Martin's Newsletter from Uganda - Summer 2009
Hello from Uganda! I hope that you are all enjoying the summer? Well, apart from those of you living ‘down under’, who are in the midst of winter! Sorry about that!
Since my last newsletter, I have continued to have had the pleasure of being involved with many of my usual preaching, teaching and discipling roles in various churches, prisons and schools here. I also continue to have had the amazing privilege of seeing God touch and change the lives of many people. Not least, the lives of some very special children in the Namatala slum.
I mentioned earlier in the year that I regularly visit the nursery school that Moses Okotel and his charity, Child of Hope, had felt called to start last year in the very poorest part of the Namatala slum. Despite only having £200 in the bank when it started, the nursery school has steadily grown and now there are about 70 children from four to nine years old who attend the nursery school each weekday. Another 18 children have ‘graduated’ and are now supported to go on to the local primary school.
I go down to the nursery twice a week and also regularly meet up with some of the parents. Over the months, I have therefore got to know these children and some of their families quite well. It really would be impossible to exaggerate just how tough life is for these children. By all recognised indicators, they and their families are living in extreme poverty. Sub-standard housing, limited access to clean water, a serious lack of sanitation, limited health facilities, rife crime, rampant alcohol and drug abuse, the widespread breakdown of the family unit, considerable illness caused by HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, other water and air borne parasites, malnutrition, endemic unemployment, child labour, witchcraft and child sacrifice are just a few of the more obvious challenges!
In addition, the population of Namatala has grown by about a quarter just in the last two years and has now reached about 20,000. Despite many people’s best efforts, life in the slum appears to be getting tougher for its residents. Of course, we know that, ultimately, only God has the answers to all the problems faced by this community. Wisely, Child of Hope has so far avoided the mistake of trying to do too much for too many people but is instead concentrating on making a very real and significant impact in the lives of just some of the very poorest of the children living in the slum.
Daidai is one of these precious children, who graduated to primary school at the end of last year. Her father died when she was young and she has three older siblings. Her mother, who was really quite unwell, rented a single room hut for them all to live in, although they rely upon food handouts and scraps that the children can pick from the streets in order to survive.
Daidai is an extremely bright and sociable little girl and very well-mannered. Whenever I visit her, her first concern, after running to formally greet me, is to establish when I will be coming to see her again. Like many of the children, she has no father figure in her life and she is usually very keen to sit as close to me as she can or to have me hold her hand. When I complemented her on the good results in her first school report, a brief look of astonishment that an adult man would praise her was followed by a smile that filled her whole face.
A few months ago, her mother left home suddenly and abandoned the children. Child of Hope is now paying the rent on the house and keeping a very close eye on the family. Daidai loves watching all the different films that I show on my laptop and, like many of the other children, is a big fan of Baloo the Bear from the Jungle Book. She also loves worshipping God and is very devoted at saying her prayers before meals. Unusually for a child, she will make sure that her friends have their food as well before she starts eating herself.
Ian (picture on front page) is one of the youngest children is the nursery school. He lives with his mother and five other siblings. The father abandoned them all some time ago. His mother was struggling to pay the rent on the house so the landlord came and removed the iron sheet roof from the house to try and force them to leave. She has now found somewhere else to live and I have helped her set up a small hairdressing business to bring in some money to pay the rent and support the family.
Ian loves the nursery and is always very smartly dressed. He is a very well-behaved little boy and seems very popular with the other children. However, he is a little bit of a cheeky chap. He will come and stand in front of me with his arms folded across his chest pretending to be the ‘boss’. This is the cue for me to tickle him, which he loves. He studies very hard in the nursery and is progressing well.
Faith stays with her mother and four siblings. After the death of her father, her mother remarried, although, as is usual here, the new husband has no interest in another man’s children. This makes things a little bit tough at home. I have helped her mother set up a charcoal selling business, which gives her some money to look after all her children, regardless of the father.
When at the nursery, Faith almost always has a huge smile on her face. She loves me to pick her up and cuddle her. However, she can be tough and will definitely stand up for herself against the other children. She studies hard but particularly enjoys playing, either alone or with the other children. She enjoys the swings and, strangely, hanging upside down! She was one of the first to master riding a bicycle. She loves God and is a very enthusiastic member of the nursery choir.
Most of these children had no hope or prospect of receiving any education at all. However, Moses and his team are committing themselves to each and every child that attends the nursery to hopefully see them through ten years of nursery and primary education. The vision is to, at the least, give each child a real opportunity to make something of their lives and to grow up to become the people that God wants them to be. It is definitely a case of quality rather than quantity and each child gets more than just an education. The children and, in some cases, the wider family are provided with comprehensive healthcare, assistance with general cleanliness and well-being, clothing and bedding and regular and nutritious meals. Parent groups have also been established to assist with such issues as income generation, literacy and numeracy, and parenting skills.
Although the ultimate aim, to raise up future generations of leaders to transform and develop their own community, is a long term one; the immediate impact has already been very significant. The children that have progressed to primary school are outperforming their more privileged peers; the children look and, in fact, are verifiably healthier; the children’s characters and demeanours have been transformed and even the esteem of many of the parents has noticeably improved. Praise God for all that He is doing with these children! I feel so privileged to be a small part of what He is doing.
God bless you,