Thursday, October 13, 2011

In Pictures, Child Sacrifice in Uganda

Where Child Sacrifice is a business: By Chris Rogers
The villages and farming communities that surround Uganda's capital, Kampala, are gripped by fear.

Schoolchildren are closely watched by teachers and parents as they make their way home from school. In playgrounds and on the roadside are posters warning of the danger of abduction by witch doctors for the purpose of child sacrifice.

The ritual, which some believe brings wealth and good health, was almost unheard of in the country until about three years ago, but it has re-emerged, seemingly alongside a boom in the country's economy.

Photograph of Stephen Stephen's decapitated body was found in a field

The mutilated bodies of children have been discovered at roadsides, the victims of an apparently growing belief in the power of human sacrifice.
'Sacrifice business'
Many believe that members of the country's new elite are paying witch doctors vast sums of money for the sacrifices in a bid to increase their wealth.

At the Kyampisi Childcare Ministries church, Pastor Peter Sewakiryanga is teaching local children a song called Heal Our Land, End Child Sacrifice.

To hear dozens of young voices singing such shocking words epitomises how ritual murder has become part of everyday life here.

"Child sacrifice has risen because people have become lovers of money. They want to get richer," the pastor says.

"They have a belief that when you sacrifice a child you get wealth, and there are people who are willing to buy these children for a price. So they have become a commodity of exchange, child sacrifice has become a commercial business."

The pastor and his parishioners are lobbying the government to regulate witch doctors and improve police resources to investigate these crimes.

Sometimes, they accuse us of these things because we make no arrests, but we are limited.”
End Quote Commissioner Bignoa Moses Anti-Human Sacrifice Task Force

According to official police figures, there was one case of child sacrifice in 2006; in 2008 the police say they investigated 25 alleged ritual murders, and in 2009, another 29.

The Anti-Human Sacrifice Police Task Force, launched in response to the growing numbers, says the ritual murder rate has slowed, citing a figure of 38 cases since 2006.

Pastor Sewakiryanga disputes the police numbers, and says there are more victims from his parish than official statistics for the entire country.

The work of the police task force has been strongly criticised by the UK-based charity, Jubilee Campaign.

It says in a report that the true number of cases is in the hundreds, and claims more than 900 cases have yet to be investigated by the police because of corruption and a lack of resources.
'Quiet money'
Allan with his father Allan was left for dead after a vicious attack

Tepenensi led me to a field near her home where she found the body of her six-year-old grandson Stephen, dumped in the reeds. She trembled as she pointed out the spot where she found his decapitated body; he had been missing for 24 hours.

Clutching the only photo she has of her grandson, Tepenensi sobbed as she explained that although the local witch doctor had admitted to sacrificing Stephen, the police were reluctant to pursue the case.

"They offered me money to keep quiet," she says. "I refused the offer."

No-one from the Ugandan government agreed to do an interview. The police deny inaction and corruption.

The head of the Anti-Human Sacrifice Police Task Force, Commissioner Bignoa Moses, says the police are doing all they can to tackle the problem.

"Sometimes, they accuse us of these things because we make no arrests, but we are limited. If we get information that someone is involved in criminal activities like human sacrifice, we shall go and investigate, and if it can be proven we will take him to court, but sometimes the cases are not proven."
Boy castrated
At Kampala main hospital, consultant neurosurgeon Michael Muhumuza shows me the X-rays of the horrific injuries suffered by nine-year-old Allan.

They reveal missing bone from his skull and damage to a part of his brain after a machete sliced through Allan's head and neck in an attempt to behead him; he was castrated by the witch doctor. It was a month before Allan woke from a coma after being dumped near his village home.

Allan was able to identify his attackers, including a man called Awali. But the police say Allan's eyewitness account is unreliable.

A child with a scarred arm Some children are cut to collect blood for rituals

Local people told us that Awali continues to be involved with child sacrifice.

For our own inquiries, we posed as local businessmen and asked around for a witch doctor that could bring prosperity to our local construction company. We were soon introduced to Awali. He led us into a courtyard behind his home, and as if to welcome us he and his helpers wrestled a goat to the ground and slit its throat.

"This animal has been sacrificed to bring luck to us all," Awali explained. He then demanded a fee of $390 (£250) for the ritual and asked us to return in a few days.

At our next meeting, Awali invited us into his shrine, which is traditionally built from mud bricks with a straw roof. Inside, the floor is littered with herbs, face masks, rattles and a machete.

The witch doctor explained that this meeting was to discuss the most powerful spell - the sacrifice of a child.

"There are two ways of doing this," he said. "We can bury the child alive on your construction site, or we cut them in different places and put their blood in a bottle of spiritual medicine."

