Monday, July 27, 2009
by Claire McWilliams
This morning we went to True Vine and in true TIA style, the paint that was supposed to be delivered for our school painting project was not yet there. Instead we played Simon Says and Duck Duck Goose, and watched the kids delight in the bubbles and jump ropes that were brought for them. We also had the chance to sit in on classes in session. As we first walked into the classroom, all the children would stand up and welcome them to their class. The teacher was also quite amazing…she kept them engaged by asking “Are we all together?” to which they always responded. Once in a while they turned to get a look in at the strange visitors in the back of the class. They were learning measurement in a brick open building. Most had no shoes and only a newspaper-bound notebook which they kept in a plastic bag. The teacher used a primitive scale made of branches to show students how to measure mass and weight. When she called on a student and he or she got the answer correct, the class clapped for them. It was an amazing thing for this teacher from the land of plenty to see children still learning and gaining their education in the land of need. Andy put in the manual labor on a mud hut building project for the campus, go Andy!
Later we took a trip to Hope for Africa’s pre-school. 20+ children wearing lilac uniforms came running out to us. They touched our hair and faces, they inspected our hands and clothes out of sheer interest. They bounded up to us with big hugs, and of course, loved to see their faces on the camera display. We shopped for souvenirs from the widow’s outreach (teaches them to sew and make crafts for sale to provide income for themselves), and I met a young woman named “Clare!” She was excited to meet her “namesake” as she called me and I showed her my pictures of home and family. She was very interested in knowing more about me. Lauren commented on how nice it was to interact with the adult Ugandans since most of our contact has been with the kids.
We then went to feed the Karamajong children. A little background…every society has their labeled “low lifes” who are the butt of jokes and seen as dispensable and labeled unfairly. The Karamajong is that group in Uganda. The children normally live in the North, but due to draught and famine, they have been forced to this area. The children are sick, dirty, and wild. Since January, they’ve been given one meal a day and hold “school” under a large tin roofed patio through Hope For Africa/H4KI. Since receiving this nutrition and structure they’ve become visibly more healthy and well-behaved…a tiny dent made in meeting their needs, but change has begun. Tom warned us this would be the most “raw” of our experiences, but I had no idea just how raw it would be, and how I would react to 420 children in severe need.
When we pulled up we could hear them chanting and yelling, hooting and hollering. They were all seated in a big group. They sang a song as we approached, and all seemed quite cheerful. Then I began looking at them individually, and I felt something building inside me. Injury, distended bellies, naked and/or poorly clothed, some looking empty and forlorn…I could hardly believe my eyes. We were standing in one of those commercials on TV that most people flip the channel off right away. Their hunger, their desperation, their lack of everything…it was right there in front of us.
The food of rice and a nutritional supplement mix designed for malnourished people was distributed in an orderly fashion. I was very touched by our teen members of Team U and their smiles and encouragement as they handed out the meals. The food was consumed quickly, and at that point we began to interact with the lively kids. They were obsessed with the cameras and wanting to see themselves, and though this was fun, we saw disturbing sights around us. Many babies in Africa are watched by and/or cared for by older siblings (by older I mean 6-8) due to parent death, parents working the land, etc . After the meal, those siblings went off and left the babies on the cement. Sitting in their own urine, alone…Sharon and I watched them crying and were lost for words. Sharon reached down and scooped up the first baby and comforted her. We were both in tears by that point. A few minutes later I happened upon another baby, not crying but sitting all alone in his urine and with his eyes fluttering. I knew the look from when my own babies had full bellies and were ready for nap, but where would he nap in this concrete barrack? I sat down on the ground, picked him up into my lap, and he fell asleep immediately. I could not stop crying, and fairly soon a young group of Karamajong children put their arms around me to comfort me. Can you imagine that? They were living in a situation worthy of crying, and they were comforting me!??!
I will never be the same. I will never forget today. The suffering of children is no longer the stuff of commercials, it has been personalized for me thanks to these children. There is no such thing as “them” just “us.” We have got to find a way to meet the basic needs for all of the passengers on spaceship earth. No one deserves what is happening to these tiny humans…as our group member Bob says, “Our skin is different but our blood is the same…we are all family.”