(The Hamilton Spectator – Friday, May 31, 2013)
JINJA, UGANDA ✦ It’s Monday and we’re on the road early, dressed up, driving the 90 minutes down a dangerous road, the road that we won’t drive at night anymore because we fear it may kill us.
We arrive at the court in Jinja, a relaxed beach-town on Lake Victoria, to finally be told ‘Yes. Yes, everything is in order and the court is satisfied, and Hannah will never have any family outside of yours, the family she clearly belongs in.’
Hannah is the Ugandan girl who’s been in our home for almost four years now. We just need the final stamp of court approval to make her adoption official.
But this is Africa and life moves slow and public services are poor, and after the court lost our file for some months, then later found it, today, the judge, despite our scheduled appearance, is absent. This lone judge of the high court serves a district of hundreds of thousands and is pulled elsewhere, so we’re rescheduled for five months down the road.
It’s the one thing that we wanted cleared before we all return to Canada for the summer. But it’s a worthwhile day, regardless, because Hannah and Jon, they’re 7, and especially big sister, Liz, 9, have been planning it all for a while, our visit to the Jinja orphanage that was once Hannah’s home.
We arrive and lug bags of sugar and rice and things too heavy for the kids, and clothes, and the children have the velvety red box with Ugandan cash. They’ve raised 200,000 Ugandan Shillings, about $78 Cdn, from their allowances, and the jewelry they’ve made, and sold, and the appeals to friends and schoolmates and neighbours and whoever else would listen.
Besides Hannah, more than 300 children have come through this, Amani Baby Cottage, in its nine years: children abandoned around maternity wards and roadsides and swamps and pit latrines, children whose parents have died from childbirth or AIDS or things unknown, really, or whose parents simply can’t feed another hungry mouth.
Most of the 300 have been re-united with extended family of one sort or another, while those without anyone have been adopted, both locally in Uganda and internationally. Founding director Danyne Randolph Bharj, a Texan with a heart as big as that state, is happy to see us again.
We tour past stainless steel tubs and manual laundry washers – they look like large toilet plungers – that come from Mennonite circles in the U.S. where electricity is not a concern. We see new construction. A circle of children sit enjoying a nursery class. It’s all clean and professional and more than any publicly-funded school for older kids would even have.
While my son chases the chickens and my wife and daughters tour more, I walk over to little Godfrey, one of 59 kids now at Amani. He’s enjoying the elaborate playground recently built by volunteers from Sandy Hook, the picturesque community in Connecticut where 20 children were shot dead just days before last Christmas.
It’s all good, like water to the thirsty. It’s unknown exactly how many orphans Uganda has – estimates are as high as two million – and like others across Africa, these children are receiving good things, even small things, which, really, is the only way to change the world. Danyne comes and picks up Godfrey and laughs and holds him close. I take a photo.
But it’s Monday and there’s more. In my shoulder bag is today’s newspaper spilling ink on what is being coined “Black Monday,” a growing citizen’s campaign against the theft of public funds. Public money in a place like Uganda has always been stolen, but now it’s disappearing without consequence or shame.
It’s why this corner of Africa has roads that are deadly and courts that are hopeless and public schools that are literally crumbling. There’s always outside help, like with, for example, Amani. But everyday Ugandans are finding it harder to live with the corruption and rot, and some are now protesting by wearing black from head to toe on Mondays.
It needs attention and I will surely share more another time. Because after these beautiful children are rescued, what in the world happens to them?