Awali grabbed his throat. "If it's a male, the whole head is cut off and his genitals. We will dig a hole at your construction site, and also bury the feet and the hands and put them all together in the hole."

Child in Uganda The attacks have created a climate of fear

Awali boasted he had sacrificed children many times before and knew what he was doing. After this meeting, we withdrew from the negotiations.

We handed our notes to the police. Awali is still a free man.
'No voice'
Allan's father, Semwanga, has sold his home to pay for Allan's medical treatment, and moved to the slums near the capital.

Sitting on the steps of their makeshift house, built from corrugated sheets of metal, I showed the footage of our meeting with the witch doctor to Allan on my laptop. He pointed to the screen and shouted "Awali!" confirming he is the man who attacked him.

Pastor Sewakiryanga says without the full force of the law, there is little that can be done to protect Uganda's children from the belief in the power of human sacrifice.

"The children do not have voices, their voices have been silenced by the law and the police not acting, and the people who read the newspapers do nothing, so we have to make a stand and do whatever it takes to stamp out this evil, we can only pray that the government will listen."

African children trafficked to UK for blood rituals

Trafficked for Juju

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

50 Days until we walk again!

Dear friends,
once again, this July 9th, I will be joined by several folks for Rose's Journey. We will walk the 52 kilometers from my home village Bamunanika to Kiwoko hospital, where I first met my Irish parents almost 22 years ago. The reasons we walk, as we did July 2009, have not changed.  The goals of the walk are three fold.  One: we hope to continue raising awareness on the issue of child sacrifice in Uganda.  The goal is to end child sacrifice, but more crucially, to also provide a wider platform for engaging the public and politicians to do their role by enacting appropriate laws and legislation to prosecute those involved in perpetuating these crimes.  We also hope, that many of the unreached and affected children and families can come forward and be linked to existing child protection agencies (Lively minds, ANPPCAN Uganda) and other support organisations for victims of this crime.  According to police reports, the slaying of children for ritualistic practices has steadily grown in Uganda in recent years.  In 2007 at least 154 suspects (unofficial count) were arrested and only 50 of these went to court,  But the number that ultimately went to prison is unknown.  I suspect that most of these folks walked away. In 2008 more than 300 cases of murder and disappearances linked to ritual ceremonies were reported to the police with 18 cases making it to the courts.  These can be depressing.  The good news is that since the walk in 2009, there has been renewed interest in the topic with several world media outlets (20/20, BBC world news) highlighting the issue, and an official government police task force designated to tracking down perpetrators of the crime in Uganda.  In addition, a hot line has since been established for families and communities to call the police in case of a sighted child kidnapping.  There is a long way to go but we hope we can continue to build on this momentum.

Second, we hope to raise some money to support Hope ward, a charity wing of International hospital where some of the victims of child sacrifice have been able to receive some reconstructive surgery following severe mutilations by witch doctors.  Hopeward also provides free advanced medical care to many destitute families who could never afford such services.  Patients include: recipients of Uganda’s first open heart surgeries; cancer patients and treatment of complex conditions; victims of the war in northern Uganda; and abandoned children with HIV AIDS etc.  Hopeward programs have also expanded to include community based programs (necessary to re-introduce children back into their communities where possible), and physiotherapy charity services that are needed for many of the patients who pass through Hopeward.  For 15,000 dollars a year (to sponsor a bed), we are able to make services available to many of the patients who are admitted to that single bed. For details of what has been done with previous donations, please see our Narrow road web site for a recent news letter in case you missed it in the emails.  I have also posted it here:

Third, we hope to raise some money for the nursing scholarship fund started in 2010.  Through Rose's Journey we were able to raise 14,000 dollars towards the initial scholarships of nursing students at International Health Sciences University.  We currently have 3 students who are receiving partial scholarships this June to help support their studies towards a bachelors degree in Nursing.  The shortage of skilled nursing professionals in Uganda and other neighbouring countries is critical, and to be able to sustain programs such as the one's being provided on Hopeward (community based health care, acute care and care of children with complex conditions), we desperately need skilled and competent nurses at the front line of care. We decided on partial scholarships to allow shared responsibility with the surviving family members of each student.  This also allows us to spread the money to cover not just one but several students in the program.  This year, we hope we can raise 10,000 dollars towards this effort.

How to help: raising 25,000 dollars in the current economy is no simple task but any small contribution will be greatly appreciated.  Several of us are walking all 52 kilometers.  Please sponsor us for a kilometer or two or more as you feel led.  We would also greatly appreciate your prayers for the walk and the fundraising efforts.  More crucially for peace in Uganda.  Eleven people are joining me from the USA and several others from the UK.  A much larger group in Uganda will be part of the walk.  Please pray that there will be minimal interferences from the police on the day of the walk.
To make a donation in the USA or follow us on the journey please go to our website (reference Rose's Journey).  We are still working on the UK site. I will also keep this blog updated as much as possible.

