Saturday, November 7, 2009

After the Journey:Children of Uganda Part I

        Well, I knew it would not be long before I get a not so pleasant feedback on the blog, but when it was delivered I was not ready. This past Sunday, right after church, someone walked up to me and among other things, we had a chat about the walk and the blog. He said, “I read some of your blog…but I mean, did you write it or did your secretary?” I smiled and then laughed nervously not knowing how to respond. After my sheepish confession that I was indeed the author of the blog, the critic continued, “…I thought that someone was just going off on a tangent…” The interesting thing was that the criticism came right after a message from Matt—one of the Team Leaders at ECV. Matt had said that we should be a community that loves with our minds and thinks with our hearts. Timely; right? How else to put to test what I considered to be the take-home message for me as a member of the ECV? Anyhow, if you are still following me on this journey and reading this thing, I thank you most deeply, now that I know, most of this is indeed going off on a tangent. Here we go, hopefully it won’t be too much of a departure from the point or maybe it will, thank you for reading nonetheless…


In 1996, my friend Isabel introduced me to Daughters of Charity (DOC) and Children of Uganda (COU-formerly Uganda Children’s Charity Foundation—UCCF). At the time, DOC had three main homes for abandoned and orphaned children: one in Kiwanga located on Jinja Road on the outskirts of Kampala; one in Nsambya near Nsambya Hospital, another suburb of Kampala; and one in Rakai (former capital of HIV AIDS in Uganda) at a place called Sabina, west of the capital, 25 kilometers from the Tanzanian boarder...

Funny, that I would be introduced to these orphans, in my own country, by someone from the UK! It was at Kiwanga that I first met and fell in love with the children. Isabel wanted me to help with the medical screening of a group of disabled children residing there. I met Theresa a.k.a Kawala, a vivacious and flamboyant young lady of sixteen with a developmental age of six or seven and a tragic story…but you would not know it, for Kawala is one of the happiest people I have had the pleasure of knowing. Her enthusiasm is infectious, her love for others fearless and fierce, her memory of those that have crossed her path impeccable, and her joy and selflessness exceptional. I also met Charles, a child confined to one place due to his disability, and with a smile that would stay with you long after you had left Kiwanga. Later, I met Joseph, and Rose, and Rebecca, and Stella, and Cyrus, and Gorretti, and Gertrude, and Sarah, and Innocent, and Kareem, and Sharif, and Stephen, and…each year, a new face representing hundreds; each year, the list grew…
I went back to Kiwanga many weekends with and without Isabel. I was drawn to more than the plight of these children. As dreadful as most of their stories were and still are, there was something more to their ostensibly limited existence. I was drawn to their laughter, to their song, music and dance; to their boldness in loving the many strangers who turned up at their home, and to their hope and lighthearted attitude towards life amidst and against all odds…

Egoistically, I kept going back even when I knew that I drew much more from the encounters than they did: they had less of the worldly possessions to give and yet they gave a lot more than I did. I gave far much less…I had a day every week. Other times I would manage a day every other week…it was always a little bit of time out of my otherwise ‘busy’ schedule. The children gave me more than time, more than presence…they tagged at my heart, challenged it, and dared it to adopt a similar internal and external posture towards life, to learn a little more of what it means to have grace and courage in the context of life in Africa, to dance even when there is no music, to laugh helplessly even when it hurts, to allow myself to heal in all the ways I needed to heal, and to appreciate the meaning of taking one day at a time…

Many years have passed since Isabel first introduced me to these children and over the years, I have discovered many ways in which their stories intertwine with mine and that of many other Ugandans, as well as hundreds abroad. The passing of time has not changed the things I have mentioned above. I return to Kiwanga, and Rakai with less of a fractured internal person, with a little more confidence in my capacity to give rather than be a recipient of the challenge.  Every year I return with severe expectations (self-inflicted) and with a little more courage to ask myself and others--will we give what it takes to make a difference or love these children as much? Will we hug with no reserve? I ask myself these questions and more every time I walk back into the old and new relationships, into the ever embracing open arms of Kawala and Charles, and Joseph and…


I wish I could take everyone I know to Kiwanga and Sabina, you too would be plugged in for life, may be you too would become a returning constant!  A few days after the walk, we hit the road to visit Sabina home in Rakai.  I know the road by heart and as soon as we negotiate the crazy parts of Kampala and its deathly traffic, I settle into three hours of anticipation and excitement.  I am always assured of one thing...visiting the children is not a matter of 'maybe' I will be inspired, I know I will.  Please read part two of this story to share in our experience with the children after the walk.  To learn more about their stories and how you can be a part of their journey, help or sponsor a child please visit http://www.childrenofuganda.org/

On the left is charles, one of the children I met in 1996.

Thank you for being in the Journey with me...more to come

Friday, October 30, 2009

FROM ABDUCTED CHILD TO UN SPEAKER: CHARLOTTE

From abducted child to UN speaker: By Dr. Ian Clarke: New Vision


CHARLOTTE has become a valued member of our family over the past five years, while she has been going through school. Her mother, Angelina Atiam, is well-known as the chairperson of Concerned Parents Association and champion of the campaign for the release of the Aboke Girls by the LRA.

It was only this year that the final girl came home, after 12 long years in captivity. Charlotte was held by the LRA for eight years, during which time she was horribly beaten and also bore two children. She escaped five years ago and since then has attended secondary school in Kampala and is now a student at International Health Science University.

During her captivity, she was continually under guard and endured beatings, sexual abuse and hard labour. She was also shot at, survived Operation Iron Fist and tracked through the bush for months, but despite all this, she did not become a bitter or twisted person and is one of the most balanced people I know. She is loving, kind and unselfish; she is humble and has a remarkable degree of wisdom and insight for a person still in her mid twenties.

During the long break between A levels and university, I asked her to work in Pader Health Centre as an administrator and she demonstrated her ability to get alongside people and bring the best out in them – perhaps because of her humility, but also because she has an unerring sense of what is the right thing to do.

Because of her experience of being abducted, she received an invitation a few weeks ago to speak at the United Nations in New York, at a conference on human trafficking. She first had to get a passport and there was also an interesting moment when we thought she would not get a visa, because there was some confusion over the list and she was turned away by the guards at the American Embassy. They told her she could not wait around because they said she was a security risk! Fortunately, the mistake was rectified and a visa was issued, so she travelled with her mother to New York this week. She contacted us after she arrived, saying that the journey had been fine and she was staying in a hotel in Manhattan, beside the UN.

When the organisers went through the programme with her, she was surprised to find that she was the speaker after Ban Ki-Moon and while he had been given four minutes, she was to speak for eight minutes.

We had heard her speech before she left and found it very moving – as she described without emotion, how she had been taken, some of her experiences in captivity and how she escaped.

What is so poignant when Charlotte speaks is the matter-of-fact way she describes her ordeal. If one does not really engage with Charlotte, one will take her as just another young Ugandan girl, but when she speaks in her quiet manner and looks directly into your eyes, then you see her inner strength of character. You see a deep person and appreciate her strength and purity of spirit. She was 14 when she was abducted, but nothing which happened to her has blemished her.

When I am with Charlotte I see, not only her outward beauty, but the inner beauty of someone who is meek and strong at the same time. I would love to have heard her speak at the UN, but I am sure as I write this, that she had a tremendous impact, just because of who she is.

Some people go through difficult experiences and become traumatised or broken. For others, such experiences make them stronger; this young girl is one such person.

