Thursday, October 16, 2008

You Are Most Welcome

It has been a week of acclimating and reacquainting, and it’s difficult to imagine a warmer reception. “You are most welcome” echoes through my day, as I share and receive updates with the friends and colleagues we met last year. Our news ranges from exciting, to troubling, to comforting, to depressing, and I’m reminded of the spectrum of emotions brought to the surface by life here.

I spent the first part of the week meeting with Dr. Lim, Focus, Bitone and In Movement. My homecoming with Bitone will be a life-long memory. The hugs and smiles, the laughter and stories, a spirit I haven’t felt anywhere else. The youth at the center have grown in: musicianship; confidence; intelligence; love, and numbers - a true testimony to the effectiveness of the program. A new 3-year-old at Bitone named Tina is without a doubt James Brown reincarnated. All is well with Focus and In Movement (though there was some surprising staff changes in the latter) and members from each generously agreed to provide formal guidance to Project Focus as part of our in-country board of advisers, along with Branco from Bitone. Others will be sought out.

This past weekend brought me to Lyantonde. An impressive tour of ICOD’s current programming – including a partnership with Prince Primary headmaster Joshum, who is also PF’s partner for our first development crusade - gave me confidence that out of the ashes of PARDI, Michael has emerged as a natural leader. I look forward to carefully and consciously rebuilding our relationship. ICOD (Integrated Community Efforts for Development) is an organization in Lyantonde made up mostly of ex-PARDI staff, who resigned from PARDI when rumors and accusations of theft and corruption were confirmed. Michael seems to have spearheaded the resignations, and moved forward with the formation of ICOD.

As of today, I’ve managed to secure permanent housing in both Kampala and Lyantonde, and I know with the feeling of settling, comes the real work. Even though I can’t seem to sleep past 3 am, I’ve never felt so energized and committed.

As I’ve shared a bit of promising news regarding Bitone, it’s only fair to my experience thus far to share something troubling. At you’ll find a short photo/audio documentary giving a glimpse into the lives of one of Lyantonde’s “vulnerable families”. This family is Gertrude and her six children. Gertrude is HIV positive (along with her second youngest, John) and lost her husband to AIDS in 2006. I have a special affinity for this family, due mostly in part to their open generosity in sharing their difficult story with me. On my second day in Lyantonde I went with Meddy and Michael from ICOD to pay the family a visit. Along the way, Michael – with a nervous smile – told me that Gertrude had a surprise for me. As soon as we pulled up the secret was out, Gertrude was very pregnant, and due next month. The story – a disturbingly common one – goes like this… an HIV positive man was looking to sow his seed, realized Gertrude’s plight, and promised some small support (when I arrived their mud home was about 1/3 bigger than last year) in exchange for a child. Michael and Meddy informed me that they were also very surprised when some months back they passed her in town and noticed she was pregnant. She has always been very honest and open with the two of them, and freely shared with them her reasoning – she saw no other opportunity to gain support for her family. Michael was obviously disappointed that Gertrude’s fragile situation was taken advantage of, but informed me that if all precautions are met, the baby could be born in good health. Gertrude’s seventh child will be her first born in a hospital. This story defines what it is to be vulnerable in Lyantonde, and although it is a bit more extreme than the average situation, it can provide some context to the statistics of poverty in Uganda.

I’m not used to feeling sorrow when a child is about to come into this world, but I guess they’re right… there’s a first time for everything.

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