I thank you most profoundly for being in this journey with me and many others.  Whether you are able to walk with us, or pray, or encourage, or think about this work, your support keeps me grounded and inspired.  I hope that this finds you all well.

Warm regards, and with gratitude,

Friday, January 21, 2011


Nina Saada, narrates the story of George and others among the victims of child sacrifice in Uganda. Worth watching. Here is the link to the video 
Thanks for being in the journey

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

After the Journey: Smile through all of it: The untold story part II

To return to the reading, I ponder the significance of what I just read and it helps my nerves. I rehearse what I need to say later on television…after all, this program broadcasts across Uganda. I am aware of the magnitude of the responsibility. In preparation, I write some thoughts down. I know that Betty is going to ask me one final question, “What do you want to say to your adopted parents, the Clarkes?” For her it is a punch line, for me it is a culmination of all emotions. It is the unplugging of my composure (and although I am rarely composed, on this day I really want to try), and I am not looking forward to that particular question. I don’t want to look ugly on TV! Vanity!! Prior to Rose’s Journey, I had written my Irish family a short letter. I wanted them to know what I thought and felt before the walk, what the last 20 years had meant. Even though it is difficult to sum up 20 years in a paragraph, I tried…I retrieve what I wrote in a short email entitled “How do I say thank you to my family!” As usual, the letter is too long so I try to think of ways to shorten it and come up with; “Thank you for seeing me, for choosing me, and for loving me; for instilling in me a sense of self worth; for helping me discover my sense of purpose and potential; for showing me that having hope and faith is a courageous and selfless act; and for helping me remember that even in the grayest of despair, I still could rise…

Sadly, when the moment comes for me to respond to Betty’s “what do you want to say to your Irish parents,” I remember none of what I wrote down! I am too emotional to respond to the question. The camera’s are on me. I think, “Oprah Winfrey often talks about ugly-crying faces, mine is certainly going to be one of those on national television.” I don’t care. I look over to where my Irish Father is seated (My Mum is in Ireland for a short visit with family). Next to him are my brother Tom and his wife Hilda, and right behind them on the next row of chairs, sits my friend Helen, Agnes, and Hannah. Everyone is crying well before I get through with the first sentence…!

Addressing my Father, I say, “I have always said to you both, that you loved me at a time when I thought I was unlovable; you saw me at a time when no one else did; in your family am at home, you gave me flies to,” WAIT A MINUTE, did I just say flies? I correct myself; “wings to fly…thank you for saying to me…it is good you exist, it is good you are in the world!” By the time I struggle through all that, there is not a dry eye in the audience and that is how I end my story on Untold Stories.

In the bathroom, right after the show, I try to compose myself. I am in the middle of a mini meditation when a woman who was in the audience during the show comes out of one of the toilets. I am startled by her being there as this is supposed to be a "VIP" bathroom, or so I was told. She immediately hugs me, very tightly, and keeps on hugging me until I am a little confused as to whether she is happy or sad, and until I am not able to breathe. She is crying the whole time she is hugging me. Does she realize I am already unplugged? I wonder. I hold her in return and let her cry for a while. A few minutes later, and out of her grip, she says to me, “God brought you here today just for me, just for me.” She points to herself in emphasis, does not tell me her name, even when I introduce myself and realize only when she smiles back at me, that she knows my name already! I assume she wishes not to be known, and again realize just as quickly that she is known already, to someone, she is in the journey, she is here…! We both look at each other, and cry, happy tears, a recognition that we are both grateful for the lives we each have. For the stories told and untold. For despairing and for the courage to hope. For the simple remembrance of why we matter to each other and the world around us. For how our choices and decisions have been and are instrumental to new beginnings, and to a way forward…

My comrade, without answering any of my questions walks off as quickly as she appeared, and leaves me there, still standing in the bathroom, still thinking, tears in my eyes, happy, and confused. Is she coming back? She does not, and I get no explanation as to why God brought me here for her. My curiosity tries to get the better of me and I have a burning desire to follow her and have her explain what she means, and then check myself. May be God is answering her prayers! And maybe it is none of my business what prayers He is answering. It is my business to show up, to be obedient, and to tell the story of hope, to take the steps however many. Praise the Lord Rose, Brad had said, Smile through all of it today, and so I do.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

After the Journey: Smile Amidst All of It: The Untold Story Part I

Betty Tibaleka, the host of The Untold Story TV Show on UBC (Uganda Broadcasting Company) is one of the people I meet shortly before Rose’s Journey.  My friend Tino sets up the meeting and says to me, “I think it will be good to take Rose’s Journey to a wider audience.” I agree. However, when I meet Betty a few days prior to the walk, she is not sure I have a story to tell.  At least not one for her TV show, so I know right away that the initial meeting is so that she can vet the story. She is pleasant to talk to and I can tell that people are very comfortable around her.  I am comfortable around her even though this is the first time we each are meeting the other. It takes me three hours to tell her my story.  An abridged version, and by the end of it, several tears and tissues later, we have a show.