You can also read the article online at: http://www.sundayvision.co.ug/detail.php?mainNewsCategoryId=7&newsCategoryId=137&newsId=698967

Sunday, August 16, 2009

After the Journey: July 18th: The Victims Circle

And so it happens that exactly one week after Rose’s Journey, I return to Bamunanika to lay to rest, another step mother. The sadness I have is not for her but for her children—my step siblings—whom I am supposed to meet today. My heart aches...I can imagine their sorrow and grief; I have been in their position many times. It is heartrending to lose a parent. In the car to the funeral, I spend much time thinking about that. Thinking about what Brian, Allen, Julius, and Vincent must be feeling ( I mentioned their Mother in the previous Blog). I know they lost their father, my father, at a time when they were much too young to comprehend the magnitude of that loss. But not now; now they are a little older, and now they are true orphans. My brother Tom, his wife Hilda, and Hajati (my Brother Robert’s wife) are all in the car with me. I have most of this dialog in my head and heart, I say very little to my companions…
We stop at Sure House (central Kampala) to buy a wreath; I think it is an appropriate gesture for a woman who was part of our lives even in a small way. At the flower shop, the gentleman asks me to write on the card before sticking it to the cover of the wreath. He asks me who has died and I say to him, “Our step mother.” He says, as if to correct me, “So it’s your mother...!” I know what he means, there is no classification when it comes to family in Uganda—your father’s wives are all your mothers, and all his children are your brothers and sisters. I know this, so I do not argue with him...
When I have the card, I stop long enough to think of what to write, long enough for the flower-shop-man to say to me; “Write, Farewell Thee Mother…” It is not the words that I am looking for, although that is part of it, it is because for the first time since I was told she was dead, I chock up pretty badly. I hate saying these kinds of goodbyes, I doubt anybody likes them! I finally write, “Farewell Maama, we love you, all your children.” I don’t recall if my own mother had a wreath, so it feels right for this mother to have one. The flower man reads it and says to me in correction...“It is supposed to be farewell thee Mothe…” He is making me impatient, I am impatient when I am grieving...so I say “It is ok” in an effort to cut him off; I hope that I am not being too unkind to a stranger...but I write what I want it to be, I think. I write it on behalf of my siblings who I am meeting later that day, and I write it on behalf of all of us who were under her care for a short while. I remember that she was young and kind and probably a bit lost when she married my father…
We arrive at the funeral shortly after 11AM. There is a crowd and among them, several of my siblings, step uncles, another step mother (Maama R, the only one left of my father’s wives—of the ones he married), villagers I don’t recognize and the like. We take our mat to where Maama R and my sister Florence are seated. We greet everyone in earshot and settle into uncomfortable positions as we wait for the hour of the funeral. It is uncomfortable because I don’t remember the last time I knelt these many times to greet people, and my knees are screaming something I must obey…
In the mean time I make inquiries about the children. Florence points them out to me one by one...that is Brian she says, and that there is Allen…and so on. The children look a lot like most of my father’s children, and this likeness helps the way I feel towards them…mild kinship...I feel guilty that I am not feeling more...Brian is the first to come where we are seated; he greets us and calls me “Baaba” which is a respectable and appropriate way to address an older sister. I am not sure what to do or how to encourage and console him. His sense of loss and grief is palpable…I know he is going through the motions of greeting people. As I watch him, I think, “It is not fair for others to expect a child to greet them at a time like this!” But I know it is expected, and because it is expected, Brian has no choice but to adhere to the perfunctory customs...I watch this child, my brother and my heart breaks...small pieces of it...where is my anchor...?
My Uncle K calls a quick meeting. We all know what it is about, it is about collecting money—contributions towards funeral expenses. I get up grudgingly…I resent this...I resent the fact that I have to contribute money when someone is already dead and not before…but I voice none of this…perfunctory customs! People expect me to have money…you see I live in the United States, and anyone who lives in the United States has money! I have long given up explaining that none of that is true…partly because I know I could talk until I were blue in the face and no one would believe me…actually I still try...and I must examine how blue my face gets...
“We need money,” my uncle announces as soon as we gather around him. Instead of saying “how much” which is what is expected, I say “whatever for” in a nicer tone in Luganda and regret voicing my objections out loud. He is patient with me, this Uncle. I recently bought him a shirt and tie and this pleased him a great deal...there was a reason for the shirt...
He fires of several things we need money for…meat for one, matooke for other, rice et cetera. He then says that he and Fred had already gotten these things on credit…what was now needed is money to pay for them! I think, “This is not practical, why meat? We could have beans, they are less expensive.” I do not like being the only disagreeable person present, so I voice none of my objections…I have learned to choose my battles. One by one we check our pockets. My Uncle is the first to pull out a 20,000/- note, then MM, then CN, then Juda, then Tom, then Fred, Florence’s husband gives us 30,000/-, then Cissy, and finally, me. I know I am expected to give more, but I don’t have what is expected. We each hand in either a 10,000/- or 20,000/- note and by the end of the meeting we have 180,000/-. It is just enough to cover everything on the list which is, quite frankly, a relief…
Just before 4PM, the children are called inside the house to pay their final respects and wash the face of the dead body. I have not seen Maama Muto since 1996, at my father’s funeral and I don’t recognize the face I see when I step inside the house where her body is laid. The body is not treated…I note this. I note this because I am a nurse, one who is ridiculously sensitive to offensive smells. I note it too because it makes the final washing of the face even more nerving. I remember these kinds of smells…I know I am being judged, I stand out, I am the one he family threw out...people point their lips in my direction...I concentrate on the task at hand...
I scan the room to keep my mind occupied…I hate this part of the funeral proceedings. I remember it well. First, it was my mother, then it was my father, then it was my step mother, then it was Isaac…then it was Paul, et cetera, and now this step mother! Faces one never forgets: cold faces, unresponsive ones, and faces of our dear parents or relatives we would rather not encounter! Why do we do this? I wonder. Is this not a horrid way to remember someone? But I ask none of these questions out loud. Instead I do what is expected …
Allen cries none-stop shortly after the washing of her mother’s face. I hear her cry and it pierces my heart deeply, but I am not able to attend to her. I am still waiting in queue for my turn to wash my step mothers’ face for the final time. Allen continues to wail, and Julius follows her example, while Brian walks out as mechanically as he possibly can. Others in the room, including the mother of my step mother are crying quietly. I look at my step grandmother and note with sadness that she too will be dead soon. She will be dead soon because she too is HIV positive and has been poorly for the last few months. I know this from information passed on by his sons (my step uncles) who were among the people I had greeted outside on arrival. My sadness and sorrow deepens with each thought of her, as well as the thoughts of my dead step mother who lies in room, and the four children who are now orphaned…
When it is my turn to wash her face, I am determined not to fall apart. I am given a tiny ball of fresh banana fiber to wash her, and I am shown the technique which I am already familiar with. “Start at the fore head and down to the chin,” the woman who is sitting near the dead body and whom I do not recognize instructs. I do as instructed: I wash the cold, unrecognizable face of my step mother and in a small way honor her and say goodbye…
Outside, the wailing has stopped. I look for Allen and find her lying down with her head in Florence’s lap. I ask her if she needs anything…headache medicine, something to drink, something to eat…to which she says no. I suddenly have an overwhelming need to fix something…to do something, anything…and realize quickly that there are things that cannot be fixed, not today at least, and not by me either. I know that besides telling their story, I can pray for these children…I know that in some small way I can offer them up to the God I believe in, to one who rescued me and keeps bringing me back into these relationships, into this victims circle. I later look for Vincent and Julius and find that they too have stopped crying…for now…
At the grave site, we each throw a handful of soil over the casket and walk away. I follow Fred’s daughter, Proscovia, (Fred is my step brother who was neighbors with Maama Muto; and for Proscovia, this is the grandmother she has known all her life) who is now inconsolable. I cry with her and offer her the only thing I think appropriate, a companion in sorrow and grief. I quietly pray for her and hold her…it feels as though it is not enough…not enough to cover or fill the depth of sadness and loss consuming her heart and small body, but I pray anyway…
I am at home…life is raw…life is short…it is the way back home…
My step mother, the man responsible for announcements had said, was 43 years old; she is survived by four children; she was once married to Silvester Luyombya Kyobe...et cetera. Her homage is short, much like her life…
Much later, after people have eaten and most have left to return to their homes, my uncle K calls another meeting. Once we are gathered (my brother CN…heir to my father, Cissy, Fred, Robert, Tom, Florence, MM, R, Andrew, Juda and I), Uncle voices what had been on our minds all day long, “What happens to Brian, Julius, Allen and Vincent?” I think, “I knew this was coming, it is the reason we should have bought beans instead of meat...”
Someone interrupts my condemning thoughts by mentioning my name. They suggest that maybe I should take the children to the Orphanage I volunteer for, and another suggests we pay tuition and school fees for them. The meeting goes on like this…one idea after another with no concrete plan…
I keep wondering internally what my responsibility in all this is, how it all now becomes my responsibility! I try not to think of the past, I think instead of the future...
The sense of helplessness from everyone in the meeting is overwhelming. Everyone has a problem big enough to warrant help from other people, no one is able to comfortably take on added responsibilities. I start to feel guilty…I am single and without children of my own. I am unemployed but live in the United States, and attend one of the most prestigious colleges in the world. I am adopted by an Irish family who are well-off by Ugandan standards, and I am an activist for women and children. From the look of things, I am the only one who seems to have no problems, besides the fact that I am not able to take four children to live with me in my apartment in New Haven…
We end the meeting with no concrete plan, but to ‘think’ about the problem…When it is time to leave, I look for my siblings (Brian and team) to say goodbye to them. I know I am breaking another custom…one does not say goodbye after the funeral…one just leaves. Well aware of this, I still look for my siblings. I have, in the past broken customs and replaced them with the Grace of God. In this circle of grace, I am confident of God’s protection over my life and that of others. When I find them, I embrace each one not knowing when I will be seeing them again, not knowing what the future holds for them, and not having a concrete plan for their welfare. In parting, I make one promise, I shall return to see you, I say. Be brave, I say again, and God bless you, I finish. I know that is a promise and a prayer I can keep…
In the car, on the way back to Kampala, all four of us are silent for some time. Conversations are forced and labored…Brian, Julius, Allen and Vincent are on our minds. What will happen to them, I wonder and so does Tom and his wife. We are quickly distracted by Kampala traffic 35 minutes after we leave Bamunanika and just as easily, our thoughts quickly shift to the task at hand…how to avoid sitting in traffic for the next hour or so, and how to avoid being killed by mad taxi drivers! I am saddened by the quick turn of events and how quickly life shifts, how full of distractions, and how quickly we forget…Gayita Kukibi Negaseka, my mother said…
When I get back to my house, DJ is there, having cancelled his trip to the north. He inquires about my day and I his. I give little feedback about mine and I finally say, as if to sum up everything I am feeling, that I am exhausted. This is the answer I give to Helen as well; my host and a VSO volunteer currently staying in the house. It is a true descriptor of how I feel; I have been so busy before and after the walk that exhausted seems like an understatement. I eat a mango and retire to bed...
Once alone, I finally feel the sadness and sorrow of the day, the life history of all my parents weighs heavily on my heart; their short-lived romances; the chronicles of shifted blame—children to parent, parent to parent, and parents to children; their pain and despair as they lay dying…each knowing what they were leaving behind; their shame, guilt, and humiliation as a result of their actions, especially when the consequences became too public an event such as impending death; the stigma of HIV that most people have forgotten...as if it does not exist any longer: their pride and efforts to save face, to hide their fears; inherited patterns of behavior I now witness among some of my siblings, and of lessons not learned; the pain, shame and humiliation we have had to suffer as a result of our parent’s choices; the weight of the expected responsibility we have to each other; and numerous parentless children left behind…a family in shambles, always in turmoil, a victims circle...!
I weep at, and because of these things. I pray quietly even as I ask…when will all this end? At what point will the pleasures of adults cease to be more important than the welfare of their children? I receive no answers…I pray still…When I become president--if ever--I predict I will be one of them who cry!!!
We journey together, through and in these places; we journey for and because of people locked in and out of victims circles…and we hope still…our solidarity is noted, a permanent imprint of one hundred and forty four thousand steps…
“Lord, be the goal of my pilgrimage and my rest by the way." -St. Augustine
Rose Photo by Jeff Scroggins: http://www.jeffscroggins.com/

