A woman living with her 3 year old daughter in a small house. She left her husband and 6 kids behind because he threatened to kill her. He bet her, and her kids so she left. She now works on her brother’s land, growing crops, bananas, millet. We asked what was her dream for the future, she said she wanted to sell old clothes at the markets. A family living in a big house. Five kids, all going to school, one is becoming a nurse. They had a kitchen with a very clever cooking system, a drying rack to dry washed stoves and food, turkeys and beans drying in the sun. A widow, raising her kids. They all go to school, one of them is becoming an engineer. They had quotes on the wall “Both boys and girls can build a family”. When we asked her “What are you most proud of?”, she said “Mary!”, and what they achieved together. Veronica, my favourite! She is a 60 year old widow, she lives alone and looks after her grandson. His parents thought she was lonely and needing help, so left him with her. She pays for his school fees, also work the land and does mats for local art and crafts markets. She has the biggest soul coming out of her eyes. Mary, the rockstar of the Hunger Project Uganda. She embraced the true spirit of change, through empowerment, training and work. She started asking a small loan, then another one, then another one. She has now two houses, and an even bigger one under construction. She has a garden where she grows spinach, eggplants, tomatoes, beetroots, avocados and more. She has her own storage room (most people don’t and often food is damaged by rain, animals or stolen by others) and a very big kitchen, with water and soap outside to wash her hands before cooking. She traveled to Kenya, Tanzania and Sudan, to train people, to explain the Hunger Project and to make them understand the immense potential every single human being has. She has a very proud husband, who stood in front of a crowd and told everyone how hard she works, how amazing she is, and how much their life has changed since she started with the Hunger Project, only six years ago. “She’s my Queen” he said, with teary eyes. There was so much love and respect between the two, I will never forget it.
Not every encounter was so heart-lifting though. A few years back I was reading a review of the movie Blue Valentine. The journalist used a phrase that got forever stuck into my head, saying that the movie would “Lift your heart, and crush your soul”. There is no better way to describe what I experienced next than by quoting this now.
A grandmother, about 70 years old, with her three grandkids. She doesn’t have money to eat, feed her family or send the three boys to school. She has a land but is too far and her boys are too young to help her. They did not share one, single, smile. Not even when we gave them lollies. Not even when a loaf of bread and bananas came as a gift from us. They eat every second day, usually one banana or porridge for dinner. They don’t have water, and we couldn’t see a single spark in their eyes. Someone said they were dying: maybe, most likely. Quite possibly training is not going to save them now, but life is unpredictable.
It is just devastating to realize that these people hardly knew any happiness, joy or that feeling of quietness that you get from a good night sleep, a meal or just a hug. That sadness for being alone, with no food, no clothes, nothing and no one that is going to remember you, save you, love you. Until this day, I have shared my stories, pictures, my thoughts about this beautiful country and its people. I told as many as I could how human spirit can be incredibly powerful, but also so very afraid of the change and most of the time terrified to commit. We often forget that not everyone is as lucky, beautiful, smart, talented, well accepted, healthy and loved as we think. Not everyone has water, electricity, food, somewhere safe to rest for the night. These people craved not only mere supplies, but hugs, human touch, knowing deep down that someone will remember them, will remember their kids when they are gone, to support them, love them, empower them. To lift their hearts, and crush everything else.
Note: This post has been written a while ago, for some reason it always seemed not good enough to be published. I feel I cannot delay any longer. These stories deserve to be told, over and over again, to as many as possible.