I met this young man at the entrance to the World Vision office in Kamuda, when our Destination Life Change group visited Uganda back in 2008. He was employed by World Vision to guard the office, but with the exit of Kony and the LRA, his high risk job had now become a little, how shall I say it, easy.
It was a nice thing to see, a soldier at ease, with a smile on his face. I hope he never puts his gun to use ever again. So many wonderful things have happened since peace began to grow in Uganda.
Perhaps the guns will be put to a more productive use – melted down and hammered into plows for the fields and tools for building the schools and clinics and businesses.
In Canada we meet in the parliament buildings, the town halls and the courthouses to make decisions on important issues. In Africa, the place to meet is the greeting tree.
With its mighty outstretched limbs, there is enough shade for hundreds of villagers to sit and discuss important issues that are challenging the area. So it was very fitting, that on this extremely hot afternoon, our group of Destination Life Change volunteers enjoyed the shade of the greeting tree while we sat and listened to the reports of the various chairmen and women.
Many who had received livestock and seedlings were expressing their thankfulness that they were now able to provide for their families and see a brighter future. Volunteers were excited that they could now use their new skills to help people affected by AIDS. And children were happy to go to their new school, especially after the roofs on the old schools had blown away the other night after the huge storm that hit the area.
But as much as this was wonderful news to hear, my mind was elsewhere during these discussions. As I looked up at the massive height of this tree, I couldn’t help but think of the many important meetings that were held under its branches. From the moment World Vision entered this village, there were many gatherings here, where all of the decisions were made with the people as they came forth with their concerns and ideas.
I learned something very valuable then and there: In order for progress to happen, everyone in the village, from the men to the women to the children, must be allowed to voice their opinions and requests and insights on how they could make change happen. Their families had lived in this area for generations. They knew the soil, the rains, the sun and its harshness, and all that was in between, both good and bad.
I realized that World Vision is never there to impose its ideals on anyone. They are always there to work with the people to make changes that will make for better futures for everyone. And it was an amazing experience to be there, under the greeting tree, to witness it all happening.
My journey as an author, giving voice to child soldiers.