The one word that bests describes our visit with our sponsored child Petelina in Uganda is “surreal.”
When our truck pulled onto the pathway leading to Petelina’s homestead we were greeted by a group of women and girls waving huge white flags and singing. This was no ordinary singing. It was loud and full of energy, punctuated with undulations of joy as the women burst out with their traditional “Yi yi yi yi yi!” and waved their scarves around us. The music took hold of me and I joined in with the dancing as we made our way to the huts and the huge group of people that awaited us.
And there stood our little Petelina. Well, she wasn’t that little anymore. My husband and I had been sponsoring Petelina since she was six years old. She was now thirteen, almost as tall as me but as shy as any typical girl in Uganda would be when they met a couple of muzungus from Canada.
She took my hand and knelt down on the ground in the traditional Ugandan way of showing respect and servitude. I did the same.
Our day was spent chatting getting to know each other a little more. The letters we wrote over the years had provided some knowledge about her family and ours but nothing like a real face to face and hand-holding-hand conversation can provide.
I learned about Petelina’s family, her personality, her favourite food and games, and how, if you kiss her on the cheek her shyness disappears and a smile will appear on her face instantly.
Of course, we brought gifts: A lantern for her parents, stuffy toys for her younger brothers and sister, a soccer ball for her older brother and a box of nail polish for her oldest sister. Petelina’s eyes were huge as we placed a pack sack of school supplies and special gifts at her feet. As we pulled each item out of the bag her eyes widened and widened and her shyness returned. She looked at the ground then up at my husband and I and whispered, “Apwoyo.” I don’t think she had ever been the recipient of so many gifts in her life.
We ate a traditional Ugandan meal of greens, matoke, rice and goat meat, although the goat meat is not a regular part of the diet in that area and is usually reserved for only special occasions. And then we brought out the baseball bat, balls and gloves that Sportchek had donated to us and we played a game of baseball. First there were the instructions: how to hold a bat, how to hit the ball, how to catch the ball, how to run around the bases. We left the equipment with Petelina’s school with instructions for Petelina that she and her siblings would be in charge of teaching the entire school how to play this American/Canadian sport. She accepted the responsibility with a quiet nod and a small smile.
As we visited parts of Petelina’s community, her school, the clinic, one of the bore holes that was close to her home and met the people at World Vision who were overseeing the development of this Kamuda ADP I couldn’t help but feel a sense of, how shall I say it? Fulfillment? Contentment?
I knew that Petelina was in good hands. Her community was progressing very well. More schools had been built since I had visited the area back in 2008, before we had sponsored Petelina. The grass roof shelter that was once the clinic was replaced with a more permanent brick and cement building that also included a pharmacy. The programs that were created years ago to provide assistance for people with AIDS, provide vaccinations for children and improve the health and well being of the people in the community were doing very well. More bore holes had been drilled decreasing the time and travel women and children had to spend to obtain their water. Plows had been purchased and were going to be distributed once the rains came and the ground could be tilled for another growing season.
But what I think I noticed most in the community, something that was different from the time I was there seven years ago, was the “atmosphere”. I had witnessed the hopeful attitudes of the people as they set out to rebuild their farms and homestead with the seedlings and livestock they had received from World Vision in 2008 and that was a wonderful thing to see. But what I saw this time was something more. This time hope had been fulfilled and there was now the feeling of contentment, of people knowing that things were getting better and they were well on their way.
When we said good-bye to Petelina I was sad, of course. Who knew if I was going to be able to see her again. But after I hugged her and gave her a little kiss on the check and watched that shy smile form on her face, I knew that all was well for her. Petelina was going to make it. She was going to complete her schooling. She was going to work hard on becoming what she wanted to be. Whether she decided it was going to be a nurse or a teacher I knew that everything was in place to make that opportunity a reality. Not just something that could only be a dream.
I waved good-bye and walked back to our truck. And as I did the first rains of the season began to fall. The plows would be put to use soon and another season of growth would begin.
My journey as an author, giving voice to child soldiers.