After the Journey: July 17th: The OG of Luteete Primary School drops in for a visit

Thank you all for your feedback on the blogs. For many Ugandans, I know some of these do not "hit close to home" as the cliche goes, they hit home! I am inspired by the stories I hear back, keep them coming...after a couple more of these stories, I will update you with news of Susan and Akiror, plus a little more of Rose's Journey on television. In writing the blog, I hoped to draw everyone into the experiences of life as it happens in Uganda at least--the mundane parts, the not so glamorous bits, the ordinary ways in which people are inspired...to get up and get on with it, ways in which the road ends and then it starts, and hopefully ways in which each of us can find an anchor to face the storm...sometimes, may be more often than we think or experience, this is the way of life for many people. We journey through these together...
Six days after Rose’s Journey I get another call from my brother Juda. Juda calls me to say hi sometimes, but quite often, he is the bearer of bad news. I sense something is up as soon as I answer his call. He says to me after the greeting that Maama Muto has passed away. I am not shocked by the news, it is expected, and we have all been expecting it. Maama Muto has been sick for a while…sick with HIV/AIDS, just like our father, the man she had been married to at the time of his death. Maama Muto (the young mother) is what we called her to distinguish her from the rest of our fathers’ wives. True, she was the youngest—only six years older than I when she married my father; that was around 1988 I think, I was coming up to my sixteenth birthday and she was barely 22! The name stuck until she had her first son, my step brother Brian. She then became Maama Brian...
Her passing means there is only one left of the five wives my Father married, plus one other woman with whom he had four children, but never married…I know, hang with me...it is if confusing. Maama Muto is the 4th to die, and now only one woman (well plus one other—technically two women) remains before the history of my Father’s loves comes to an end. We have buried them all; starting with my mother who died in child birth many years earlier and at a very young age; She was barely 37 when she passed; followed by my step mother (the mother of 8 other children, one set of step siblings), and another step mother (mother to Fred and Frank and a sister I hardly know) and now Maama Muto ….ok, if you have gone through that section without sighing...bravo...
When Juda calls, I am in the middle of planning a trip to Bamunanika with my friend DJ who is still here after Rose’s Journey. DJ is the president of Narrow Road, an International NGO based in Breckenridge Colorado, and I am one of its board members. We are supposed to go to Bamunanika to film there—part of Rose’s Journey, the Documentary. The news delivered by Juda alters my plans for the day and the day after. How can I pass through the village, camera ready when my step mother lies dead a few kilometers away from Bamunanika? It would not look or feel right. After some soul searching and deliberations, DJ and I decide to go to Bamunanika and visit my former primary school—Luteete Mixed Primary School—and then stop at my sister Florence’s house for lunch. We do exactly that and manage to stay inconspicuous for the most part…
In the car and on the way to Bamunanika, my brother Tom (who offered to drive us) and I reminisce about the old days. He asks me if I remember bringing cow-dung to school for smearing the black boards. We both laugh, of course I remember. I remember that I (I notice I say so and so and I a lot--I never remember the correct grammar--sorry mother) would forget to collect it the day before and that I was always one of those pupils who would be ducking into somebody’s garden to get the required banana leaf, and then I would furiously look for cow-dung on the way to school—in a field, anywhere. Once located, there was always the trouble of scooping it up and nicely wrapping it up before finally and proudly presenting it to the teacher! Quite a saga…We talk about several other experiences weird experiences (I will spare you those) of growing up poor and in a village, and how we never even realized how very poor we were...how our poverty and tragedies seemed to be universal…
When we pass the former soccer field which looks un-kept, I remember that there used to be a cattle dip right opposite it. I tell Tom and DJ of the day I fell into this cattle-dip filled with tick-cide (what we called coopertox), and how my uniform stank so much I had to sit at the borehole while other children pumped water over me for hours. We thought this was a great intervention and that mother would probably not ‘smell me’ on return, we were wrong...
We arrive at the primary school at lunch time and when we get out of the car, I start pointing things out to DJ. Look, there are the pit latrines where I used to hide during PE time. I explain the reasons for hiding to DJ…he listens intently without interrupting. DJ is a thoughtful man; I never quite know what he is thinking. Sometimes, long after we have had a conversation about something, DJ will say…so Rose about that conversation...I have learned to wait for that “So, Rose…”
I point out class four (P.4) which barely exists now. A little bit of the old structure and its foundation still exists, however, the building itself, from the look of things, must have collapsed a few years ago. They have not managed to rebuild any of it; instead, they moved the old offices as well as classes, to another rundown structure across the road. I tell DJ and Tom that I spent a night here once, the day the family threw me out. I wrote on the backboard--thanks to all the cow-dung--"stay alive" as the first order of business...!
Tom shakes his head, he is sad to learn more of the truth now and although I have spared him and others the hurt I felt, I know that he knows the truth of that too. With Rose’s Journey, he has had discoveries of his own. So has Steven, my other brother who walked with me on July 11th. Both men (for they have grown up from the children we helped raise after mother’s death, into sensible men) have felt a little of what I felt, they have had memories of their own, and I hope that this is as important to them as it is to me. We journey together, we remember together. We try to be Ugandans who are making a difference. We each know that this…the retracing of our journeys…will not leave us the same…
Several children are out playing, most teachers are off to where ever they have their lunch break, and there is only one adult to talk to. The children point us in the direction of the new but run down office, which is where the only adult present is standing. He invites us inside. We enter a very crammed and dusty office and I ask the gentleman, as I squeeze myself between two tables to get to an empty chair, if it is ok for us to sit down. I get a rapid yes, and yes to the inquiry. I ask him if he is the headmaster and he tells me he is the head-teacher. I have forgotten what that means so I don’t ask for fear of appearing ignorant. His name is Frank. I introduce myself and tell Mr. Frank that I am actually an “Old Girl” of the school. To this he smiles knowingly as though he suddenly remembers who I am. He probably does—every child must look the same to the teachers. I look out the window and think…yeah I must have looked like any other child here, scrawny, shoeless, mug in hand for my breakfast, mute in classes just like I were expected to be, and only in trouble occasionally for forgetting to pickup cow-dung for the yearly blackboard smear, or failure to attend PE due to the embarrassing strings around my body…
We sign a guest book, which feels like I am doing something I am not supposed to do (like I am breaking a rule), and leave Mr. Frank to get on with his job. Outside, the children gather around DJ who is holding a camera. I, on the other hand, forget that I am an adult. I think I regress back to my childhood, which surprisingly, gives me much freedom now than it did then. I enjoy the company of these, my counterparts. I scoot down and start looking at their mugs to see if they are doing the same thing I did—mark it with my name. Although very territorial, it was not the reason we marked them--we just did not want anyone to steal the mug, most likely the only mug one had for use at home as well school—and sure enough I find what I am looking for. We chat about their life, what subjects they prefer in school...they shout them out one by one…Mathematics, English, Social Studies, Sciences, PE, Religious Education et cetera. I say to DJ. “They are the same, nothing has changed at all.” A group of girls edge closer to where we are and I spot a jump-rope made out of banana fibers. It is an absolute pleasure to join the game for a few minutes. When we leave the school, I cannot help but wonder how many of the kids I met will make it; and how many will specifically make it to a place like Yale…
