Part 2… The Hope Part

“I’d like you to watch this video. In it, a boy is crying because he is the head of his household. He went to the well to get water for his siblings. The other children at the well pushed him and he wasn’t able to fetch water for his family. He has a mat and no blankets for his family to sleep on. His 4-year-old sister is lame and requires care for even the simplest of things. The boy is 12. At 12, my daughter hopes to purchase her first phone and get her ears pierced. While she will have responsibilities around the house, she will certainly not be responsible for running the household. This boy’s story breaks my heart. And this is just one story. One horrific, unthinkable, unbelievable, mind-blowingly sad story. (stay tuned)”

I wrote and published that two weeks ago and I owe you the rest of the story. Here, I’ve added a story from a woman named Rose. I thought about condensing it but it is so powerful that editing it down would destroy its power. (taken from the Village of Hope website)

English is not Rose’s native tongue, but we have reproduced her story here verbatim so that you can get a sense of her personality and her passion. -Ed.
It is year’s back, when I strongly got inspired to work with the children while I was still a child myself. I was eight when the 20 year war in Northern Uganda began. My family and I were tortured and displaced from our small village called Acholibur. My father had several arrests and each time he was arrested, he was badly beaten to the point of death. Our hearts were always so torn apart. Being a man, our father also got detained with so many others, who were all killed, but God spared him every time. This caused his legs to be paralyzed, till today.
We then fled to the refugee camps and it was there that I made so many friends. Realizing our vulnerability as children, I wanted someone to come and rescue us, but there was no one.
I then wondered whether God could guide me to make some difference in our own lives. During this time all schools were closed down, many young girls were raped and defiled, many children kidnapped and abducted. We would go hungry for days without food, in fear of being found getting food from our own gardens. We would sleep out in the bush in fear of camp attacks, many were bitten by snakes during the night, heavy rains hit us, and others still met these rebels in the bush and were killed.
At the age of ten, being someone so thirsty to serve my peers, I began to teach my friends about God and I would encourage these girls to boldly reject the elder men’s’ proposals for early marriage. All this happened under a “big mango tree” and as I think back, it brings tears to my eyes. But my consolation is that, it is so amazing how God used me at that early age and I must say it really worked out. The children had a change in their lives as a result. They had every reason to refuse to attend the “mango tree Sunday school” teaching!! Besides, I was just a young girl then. But God is so amazing, none of them rejected to come and we were such a huge population. It’s now that, I can see how great and good God is. He used me in my innocence to bring some change in the life of my fellow suffering friends
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During this time, we started expanding our mission outside the “mango tree”. We would minister with our parents door to door within the refugee camp. As children from a traumatized community though, it’s now, that I can define what the problem was then. Many families had broken up and most children had been separated from their parents and were now on the streets. They would spend nights anywhere they wished and others were already involved in theft, prostitution and so on. We went and prayed with them, and I got so impressed, because so many of these street children got transformed as a result of this ministry. Many went back home and were reconciled with their parents, and we kept following them up till they settled into their homes. This made me feel that God could also strongly use me to do bigger things despite being a child.
The war then intensified and so many of these friends with whom we prayed did not survive. Some were massacred by the Rebels, others abducted and so on.
We continued fleeing. I went and joined my elder sister Jessica and her family where we were safe. She took care of us and put us back in school.
My heart remained behind because my parents and my friends had remained in the danger zone. This fills me with guilt to date, because I fled and left my friends who never made it.
Since my heart remained back at my roots, having experienced what it felt to be caught in the war, I kept praying that God would empower me to help my people some day at school, I always targeted a course that would help me go back and work better with the suffering people in the northern part of Uganda. I then decided to do social work and social administration, I later added counseling because the war has caused a huge untold level of trauma in people’s emotions, therefore they will need a lot of psychosocial support and that, I promise to offer as long as I live.
After my education
Immediately after my education, as promised, I went back to Northern Uganda. But this time, the rebel activities were more intense. Many from the other part of the country wondered why I was moving back to this region, given the security situation. I only told them that God will take care of me.
