There is no more acute mirror for one’s own life than to glimpse into the life of another. Recently, we at Bridging Villages have taken over the financial management of MCS in an attempt to establish self-sustainability for the school. In order to accomplish this, we have been spending full days meeting with every student’s parents/guardians. We have been asking questions that provide us with a better understanding of the financial capacity for each family, thereby revealing the individuals that are most in need of reduced tuition rates or free tuition and, thus, enrolment into our child sponsorship program. When we first discussed arranging these meetings we became so focused on how nice it would be to have a detailed, organized record for every child at the school, so that we could be sure every family was being treated fairly with the same criteria, when the tuition rates were determined for their children. It didn’t take more than an hour into our first meeting to realize how terribly wrong we were in our estimate of the toll these meetings would have on us. We did not foresee the emotional exhaustion that would come in hearing some of the most devastating stories for six hours at a time, three days per week. It begs the question, how do these families cope with such incredible loss and hardship every minute of every day, and still find the strength to keep fighting?
We will not soon forget one of the women we met today (I will call her Grace). When Grace first entered the room it was apparent that she was uncertain of what the meeting was about and there was a world of sadness stored behind her eyes. We approached every question very cautiously and respectfully. The third question that we always ask is, “do you have a spouse or other adult that is helping you to support your children?” In response, Grace lowered her head and quietly stated, in Luganda, that her husband had recently drowned and that she is now alone. Almost immediately after Grace’s husband passed away, her in-laws chased her and her children away from the family home that she had been living in with her husband. Throughout the course of the conversation we learnt that Grace has a total of five children, three of whom live with her, and the oldest two who live with extended family in a different village. These two older children should be in secondary school, however, after her husband passed away she was unable to pay for tuition and so instead of being at school they are exchanging manual labour for a place to stay. While Grace was trying to determine how she would take care of the rest of her children, without the support of her family, she heard about MCS and the programs that are set in place to allow primary aged children to attend school for free. Grace immediately moved to Namavundu and enrolled her three younger children into school. She has also managed to find a job selling fruit and vegetables for a local street vendor. In exchange, she is given a small amount of food every day for her children and 1000UGX/day ($0.40) wage. This means that Grace makes approximately 15 (CAD) per month and her rent is 20 CAD, forcing her to always be behind on rent and having literally no extra money to provide medical care if her children need it, or even basic necessities like clothing, shoes etc.
Now, obviously when we heard Grace’s story we immediately knew that her children would continue to attend MCS for free and that they would be enrolled in our sponsorship program. Finding a sponsor for these children will alleviate the additional burden of medical costs, providing a well-balanced diet, school fees (uniform, books, etc.), and even tuition for her two older children that should not have had the chance to study taken away from them after losing their father. When we shared this decision with Grace, (remember we did not tell her that her children were sponsored, only that we would enrol them in the program) she slowly slid to the ground from the chair she was sitting in, covered her face in her hands, and wept. I joined her on the ground and held her as she released a wave of gratitude and tears, and as she expressed in the only way she could, the incredible relief that she felt we had taken from her. Grace was not given a single thing in that meeting other than hope. We offered her support, something that her own family was unable to provide. We let her know that she is not alone in raising her children, that there is a world of people who think that she, and every one of her children, is worth fighting for, and that we will join her on her journey to securing hers and her children’s futures.
As Grace left the room the three of us remained behind. All of us sat silently as tears began to fall for the magnitude of the devastation that Grace faced. Regardless of what any of us have been through in our lives or the current issues we may be facing, in that moment it all seemed to pale in comparison to what Grace was living. Kate (one of our Ugandan program directors) turned to me and said, “Lin, this is why you are in Uganda.” She was right. Regardless of how overwhelming it is to listen to the life stories of the people we meet, or how futile it sometimes feels when there are countless people who always seem to need assistance, we will never stop fighting for a better life for the Graces of Uganda. We are never going to be able to alleviate the pain or desperation of every woman and child in Uganda, but we can push with our entire force to ensure that as many people as possible experience the same kind of relief that Grace felt today. We will continue to bring hope and love to the people we meet, and we will always work to unite the people of our own countries with those in Uganda.
You will never experience joy as pure as when you step outside yourself and offer everything you have to someone else. To witness someone’s life completely change. To physically feel the burden of defeat being lifted from the shoulders of a mother. To give a child the chance to fulfill their dreams, to become educated, or to obtain a life skill, so that they will not find themselves in the same desperation that they have spent their lives watching their families endure. This is what you will be responsible for when you sponsor a child, or donate towards the women’s program or the street kids program. This is what we are blessed enough to be a part of on a daily basis here in Uganda, this is what we have committed our lives to and we couldn’t be more honoured. We invite you to join us in our pursuit of safety, education, health and love for every child in Uganda.