Stories 4 Your Heart
Stories from Uganda, Catherine
by March Hunt
On my first trip to Uganda in 2004, the team I was with came to Nyamirama Primary School in the Rift Valley. Friends in Woodland Hills, California had been sponsoring children there and we came to take pictures of the sponsored children and look at the school. We were doing our accountability and due diligence for a non profit organization. As we were taking pictures, a little six year old girl came up to my friend Julie Fanton. In the local language, Rugiga, we discovered that she did not have a sponsor. She had walked at least three miles by herself to the school because she knew some “Muzungos” (stems from the word Missionary and means non-Africans, or white people) were coming to the school. She had heard that These Mazungos were already sponsoring other children. She walked all that way because she hoped that one of them would sponsor her. Well, I told the teachers to tell her she had a sponsor. And I have been sponsoring Catherine ever since. Catherine was so small and petit, she looked more like a four year old than a six year old.
I have watched her grow all these years. When she was about eight years old, I came to Nyamirama to see her - and she looked exhausted. It is hard to imagine an eight year old looking exhausted, but her face was drawn and she was as thin as a rail. My good friend Kellen Mbabazi was with me and I asked why Catherine was looking this way…If she was sick I wanted to get her to Dr. Scott Kellerman in Bwindi.
Kellan decided I should buy her family some goats, and that we should check out her home life. We arranged for one of the teachers to find some “good quality” goats, and Kellan and I went to Catherine’s home. But first we decided to stop in the local village to buy Catherine some shoes. I discovered that she had never had shoes before. Well, in these small villages, news travels fast. While we were in town the local towns people were coming up to Kellen and telling her that the father was “not a good man”. We discovered that the father was making Catherine work, carrying water for other people, digging and taking the money and spending it on liquor. We also discovered that he was not buying any food for her. At this point, let me qualify this, the vast majority of the parents we meet are wonderful, loving parents, who are doing everything they can to educate their children. About 99% of the parents are people to be respected and admired for trying to better the lives of their children. But, just like in the USA, there are a few bad apples in every crate. Even though they eat at school, if they carry heavy “Gerry Cans” full of water for five hours a day after school, or have to do hard labor digging trenches for farming, they burn much more calories than they can possibly eat.
While we were in the village, the father of Catherine walked up to me he started speaking in Rugiga. Kellen intercepted the conversation. Evidently he was saying “Give the money for the goats to me, and I will go buy them.” Well, Kellen does not mix words. In any language, you could tell she was letting this guy have it.
Then we got in the car and drove to Catherine’s home. Her mother was young and we saw two little baby sisters, one a few months old and a toddler. They both had little dresses on but no diapers. Diapers are a luxury in this area of the world. The mother looked exhausted also. The home was basically one room and made of the traditional mud bricks and thatch roof. It was very neat and clean, and in its own way, the mother kept it in a very charming manner.
We talked to the mother and Kellen introduced me as Catherine’s sponsor. The mother got on her knees and stated kissing my hands. I was completely taken aback. I got on my knees and told her to stand up. I told Kellen to tell her it brought me great joy to sponsor Catherine. Kelen started laughing at me. Kelen told me that the mother is just so grateful to me for sponsoring Catherine.
Then I saw a young boy in shorts, who was about 12 or 13. He was the most thin boy I had ever seen. His thighs looked like sticks. His face looked skeletal with sunken cheeks. His name was Africano, and he was Catherine’s older brother. He had never been allowed to go to school and his father had worked him, apparently, almost to death.
Nyamirama is a fine school. But sometimes, children need to be protected. Kelen said we should take Catherine and her brother with us and have them go to Kirima Primary School, another school in our network of schools. It is also right near Kellen’s home in Kanungu. I have four other children going there. (That is a whole other story) It is a boarding school. They will be safe there. Africano at the age of 12 would have to start in Primary 1. But that is not unusual here. I asked Kellen how their mother felt about the children going away. She said their mother is very happy for them.
The teacher arrived with the good quality goats, a whole family with a female, a male and two young goats. The mother can now have milk for the two little sisters and raise more goats, even sell milk when the younger goats grow. She started to cry with a since of relief and salvation and joy, and…well I don’t exactly know how to describe it. But she was happy. Then the father came up….he looked very happy too when he saw the goats. Kellen knew exactly what was on his mind. He was actually a bit chubby and his twelve year old son was starving to death. Kelen knew he was going to sell those goats as soon as we left. Or, So he thought. Kellen went into Kellen mode again. I love Kellen. She told him that we were going to send teachers from the school out every week to check on these goats and if he sold them that he would be arrested. These goats were the property of his children, they were not his goats to sell. The whole town knew what he was doing and she would know immediately if these goats were sold. He walked off in a huff because he knew that in Tribal terms, his wife and children were going to be protected from him.
We got Africano to Bwindi and checked out. He had worms and was suffering from mal nutrition. Dr. Kellerman had brought some protein powder from Santa Barbara that the teachers mixed into his milk for a few months. To this day he is thin, but a normal looking thin. Not emaciated. He is 16 now and in Primary 7. Next year he will start Great Lakes High School also. Catherine graduated last year from Kirima Primary School – the number 1 student in the graduating class. I see the children every year when I come to Uganda. It never ceases to amaze me how $250 a year can buy miracles. But miracles it can buy. I saw Catherine at the high school the other day. She looks great. The principal told me she is one of the top students, and she volunteers to help others on different school projects. She likes math and science and she wants to be an engineer. I truly believe she will be an engineer. She took responsibility for her life when she was six years old and walked miles to Nyamirama to try and find a school sponsor.
Today, August of 2014, Catherine is in Senior 4 at the high school. She is on her path to being an engineer. I am so thrilled.
By sponsoring these children, whether I live to be 100 or check out next week, I will know that I did something important with my life. Don’t ever doubt for a second that sponsors can create miracles.
One Story From Uganda,
With Love, Marsha