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(The UCU Standard – Tuesday, January 14, 2013)

MUKONO, UGANDA ✦ It was the children. “Daddy, daddy,” they said, unable to sleep. “What if the thieves are still out there?”

Yes, to add to the rotten tally of 2012, at year-end thieves stole our electric piano, the one my children loved. Six days later, thieves got my bride’s laptop plus valuables from her purse.

Two violations in six days from inside our campus home. It took our breath away. Six days.

Of course, we haven’t been alone. In fact, 2012 was likely the worst year for thefts in UCU’s history. Day after week after month, vehicles and offices and homes were hit as if criminals had easy and free passes.

So it’s good news that UCU’s leadership has recently released a new security plan for its main campus. Having formal identification cards for staff, and registration of casual workers, can help.

The move to create a new security committee will also go a long way to help ensure that the community has a voice to continue changes as future needs evolve.

The Standard had suggested these things some months ago, which shows the importance of sharing ideas openly and using ones that are reasonable. This is the best way to turn back thieves who have clearly developed a new brazenness.

At this point, we can even imagine or ask ‘what if a thief soon hurts, or does something worse, to a UCU child?’

Just two evenings after the second theft from our home, my wife and I even chased a thief across our front lawn. Our evening guests watched the surreal scene in wonder.

Then, not even a week into 2013, another staff residence was hit, robbed in the middle of the night while it was occupied by an unsuspecting family.

So UCU’s most vulnerable homes and guest houses need extra protection. This, by now, is painfully clear. In fact, one reason my own home was robbed twice in six days is because we had requested a guard – three times over those six days – but none was sent.

This relates to not just security but cultural norms. A Ugandan named John recently reminded me of this. He was getting his watches fixed in a Kampala shop. I looked in amazement at the service counter.

“I have six broken watches,” John told me.

“Six?” I said.

“Only in Uganda. Do you know what I mean?” he said.

John and I then talked more. He’s a minister and had preached in Kampala on Christmas Day. “Nobody listened,” he said.

“The church was empty?’” I asked.

“No, it was full. But nobody listened,” he said.

I didn’t know what to say, especially when I learned John had once visited and preached in my hometown in Canada. I turned to my wife. “What are the chances?”

We can’t be like that. We can’t hear but not really hear. We need to listen, really listen, with our collective mind and heart and soul.

Otherwise, we won’t just lose our valuables; we’ll lose the very identity that makes UCU a community called to a higher and better life.

In 2013, we hope administration takes an especially harder line on employees found stealing. I personally know of a UCU programme robbed by a UCU staff member, yet two months later this thief is still employed here.

Institutions with more professional security protocol would dismiss or criminally charge such an untrustworthy person. Yet UCU makes no formal move. Why not? Are tribalism or nepotism or other questionable practices more important?

Separating Security from Projects would also help. These two departments have very different needs. Security could then be led by a chief with better security experience … and freed to partner more with local police, outside services, or both.

These are just some moves that can be put into the mix to the extent that administration has said its new plan is “a start.”

It is a start. We’re thankful for it. Now more of the same is needed.

About Thomas Froese