About two miles past the market across the highway from the Beyond Uganda office in Bugiri town lies a desperate slum. A terribly dark place with grass thatched huts as a common scene. No bathrooms and toilets in the vicinity, a clear testament that residents here deposit their waste in the nearby bush as seen from buzzing flies all around.
The old generation spends much of the day drinking alcohol. An epidemic of malaria, typhoid, and starvation sweeps into the shacks, stealing the children, one at a time. There is altogether too little money, too little vaccine, too little hope. Basically no role models and mentors for the young generation to look up to; the rule of the day is, “to whom it may concern.” This forms a community where Susan Akol was rescued from three years ago into BU.
Her mother emerges from a tiny mud-spattered hut which houses the couple and five siblings. She zigzags to balance on ground, clearly a sign of hangover from the previous night of a drinking binge. The husband had left the previous evening to drink with his buddies and not returned yet by ten in the morning. Susan, who had spent some time without coming home when BU relocated her to a boarding school, looked inconsolable by the appalling situation in her home and neighborhood. The centre can no longer hold in this homestead and things have fallen apart, to say the least!
Her mother in ragged clothes, still tipsy with alcohol, wields a rod to beat a kid. Susan stood there silently for an awkward length of time, tears blurring her vision, emotions engulfed her spirit; arguably reminding her of the horrible conditions she had been rescued from a few years ago. Susan perhaps could have ended up like her four siblings who died at infancy due to hunger at home. We do not know what somebody’s potential could turn out, but a child’s life lost is a potential lost. The family has never seen a piece of meat on their plate since last Christmas which was bought from a Christmas gift sent by Susan’s sponsor. To imagine a slice of bread and coffee for breakfast in this home tantamounts to ‘luxury’
The family had just spent three days in the previous month “sleeping” in the cold under a tree around their yard for failure to pay their landlord accumulated house rent for six months that summed to twelve dollars. Each month they have to part with two dollars for their hut rent.
Seated under a mango tree, Susan reaches to carry her little sibling of one year on her lap. With a malnourished physique, swollen cheeks and protruding belly – so small, so sick with a withered body! She wore no diapers. The state of despair at home, coupled with parents battering themselves daily had forced Susan to spend nights in classrooms at the neighbor school before BU evacuated her to the Children’s Home.
Despite the horrors of poverty and devastations at home, Susan had a childhood conviction that someday things would change for better, at least for her life. She started escaping from home on Sunday to attend Bugiri Baptist Church with her best friend Paulina, also in the BU sponsored program. Her parents had waved a red flag for her not go to church. It’s through church that an opportunity beckoned for her into BU’s “Not-Forgotten” children’s program.
“A new dawn had come!” Susan says. “When I got a better place to sleep, given good food, and new friends in BU, my life changed drastically.” Susan speaks with a beaming smile about a life time opportunity that had just opened. More still, she felt elated with encouraging letters from her sponsor.
The ‘small’ gesture of love and support from Susan’s sponsor and the core child discipleship program of BU ministry has shaped her life and dreams to become an educationalist someday. Susan believes that education is the main key to unlock someone’s potential. We cannot change a community and a nation with majority ignorant citizens. Knowledge is power! Their mindset and beliefs have to be unlocked first. This is the daunting future task at Susan’s hands.
She hopes to extend education services to her illiterate community and inspire young dreams. The beautiful thing on her side of the world is that an educated child becomes a multiplier of learning, creating a ripple effect. They ultimately change the churches in which they worship. Changed churches produce changed communities. In time, changed communities will change nations and eventually the world. It all begins with the young blood such as Susan Akol.
Her future concept is well inscribed in Henry Ford’s school of thought when he said, “The only thing you can give a man without hurting him is an opportunity.” He knew that no amount of handouts or doing good things on a person’s behalf gets to the heart of the matter, which is the inner, destructive message of “Just give up.” An opportunity, on the other hand, cuts to the very core by saying, “I believe in you! You can do it. Don’t you dare give up!”
As Christians, what children has God placed in your life on a regular basis? Whom He has entrusted to your care and influence? All it took for Susan’s dreams to change was a commitment from her sponsor to invest in her life and followed with words of “you can do it, I love you, I’m proud of you, God approves of you!” Every child needs to have at least one person who would love him of her unconditionally. What a wonderful world it would be if every child was loved, protected and nourished by the adults in his or her life.
The community bathroom for Susan’s home
The bed that will be shared by the mother and all the children
The kitchen in Susan’s hut home
The inside of Susan’s hut home with all their belongings