Innocent

Reza Marvasti

 The quietest boy I have ever met

taught me how to wash my clothes. He told me (after some gentle poking and prying on my part) that he wants to study medicine when he finishes high school. He will be a doctor, and he has had malaria 12 times, that he can remember. I’ve learned that to the locals, malaria is not much more than a bad flu. Many people will self-treat and only seek medical attention if it is a severe case of cerebral malaria (in the brain). Anyhow, we scrubbed our clothing in a bucket in the backyard of his home, in mostly comfortable silence. He re-washed the socks after me, insisting that I needed to “use force” while scrubbing them. I guess it all may seem trivial but in that moment, I was totally present and it was a beautiful reminder, a little tap on the shoulder to say that life is NOW. This moment.. this immeasurable speck in time that we refer to as ‘now’, is all there is. Being present is key. Anyway, the boy’s name is Innocent, but sometimes just Inno for short. Every evening when we return home, he is sitting in the same spot on the lawn. He really is the quietest boy I’ve ever met.

We took the children for a walk up Kyabazinga Hill to the palace, where the King resides once in a blue moon. The palace is a big, red soil-coloured residence surrounded by an even bigger wall, topped with curly barbed wire. The large gates at the front are manned by an armed guard. It all seemed intimidating at first but once we approached the soldier to see if we could, perhaps, enter the Kingdom, he was very warm and welcoming, even though he didn’t let us in. The man told us that to enter, we needed to get permission from the office in the village below, which wasn’t going to happen because it had taken us almost an hour hiking uphill in the scalding sun to reach this mighty destination. The soldier began telling us of all the different kings all across the land, and why they are great (or not so great). He told us why he loves Uganda, and how it is better than all the countries that border it. He spoke with passion, and I was quite into the conversation until from the corner of my eye, I saw Angel, the 3 year old girl in our crew, taking a pee right in front of the gate to the palace. Reza also noticed, so he began engaging the guard in more conversation to distract him. Luckily the guard didn’t notice.. Or at least if he did, he didn’t mention it.

Coconut.. Is that you?!
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Making me pretty

We spend quite a lot of time with these children and it has really got me thinking about the orphanages here, and elsewhere in the world. Since arriving in Uganda, Reza and I have learned that some of these so-called “orphanages” are more like businesses. People will take in children (orphans, or children from family members and neighbours) to bring in funding and volunteers. It is not an honest practice. I have also been thinking about the impact of people coming and going in and out of these children’s lives, especially for the real orphans. For the really young ones like Judith and Angel who are both 3 years old, I know the impact is greater. They have people coming into their lives, staying for a few days or weeks, showing them unconditional love, and then disappearing, never to be seen again. While there is always the next person to come along and fill that gap, I still wonder about the impact this is having on their young, developing minds. Reza and I planned on staying here with this organization for some time, and maybe even starting our first playground project here, but we have since decided to move along. The children here are being taken care of, many volunteers come (and go), they all have food to eat and a bed to sleep in. They are receiving money from sponsors all around the world. We are happy that they are being taken care of. So, this past week we have spent a lot of time in the internet cafe, trying to organize our next move to Northern Uganda. We know that the displaced children in the refugee settlements are the ones for whom we want to create a safe space to play.  It hasn’t been easy trying to arrange this, and we have contacted many people and received very few responses. But, we are not disheartened. We are going to make this happen. Our vision remains clear and we are as determined as ever to bring it to life.

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