Imagine being born into severe poverty, the child of an adolescent girl who was herself a victim of war and violence. Add to that the challenges and stigma of living with a major physical disability, and you get some idea of the obstacles faced by these three children of former ChildVoice students that we’d like to tell you about.
Over a recent one-month Ugandan school holiday, ChildVoice had the opportunity to host a group of South Sudanese boarding students at the Lukome Center in northern Uganda. These girls are in the African Soul, American Heart (ASAH) program. Their time at the Lukome Center was spent interacting with ChildVoice students from both South Sudan and Uganda, as well as getting a taste of vocational training that would add another dimension to the education they receive at St. Noa boarding school outside Kampala.
Denise Stasik has worked in healthcare for many years and is an active community volunteer in her home state of New York. Travel to Africa is nothing new to her; she has volunteered in rural African villages in four different countries, including Uganda, where she traveled this past November with ChildVoice. Denise also has traveled to Haiti on numerous occasions over the past 11 years. Denise and her husband, Greg, have three children and three grandchildren.
Nancy Hellmann is a long-time friend of ChildVoice who lives in Dover, New Hampshire. She also is a strong advocate for empowering adolescent girls who have been victimized by war and poverty. Nancy traveled to the Lukome Center in northern Uganda with a team in August 2017, 10 years after her first visit to the Center.
Paige Balcom is a mechanical engineer who studied the feasibility of employing an aquaponic system at the Lukome Center in northern Uganda while on a nine-month Fulbright research grant. She immersed herself in the Ugandan culture and enjoyed the challenges of engineering in Uganda. Here is the first in a series of Paige’s fascinating blogs.
In May, I traveled to northeastern Nigeria with ChildVoice Board Member Mark Hoffschneider on an exploratory and fact-finding mission. Our goal was to determine the feasibility of expanding the ChildVoice model into areas of northern Nigeria in the hope of helping victims of the insurgency of the Boko Haram, an Islamist militant group operating in the region.
During a recent visit to the Lukome Center, I traveled with other ChildVoice staff to Imvepi Refugee Camp in Yumbe, Uganda (northwestern side), the newest camp for South Sudanese fleeing their country. It opened February 14, 2017, and already is home to more than 35,000 refugees. We went to register four of our South Sudan students who had joined ChildVoice before war broke out in their homeland. Once they graduate and leave the Lukome Center, they can't go back to their homes — people are dying in their home village of Yei every single day — so they have to officially register as refugees.
It’s always a happy day when we learn that the young girls who have graduated from ChildVoice’s Lukome Center in northern Uganda have secured good jobs within their community.
Newly launched Nguvu Dairy, whose tagline is “Yoghurt for a Strong Body,” has employed four former ChildVoice students at its busy production facility in Gulu. These girls are Gloria from Class 2, Rose and Evelyn from Class 3, and Paska, who graduated most recently with Class 6. The four girls started a little more than a month ago; three of them are working in production, and one is helping in the kitchen.
The dignity, value, and worth of all women has always been something close to my heart. Even before my college days at Wellesley, there were knots in the pit of my stomach and pain in my chest when I saw other women, especially young ones, mistreated, abused, oppressed, violated, or verbally belittled by others, all because they were “just a woman.” Yet living and working at the Lukome Center alongside young girls who are now teen mothers, whose entire lives have been filled with deep suffering from such negativity toward women, brings the inner discontentment to an entirely new level.
Uganda, a nation healing from deep traumatic suffering. A nation where 50% of its population is under the age of 15 because of previous massacres. A nation where everyone lived in constant fear of the rebel soldiers from the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) just 10 years ago. A nation where survivors recall terrors during the night. A nation where daughters were taken as child brides, women and children raped, husbands slaughtered with machetes in front of their families, kids handed guns and forced to shoot their parents, and thousands of people displaced from their villages and loved ones.
Sitting under a mango tree at ChildVoice’s Lukome Center in northern Uganda, I listened to the stories told by ChildVoice counselors. One colleague told a sad war story which, much to my surprise, evoked many laughs. He must have noted my apparent confusion at the incongruous reaction and explained, “If we mourned all of those who died, we would die of sadness. Instead we laugh and tell their stories. This is how we honor them. It’s how we survive.”
By Presidential Proclamation, January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, meant to shed light on the signs and consequences of this global tragedy. We at ChildVoice are all too familiar with the atrocities and abuses committed against young, vulnerable children who have been kidnapped or coerced into sexual slavery and forced labor. Here is the story of one such young South Sudanese girl, now at the Lukome Center, who was rescued from a childhood of prostitution.
For those of us in the United States, it’s totally unimaginable what the girls currently living at the Lukome Center have been through. And 17-year-old Keji, from the war-torn country of South Sudan, is no exception.