Every day, eight year old Deborah used to run home after school to open her mother’s bar in the slum alone. Her mother was working hard in the fields with the baby, and as the afternoon wore on, the customers became increasingly drunk. Their unwanted touches and comments made her fearful and ashamed. One night, when a man tried to go farther, she escaped and vowed to herself to get revenge. Years later, Deborah tells the story herself.
“I was a girl who was bitter and angry at the lack of justice for my sexual abuse. However, with the love and compassion that Village2Village Project showed me through Mama Laurie and my sponsor, who treated me like her own daughter, I slowly learned how to give love back. As I grew in love, my bitterness, hatred for men and passion for revenge turned into a desire to help other abused women and girls. Later I realized that if I studied law and had a role in protecting other women and children, I would have redeemed a terrible situation in my life. It is this personal experience that fuels my passion.”
Village2Village Project met Deborah when she was in the sixth grade, and her sponsors supported her throughout her education. She excelled at University, and passed the bar after internships with the Ugandan Parliament and the Human Rights Commission. She has served widows evicted from their land, sexually abused children, and girls forced into early marriage. The organization that she founded is committed to reduce gender based violence and inequity throughout Uganda via advocacy, awareness and legal representation.
“I could never have pictured this future as a little girl if Village2Village Project had not been in my life. In my own mind, I was running a bar.”
In 2003, Akol Christine was reserved and shy, and took good care of her younger brothers while her mother worked in the fields. She was an excellent student in sixth grade who had big dreams of attending University and becoming a doctor– but she had no hope.
Enter Village2Village Project into her life. Someone gave $30 toward textbooks to help her study. Someone else checked her homework. Another made sure she had enough to eat during the school day. She studied late into the night scoring among the highest 7th graders in the district at the end of Primary school. Hope was growing.
Then her youngest brother Isaac fell out of a tall tree while reaching for some fruit. His skull was fractured and his brain was bleeding. The village clinic gave him Tylenol and sent him home to rest. Village2Village Project reached out and brought him to Kampala for extensive brain surgery. He survived. Christine was more determined than ever to practice medicine to help people like her brother.
Fast forward through many long years of hard work, the love of her family and Village2Village Project staff, the sacrifice of two American families, the assistance of excellent schools and the care of a BIG GOD.
Christine is thriving in her final year of medical school. She traveled to a more remote area than her own village to serve in an internship, and volunteers as a surgical assistant during holiday breaks in Serere. She gives physical therapy to special needs children. She encourages other Village2Village Project children to study hard, to persevere, to realize their dreams, to pray and to have hope. And she has shared her story with hundreds about how her life has been transformed by people who cared for Village2Village Project kids like her.
In 2006, Isaac Oenen was a sweet and adventurous nine-year-old boy with dancing eyes and a smile a mile wide. One afternoon he was climbing a very tall tree to pick passion fruit for his sister and fell from a great height, fracturing his skull from the eye socket to the top of his head. Two American doctors who reviewed his CT scan said it was a miracle that he survived long enough to get treatment, as his brain began to bleed and swell. Isaac was treated at the village dispensary with Tylenol and penicillin and released to rest while his brain continued to bleed.
That would have been the extent of his care had V2V not stepped in—and insisted that he travel several hours to Kampala for a CT scan. Isaac’s mom took him to Kampala by bus, as there was no other transportation from the village. The family could not even afford the bus fare, as the cost for mother and son together equaled this family’s monthly wage.
What he received afterwards was the very best of care available in Uganda in 2006, at the only hospital that had the equipment to do the necessary surgery by a Russian neurosurgeon that was hired privately. Neurosurgery would not be available at the main Ugandan hospital for two more years. One day post surgery, Isaac was up in bed singing a song and eating chicken!
Isaac’s parents are leaders in their Anglican church. On the day of the surgery his mother said, “God has shown me tonight that if it wasn’t for Village2Village Project…Isaac would have died.”
Village2Village Project continued to care for Isaac and twelve years later, he has finished Secondary school, is preparing for post-secondary education, and playing soccer. His older sister Christine, a teenager at the time, was inspired by his surgery to become a doctor, and graduated with her medical degree in January 2018. And Village2Village Project has been with them every step of the way.
Inebe Ketty, who was eight years old when we met her, lived deep in the village in Serere. She never knew her father, as he abandoned her mother before she was born. Ketty’s mother Betty was HIV+ and very ill. When we met Ketty’s mom in January of 2006, she looked like she would only survive a few more weeks. Paralyzed on her left side, she was unable to walk unassisted, and she stayed alone all day on the dirt floor of her thatched hut unable to get up at all. Little Ketty’s life consisted of going to school, doing her chores, and watching her mother die.
Betty had treatment for her HIV and her toxoplasmosis, which caused the neuropathy that paralyzed her, but the money for transportation had run out. Her parents could no longer sell enough crops to provide the $12 cost for a bus to the hospital in Soroti and back for her medical care.
I (Laurie) took little Ketty overnight with me to Soroti, to give her a break from the misery that she faced every day. She marveled at the cars, since she had never traveled the 12 miles to town. When she entered the home where I was staying, she eyed the single electric bulb on the ceiling with wonder, as she had never seen electricity. I took her out to dinner, and brushed her teeth five times before bed until the foam was no longer black and bloody.
Ketty had been going to school each day, but there was no point in going home for lunch since there was nothing to eat. She shared her cousin’s mattress, since at her own home there was only dirt on the floor. But when she joined Village2Village Project, she received a sponsor, a school uniform, clothing, books, soap, her own mattress, a mosquito net, hot meals, a soft stuffed puppy, and new friends her age. The message that this little one sent to me back then– “Please tell Mama Laurie thank you for picking up on me…I now have a future.” Yes, Ketty, you do.
Ketty’s mother Betty passed away a few months later in August 2006. By lantern light at midnight the night before she died, I held her hand and promised her Village2Village Project would take care of her daughter. And we have kept that promise.
Ketty has grown into a wonderful young woman who has the gentle manner of her mother, and the nurturing nature of her grandmother who raised her from that day. In 2016, she entered Nursing School, and her eyes light up when she talks about her courses and her volunteer work at Serere Hospital. Eyes that often remind me of her mother, Betty.
Ten year old Aworu Sam was the very first child that Village2Village Project helped in 2003. Sam’s father, a veterinary surgeon, had died of HIV/AIDS the year before. His mother was also HIV+ and very ill and two little siblings had died as well — Sam had lost a family member to AIDS every two years of his young life.
Sam was a bright and focused boy who loved school and wanted to attend University like his father. But everything had changed after that loss. He told us, “Education is good, we shall not give up, but the only problem is hunger at school. We do not eat anything apart from drinking water. When my father was alive, we ate rice, meat and fish, but now there is also little at home to eat.”
His mother worried as well. “I am determined to bring up my children well and upright like any other parent. We shall struggle to the end. If only there was a helping hand…”