This seemed one of the worst times. The attacks were more frequent, many children were killed and others abducted. Thousands of children would walk long distances in search of safer places within the heart of the town, where the government soldiers guarded and so the rebels feared to reach.
Lots of risks rose as a result of such kind of sleeping because they slept at the shop verandas just mixed men, women and children. In the process many children were raped and tortured.
As if the above trauma and torture was not enough, the children traveled very long distances both mornings and evenings. Then later to school, most times without food, if any, then one meal a day which made most of them look so weak and vulnerable to diseases.
On seeing the above risks, we as volunteers wanted to see that a change is made. We advocated to the district that something must be done to make sure the children are separated from the big men who were taking the young girls at such risks of early pregnancies, HIV/aids exposure etc.
We decided to spend nights out with these children so that we could guard them from the rapists. This helped some, though these same risks were also experienced on the way to these sleeping places and besides, the children were so many and scattered, meaning the three of us only wouldn’t really monitor their safety so well.
Due to this demand some NGO’s started opening the night commuter centers which helped to safeguard the children from these risks because most of them restricted the age to 17yrs maximum. We sorted out these children and we allocated them to the different centers, out of the streets.
It didn’t take long, when I got employed by Medicines Sans Frontiers {msf swiss} in the night commuters’ center as a center counselor.
Here, it seemed like it was just the beginning of everything.
Over four thousand children came to this night commuter center every night. So scared, helpless, tired and most of them, so hungry. I was the only counselor to handle all these children every night.
It was a big challenge. Because all of them wanted me to at least listen to them, given the different problems at hand. Most of these children were so torn away from their parents, because they had very little time for each other. Since the parents would leave their sleeping places, and immediately try and search for something to eat for the children, they move from the night commuters centers, back and right away to school without seeing their parents and during the evenings, they leave school, and most times go straight to the centers. Because if they moved back home, it gets late and risky for them on the way since the rebels would also trap them on their ways when it gets late. That is why they would choose to go hungry, rather than get abducted on the way.
It wasn’t easy for me myself, to listen to all these heart breaking stories. Many times I could first lock up myself into the counseling room and weep, before I could go on again. It was so terrible seeing and listening to very heavy stories, from a baby. So young to even carry the burdens of life but they are already doing so.
During this time, I made individual and group counseling.
Through this, I was trying to lift these children back on their feet, but the situation here was so tricky. Reason being, it was very hard to terminate a session with these child. Their problems were always retriggered immediately they leave the center. Some of the perpetrators are the guardians, frustrated parents, and the rebels themselves. So I had to carry on with all the clients on board.
I then decided to design another method of work. I started working 24hrs day’s planed a day schedule from 8:00am-6:00pm and from here I moved direct to the night commuters’ center. During this time, I made follow ups and family/school monitoring. I also made door to door counseling to both the children and their family members affected by the war. This seemed to work, because then, I was available for them whole day and even all night from the center. All in all I thank God for the strength he gives me to serve the children. On my own, I know I could do nothing.
After a year, I moved to World Vision, though still worked with the same children, but this time under another organization. On top of that, I had more vulnerable children to deal with this time. The formerly abducted, others could have spent as long as ten years and above in abduction, has under gone a lot. For example: children who had killed several people including their own close relatives, psychological torture, like killing their own parents, cutting the stomach and removing her intestines, then it is rubbed all over ones body and one is forced to stay with it that way, for a week, in the name of initiation to wipe away all the fear and make one bold to freely kill as many people as possible. I think you can now imagine the level of trauma we had to fight out.