We arrive at my sister’s house much later than we had anticipated. I am not worried, I am home and here, one frets less and less about time and the passing of it or there being less of it to waste. When the subject of Maama Muto comes up, which is fairly quickly after the greetings, we embark on a long discussion about our father’s wives and children. We all disagree as to how many he had. Tom has a different figure, so do I, and so do Steven (Florence’s’ husband) and Florence. I say, “Its 36,” and Tom says, “No its 37” and Steven says “I thought it was only 30,” to which we all exclaim “No No, that is too small a number, it is more like 40!” DJ is amused and sits quietly in the room observing all of us engage in a rather unusual family chitchat. My family makes an interesting case study, someone once said...they meant well! We finally start counting…wife one, these many children, wife two (my mother) 8, wife three and so on and so forth. When we get to Maama Muto, I say “Definitely two” and I get an evil eye from Florence who quickly corrects me, “Its four,” she says; “There is Brian, then Allen, plus Julius and Vincent.” I am flabbergasted, at what point did she have all these children? I remember then that I must have been away from home by that time…
On the way back to Kampala…my thoughts shift back to Luteete Primary School and the statistics of how many of those children will live beyond their pre-teen years, how many will go to college (Luteete, as dismal a place as it is, being a prep school for them as it were mine), how many will escape the cruel injustices planned against them by others around them, how many will have someone to sing, rejoice over them, and cheer them on, how many will have opportunities to be shaped into leaders of our beloved country…how many will have someone to say “we will hold on to you,” how many of their stories will be told around the country or the world, how many of their voices will be heard and not heard, and how many will later on smile as I do when I return to Luteete and I think, “I was once here, I am still here because you are, and I thank God Almighty I survived…you too will…hope comes alive...!”
I remember that on July 11th, we journeyed together—the children and others and me—believing in the healing of communities, one child at a time…
Note: Photos by friends. "She got to see her self" by Citizen Camera

Two weeks before Rose's Journey: The Way Back Home

Three days after I arrive home, one of my brothers calls me to deliver sad news. “Aunt Jane has died,” Tom says, “the funeral is tomorrow, he concludes.” I am still fighting jet lag so it takes me a while to process the information. Aunt Jane? Yes, Aunt Jane, I hear Tom repeat the information. I know who she is, a sister to my father, and one I have not seen for many years. Tom also tells me that a week ago, someone had pronounced Aunt Jane dead, and that several family members had gone home for the funeral only to be told that actually the deceased was still alive, but not well. She had only gone into a deep coma which was mistaken as death…a very honest mistake. Following his call, Juda, another one of my brothers, calls to deliver the same news and tells me that this time Aunt Jane is really dead. It is not meant to be funny, but the way he says it, is funny, so we both nervously laugh. Someone dead cannot be any deader…
My father had five sisters and four brothers. Out of the ten siblings, five have died of HIV AIDS, among them; my Father, his brother and my Uncle James, as well as his sisters: Aunt Regina, Aunt Nalubuga, and now Aunt Jane... The men were handsome, and the women gorgeous and good-natured, especially Regina…so full of fun and humor...
One by one they have fallen…leaving behind a history of sadness and numerous parentless children who are creating legacies of their own. News of their deaths is often not surprising, but it is not any less painful. We often know the truth of their illnesses, we pray and wait; we look at each other knowingly—a look that is so familiar and recognizable—the secret language of a family in turmoil; then we hope and wait; we call each other with news of who is ill and where they are, and then we wait again; we encourage treatment especially with those with whom we are close, and wait; and then one day…the dreaded telephone call…she/he is dead, no more! The telephone call has become the wind that takes out the last hope; that blows out the candle light; and one that halts all other plans. The collective family often finds its way back home after one such call…
I worry about my extended family as much as I pray for them. I worry about our collective legacy. I worry about lessons not learned. I draw family trees and count the ones who are dead, and I worry about history repeating itself. The way back home for us is always littered with loss, with pain, with sorrow, with blame, and with grief. I often wonder how this (our) history mirrors that of hundreds and thousands of other Ugandans around the nation, I wonder about what should, or must be done to break the cycle, and to change the “mood” and “view” of the way back to our respective homes...I take comfort in Psalms 23 and wonder how many of my counterparts feel or lack this comfort…
On the day Aunt Jane dies, I find myself on the computer looking for statistics on the Uganda Ministry of Health website as well as the WHO (World Health Organization) web site. I am compelled to look at the recent mortality rates…I wonder out loud…will my aunt ever be represented by a number in these pages? Perhaps and most likely not! Many Ugandans die in their homes and their deaths are never reported. My Aunt died in her home, so I figure readily she won’t make the mortality rate index. I still peruse through the pages looking for something I am not sure of…Statistics from the WHO site include but are not limited to: Life expectancy at birth m/f (years): 49/51; Healthy life expectancy at birth m/f (years, 2003): 42/44; Probability of dying under five (per 1 000 live births): 134; Probability of dying between 15 and 60 years m/f (per 1 000 population): 518/474; Total expenditure on health per capita (Intl $, 2006): 143; and Total expenditure on health as % of GDP (2006): 7.2 (http://www.who.int/countries/uga/en/). Depressing…so many years of life lost to HIV! Perhaps, I should be doing something more constructive and encouraging…!
So I ask myself a question that most people hopefully ask themselves, “How do we change the context of our banner?” A good question to consider as I embark on Rose’s Journey. I think of other ways I can bring hope home and share that hope. I know it is easy to see the stretch of the road, its endlessness and the litter in it… the statistics, loss, pain, sorrow, despair, blame, and grief. But I also know it is possible to see hope, to feel hope, to walk through this road with hope, to find a place where hope comes alive and continues to fill the way back home! I think of the litter and I pray Psalm 23…The Lord is my (our) shepherd, I (we) shall not want…
At 2PM the next day, at our funeral home in Kakuba, we lay Aunt Jane to her final resting place. I see many of my relatives and hustle each one with personal questions, I have no shame…have you been tested for HIV…if you are sick are you on treatment? They all look at me with that familiar look; it says “What concern is it of yours…or sometimes…are you crazy...or others are just puzzled! But often others respond truthfully and are glad someone is asking. I want to scream…most of the time anyway…an internal scream “wake up my people, wake up..!”
A collective experience of life in these places and others not noted here, and of memories of my life in Uganda, take me on the road this summer…take me back home. I am doing something, even if it is just walking...changing the context, displaying courage in the face of the sum of the litter…
Note: Road Photo by Citizen Camera:http://citizencamera.synthasite.com/

