by Abbott Bailey
We’ve now been here in Uganda for almost a week, and it’s hard to know where to start. We are exhausted and energized at the same time, having spent a lot of time talking to the children here at the Circle of Peace School, playing games, conducting interviews, traveling around Kampala running errands for the school to price printers, purchase crafts for sale back home, and trying to be helpful while also not being too much of a burden.
Yesterday we spent the day at the village, Kyaggwe, which is home to a number of children who attend the School. Joanita asked us to record the stories of the children so we could share them with folks back home. When we arrived, we were greeted by a number of children who met us along the road and ran with us beside the van until we reached our destination, the Bbaale’s small farm that is used to grow food for the children at the school and raise money for operations.
The stories of the lives of these women and children are incredible, and it was touching that they were willing to open up to us to share what has, for many of them, been difficult and painful lives. To start our interviews, we would ask seemingly simple questions just to help them relax and get to know us a little bit like “what is your favorite game to play,” and “what is your favorite thing to eat.” Simple questions, however, do not always yield simple answers. Awali (15) said that his favorite thing to eat is whatever is put in front of him. Phiona (14) said she will smile when she has shoes, a uniform, books, and a backpack. Baker (10) wants us to tell people in America that he wants a bicycle, likes to draw cars, and hopes to be a driver some day. Baker, who was burned as a small child and has limited mobility in his badly scarred arms, was outgoing and pragmatic with a smile that gave way to eyes certain of reason for hope.
We spent a lot of time with one family in particular, who is headed by Florence, the mother of 8 children, the youngest of whom is now 8. She is also caring for the four children of two of her grown children. I will let her tell her story:
“My life is like this. I had 10 kids, and I now have 8 because two of them died. One was a girl who was married with three children, Scovia. The littlest one was 1 year old [when she died]. My daughter died by the second wife of her husband. The second wife chopped her head off at the well when they were getting water. This was in front of one of her children. It is now five years since this happened. That child is the one not talking now. Nassar. He stopped talking after that because he was very frightened.
I don’t have anything. No job. I just try to get food daily for the children. I moved out from my husband because he was abusing me and beating me. I couldn’t take care of the children. My Aunt Bbaale has been helping me by giving me food and to see that two of the children get some education. It makes me sad because I’m not in good health. I have pain in my hands, and so it’s hard to get work planting and digging in the garden. Sometimes I get the kids to help me.
How the other child died was that I left him with my husband, and they went fishing. A crocodile ate him. He was the father of Haman. What I want most is for my children and grandchildren to get an education and not to suffer. I am 60 years old.”
When we finished talking to her, Florence invited us to see her house. She was very insistent that we come to see where she lived with her children and grandchildren, but I didn’t learn why until a little later.
Earlier in the day we had been told that there were several children who were deaf and mute. Nassar, the boy who saw his mother killed, was one of them. Before we talked to Florence privately, we spent some time with the children and grandchildren asking them their names, ages, and what they want to do when they grow up. When I got to Nassar, I asked Florence if he could read lips. I wanted to speak to him directly and have Marylove, who was interpreting, do the same. She said that he did, but that also the children had made up a sort of sign language to be able to communicate with him. So, when I looked at Nassar and asked him how old he was, I was expecting Marylove to interpret and him to respond by sign language, but before Marylove even got started, Nassar looked back at me and slowly sounded out the word “t-w-e-l-v-e” in English. Everyone in the family who came with us to the village told me that they had never heard Nassar utter a word. They were all hesitant to believe me when I said that he sounded out as best he could yet unquestionably how old he was until Marylove and Elaine verified that they had heard it too.
As we were leaving the village, we stopped by Florence’s home, and she invited us in, making a point of showing us the two rooms and new metal roof of her small, brick home. Before this was built, she lived in a hut with a thatched roof that was falling on she and the children, so she turned to Aunt Bbaale for help. When Marylove heard the story, she decided that she would make the sacrifice, giving up her salary from St. Andrew’s for two full months to send home to Uganda so the money could be used to pay for the materials for the new home. Once the materials were purchased with the money Marylove sent home, Marylove’s brothers (Charles, Abraham, and Solomon) helped Florence’s brother build the home. Florence was so proud of her home, and so incredibly grateful for the help she has received.
As we were standing there, Florence sent her children to fetch some things and before I realized what was happening, she handed Marylove, Elaine and me a chicken and a large watermelon. This woman, Florence, who has little to nothing, and who wants nothing more than to care for her children and grandchildren, felt compelled with gratitude to give the Bbaale family and the visitors (Elaine and me) what was of immeasurable value to her. It was hard, but essential according to the customs of hospitality, to accept her gift graciously, and so we did. Humbled and overwhelmed by her gesture, we departed for Kampala with tears, smiles, hugs and prayers for blessings on this family, and indeed everyone in Kyaggwe.