Within the community, I went ahead with the group method, here I was trying to reduce the stigmatization of the formerly abducted and former soldiers, enhance proper reintegration, through the kind of forgiveness we got from Christ, so unconditional!. We decided to mix these formerly abducted with the none formerly abducted so that we could give them a clear understanding of each other, and it’s the same them, who help us sensitize the community through music, dance and drama. Before this, the formerly abducted were rejected from the community, with a wrong perception that they are the ones who have caused all the suffering people are under going in the North. So this made many parents reject their own children, with the fear that the other community members will attack them. This provoked many of these formerly abducted to move back in the bush and join the rebels. With all the anger, they have been the worst in making serious vengeful attacks to these community members. But when the anti stigmatization campaigns went on, the community started understanding and now as I talk, it has really worked out well. We are still moving on with these sensitizations from camp to camp and the community response is really good, thus more corporation between the formerly abducted and community at large.
Well, that is what I’m still doing up to now. Though the government ordered that all the night commuter centers get closed, last Dec 15, 2006. And so now that the security was a bit calm compared to before, most of these children now sleep at home. Through some still went back in some verandas due to the fear of abduction and besides, most of these displaced families have limited space at home so the parents/guardians don’t fit in the small huts rented so the children are sent out to look for where to sleep.
When time had come for me to leave World Vision, because my contract with them had ended, I told myself that the end of this contract does not mean the end of my work. So I just continued to do the same kind of work with the children. Looking at their faces calling out for help, I really couldn’t let them go, because they are so precious to me. What I do with them, is so little, but they have made me understand that this little thing means a lot to them. Being there for them whenever they need me means a lot in their lives. And I thank God who still enables me to be around them.
As usual, God sees miles ahead of our sights. During this time we surely needed some support beyond what I was providing for the children, so I always shared this with friends so that we can pray for God’s provision, besides the counseling and follow up I’m doing. To my surprise, one day, an organization called ALARM came with a team that was ready to provide to the child headed house holds. I remember that day; I was just from visiting a child headed household. They are five at home, the eldest is 13yrs, she was so sick that day and so the family had spent some three days back without food, there wasn’t any drugs for her to take, so she was just waiting for anything to come her way. When i reached there, she felt so relived and was sure that as usual, I have either brought them food or some money for upkeep.
Unfortunately, I had nothing that day because I was so broke myself. On seeing the condition, I decided to rush home so that I could get them even the little I had, plus some medication. That is when God opened for us a way. I got this call that the child headed families will be supported in terms of school fees, meals and medical care and this money was already sent to my account. I just sat down in the middle of the road and wept with joy. Though this seemed just a drop in an ocean, but it means a lot in the heart of these few beneficiaries their lives are changed because of this and so many out here are still looking for the same.
Never did God stop here with his surprises, he went ahead and introduced me to someone so loving and caring to the chidren and that is a sister in Christ Cindy Cunningham.
She then came up with even a greater dream for these children, just like I did but I couldn’t afford at my level of course. This dream is that of a children’s’ home fully equipped with the basic needs like a school.
And this village is called “Village of Hope”
When she shared this idea with me, I felt it was God’s calling. And as I speak I’m already working for “Village of Hope”. I must confess I’m so glad that I can work to fulfill the children’s’ dream through Village of Hope, I pray God gives me more strength to make his will be done for the suffering children of Northern Uganda.
Many of these children were born within this war time and so they have never seen what a peaceful home is like!!!
They get surprised when they hear of a warless land, to them it’s strange and unrealistic all they know of is war, fights, fleeing, abductions, killing and seeing loved ones get killed, family separation and losing hope for any good, happening to them at all.
This gives a great opportunity to Village of Hope to operate and see to it that, this need is addressed by the grace of God I believe these children will see the other side of the coin. We will struggle and together fill this gap.
Our cry goes out to any heart that feels for these wounded children who lost their childhood, the same way we do, to come and join hands and together we will make the total healing in their lives. For it doesn’t take a millionaire to bring this transformation, because we serve a big, big God. Even the poorest is most welcome into this battle. Remember!!! A Thousand years from now, it won’t mater the expensive fancy cars we drove, the big mansions we occupied, the heavy bank accounts we owned, but many generations will know about the transformation you brought into the lives of these wounded children in Africa.
We need your continuous prayers! May God bless every reader.
Love from the very bottom of my heart and that of the children I work for they love you big— time.
We are all praying for you too.
May God bless you always.
Rose.