Betty has her own story to tell, one can deduce just by looking at her.  There is as much ‘sadness’ in her eyes as there is peace about her demeanor. She remains misty eyed for quite some time which makes me wonder about her—about all the untold stories she gets to hear, about how many times a day she cries and laughs and contemplates and cries again.  I think about things like that. She says to me, "we can do the show on the 26th of July."

A day before the show, I spend all day in bed feeling poorly and credit the cold for it. I drink lots of honey-ginger-lemon teas that my friend Helen hands to me every so often and worry that I may not make the show, or that I may lose my voice which will be equally inconveniencing. None of that happens and as it turns out, on the day of the show, I wake up feeling much better and in good form to do the show. The only unplanned for inconvenience is my nerves.

When I wake up there is nobody else in the house but me. The silence and emptiness is comforting, a good milieu for contemplation and solitude, which is exactly what I need. Sadly, within a few minutes of waking up, I hear some disturbing noise over loud speakers projected throughout the neighborhood. It changes the serene environment of my house putting a dumper on my spirits and a further strain on my already tender nerves. I putter around the house trying to get my spirits up and fail miserably. There is a church not too far away from the house and I hear their music.  Everyone in the neighborhood hears their music, and preaching, and praying.  They pray in tongues sometimes. What I hear when I first wake up, is the voice of a man—the Pastor most likely—speaking a language I don’t understand.  He is praying in tongues and it is quite disturbing. I have a problem with this since I get no interpretation of the messages in tongues.  I wonder if the pastor knows this? Because I am nervous about the day, I am also selfish, irritated and annoyed by the noise, and feel guilty for the way I feel towards this church. I am a christian, should I be thinking these thoughts?

To curb my irritation, I get my bible out and just as I am about to open it, I get a text message from my friend Brad in Denver. It says, “Praise the Lord Rose, I’ll be praying! Habakkuk 1:5! Be encouraged and just smile in the midst of all of it for He is on the move and He promises to give you the words to say.”  I had sent Brad and a few other friends a text message telling them about the TV show. Brad is a very talented musician with a heart of gold. Most of his messages contain melodies and are so uplifting. I read the text message again and start laughing out loud.  Perfect timing Brad!  My unkind thoughts are interrupted by this, my first message for the day; “Praise the Lord Rose, just smile in the midst of all of it...” Amused, I settle down to a brand new cup of Helen’s modified concoction that I have made myself, and with a renewed spirit, and smile, I start reading Habakkuk chapter 1 verses 1- 5:

²How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? ³Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. ⁴Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous so that justice is perverted. The Lords answer: ⁵“Look at the nations and watch—and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told…"

Habakkuk is one of those prophets who complains a lot.  His pleas remind me that our generation is just as in much trouble as his was—oh God why don’t you do this or that…don’t you see your children are suffering…why don’t you do something about it…the problems of human kind are nothing to you…you created the heavens and the seas…why do you allow evil to prevail, why am I abandoned…I am alone in this, why don’t you help me? He complains just as we complain, and God answers.  And then he complains again, and God answers. It takes a while for him to get it and finally, in chapter 3 of his book, he prays instead of complaining!

By now, you have read my blogs.  Yes, I am well aware that I am not a prophet.  But I am a human being who sometimes behaves like this prophet. To be quite candid, I am worse. I often don’t get it! I don’t get it when I am on the way back home and all I see is the litter—sadness, grief, sorrow, blame, the poor of the poor, war and strife, disease and death, famine, injustices against children. 

When I first met George whose story I have told else where in this blog, I could not stop crying every time I prayed for him and his family.  I wondered why a good God would let something like what happened to George happen, and then remembered that He is not really responsible for the evil we cause to each other, he is not responsible for our cruelty and choices and actions.  We are!

I often think "Right, I am going to take matters in my own hands, I want to guard the weak and restore freedoms among them; I want to change the reality of the next second, the next child” Ah, I am not alone; at least I don’t think I am. We all have a lot of “I” moments and the design of life is such that someone is always responsible for the misery or the happiness in it, and somebody else is always trying to fix it.  It is so easy to feel this way when there is so much need around us, to blame God, to blame the world, the government, to blame something, anything at all, and also to try to help. For me, the point of my learning a lesson is when I fail, and realize miserably that I could not move a single stone even if I tried.  Not in a powerful revolutionary way at least.  I need faith!

Continue part II