When you set foot in Uganda, you immediately see how immense the need is. It’s on a completely different scale than anything you can imagine. That’s why we encourage people to go. There’s nothing like experiencing it first hand. You can read all the blog posts and see tons of pictures but until you are there and see and feel and smell and taste what it’s like, it’s difficult to comprehend.
The desperate need is one of the challenges. When you’re there, it’s easy to be overwhelmed and want to do everything. But we weren’t called to do everything, and we can’t anyway. We have a particular mission, and we want to stay focused on that mission. What initially brought us to Uganda was “M” and the suffering there. Then God showed us there were other facilities like “M” around the country and we felt God leading us to minister in those facilities as well.
So the mission itself is pretty extensive. If we limit ourselves solely to imprisoned children in Uganda, we already know of 7 prisons. That’s a lot! And there’s no telling how many others there are in East Africa (Congo, Sudan, Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania). But we truly feel our mission is in these facilities (wherever they may be), so as best we can we’ve tried to put up guardrails to help us stay on mission to protect us from deviating to the left or right.
Some other challenges we face relate to learning curves and unique cultural issues. First, our learning curve. We’re ministering in a country where we’re learning something everyday. Some of us couldn’t even point to Uganda on a map a few years ago and had not dealt with extreme poverty and injustice of this kind ever before. It may seem relatively straightforward to provide food, clothing, medical care and education to children, but it’s harder than it sounds.
As Americans we have a tendency to want to rush in and fix stuff, or give things away like it’s Christmas. It makes us feel good, but in most cases it only perpetuates stereotypes and reinforces some of the harmful psychology underlying poverty.
So we’re learning. We’re learning that empowering is better than enabling. We’re learning that sometimes we need to BE rather than DO. We’re learning about the psychological effects of institutionalization and abuse. We’re learning humility and how to be servants. And we’re learning we have a long way to go.
We’re also learning about unique cultural issues. One of the most vulnerable people groups in Uganda are the Karamojong. They come from a region in northeastern Uganda known as Karamoja, which is incredibly poor. Children migrate (and in some cases are trafficked) to Kampala to beg. The police arrest them and take them out to “M” or one of the other facilities.
In just the last few days there were reports of an extensive effort to round up the Karamojong. By some counts, more than 300 children and mothers were arrested and taken to “M” a few days ago with the possibility of more arrests.
When you visit “M” it’s easy to identify the Karamojong. They tend to be younger, some are barely clothed, and they speak a different dialect which no one at “M” speaks (except for Moses that is). When their numbers are high enough, the Karamojong are returned to Karamoja and the cycle continues. Ministering to the Karamojong presents unique challenges that we are only beginning to appreciate.
Ultimately, we want to minister to all the children at “M” and the other facilities, but particularly the most vulnerable (the youngest, the at risk, the sick, the disabled). Thankfully we’re learning how to do that better each day. And, with the partnerships we’re developing in the U.S. and Uganda, and the support we receive from so many, we’re seeing an impact. In spite of the challenges, God is working and we will continue to follow His lead.