Friday, July 24, 2009

After the Journey Part IV: A multitude of thanks

Dear friends and family, Rose's journey would not have been possible if it were not for so many people who worked around the clock and took care of so many details where I could not. Narrow Road For setting up links to make donations possible and for allowing Rose’s Journey to take front page on the Narrow road web site for the past few months. Thank you for your friendship and support. For facilitating and handling all donations and making sure the money gets to where it is supposed to go. Thankful to all board members for their support every step of the way For a generous donation to the work of Hope Ward Discover The Journey Thankful to my friend Brad Corrigan for support, prayers, for telling others the story of Hope in my life, and ensuring that Discover the Journey had funding needed to capture Rose's Journey on Film and through a ton of still amazing photographs. To the DTJ team for their patience and for being on the road and in the journey with me especially when the going got rough. Citizen Camera--UK--what can I say, a beautiful thing indeed to have them in the journey. Hanna and Karin were and continue to be great companions and captured amazing stories as they walked. They also followed me to several visits to Sabina home in Rakai and I watched as they spent time with the children--teaching them the basics of video and photography, allowing the children to capture and tell their own stories...I believe this is the beginning of a beautiful work Breckenridge Crew DJ Schappert, Mike Glerup, Christina Black, Jen Morgan and Kristen Petitt—Dreams: Rose’s Journey was borne out of conversations we had at the French Street House in March this year. Thank you for helping me dream and for walking beside me in the journey. Thank you for setting up all the face book pages and donation sites. KP is the queen of logistics and PR and guards the interests and integrity of what we are about with passion and rigor. They all flew to Uganda to be present in the Journey. Their contribution cannot easily be summed up in a number! Kate and Mike Glerup--thank you for everything, but above all the SHOES!!! Kate and Emma our only satellite walkers in Breckenridge--they represented Rose's Journey well, so proud of you guys Drivers · Sean—Truck and refreshments · My brother Mike for Driving the “ End Child Sacrifice Car” safely! · All the hired drivers—I was told driving at 1 kilometer per hour was as painful as walking · Jackie Nabukeera for carrying the film Crew and Peddling her way into and to the end of the journey · Hannah Magoola and Judy Mugoya for carrying whoever needed carrying · Charles who came limping but drove anyway Parents/Family · All the support from every one present here and or out of country--Sean, Linzi, Lauren, Matt and Anna--thank you much for the cheers and encouragement · Logistics—Dad spear-headed this and got it rolling in no time · Mum for setting the ball rolling on Rose’s Journey—she is the ultimate cheer leader. What an incredible finish! . My brother Tom and Steven and Juda for all the support Uganda: Logistics Crew This would not have happened without Hannah Magoola, one of my

best friends—she looked after every detail...and I really mean EVERY DETAIL · Tom Kyobe—Transport · Patricia Tino—Details (T-shirts and Banners, The untold story crew for live TV show) · Beatrice Kiyuba—for getting the nursing students organized · The Nursing students (IHSU)—bravo guys, what an honor to have them in the journey · Flavia Matovu—for picking everyone up from the airport at the drop of a hat · Kevin Duffy—All the Suubi Trust updates and setting up of just giving · Helen Lay—for putting all of us up and for amazing meals that I did not cook!

. Allan Kasujja of Capital FM for hosting me on the show to highlight Rose's Journey on Desert Island Dics. It was great fun

. Thank you to Betty Tibaleka of Untold Stories for hosting me and my mum on the show--conversation with my Irish mother were greatly inspiring--I hear her say "we did so little, we just took Rose in!" And I think, you did so much, so much more than words can describe.

· Grace—for caring for us at the house

Kiwoko Reception · Ken and Judith Finch—what a grand reception at Kiwoko!

· The students from the Kiwoko School of Nursing—Superb entertainment after a long walk
Donors There are numerous to count. All I can say is that at the writing of this blog, we have raised close to 18,000.00 USD…just 7,000.00 USD short of the 25,000.00 USD target. 15,000.00USD will go towards sponsoring a bed on Hope Ward for a year, and 3,000.00 USD will go towards the Nursing Scholarship Fund. We will continue to work towards meeting the goal for the scholarship fund (10,000.00USD to sponsor one student at University for whole program: Bachelors degree in Nursing, covers tuition and fees) before the end of the year.
Everyone in the Walk--Present or distant I am so grateful to so many for your generosity, for your faith and trust, for your prayers and cheers. Thank you for spreading the word on Rose's Journey...it spread like a fire and became something beautiful. So honered and humbled by so many acts of kindness, of Grace and Hope.
To every friend--Thank you
With Gratitude
Rose
More later...

After the Journey Part III: A different kind of a walk

Dear friends,
I had in this walk a lot of what i did not have 20 years ago, and while I grew up walking practically everywhere, walking more than 40 kilometers in a day was not part of that routine. It is a long distance to walk and certainly harder if one is doing it alone. I am therefore grateful and honored for every person who was in the journey with me on July 11th...20 years later. I know that on that day and many to follow we collectively became, and will continue to be a face, legs, and feet that represents so many.
I have also received such unbelievable feedback since we walked. I am inspired and encouraged that the purpose for walking was and is far greater than I could possibly have thought or imagined. We managed to raise close to 18,000 USD (just 7,000 USD short of our initial goal), and a few days ago handed over a check for 15,000 USD to support the work of Hope Ward. A multitude of thanks to so many who have given generously to Rose's Journey, who have heard the stories of every Hope patient present and past, and who continue to tell these stories to others. As I sit down to write thank you cards, I find that I do not have the right words for them. More than I can express in words, I thank you.
I said prior to the walk that the journey 20 years ago, lead me to a place of hope...It was the beginning of my restoration as a girl, and it was a second chance at having a family and hope for the future... This is my hope too for many of the patients I meet and interact with on Hope ward--Hope 20--Kevin Akiror, Hope 18--ML, Hope 19--OD, Hope 3--NV and the list continues. It is my hope for our friend George, and Susan (who I found out is 17 years old and not 19...it turns out she is the exact age I was when I walked 20 years ago). Thank you for making HOPE possible.
My friend Kristen Petitt said of the walk, "Fulfilling". She noted that at some point she would look where she had just walked and admired how beautiful the road was. Once you walked through it, you remembered it. She, like me, did not want to forget.
20 years later, I have not forgotten. As I said, you do not forget a walk like this, and on the 11th, as I walked with many others, I knew that they would not forget either. I am grateful that many allowed themselves to feel what I was feeling, and still walked anyway. In the footsteps, we saw and recognized each other in the journey—in parts of our stories that were similar and marveled at the ones in which our stories were dissimilar…Two friends…one growing up in Oklahoma, the other in Bamunanika, a life so dissimilar! Each making a choice 20 years earlier and entering a path that would ultimately lead each to the other…both journeying together from Bamunanika to Kiwoko…on July 11th…we ended up remembering together.
It was good to remember and rediscover the feelings of 20 years ago, to note ways in which I was not seen and others in which I was seen, even when I did not recognise it. To look beyond the road and to comprehend its endlessness; to stop and see others in it and beyond it--the way I did not 20 years ago.
It was good to remember the bits that I often don't want to remember...that I too, was so caught up in my own helplessness and sense of despair to notice others who might have been walking with me 20 years ago. So it was important, in this walk, to not only see those who formed some of the reasons we were walking, but also the ones in the journey with me, and those beyond it, the ones on the side of the road and the ones who had gone before us, or ones after. At times the walk was funny--we laughed helplessly at the way we each were walking—like babies just learning to plant our feet—everywhere was really sore, but we knew without question we were going to finish. My brother Tom said "All I can say is that I am walking from the heart" It was no longer about the feet!
There were so many stories to tell, so many to capture, so many which to the eye seemed forgettable, and to the heart unforgettable! Our experiences may have been different and unique but on that day we shared a oneness that was impossible to ignore. We may have come from different parts of the world or countries, but there was no mistake in our meeting—everyone who walked was supposed to be there...more later

