As summer comes to an end, I know that many of you are preparing to get your kids ready to go back to school. But for Nigerian girls like Haija whose lives have been disrupted by violence and unimaginable loss, something as simple as going to school is a distant dream. Haija was just 12 years old when Boko Haram terrorists came to her village and abducted her. I want to share a small part of her harrowing story with you, in her own words.
One morning I was shooting video of one of the staff interviewing Fatima (name changed to protect identity), a child mother inside her small hut, in circumstances that were less than desirable. Not only was it dark inside this hut, but it was also extremely hot. My back hurt since I was hunched over most of the time. I was completely soaked with sweat and generally miserable. As I was listening to the story of this child mother, internally complaining about my own misery, I realized that her experience was completely different.
We had iterations of this conversation many times in the months leading up to our trip to Lukome and Imvepi. We have taken many trips as a family, and over the years have joked that our vacations resemble mission trips without a mission more than a typical vacation, as we naturally gravitate to places off the beaten path. The kids have always been a part of our adventures, and this time was not going to be any different. In a way, our kids have been training for this kind of trip their whole lives.
ChildVoice’s 2018 Annual Report examines our growing efforts to expand our impact into Ugandan, South Sudanese, and Nigerian refugee communities as we continue to build upon the solid foundations we’ve laid at the Lukome Center and develop sustainable solutions to help displaced and war-affected girls recover and thrive.
“The war in South Sudan got worse in 2016 and my uncle was killed. Now I had no one – it was just me and my baby boy, Ivan.”
Imagine being forced to flee your village because of horrific attacks by Boko Haram insurgents, who kill and maim indiscriminately. Tragically, that is the reality for thousands of young girls who now live in the relative security of IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps in northeast Nigeria. However, their struggle is not over. In some cases, it has just begun.
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.