I melted when the little ones reached up to hold my hand or crawled into my lap every time I sat down. These sweet children who, despite their poverty and suffering, went out of their way to make me feel welcome and part of the culture. There are few words to express how the heart soars and sinks simultaneously when you look into the eyes of an African orphan with a big smile.
In March 2017, on a trip to deliver a program with Martial Arts for Justice that pairs trauma counselling with self-defense training in hopes of empowering vulnerable women, our small team of four was invited to Uganda by Kassanda Children’s Aid as they also serve vulnerable women and are working to combat gender-based violence in their community. We spent a day with the women and learned about the daily operations of KCA and enjoyed a day at the park with the kids….about 500 of them. Looking out into the sea of faces, I was overwhelmed with the complexity and devastation of poverty, the feeling of hopelessness to do anything of significance to help and the fierce desire to actually try anyway.
I have been in very close contact with them since. They send me updates and pictures of the kids and share their daily joys and struggles. I’ll just be doing my thing and my phone will ding with a message from a Ugandan friend that one of the children is in the hospital again with malaria, or a motorcycle was just stolen from the staff, or a different thief came in the night and took all of their food that was ready for harvest. It’s like having my heart in both countries and trying to live life in one while things are so broken and falling apart in another.
But I can always see glimpses of hope in the messages. My Ugandan friends don’t ask for handouts, but instead give me strong words of encouragement, reminders to be grateful for the little things in life, and they always ask how I am doing and care about my family. These children of Kassanda are lovely, significant little people and have dreams just like we do. They just can’t always use the same ways to reach them. They are important to me and even if all this training and planning only raises money enough for one of them to go to school, I would still do it all.