Sunday, July 19, 2009

After The Journey: Part Two:

Dear friends, prior to the walk, there were several individuals in my heart and thoughts who obviously stayed with me in the journey. I introduced you to George who I most likely will talk about in other blogs to come. Today, I want to introduce you to two special people I encountered just before I embarked on the walk. For many of you in the walk with me--whether through thoughts and prayer or beside me as we journeyed, you will understand places where the inspiration comes from. Some encounters do not leave us the same, some encounters compel us to hold our placards or just walk. In addition to so many others, these two are some of the reasons we walked--one does not forget...Susan: The 19year old mother of...well, a cousins child, two young sisters, two young brothers, plus one! Could this be the beginning of her 20 years?
I first meet Susan in the Hope ward office, I am sitting in Helen's chair whilst she is on holiday. Helen is a VSO volunteer who works with Hope ward, she too walked with me. The meeting--of Susan--happens by coincidence--it is not Susan who needs help from Hope ward: it is her little sister Kevin Akiror. Kevin is about 6-7 years old and has a very severe and rare form of cancer (Angio Sarcoma Xpigmentosa). A well wisher had seen the child in a village in Soroti (Eastern Uganda) and had brought her to the cancer institute at Mulago Regional Referral Hospital. Several attempts to remove tumors from her face and head had been unsuccessful and after months of visits there was still no solution to her problem. Akiror was then brought to Hope ward to meet Dr. Helena Nam (Oncologist Hope ward). Helena is another doctor who says " We don't know what the outcome will be with this form of cancer and in a child, but at least we can try." "Try" is a word I am hearing a lot at Hope ward and I am beginning to love it. "Try" means, lets hope a little!
On first meeting Akiror, it is impossible to not be shocked...her face is lost and in its place are multiple large nodular lesions/tumors. This is what I see when I first look at her. This is what everybody sees. I know her eyes are there but one has to look hard to see them...one has to look past the obtrusive lesions. She tries to peak and see others through whatever little space is left. I look at her because I know she is looking at me and even though it takes me a while to finally make eye contact, I know she sees me. I extend my hands towards her..as if to say I see you too and I am not afraid of what I see. When we are face to face, and I finally look into her eyes, I note that they are bright red, the mucous membrane severely damaged and irritated from the cancer. Most people would be very uncomfortable looking at her for long. Her disfigurement makes people uncomfortable; it makes me uncomfortable. She seems to be aware of the effect she has on others but cannot help the way she feels or appears or smells. The open lesions give off an offensive smell...I note that too.
I continue to regard her with my arms extended, I try to invite her into them...she remains rooted to the spot. She has no clue what language I am speaking...I note that too. She stands in the room a presence that cannot be ignored, and yet she is a child lost in her tumor, in her disease...I process this as well. She assess me and the room and Jemima--the Hope ward coordinator who is trying to ascertain with Doctor Helena whether we should admit Akiror or not--and eventually finds the rotating chair on which I am sitting, fascinating. I immediately encourage her to sit in it, but she just peers as me. I cannot read her face and there is little left of her eyes to communicate any other kind of emotion but sadness...even then I know is wondering "What the heck is this woman talking about and how come this chair moves?" She does not understand my attempt at Luganda, English, and a little bit of Swahili. Eventually, a nurse calls her sister.
I expect to see a much older person when finally, and to my surprise, another young lady enters the room. She cannot be older than 15, I think, and as soon as she enters the room, I stop for a second from engaging Akiror to contemplate the situation. She is too young to be the caregiver, I continue my thinking, surely she is not the one responsible for this little girl? My questions are answered without being verbally asked. In the meant time, Susan instructs Akiror to get in the chair; in fact she helps her into it as I explain the mechanics of the chair while Susan translates. Once Akiror is seated, the sister gives the chair a firm push and Akiror seems to light up with each spin...I cannot tell whether she is laughing and I am sad for that...
The lady (well wisher) who brought the two to Hope ward, as if to answer my unasked questions, tells me that the two girls are part of a family of seven (one other girl, two boys, a grandmother, and a cousin's one year old child who she calls 'Susan's' Child). She tells me that both parents were massacred by Kony rebels in the last massive raid conducted in Soroti approximately six years ago. She goes on to say matter-of-factly, that the parents were among those chopped up and boiled in pots. I do the math--Susan must have been in her early teens and Akiror probably a year old. She then says that Susan has been looking after the family since. The grandmother is too old to do so, she continues, and she too needs looking after. She also mentions the fact that Susan has a one year old ( a child belonging to a cousin...I find out later). I continue the math--so she is looking after four siblings and a child of her cousins, plus a grandmother (I have to repeat the information in my head as it is rather shocking)...and, the woman says and cuts off the trail of thought, "Susan is 19 years old." My heart breaks as I continue to listen to the story and the first thing I think of is, "I don't care what kind of budget we have on Hope ward, we are treating this child's (Susan) sister." I, of course, think of something we can fix but are aware of the many things in this life story (Susan's and Akiro's) that we cannot fix...not with chemotherapy, not with reconstructive surgery, not with medication...
When they leave the office to sort out admission procedures, I am left to my own thoughts and I am surprised to note that they are not of Akiror (the young child with a rare disease), but of Susan, her caregiver and parent. I am in the process of embarking on Rose's Journey. In fact when I meet Susan, the walk is just two days away. She reminds me in every way of my self 20 years ago. Her story is heart wrenching, it is unique, it is different, and yet similar. A story of tragedy. Here is a young woman waiting to be seen, to be loved, to be cherished, to discover hope, longing for relief, waiting for the restoration of her spirit, waiting for someone to care. Does she have a store of tears...I wonder! Whilst in office, and as I sat observing her, she had hang on every word from Jemima, the Hope ward coordinator, and I could see a glimmer of hope when she was informed that she and Akiror would stay on Hope ward; that Akiror would be treated here. A glimmer of hope and a beginning of something small...
Alone, and in thinking about the reasons I am walking again, 20 years later, I think of Akiror and the care she will receive on Hope ward. I know she is in good hands--so many people are giving money to make this care possible. I know she too will be in my journey. Then I think of her sister Susan and the next 20 years of her life. Will they be anything like mine? Will someone come along and say to her, "It is good you exist?" Will someone say to her "We will not let you go, we will hold on to you!" (Like my Irish parents said to me 20 years ago). Will someone say to her...we will stand with you; we will walk with you through the valley of she shadow of death; we will feel a little of what you are feeling and we will be around 20 years from now!
When I walked on July 11th, not only did I ponder the Grace of God in bringing into my life a family to say the above to me, I prayed for the same for Susan. Not only did I think of little beautiful George, but also of Susan and Akiror...and I saw many Susans and numerous Akirors on the side of the road "I am walking fro you and me," I thought. "We are singing for you today," they said.
More later...

