Is there really any hope at New Hope School?

New Hope School is an orpanage for HIV+ children, and it is located in Entebbe, about an hour outside the capital of Kampala. The school itself has nearly zero resources. Right now they only have 1 teacher and few administrators to serve the needs of the 80 children ranging from toddlers to teens. There is one big classroom, that has long group desks, and 1 blackboard that is in very bad condition. I cant imagine that it is easy to write on and to be able to use for lessons, but Im not sure how much that matters as I didn’t see any chalk around anyway. They also have a few small rooms as well, all with dirty cement floors and walls, the biggest is the dormitory that house bunkbeds that are 3 high. I realized quickly that there were not enough beds for each child to have their own, and that many are sleeping 3-4 in one bed. The stench from the dorm was pretty bad, and the reality is that the younger ones wet the bed, and there is no one and no way to clean or sanitize the mattresses. Not to mention none of these kids get regular baths, and when they do rinse, the water is not clean. The bacteria and germs that fester in there no doubt lead to serious illness. Like most HIV+ people whose immune systems can not protect them, it is the secondary diseases that are deadly. Of course nutrition and clean water for drinking are also a huge problem here, but what makes this place so different from the other places we’ve been working is the debilitating lack of love, appropriate touch & affection these children are deprived of.

 With a portion of the funds that we raised (clearly OTM knows how to stretch a dollar…right?) we purchased new mattresses for the dorm, we bought a variety of seeds and helped them with the garden so that they will have better nutrition and more sustainability, two water filtration systems so that they can have clean water for drinking & bathing, and school books because education is the only chance these kids have of surviving.

 Our mission for the day was to present them with these gifts but more so to play with them, to shower them with the love and affection they so desperately want and need, but never do they get. We brought so many fun activities including jump ropes, 20 some soccer balls, a huge parachute, we did yoga, and danced and read books. We split the kids into small groups and rotated them through so that they each had a chance to play with all of us and to experience all of the activities. While all of that was going on we also painted a beautiful mural on the wall of their “library” (I use that word generously as they dont have many books), applied a fluoride treatment to their teeth, that have never seen a dentist (we also left toothbrushes & toothpaste) and we took a picture of each child. This was really cool, as these kids dont have mirrors let along pictures and many have NEVER seen themselves. So we printed out a headshot of each beautiful child and put it in a plastic frame for them. It was a delicious experience. Each little face wore a unique expression. Some were ecstatic, others more reserved yet some of them wore bright smiles for the moment but you could see the loneliness in their eyes.

 I bounced around and did all the activities, then settled in the picture room to read with the kids while they were awaiting their turn for the photo. At first I was just reading to them, but soon I realized they wanted to read to me. They were very excited to practice their reading  and to prove to me that they were “good” and I soon had a group gathered around. They were sitting on my lap, squishing in on both sides hovering over my shoulders and even sitting in front and reading upside down. In a chorus we read aloud, and I walked them slowly through any words they didnt know. I made a point to touch them all, to rub their backs, to look them deep into the eyes, and to tell them how smart and wonderful they are. Typically this is what ones parents do, but unfortunately for these kids they dont have parents. The day was a great success, and the children had a fabulous experience, laughing, playing and having the time of their lives.

