Stella and Agu

Written by Megan Ridge on 2/8/2010:

We had the most amazing experience today at the Acholi Quarters. For those of you that are not familiar with this place, let me give you a brief history. In 1986, an Acholi man named Joseph Kony started a group called “The Lord’s Resistance Army.” His aim was to overthrow the Ugandan government in favor of a more scripture based government. It quickly became clear to the majority of the population that the LRA was an unfocused attempt at controlling government, and perhaps more about Kony gaining individual power than anything else. Kony started abducting Acholi children to create an army. During these mass abductions, the group would steal medicine, weapons, and money. On the day of the abductions, Kony would usually make the children commit some kind of terrible atrocity in front of their entire community– bite someone to death, cannibalize a family member, or kill a brother or sister with his bare hands. They felt that this kind of trauma would make the child never want to return to their previous life out of shame. This is the LRA’s 24th year of activity, though things have been peaceful in Northern Uganda for the past 3 years. Most believe that the group is weakening and perhaps has moved up into Southern Sudan. The people of Northern Uganda are intoxicated with optimism, saying that Kony is now Sudan’s problem. The fact is, Kony is still free. 30,000 children have been abducted to date, and at the moment there is believed to be about 800 total members in the LRA. I could go on, but I think you get the gist.

Today, we heard two Acholi women’s stories. We had a translator, and they told us how they fled Northern Uganda to escape the LRA. They now live in the Acholi Quarters, a piece of land in Southern Uganda, purchased in 1956 by the King of Buganda, and they raise their families there. As more refugees flooded the land in the 1980’s, diseases spread- especially HIV. Many of the children died and now many grandmothers are caring for their grandchildren. Some women are providing for as many as 19 children.

It was our great honor to take several donations to the Acholi people. With additional funds we purchased beans, flour, soap and medicine for each family. I found out that the two families I was assigned to have a total of 16 children between them. So I rummaged through the donations and picked out a jump rope, frisbee, several books, baby clothes, and toothpaste/brushes. I hoped it would be enough.

Most of the people do not speak English. Only the educated Ugandans speak English. The Acholi Quarters is so HUGELY different from the city of Kampala, and it’s only 20 minutes away. These are the poorest of the poor. We were lead into a large room where about 20 adults sat, smiling and clapping, and as soon as everyone was settled, they sang us a welcome song in their language. We sang “Amazing Grace” back to them. Our trip leader, Joseph, explained to them why we were there and what we were going to provide for them. There are about 1,000 people living in this area, but we were only able to provide for 40 families.

I had the great fortune of being matched with two women- Stella and Agu. Stella spoke broken English, which was a special opportunity, as most of the population does not. I was able to communicate with these women in a way I did not think was going to be possible. Stella took me to Agu’s house first so she could translate. Agu’s house was at the top of a very steep, rocky, red dirt hill– which was really good for me, carrying a 25-pound bag of flour and beans! The physical effort it required of me to get up that hill, and still smile and say hello to all of the curious children, really took my mind off the fact that I was clueless as to what I was going to do once I arrived in her home.

Her house…was the size of my hotel bathroom and there were two benches inside. All of her children came in and gathered around and shook my hand saying “thank you.” And I immediately understood that there was nothing to do but just be there. I listened while Stella told me that Agu’s husband passed away and she has been raising her 8 children by herself. Both of Agu’s parents are gone. She goes to the stone quarry at the top of the hill every day and works so she can pay the $20/month rent for her living space and feed her children. They eat one meal a day. I surprised myself in my ability to be present and grounded in the moment. I felt very little pity, only compassion. I reached out for Agu’s hand and held it for a while. I knew we were one and we were equally blessed to be in the presence of one another. In reality, she was actually serving me.

After several pictures, we went back down the hill to Stella’s home, and along the way she introduced me to several people, all smiles and handshakes. Beautiful little kids pointing, smiling, chanting, “Muzungo!” which means, “white person.” Stella’s home was much the same as Agu’s; perhaps a little sturdier looking, two beat up chairs and a small stove filled the space. She told me that she went into town to learn English– she is 24 years old, tending to 7 children, three of which are her sister’s children. Her sister was shot in Northern Uganda during their escape from the war. She was pregnant at the time. They thought it best to deliver her baby and she died. Her son does not have a hand because of the shooting, but it’s truly a miracle that he’s alive. Stella was as optimistic and generous as Agu. I wish I could have given them the world, but that’s not what they wanted. They are the loveliest people I have ever met– they live in a 10X10 room with nothing in it, and love bigger than imaginable.

As I was leaving Stella’s home (and believe me, I didn’t want to go), there were so many hugs. A young woman I hadn’t met yet came up to me, put a necklace around my neck and said, “I love your name, Megan. It is so beautiful.” And then Stella placed another necklace around me, and then Agu. Three recycled paper bead necklaces that they made in their community, the most beautiful mementos I have ever received. As I made my way to the bus, Stella gave me another tight squeeze and asked me, “When are you coming back to us?” And I said, “As soon as I possibly can.”

On the drive back, some emotions finally came up. It looks hopeless, because it’s not just the Acholi Quarters that needs attention. It’s the whole country. These people are living in absolute, unimaginable poverty. It’s not comparable, not even close to what we witness in America. There is a reason why our material possessions are ruining us. There’s imbalance in the world and is the job of the fortunate to sustain that balance. This is our responsibility. On the other hand, it was a magical, beautiful, joyful day. I could have sat among these women much longer than we were able. I feel so lucky that I got to hear their stories and hold their babies. I realized that each life is unique, but much the same.

I read a letter that my mother wrote for me today.  It quoted, “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something. If everyone does something, together we can change the world.” Amen.

Bless the whole world,


To view Megan’s full blog, please visit:  www.AlliedForUganda.blogspot.com/


2 Responses to “Stella and Agu”

  1. 1 michele meixner
    February 20, 2010 at 9:08 pm

    thank you for sharing your story, the details of these lives that seem so far away from ours here in the states, yet not… we all must be informed and help when we can. thank you for connecting me deeper to these beautiful womyn so far from me through your words from your experience:)

  2. 2 Lea-Rae Belcourt
    February 25, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    Keep the faith and lead the way. Your story will resonate with so many and maybe even inspire someone to take action just like you. You are an inspiration. I am honoured to read about Stella and Agu. Thank you so much!

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