What others said about the walk

Hannah said... It is almost a week since Rose's Walk and I still can't find the words to express my feelings. When people walk for a cause, we tend to think "how nice", "how thoughtful", "how noble" and often, we are in the sidelines and are not really involved in the 'detail'.Rose's Walk gave me the privilege to be part of not only a worthy but very personal journey. The bits that I walked with Rose were incredibly 'raw' as she shared how she felt when she walked that journey as a teenager.
How can we possibly appreciate the loneliness, the fear, the uncertainty... And how amazing to see the power of hope - as Rose walked, I saw the picture of hope, of true kindness (as she hugged the group of young children who sang for us by the roadside), of incredible determination and resolve (as she kept walking even as she was faint from the effort and the sun), the miracle of life, love and opportunity (as I tried to picture how the scared teenager could possibly have become this assured, determined, powerful and inspiring woman that Rose is today). How can you take that all in without fighting tears back as you ponder about the miracle of living and love...
As I watched the people walk, I knew that it was only love that would make them join Rose on such a walk - it was a hard, long walk! But even after the blisters, some sun burn, aches and all - everyone I talked to was just so honored to be part of it all. It is such a privilege to be part of something with a purpose to help others and give voice to a cause.And most of all I cannot wait to see the fruits of this walk, to see the lives that will hopefully be changed through this.But most of all I am so proud of every single person who walked, every one who contributed to make this possible and to Rose, for always carrying a candle that never goes out but lights more and more candles around her, to touch those around her with compassion. It is such an honor to know you and to call you friend.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

One hudred fourty four thousand footsteps to Kiwoko

Dear Friends and Family, I have not had a longer moment to send out an update. By now you all know we finished Rose's Journey successfully on Saturday. Folks, it was cathartic journeying with more than 60 people by my side or behind or ahead of me. Everywhere I looked, there was somebody walking with me. It was a great walk, simply freeing and hard too. Each of us experienced their moment of hitting the wall, but we kept on walking. My friend DJ who is a bit of a math whiz tells me that it took approximately 144,000 steps from Bamunanika to Kiwoko! I still cannot believe it. We left Bamunanika a little later than we had planned but were on Que by the time we left our first resting stop. The segment from Bamunanika to Wobulenzi was probably the easiest. I walked that stage with my Irish Mother, my brother Steven, and my friend Flavia and from time to time was joined by many of my best friends. At times it was memory lane, at other times it was a completely new walk, one full of hope and random acts of kindness. To say that I was emotional the whole day is an understatement! Many children joined my friends Kristen, Jen, Christina and Mike (The Breckenridge Crew) and made the reason for the walk even more meaningful. Even though I could not see everyone at the same time, I knew that they were there, repeating the same steps I took 20 years ago, experiencing a journey of their own, adding their voice to mine in a very public way. It was phenomenal.
I anchored the second leg of the walk and it took me a full three hours fifteen minutes to walk it. I had with me The film crew--Discover The Journey, Kisakye Pendo, a friend I have known for 16 years, and Shifa, a friend a i hadn't seen for 14 years! My former Professor from Baylor--Lori Spies, joined me for 30 minutes, and so did two other friends from Dallas. The team from Breckenridge stayed by my side for most of this leg and we encountered two profound moments together. One was when Pendo stopped at Emmause Centre to use a bathroom and ran into Joseph the director at the centre. Joseph inquired as to why we were walking and Pendo explained. When I caught up with her, she and Joseph and were waiting at the road side. Joseph wanted to meet me and had a message for me. He said "when I heard about your story, this village girl who walked 20 years earlier I had to meet you, what you are doing is so important...God is going to use this walk in profound ways...20 years from now, this journey will be remembered, again..." We all just stood there, listening to Joseph affirm the reasons why we walked. We could not help but weep together--for joy, for knowing, for random acts of compassion.
The second was when a choir of young children lined themselves up on the side of the highway and sang to us! Their song "Oh we are coming, we are coming today...we are coming today we are coming for you....we are dancing today we are dancing for you, we are singing today we are singing for you" left me speechless. I knew that many had come to walk with me but it was good to be reminded to celebrate this anniversary walk. It was also good to remember that we were being encouraged and watched over with singing...not just there but across the world and in heaven. At Luweero, I had an amazing opportunity to sign the "End child Sacrifice car" adding my name to many others including my Irish parents as well as the First Lady of Uganda.
I power walked the last leg as I wanted to be the first (among the walkers) to arrive, so I could receive everyone. It was almost impossible for others to keep up the pace and I am grateful to Hannah Magoola, another best friend who followed me in the car and walked with me from time to time, and Tom my brother who stayed at my side until his feet complained. Hannah and I sang my favorite hymn as we walked and when I felt faint she was quick to give me that last power bar. The final kilometer was simply impossible! I don't think I have experienced that much heat, and pain in my feet. I kept thinking--Kiwoko must be around the corner--and then it wouldn't! The film crew tagged along capturing many moments I probably would not want to watch again. I had renewed strength the moment Kiwoko signs came into view and walked the last mile with my friend DJ by my side. Kate Glerup, another friend whose flight had mechanical problems, called me one minute before I finished the walk--she was just starting hers in Breckenridge. Kate walked in Breckenridge, wearing the end child sacrifice t-shirt and accompanied by her dog Emma!! Her call was so timely.
The reception and finish at Kiwoko was so unexpected that the moment I saw my Dad (who had run the whole distance) I was so overcome with emotion I just bawled. The nursing students from Kiwoko School of Nursing lined up and danced infront of me as I walked into what used to be my Irish parent's garden when they lived at Kiwoko. My friends Ken and Judith Finch did an amazing job setting up the reception and it was a grand way to end the walk.
I saw my self in a new light, in the lives of many who wore the t-shirt with my picture on it and the words "END CHILD SACRIFICE," in the lives of the children on the road side who sang--we are dancing for you. I remembered where I come from and why I had walked and thought--it was and is worth every step. I admired the sheer determination of so many who persevered when the road ahead seemed endless...but still finished the walk. I could not have been any prouder of every single person who was present or was praying for us every second of the day. And What a way for my Irish Mother to make a statement! People will not forget the reasons we walked, the reasons we came together on July 11th 2009. This was not just my journey after all--it was a journey for everyone who participated in it. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for allowing me in your journeying too.
....More to come

Friday, July 10, 2009

It is good you exist, it is good that you are in the world—Joseph Piper:One Day before I walk

Dear Friends, it has been a frantic and terrific few days with the film crew—Discover The Journey—here as well as my friends arriving from Breckenridge, plus trying to cover all the logistics for the Walk. There is much excitement and enthusiasm for Rose's Journey and it keeps me grounded. This will be the last blog post before I walk. But before I forget, here is the number to reach me on the day of the walk: +256-777-723-375. I shall be in touch as soon as I can get to a computer and Internet after the walk.
On The Radio with Allan Kassujja—formerly Mr. President: Yesterday we had an opportunity to be in studio with my good friend and impressive Allan of Capital FM, Uganda. Allan hosts a program called Dessert Island every Sunday at 7PM. It is for high profile folks only so I and the team felt so humbled and privileged for the opportunity to have a conversation with Allan. The program will air this Sunday after the walk but the message will still be relevant. I am so thankful to Allan and Capital FM for joining in Rose's journey and giving us an opportunity to speak to the country about ending child sacrifice.
Meeting George: As mentioned in the last shot blog, I had a chance to meet Goerge yesterday. Here are a few of my thoughts in detail during that encounter: I remembered—as I do so often, the words of Joseph Piper when I met beautiful George and silently prayed over him, “…it is good you exist, it is good that you are in the world…” you are the apple of God’s eye. At three years, George might be oblivious to the horror acts performed on him by a witchdoctor, but the rest of us in the room are not. I look at the place where his genitals are supposed to be…there is nothing there except scar after scar, the wounds have healed, but the scars…the scars tell the story of cruelty. One cruel act against this child has altered his life forever. The plastic Surgeon tries to explain what he might possibly do to help this young man, but I am really not listening to the details. Then he says we cannot really replace what has been taken away from him, we can just try.
I sit there staring at George wondering what life he will have, what definitions of manhood, what emotional scars, what despair, what constant fear, what hope and light and love…we can only try Ben Khing (the surgeon) says…I sense his exasperation and then his hope for something better for his patient. Ben Khing is a tender doctor, a Christian man; I have known him and his wife for years and I know that George could not be in better hands. He holds George who is now happy to be held as long as Ben does not bring out the dreaded needle. We all reassure George—no needles today…he smiles, a beautiful and captivating smile. He is just like any other child of three years and he is a survivor…
Tomorrow we walk on his behalf and on behalf of all the untold stories. Tomorrow we will hold our heads high, for George, all the other Georges around Uganda. We will say to others seeking to wound and destroy…ENOUGH! We will tell the stories of the silenced children, we will journey in Hope. "Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep His promise Hebrews 10:23"
In Rose’s Journey: We journey tomorrow with one heart and voice. Numerous thanks to everyone for the support and encouragement. We shall flood you with updates as soon as we are done walking.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Meeting George