 Before long, it was time for us to leave. We still have a few more places to work while were here, so just this one day was all they got. We gathered the whole crew together, our group and all of the children to take group photos and to say goodbye. By this time I had two young ladies who has attached themselves to me, one holding each hand and not letting go. They had been with me all day long and I knew that my attention was meaningful to them. I walked them over to a small bench under a tree (one of the only small places in the entire yard that actually had some shade) and I told them that they can make something of their lives. I told them that they were smart and beautiful and that if they study hard, and focus on their education that they can create a good life. I hugged each of them really really hard. I told them to hold me tighter and we took a few very deep breaths together as we embraced as though that would allow my love to penetrate deeper into their souls. When I released the hold one of my ladies looked directly through me, tears beginning to stream down her face, and she told me that she needed a _______. ( something I didn’t understand). I asked her if that meant a teacher and she shrugged and said “not really but yes, we need someone to show us”. What she was asking me for was for someone to love & take care of her. And to that, I had no answer. My bus was waiting, and I had to leave. As we pulled away, they all stood outside watching us drive away. They didn’t chase the bus laughing and waving like the other places we had served on this journey. Instead they looked very sad. They know, as well as I do, that they will never be adopted. They will not get to university. In fact once they reach a certain age, they are to go back to their villages that have no jobs waiting, with their limited education and no resources. They will marry and have babies. They will struggle and will continue the cycle of poverty & disease. The women, many will be raped, others will work tirelessly until they eventually die of HIV or during childbirth. The men, they will be so dis-empowered by their inability to provide for their families that many will turn to violence or addiction. It will be a miracle if even 5% of the innocent faces that we saw today actually get out of this situation. These kids dont get the ARVs (HIV medication), no one is going to pay for that. This was just too much for me to handle and once we pulled away I lost it. The emotion came up so strong and so fast that my entire body began to writhe with pain. Chest convulsions, runny nose, inability to take a breath. I couldn’t pull it together. WTF????? This is not fair. These innocent children do not deserve this. I am a spiritual woman, and I can usually see the upside, the beauty, and the grace. But right now I just cant. We just frickin drove away and left them all there to suffer unloved. I know that we helped to make their life experience a little better. I know that the garden and water are invaluable, that the mattresses will greatly improve their conditions for a while and that the books will offer the only chance they have. But what doesn’t sit right in my heart is that we came in for 1 day and showed them what it feels like to be seen, loved and cared for. Then we just left. I honestly dont know if it was kind or just plain cruel to do what we did. I know that our intentions were in the right place, but I just dont feel good about it. I bet that those kids are going to cram into their new beds tonight, and lay there thinking about us, wondering if we’ll ever come back. But we wont. I keep thinking about the guest registry book that we signed and the column that asked for reason of visit. All of the entries on the 2 pages before me said they were there to “drop off their children”. There wasn’t a single visitor. Not one! The reality is that these kids know abandonment more than any other feeling. And we just came in and did the same damn thing. I know most people think it’s better to have loved and lost. But after today I’m not so sure. I guess if you really look at the big picture, I’m a 35 year old woman who has never been married and has no kids. Perhaps I’ve always disagreed with that cliche’.


3 Responses to “Is there really any hope at New Hope School?”

  1. 1 michele meixner
    February 15, 2010 at 8:57 am

    wow, thank you for sharing those raw heartfelt words… amazing experience, ‘lots to process and remember that YOU are giving love and that’s more than they’ve ever had and whenever love is shared it affects a person so much , in so many ways that life has the ability to change in a positive way… keep loving and doing what you’re doing there, Love is the most powerful thing and i know you may feel bad about leaving and yes it sucks, but you all DID touch their lives for the better. peace and love

  2. 2 Frank Ruse
    February 17, 2010 at 9:32 pm

    Hi Ladies
    I met these wonderful ladies on my last day in Uganda while on vacation. They all inspired me on how one person can make a difference. Thank you ladies for the wonderful conversation in Jinja and our white rafting experience. My only regret is I wish I would have had more time to talk with and meet with your entire group. It was a pleasure meeting you Terry, Sophia, Sara, Kerry and Suzanne.
    Your friend

  3. 3 Lea-Rae Belcourt
    February 25, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    I hear your frustration. I think you are blessed to have walked away feeling so activated. Can you imagine if you left feeling nothing?
    Sometimes it’s the littlest thing said or the tiniest action that can make all the difference in someone’s life. I had a teacher who called me her “shining star” when I was little and had no concept of myself amounting to anything good. I couldn’t believe it that she saw such goodness in me. It gave me the idea that maybe I COULD be what she said and made me WANT to be a shining star. Maybe she said it to all of the kids…maybe she didn’t even believe it herself but was just a damn good teacher who knew that love and praise will make a child climb and strive to grow. I am now 34 years old and I think of her very often and know she helped me beyond words.
    You gave so much to those children that they didn’t have the day before. You modelled love, hope, joy…they will find their own ways to recreate that experience. You have made a difference.
    Thank you for sharing.

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