The place Rose mentions here, Village of Hope, has a clinic on its campus. The clinic is staffed by Nurse Susan and Dr. Mac and serves the roughly 200 orphaned children living at Village of Hope as well as children who attend school at Village of Hope and the staff members and their families. Nurse Susan and Dr. Mac provide care for complaints such as malaria, typhoid, syphilis, epilepsy, bacterial and fungal infections, coughs, allergies, asthma, abdominal complaints, and ulcers. Many of the children at the orphanage, and those served by the clinic, are suffering from major trauma, both physically and emotionally.

About 10 years ago, Wendy Bjurstrom of CompassioNow and Compassion Tea met Jessica, Rose’s older sister. Jessica shared with Wendy the plight of the children in northern Uganda in a way that touched Wendy’s heart. She began following Invisible Children’s efforts, and through Jessica and her work with ALARM, began supporting a child financially. Through these efforts, Wendy met Cindy Cunningham, founder of Village of Hope. Their paths continued to cross over the years and in early April Wendy brought the clinic at Village of Hope to the CompassioNow board of directors and asked that CompassioNow begin financially supporting the clinic. The clinic was approved and the first check has gone out!

CompassioNow now supports the work of rural clinics in 5 African countries: Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, South Africa, and Uganda. We are so excited about this addition! Ed and Wendy will be traveling to Uganda this year to ascertain first hand the needs of the clinic and to lend further support.

Village of Hope and its clinic are remote, about 60 miles from the nearest city and hospital. Therefore, the roughly 1000 residents of the surrounding area do not have easy access to quality health care. When asked if she would like to open the clinic up to more of the community, Village of Hope founder Cindy Cunningham responded, “That would be AWESOME!” It is our hope for Village of Hope’s clinic that, through your support of Compassion Tea and CompassioNow, one day the clinic will be able to serve the broader community. For now, we are thrilled to be helping the children at the orphanage and their caregivers. Thanks to you, we can!

The Helpers

“Who would do such a thing?” I asked my neighbor over the fence recently. “I mean, poisoning a tree is just a vile sort of thing to do.” She has a tree at the tip of her property that for some mysterious reason has died this spring… with a large, dry brown spot ringing it. Arborists have investigated and confirmed her suspicions, poison. Someone has it out for her tree.

But it is the same question people are asking in the wake of the bomb explosions at the Boston Marathon yesterday. “Who would do such a thing?” Who would coordinate explosions at a running event where innocent people with no political agenda at the moment are gathered to cheer on other innocent people accomplishing great acts of strength and endurance. Who? It sickens the stomach to think someone out there thought it would be … what? Politically advantageous? Cool? A divine calling? Who? And why?

Of course, while this is relatively new for us Americans, there are parts of the world where this sort of thing happens regularly. People riding a bus, visiting a market, doing their daily shopping, going about their business, … even children playing in a field… bliss and everyday life interrupted by tragedy on a massive scale. Because even if the death count from the bus explosion or the market explosion or the marathon explosion doesn’t reach into the 100s, maybe doesn’t even reach into the double digits, for the families affected and for the wounded, life’s realities are altered. Safety, security, joy, and trust are marred forever… at least one’s sense of it. How do you get back on the proverbial horse again after something like that?

Forgive me if this sounds callous, but we do live in a broken world and senseless tragedy has been the rule of thumb since the beginning. Things like this make me want Jesus to come riding out of the sky this instant. “Enough!” I tell him. “Enough! End it… because only you Lord God can set this right and bring about your new world, your peaceful kingdom.”

Interestingly enough, yesterday morning, a photo of Mr. Rogers came across my Facebook feed with a nice quote about looking for the helpers in times of tragedy and sadness. That quote, with a myriad of photos, crossed my feed throughout the day yesterday as if each person on Facebook yesterday felt the need in the face of the marathon explosions to offer assistance of some kind, even if it was a reminder to look for the helpers.

Thank God for the helpers! There were lots of helpers on hand yesterday and the stories of people lending hands, racing people to care stations, taking off belts to stem the flow of blood on another are trickling out of Boston this morning. We need those stories. In the face of senseless, gruesome, horrific and unbelievable acts aimed at destroying a way of life, we need a reassurance that there is still goodness somewhere… most likely in the person next to us… but certainly in the bravery and selflessness of people jumping to help. And we think to ourselves, “What would I have done?” It’s nice to be encouraged by other ordinary people who instantly became heroes because they saw a need and filled it.

Thank God for the helpers! We at Compassion Tea and CompassioNow applaud the helpers in Boston and we lift up another prayer for the helpers at the clinics we work with in Africa. Danny and Nancy Smelser, Dawn Faith Leppan, Cindy Cunningham, Sister Marta, Geoff and Nell, David, and the countless others who provide help and health care to people in rural parts of Africa where tragedy smolders in a cut that becomes infected and there are no antibiotics to treat it; where tragedy lurks in unclean water and there are no medicines to eradicate the parasite within; where tragedy lingers in a broken bone that is never set right, becomes infected at worst and never heals properly at best; where tragedy lurks in the night and children are forced into slavery as soldiers, sex slaves, workers; where tragedy creeps through a way of life that passes on HIV/AIDS at a horrifyingly rapid pace and children are born with a disease that robs them of life shockingly early; where tragedy slinks in because there is no dental care or eye care or care for the crippled; where tragedy lingers because there is not enough food.

