re-locate the pigs.

Sometimes the answer to a problem is wait. Wait is a hard pill for me to swallow, but a project that is rushed likely won’t be done well. It’s better to wait. Ugandans see time differently than Americans. Here there is no rush. While this can be frustrating when trying to complete projects in a short amount of time, most of the time slowing down and allowing time for careful thought is a good thing, a very good thing.

At the conclusion of our visit to their home, JB insisted on driving us to our next destination. He now has a car, his very first car, and he refused to let us take bodas back to town because he didn’t want us to have to pay or to be taken advantage of with the prices some boda drivers try to make mzungus pay. This was a sacrifice on his part because fuel is not cheap.

Time and again, this is what we see, the recipients of our funds doing small considerate things to show their appreciation and love. Ivan the painter drove us around in his van as often as possible. Ivan and Babu Ojok each donated a painting for us to use to raise money. The Bungatira beaders bought sodas and bottles of water for us to drink on our visit because they know our bodies cannot tolerate the bacteria in the well water. The Art Shop Gulu Girls and the Bungatira beaders gifted us with paper bead jewelry. And everywhere we went, they fed us, even in Pawel where maintaining enough food to feed the children is a struggle.

It never ceases to amaze me that out of what little they have, they give from hearts of abundance. For that we are forever grateful.

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.