A Compassion centre in a Ugandan region ravaged by war prepares sponsored children for successful futures.
Although the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) retreated from Uganda in 2006, families in the north still feel the effects of the rebel group’s brutality. For 20 years, rebels led by Joseph Kony carried out widespread murder, rape and mutilation of Ugandan civilians. They abducted more than 25,000 children, forcing them to be soldiers or sex slaves. At the height of the conflict, 1.8 million displaced people lived in camps where HIV and other diseases spread quickly. When the LRA was finally driven out of Uganda by security forces, they left behind orphans, AIDS, psychological scars and increased poverty.
Many children who attend the Victory Compassion Centre in Lira come from families affected by the LRA war, says Centre Director Angela Apili. Most of the registered children’s parents or caregivers have HIV, she says. “Most people don’t have proper shelters, and they cannot take good care of their children. The war is still affecting them.” But Angela’s biggest fear is that a large number of sponsored children will be orphaned when their caregivers start dying of AIDS.
This Compassion centre has become a place for children to step away from the lingering shadow of violence and focus on building skills to enjoy better lives than their parents had.
Sponsored children file into old shipping containers converted into classrooms. In one room students learn to sew. Whether they use their skills to make their clothes last longer or to become professional tailors as adults, the children will benefit from the class.
Cooking with confidence
In another classroom, an instructor teaches children how to bake. She walks her students through each step of making a cake before they bake their creation in an oven located outside. Many of the kids don’t have electricity at home, let alone ovens. Aside from being able to better feed their families as adults, students can one day use this knowledge for food-service or cooking jobs. Their instructor says baking is an especially valuable skill because cakes are in high demand for weddings and other celebrations.
While the kids attend morning classes, cooks at the Compassion centre mix up a huge batch of porridge as a snack. When snack time is over, they’ll make a full lunch for the children. These nutrients are crucial for kids in Uganda, a country that ranks 13th highest in the world for stunting caused by malnutrition, according to UNICEF.
After washing their hands with soap and water at an outdoor faucet, students line up for porridge. The calorie-rich snack helps fight malnutrition among kids who often don’t get enough to eat at home. After the snack, they return to classes.
Students gather close to share the four computers at their child development centre. “We want them to become self-supportive in the future,” says Angela, the centre director. “So we teach them skills like computers to develop their brains and also to catch up with the technology.”
After a day of classes, Bible study, food and games, students walk home from the Compassion centre. The spiritual guidance and vocational skills children gain there give them hope for success and health.
Text by Willow Welter, Compassion USA. Photos by Chuck Bigger.