We need the helpers. But we are the helpers, too. Rallying after the Boston Marathon and not letting the bombs change our way of life (the race must go on!) is one way. But helping those in need has to be another way. Because when we look outside our little boxes, our lovely little bubbles, the terrors of our world are immense. We need more helpers. You can be a helper simply by drinking tea! You can be a helper by collecting items for our two trips to Africa this year. You can be a helper by donating directly and ensuring there is funding for the helpers in Africa… to pay their minimal salaries, to provide medicines and medical supplies so they can effectively treat the cases that come to them.

As Mr. Rogers used to sing, “It’s a lovely day in the neighborhood! Won’t you be my neighbor?” Please, won’t you be a helper?734003_10151436862608759_2129747872_n

But I Don’t Wanna Go To Bed!

But I Don’t Wanna Go To Bed!.

But I Don’t Wanna Go To Bed!

“But I don’t wanna go to bed!” Sound familiar? Irritatingly, we have this conversation nearly every evening. Usually, it revolves around the fact that the kiddos want Mama to read another chapter of the book we’re reading together. Right now, we’re reading The Chronicles of Narnia series, and quite frankly I could stay up all night reading these books. Nevertheless, that is not wise for any of us.

Over the weekend, Clara uttered her little nightly complaint once again and I found myself launching into a mini tirade about the privilege of going to bed. I expounded on the beauty of her warm, soft bed layered with clean sheets and quilts and fluffy pillows, in a dry room, safe and snuggly, loaded with stuffed animals, soft classical music playing in the background. Kind of makes you want to curl up right here, right now, doesn’t it!

Did you see the photo shoot that made the rounds of Facebook and other social media outlets recently? The one focusing on children around the world and their treasured possessions? Many of the children are posing on or near their beds. Take another look! Here’s the link.

Reading through posted comments is one of those vacuum cleaner activities… I hate it but I get sucked in. So, I read through some of the comments. Many were complimentary of the photography; some commented on the similarities between countries while others were shocked/disturbed/amazed at what was considered a treasure. And then there were a few snarky comments regarding the photographer’s choice of subjects… particularly regarding the photos from Malawi and Kenya. Why choose only “the most heart-wrenching” subjects? There are wealthy Malawians and Kenyans. Why choose these subjects? Why choose only a seemingly wealthy child in India? Why not visit the slums of Calcutta? Or the cardboard camps in Honduras? That probably has more to do with access and money more than some grand social engineering on the photographer’s part. But I think the point has been lost. There are children around the world living in grand luxury and children around the world living in abysmal circumstances, children with amazingly comfortable beds and children with a cot or a mud and straw mattress or nothing, children with hundreds of toys and children with 1 or 2.

Then there are the children of Uganda. It is estimated that between 60,000 and 100,000 children have been stolen from their homes in the middle of the night, have been enslaved by Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army, and have been orphaned by the 20 + year war he perpetrated on the country of Uganda. Do you remember Joseph Kony and the Invisible Children video calling for his arrest that went viral last year? He’s still out there. According to the Invisible Children website, he is moving north toward the Sudan where he is finding more friendly governments, but he remains at large in the Congo. And in his wake, he has left thousands of children. Some children join their parents on a daily hike to the nearest city… sometimes over 10 miles away… so they may sleep in the streets, protected by the largeness of the city, and avoid being abducted. Others have been uprooted from home all together, living in dire refugee camps. Other children have escaped from the LRA but live with the terrors of being abducted in the middle of the night; of being beaten nearly to death; of having to kill brothers, sisters, parents; of being used as sex slaves; of being a tiny soldier. There are children who have returned home to find no parents, who are heading the household at tender ages, responsible for the food and safety of the smaller siblings. I’d like you to watch this video. In it, a boy is crying because he is the head of his household. He went to the well to get water for his siblings. The other children at the well pushed him and he wasn’t able to fetch water for his family. He has a mat and no blankets for his family to sleep on. His 4-year-old sister is lame and requires care for even the simplest of things. The boy is 12. At 12, my daughter hopes to purchase her first phone and get her ears pierced. While she will have responsibilities around the house, she will certainly not be responsible for running the household. This boy’s story breaks my heart. And this is just one story. One horrific, unthinkable, unbelievable, mind-blowingly sad story. (stay tuned)