FEEDING MINDS : HOW YOUR DONATIONS ARE CHANGING LIVES IN A REFUGEE SETTLEMENT IN UGANDA
His dark eyes stare into mine, but I can tell they are watching movies in his mind - replaying scenes from his long journey from Ethiopia to South Sudan to Nakivale, a refugee settlement in southern Uganda.
He has not seen his family in 15 years, since they were forced to flee genocide perpetrated by the government in Ethiopia against his people. An ethnic and religious minority, the Gambellans are Christians who inhabited the most fertile region of Ethiopia until the government sold it to foreign interests and began murdering these peaceful farming families en masse.
Forced to live in the bush for months, finally escaping to South Sudan and then being forced to leave again due to war, originally numbering in the thousands, now only a few hundred have found their way to these umber and green hills. Even in this camp, they fear for their safety; people accept bribes to return them home where they can be killed or imprisoned. Even here, they are often ostracized due to their physical differences: exceeding height and night black skin.
Though they have been living here almost 4 years, they have only mud huts with grass roofs and one broken water tank that wasn't filled the entire time we were there. They are given minimum food rations that fail to keep them healthy.
The many beautiful children, somehow smiling, playful and loving despite hunger and medical issues, run down the dirt lanes and by sweet potato plants in torn clothes. They haven't been able to attend school as the nearest primary school in the camp is too far to walk, and the fees are too high. They have spent their entire childhoods on the run.
I look again into his penetrating, thoughtful eyes. Weighing options, the women, HIV, malaria, water, agriculture... but when I ask him what they most desire, his answer is clear beyond a doubt.
Education for the children. Without this, they have no hope. Children are the future. He himself is a teacher and there are others who have offered to step up.
One Light Global is able to build them a space for this with your donations, and also provide the women with a space in the building to learn English (a main language in Uganda) and with sewing machines to make clothes for the children and reusable sanitary pads. We are starting them off with 300 pads made by Congolese women refugees in another part of the camp who will teach them the technique.
A few days later we are sitting with the engineer, designing the four room learning center (we can't officially call it a school) and I can see the light returning to his eyes - hope - the glimmer of a future - a touch of joy. My friend climbs up a ladder and an old piece of chapati from the day before falls onto the dusty ground. The engineer picks it up and tucks it on the seat of his plastic chair. My friend gently takes it from the chair and begins to chew it slowly, letting the flavor reach every corner of his mouth.
I look at him in the hot sun, wiping away sweat. "Our bellies are hungry," he says simply. My heart breaks with seeing how far he has put educating these children above even feeding himself and the others. The decisions they must make. We design the roof of the building to catch rainwater and funnel it off into two large black water tanks. Here, every resource must go far. Innovation can mean life or death.
I marvel at his soulful gentleness in the harshness of this life. His devotion to others while he himself has so little left. A sacred teacher.
As I returned home last night - Thanksgiving week - I am reflecting on many moments like this one. So grateful to be back here and so grateful to all of you for donating to help build projects like this learning center - just one of many we started in the past few weeks.
Feeling in every cell the gratitude for water from a tap, nourishing food, a place to call home, loving arms, and the ability to share these blessings through your generosity and One Light Global as much as we can - even as we learn so much more every day from the incredible people we serve and collaborate with.
There is so much I want to share - but this is already so long. More soon.
AGAIN, HUGE THANK YOU TO EVERYONE WHO DONATED! For those who didn't get a chance but would still like to contribute - we can use further donations for textbooks, blackboards, desks, chairs, and more. <3
So much love. Absolutely couldn't do this without you. Thank you for being the light!
Thank you with all our hearts! ❤