The role of a parent is one that is foreign to me, as well as every other member of our board. While I have a ton of experience being the fun auntie that showers my nieces and nephew with love, toys, and candy, I have never had the true responsibility of ensuring that every aspect of a child's life is taken care of. The full weight of this responsibility was not been made apparent to me until I had the chance to spend time with the parents/guardians of children from MCS.
At first glance, the societal structure of a village in rural Uganda may seem haphazard and random. Children live with random community members and families are rarely seen living under the same roof. It is also the joint responsibility of the community to ensure that children are raised properly, which means that at any given time you will see a child being scolded, consoled or protected by someone that may, or may not have met that child before that very moment. The truth behind this apparent chaos may surprise you, as it did me.
The reality for many women in rural Uganda is that of a life of a single parent. You see, men in the villages of Uganda are often taught from a young age that it is not their role in society to care for children or to be responsible for the children that they do help create. They are taught this by example as they watch the men in their lives pass all "domestic" duties to the women and as they watch the men leave for extended periods of time to either work in the city or to be with their "other families" (many men will father children with multiple women). This cycle continues from generation to generation, often leading to absentee fathers. Now, obviously this is not true of all men in the villages of Uganda, you will also find good, kind, responsible and compassionate men who are incredibly fathers to their children. We have had the privilege of meeting and working with many of these amazing men, however, they are far too often the exception and not the rule.
Past generations of women have been taught that their primary role is to take care of the home and their children, which leave little time for education and development of skills that would provide financial stability for their futures. The majority of these women followed the destiny that was pre-determined for them. They left school at an early age, were taught the duties of wife and mother, married or became pregnant at a young age and relied on their male partners to provide the financial sustenance for their families, while they cared for the children. The problem that has now arisen for many of these women is that the men have gone, leaving them alone, sometimes with various illnesses, but almost inevitably with many children and no means to feed, clothe, protect or educate them. This is when the societal structure begins to take on an unfamiliar appearance. The women will often opt to surrender their children to other people in the community. These people may be extended relatives or may just be someone who has volunteered to help when help was needed. The original plan when the children are surrendered is to develop the skills and financial stability required to eventually bring their children back home. This, however, rarely happens since there are very few resources in place to assist women who find themselves in this situation. So, they settle for weekly, monthly or yearly visits with their children while they entrust the future of their most valuable "possessions" to often complete strangers.
This is the reality for many of the women in our vocational program. They are fighting to develop the skills that they will need to be able to care for the children in their care, or to be able to bring their children back home. Many of these women's children attend MCS and we have the chance to meet with and talk with them about their dreams for their children. The one thing that is always first on their list, as the dream they have, is that their children finish their secondary school. They want more for their children than was provided to them. They don't ever want their children to face the same fate that they were handed. And so, when we were given the chance to meet with a large number of the guardians this past week to discuss the child sponsorship program we were met with a gratitude that I have never experienced before. As we read through the list of children that have already received sponsors we were met with tears, some were accompanied by screams others by complete silence and still others stood before us, with tears streaming down their faces as they attempted to articulate what it means to them to know that their child will achieve their dreams. Many of these women do not have their children in their care, others have taken in children from relatives or other community members, but all of them shared in the incredible joy of knowing that the children of MCS are going to be given the chance that many of them never were. They will be healthy, protected, educated and above all empowered, to create their own futures, one that is not impeded by poverty, sickness or abandonment. These children have been granted the priceless gift of a future filled with the ability to dream! How cool is that!
So to every single person/couple/family who has decided to make sacrifices in their own lives so that these children, and their entire families, can have peace in knowing that they will have the future they deserve, THANK YOU! Truly, we can never convey the impact that you are having but maybe one day you will have the chance to take a trip to Namavundu, Uganda and see for yourself the joy that you have been a part of creating!