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.

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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.)

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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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Leku Ivan’s Dream Come True

Leku Ivan pulled up in a van he painted himself. A lion greeted me on the hood and Bob Marley grinned at me from the door. I ran to him forgetting to push in my chair or even to zip my backpack and we hugged for a long time in the streets of Gulu.

I couldn’t stop hugging him, this young man with a beard and a lone long dreadlock, who used to be a goofy, orphaned teenager in a school uniform with tightly cropped hair.

After the hugging stopped and I blinked back a tear or two, Ivan sat with Laura and I for dinner and told us all about his life. His sister Lillian is a stay at home mom now in Kampala on the other side of the country. Ivan has relocated his shop, Art Factory Gulu, into the main market. He now has a business partner, Mike, and three female colleagues who help run the shop, balance the books, keep inventory, and do all the other little things so that Ivan can spend his time doing what he does best: painting.

His shop has a gallery packed with paintings. At least once a month he teaches art workshops in the shop or travels in his van teaching art classes to groups that hire him.

Best of all, Ivan, who once reluctantly told me he was stopping school after graduating from his fourth year of high school (there are 6 years in Uganda), sat across the table from me and told me that he’s back in school. He’s taking art classes in Kampala to get his degree in art and then he wants to get his certificate to become an art teacher.

This kid.

That evening we strolled to the market to see his shop. We walked upstairs and I had to swallow back a lump in my throat and there was absolutely no use in trying to blink back the tears.

The stairwell was filled with art and as it opened up into the shop, there were paintings hung everywhere. Ivan’s paintings and the paintings of his students and colleagues filled the space with color, beauty, and life.

I was immediately drowned in memories. I remembered Ivan, the timid student asking if I’d like to look at some of his paintings and maybe purchase one to help him with school fees.

I remembered him painting out on the street from a closet sized shop to have enough money for food.

I remembered Ivan being so excited when he sold a painting so that he could buy his sister a brand new dress.

I remembered it all and as I walked up the staircase of his new shop I was undone with love for this kid who worked tirelessly to make his dream of being an artist come true.

Ivan told us some of the stories behind his paintings and I was once again moved at how he expressed his desire to encourage peace and love in his city through art.

Just when I thought I couldn’t love him more, he said he was throwing us a welcoming party in the art shop the following day. There would be cake and singing and celebrating.

I’ve never even seen cake in Uganda so the fact that Ivan spent his money on having a cake made told me that this was going to be something special.

I had no idea just how truly special it would be or that the next act of Vigilante Kindness was waiting there for me next to the cake.

Two Projects Are Fully Funded!!!

As many of you know, I’m celebrating turning 41 by having a fundraiser on Facebook to fund three of my favorite Vigilante Kindness projects.

As of tonight we’ve raised $1,870 out of $2,000 dollars and two of the three projects are fully funded!!! With 4 days left until I leave for Uganda, we’re $130 away from funding all three projects! That’s just AMAZING! Here’s a quick video to tell you a little more.

Vigilante Kindness: Bringing Light, Water and Love to Te Okot

Sweet Vigilantes of Kindness, I know you’ve been waiting to hear all about the well in Te Okot.

I wasn’t quite sure how to tell the final chapter of this story.  A blog post wouldn’t be enough.  A digital picture album wouldn’t suffice.

So on my eleven hour flight from Cairo to New York, I taught myself to use iMovie.  Really, why not teach myself something new on long flight in a spacious and extremely comfortable airplane seat, right?

The movie is about 15 minutes long and isn’t professional by any stretch of the imagination, but I like that you get to go with me to see the finished well for the first time and you get to hear straight from the mouths of the people at Te Okot just what this well and the gift of solar lights mean to them.

So grab a big glass of clean drinking water and settle in for another great story of Vigilante Kindness.

 

Vigilante Kindness: The Cabinet Maker

One of the hardest things for me to get used to each time I visit Uganda is “African Time”.  It’s not a stereotype.  Nor is it an insult.  It simply is.

African time means when my language teacher didn’t show up at all during the hour-long lesson we’d scheduled, he offered a quick and sincere apology at the beginning of our next lesson and then we moved on.

African time means that when it starts pouring rain and I’m stranded under the overhang of a store until the storm passes, there will be no animosity for my tardiness waiting for me whenever I arrive at my destination.

There are really some nice things about African time, but it still frustrates me.  I’m a time oriented person.  I like to know what time it is.  I like to be on time.  When I’m late, it upsets me.  It means I naturally look for the most efficient way to accomplish a task at work.  It means balance between time at work and time at home is vital to me.  A few years ago, I wrote down 100 Things I Believe and one of my core beliefs is, “I believe that time is my most valuable resource.”

African time is hard for me.  It’s hard for me not to feel disrespected and unvalued when someone doesn’t hold my time in esteem.  In Uganda, I have to constantly remind myself that African time isn’t something I should take personally.

I was having this particular conversation with myself on my last day in Gulu as I sat in the tiny rectangle of shade behind a cabinet I’d had made for the primary teachers.  The primary teachers, especially Mr. Martin, had asked for a cabinet to lock their supplies in.  Aside from student desks, they have no furniture in their classrooms.  Imagine that, teacher friends, not having a single shelf, drawer or cupboard.

So Mr. Martin had hired a couple of local carpenters to build a cabinet to his specifications.  My job was to make sure it was paid for and picked up by the school truck before I returned to the US.