Dear Friends, meeting George was as I thought it would be,emotional and powerful. He is an amazing boy who is happy to play with anyone as long as he is not getting "injections" He shook my hand and when i offered to have him on my lap he asked if I were going to give him an injection...to which I happily replied no! We were great buddies after that. Meeting him renews my zeal and enthusiasm for this walk.Will write more when time allows. Love Rose

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

I walk in 3 Days

Dear friends and family, what can I say, I am so overwhelmed with your generous support of Rose's Journey--whether with money or prayers or words of encouragement and cheers--you have all outdone yourselves and I thank you much for your faithfulness. Every individual who is walking with me has experienced spontaneous acts of love and encouragement and we hope to in-turn share these with others as we walk. Since my arrival home--two weeks ago--it has been wonderful to see family and catch up with friends. I have also had many opportunities to engage others in the cause. I have on my computer more than 100 articles detailing stories of child sacrifice across the country. These stories are hard and their escalating numbers even more disturbing. The recent face is George Mukisa, one of our Hope Ward Patients. George is a 3 year old lovely boy whose private parts were mutilated by the neighbour (a witchdoctor). George's Father arrived back home one day to find the child missing (the mother had gone for a funeral and left the child in the care of other children). He then heard him crying in the garden near the house and hurried to find the boy abandoned and bleeding. The neighbour, being a witchdoctor was the prime suspect and on searching his shrine, the boys mutilated body parts were found (the witchdoctor was taken to prison). George was taken to Mulago Hospital (government main regional referral centre) and later, after his story was publicised, was moved (under the sponsorship of Stanbic Bank) to Hope Ward for possible reconstructive work. One of our Surgeons--Dr. Ben Khing--has been taking care of George and plans reconstructive surgery after the wounds heal. I am meeting George tomorrow, he is returning for an outpatient check, for wound dressing and for the Surgeon to make an assessment. George and many others like him are the reason I am walking this summer--I imagine that meeting him will be emotional. How can we look a child like George in the eyes and remain the same? He will be on the hearts of everyone come Saturday, and so will many of the children in the stories that I now know by heart. But as you know, the walk is not just about child sacrifice, it is a demonstration of our solidarity in this cause, in the support of hope ward and in the setting up of the scholarship fund. It is a celebration of Hope where there is so much horror and devastation. It is a pilgrimage in friendships, in faith, and a commitment to the healing of communities In a few days I shall be joined by so many people--friends and family, strangers and partners: Here are the details of our walk: For anyone who is in Uganda and would like to join us: We leave from International Hospital at 5:30AM. The vehicles will take us to Bamunanika my home village. We will start walking @ 6:30-7:00AM from the trading centre to Wobulenzi. If you want to join this segment please be sure to leave with us when we do at 5:30AM. We plan to arrive at Wobulenzi at Approx 9:00-9:30AM or earlier. If you are left behind at IHK please jump in the first taxi out to Wobulenzi-Luweero. Wait for us at Wobulenzi--there will be a car painted and signed by different local leaders with the logo "END CHILD SACRIFICE" you cannot miss it. You can join the walk there. We shall leave Wobulenzi at 10:00AM to walk to Luweero arriving at 1:00-1:30PM. If this is the segment you are walking, please make sure you do refreshments with us before you jump right back in a taxi to return to Kampala. Luweero is a resting point: we shall have speeches, media etc. We shall then leave Luweero to go to Kiwoko at 2:00PM arriving at Kiwoko at approx 5:30-6:00PM. The walk starts from the house where my father held the last meeting in which I was disowned for abandoning witchcraft and will end at the door of the house where i first met my Irish parents. There we will have refreshments and return to Kampala after 6:00PM. We hope to have several vehicles following the walk including an ambulance. I look forward to walking with you guys. I am so honored to do this with many of you in spirit. With Gratitude, always http://www.justgiving.com/rosenanyongac http://www.narrowroadintl.org/Narrow_Road%3A_Roses_Journey.html "Lord, be the goal of my pilgrimage, and my rest by the way." -St. Augustine

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

30 Days before I walk again

Dear friends, in 30 days I will walk again and it feels as though life has come full circle. It is almost 20 years since I first made this journey, alone. On July 11th, with a group of not less than 30 people, we will kick off Rose's Journey from Baminanika, my home village, to Kiwoko. It will take us all day to walk. Bamunanika is a place that holds a book of memories for me and my family: Some wonderful and happy; and others dark and painful. It is a place where most of my childhood was shaped, a place where, every time I visit, I am reminded of these formidable years. I celebrate a great deal of the happy memories and mourn less the hurt and brokenness; but the profound truth remains, there are others. I see my self in every silent child in the streets of Bamunanika...I could be anyone of them. For them and many others who suffer cruel injustices around the world, I walk this summer. To give voice to the voiceless and to stir people's hearts with the story of hope and light. I hope that as we show our solidarity, communities in Uganda and around the world will come together to enhance the collective advocacy. Child Sacrifice is one of the less championed injustice against children in Uganda. We so easily mistake it to be a normative part of the people's culture. I have been guilty of this, of passing something off as, well, part of the culture as though that makes it alright. It should make us uncomfortable to pass off some thing heinous as killing a child as a cultural norm! By blanketing it under normative practices that define a certain group of people, we are all looking for a way out. There is frankly nothing normal about killing a child. There shouldn't be any reason or justification for such an act or other injustices committed against children around the world. A friend recently said to me, "Rose, sin is sin, irrespective of where people come from, no matter the reason" and I agree. I am also deeply touched by the bravely of so many of you who are joining me to walk. A combined 100-150 people will join the walk at different stages, a much larger number than I ever thought possible. There are many others who have donated towards the set up of the scholarship fund and Hope Ward. The money goes a long way in building healthier communities--spiritually, physically, politically etc. For 7,500.00-10,000.00 USD we can sponsor a student at IHSU to obtain their Bachelors degree (all three years of tuition and fees). That is how much money it takes to sponsor some one in the USA for just one year at a state school. Post secondary education is much needed in Uganda if we are to increase capacity, skills and competencies for sound governance, as well as management and leadership skills across sectors. I am aware that it costs a lot more money at this level than it does at primary education tier, and yet, I am also aware of how desperate we need to invest in the former. So I thank you deeply for believing with me and for your generous giving towards these causes. This is my hope: That our collective voices will be heard from village to village That this will build momentum to stir people's hearts in the media and else where to stop child sacrifice That this will be a pilgrimage in Faith, in Light, in Friendship, in Hope, and in bringing communities together to stop child sacrifice That many silent prayers will be answered That hope indeed will come alive for many others who live in desperation and despair, and that this hope will be shared That our solidarity will be noted--whether by the silent witnesses in the villages, or by the noted word of a reporter, or by strangers who will join the walk That this will be a coming together of different worlds, joined in oneness for causes that are so important. Over the years, I have been blessed by so many friends most of whom have shared in the journey, its challenges as well as its triumphs. So together we will walk, to celebrate this incredible journey of 20 years, to celebrate my passion and excitement for nursing, to speak out against child sacrifice, and to raise money for causes stated above.

Follow me on this journey, and I thank you with all my heart for doing so

Rose

http://www.justgiving.com/rosenanyongac

http://www.narrowroadintl.org/Narrow_Road%3A_Roses_Journey.html