Today is a day that is so very hard to put into words. Typing an account almost seems like a disservice to the people that I was blessed to spend my day with, but I shall try nonetheless. As the Executive Director for FoDU, I am never content with the services we are offering across Uganda. I believe that we can always fine-tune our work, and always be on the lookout for new populations to serve, and that is what has led to today.
In January, Adam Istas, a good friend and board member for FoDU, took the first steps in expanding our work to refugees in Uganda. When we say it is our mission to serve the vulnerable children of Uganda, we would be fooling ourselves if we did not seek to serve the many refugees residing here within the borders of Uganda. It is quite easy to get overwhelmed with the need that is present here in Uganda, and when you look at the refugee crisis, it is much the same. However, our organization, through conversations started a year ago, has been connected to some wonderful people working on the ground in the Kiryandongo Refugee Settlement.
This past July, we took a team of volunteers back to the settlement to distribute hygiene kits to many of the girls of Arnold Primary School, and encourage them to value themselves and be Women of SUBSTANCE. It was a nice gesture, but I wasn’t contented that we truly knew the right avenue to make the biggest impact with the refugee population with the resources that we have, and that led us to today.
By all accounts around the globe it was a normal Thursday, but for me it was a day where my heart was once again broken by the things that break the heart of God, and I am not the same man that woke up this morning in Kampala. As I listened to these men and women share their challenges living in this settlement, some for over 28 years, I struggled to comprehend their reality. Many gave up professional careers for safety just hours from their homeland. Tribal war and violence from the government has forced these proud and talented people to carve a new path, one that none of them would have chosen on their own. Dependent on foreign aid, sending their children to overpopulated schools, they continue to serve one another, and try their best to push toward a promising future.
I stood in a classroom with a teacher by the name of Janet today as she explained how it is typically filled with over 200 Primary 2 students, eight to a bench, with children sitting in the aisles and in the front on the cement floor. She did not tell me this to illicit pity, but to show her commitment to these children, and her desire to have friends in her corner that are willing to stand beside her. I talked with a young coach today who used to play for the South Sudan National Soccer Team before seeking safety in Uganda. I naively asked if he ever travels back to play with his former team, and he matter-of-factly stated that since most of his family has been killed he doesn’t feel safe returning. Instead he focuses his energies as a volunteer coach bringing hope and life into the children through the game of soccer.
Today is one of those days that words don’t due justice. As an organization we can be overwhelmed by the need we encountered today, or we can work that much harder both in Uganda and in the US to ensure that the children we encountered today at Arnold Primary School have a chance to reach their fullest potential. The easier path is to chalk today up as a day filled with unimaginable stories and simply move on to business as usual. I, however, want to look at it as a doorway into an unknown future where these young South Sudanese refugees realize that they are a gift to the world!