There I was waiting in the shade of the cabinet for the principal to come in the school truck and pick it up.  I’d been sitting and waiting for over an hour.  Each time I called the principal, he assured me they were just on the edge of town and would be there any minute.

Ha.

As I sat and waited, Denish, one of the carpenters sat down to keep me company.  He told me about how the main carpenter, Moses, is his teacher and mentor.  Denish and Moses told me all about traditional marriage ceremonies and the dowry needed to marry an Acoli woman.  It was fascinating and before I knew it, I found myself forgetting all about waiting for the cabinet to be picked up.

Denish told me about his wife and two children, how he wants four more and about what a beautiful life he has.  Happiness shone in his eyes.  I just listened, seated in a wooden chair Moses had made only yesterday.

Denish told me about being abducted by the LRA and being a child soldier for six years.

Six years.  It’s unfathomable to me.

I kept listening.  This is not something former child soldiers usually discuss openly.  I knew I was on sacred ground and I tried to take careful steps to listen without judgment, to ask sincere questions and not brashly pry open his past.  Denish unfolded a horrific story, but as with so many of the stories here, it ended with escape, with hope.

He talked of going to a rehabilitation center where he learned to stop killing.  I told him that my son also went to that center.  He simply nodded.

I asked if his nightmares had stopped.

He still has nightmares.  Every night.  But he wakes to his wife and children.  And then he comes to work and builds beautiful furniture, rebuilds himself a little more each day.

The daily gunmetal thunderheads rolled in and Denish shook my hand and told me he had to ride his bicycle home before the rain came.  I asked to take his photo.  He smiled and posed with me by the cabinet.  He asked if I wanted to show people the snap of the cabinet.  I promised to show it, but I told him that most of all I wanted the picture to remember him, to remember his story, and on hard days to remind myself to wake up with the intent of creating something beautiful each day.

The principal of the school arrived at the carpentry shop two hours late.  He apologized and gave me a puzzled look when I remarked how glad I was that he was late.  He muscled the cabinet into the truck and as I walked back to my hotel room, the rain sprinkled and spattered the red dirt road.  I reached the covering of my hotel just before the deluge torn open the sky.  I hoped Denish had made it home already.  As I dried off and watched the storm from my balcony, I thought about what an unexpected treasure it was to spend two hours with Denish.

Maybe African time isn’t so bad after all.

Alicia & Denish

Vigilante Acts of Kindness: School Supplies

I’ve always loved school shopping.  Is there anything more beautiful than a brand new box of Crayola crayons?  Don’t even get me started on the perfection that is the big box with the built-in sharpener in the back.  And can we talk for a minute about Trapper Keepers, the hands-down best binder ever created?  My favorite one had wild horses on the front.  Yes, I was that nerdy girl who played pretend horses at recess.

As a teacher, one of the best things about a new school year is buying fresh, new supplies.  Rectangular, lined Sticky Notes and Sharpies, unblemished by little hands still sticky from the peanut butter and jelly sandwich from lunch, are my go to staples for starting a new year off right.  All is right with the world when I have a bouquet of Sharpies and a pad of sticky notes on hand.

This year school shopping looked a little different for me.  I made all of my preparations for the coming year in May.  I ordered my supplies and put them all away, so tidy on my shelves, and then I locked my door and left for Uganda.

The calendar flipped to August and you, dear teacher friends, started posting pictures of your school supply finds, carts of crayons and folders and glue sticks.  Be still my heart, I love those purple glue sticks.  Seeing your school supply deals filling up my Facebook feed made me feel, well, left out.

So I took my friend and fellow teacher, Mr. Martin, school shopping.  You remember Mr. Martin.  He’s the same guy who when asked what he needed for his classroom last year had a list of only one thing: string.  And he used the string beautifully to hang posters and word walls and all sorts of learning materials that made all the walls of his classroom learning spaces.

This year there are now three primary teachers and their classrooms are still desperately bereft of basic materials like books, shelves, clocks, pencils, paper, and almost everything else.  Fellow teachers, I know you can relate to the continual challenge of teaching on a shoestring budget and making due without the materials you need.

So I asked the primary teachers to get together and make a list of the supplies they needed.  This time the list was significantly longer and I was thrilled.  In the good company of Martin and the principal, J.B., we hit the bookshop in Gulu hard.  That’s right, the principal went school shopping with us, too.  They checked things off their list and a pile of supplies grew in the store and suddenly I didn’t feel so left out.

I didn’t buy anything, save for one item.  There was a kid in need of a mattress.  He didn’t have one and his family couldn’t provide one.  As we shoved the mattress in the back of the car we’d rented to haul our plunder, I thought of the kid last year who needed a mattress and how out of his need and out of the generosity of my friends and family, Vigilante Kindness was born.

This year a pocket full of Vigilante Kindness shillings has stocked the primary classrooms  and given another kid a bed to sleep on.  I don’t have pictures of carts full Sharpies and Crayolas and sticky notes to post.  Instead here’s a shot of Mr. Martin, and his school supplies.

Dearest teacher friends, I’m with you half a world away as you prepare for a new year.  I’m with you as you organize your rooms and fill them with things shiny and new.  I’m with you as you create warm, stable environments for kids who don’t have beds to sleep in or homes that provide them a soft place to rest.  Thanks for making a space for them in your classrooms and in your hearts.  Now go and buy yourself some new Sharpies because you’re about to make a big mark in this world.