Clares in Uganda 6th July 20

Hi everyone!

It seems the plan for shorter, more regular emails has once again failed so I’m afraid this one is on the longer side again. Thank you to everyone who has got in touch with updates since we last emailed. We love to hear from you.


"Learning Uganda"

So this week Arua became a city! We’re not quite sure what this really means but people stayed up until midnight on Tuesday to go into the streets shouting and screaming for a good hour or so. We had no idea what was going on so weren’t best pleased. Milly explained it all the following day - turns out she was up past midnight as well, keeping her neighbours awake a little further down the road!
Joel loves to help Milly and Noble with jobs around the house
We feel like we’re only just beginning to gain some understanding of the culture here and start to grasp why things work the way they do. Or as Eli (5) put it "Mummy, I'm now learning Uganda". Milly has been a great help in this and in addition to helping out with cooking and cleaning has become our unofficial language teacher as well. She’s such a blessing and we’re thankful for her every day. She keeps me sane when sometimes three out of the four boys are crying, she doesn’t seem to judge the daily homeschool battles and helps me navigate visitors and their needs.

Life here is tough though. In the same breath as she excitedly explained about the celebrations, Milly, still smiling, explained that a relative had also died at midnight last night. An elderly widower whose four children were all either alcoholics or addicted to smoking opium, having died of hunger with no one to look after him. The burial was later that day and would be short and simple. A few weeks ago another uncle of Milly’s died from ‘drinking alcohol for three days and not eating’. His family were also alcoholics apparently - she had very little sympathy and had to be persuaded by her close family to attend the burial.
Tom taking the boys through the fascinating waste segregation segment of his infection control training for health centres in the Diocese

Deep-rooted brokenness

We’re learning of a huge deal of brokenness here and even though we’ve still only got to know a handful of people locally, there seems to be a common theme of family breakdown and addiction. As part of Tom’s work, he’s been involved in a programme to sensitise the community to the huge problem of gender-based violence (or GBV). This concept includes a wide range of areas, including physical, sexual, emotional & economic abuse based on gender norms and unequal power relationships and has by all accounts worsened during lockdown as children are out of school and fathers are out of work. Whilst most cases of GBV come under the title of violence against women and girls, GBV also includes violence against men and boys and our health department decided to focus on men as victims of GBV in the run up to the local date for Father’s Day.

There was a press conference with the bishop (which made it to national TV), along with several other ventures, such as a drawing competition for children to express their experiences of violence during the COVID lockdown. Seeing this artwork come in has been fascinating and equally harrowing – fascinating in the way that the children astutely depict alcohol and substance misuse as well as financial pressures in their drawings, but harrowing in the realisation that many of their pictures are based on personal experience. In the national violence against children study here across Uganda in 2018, researchers found that 75% of adults had experienced some form of violence in childhood - 1 in 3 girls had been a victim of some form of sexual violence, including the 10% of all girls who underwent the trauma of forced or pressured sex. The next step for us will be taking steps to try and address the underlying causes which will obviously be a huge challenge.

Aside from the GBV programme, Tom has been busy preparing (and this week delivering) some infection control training for health centre staff in light of COVID and ordering more protective equipment for the health centres as part of a programme sponsored by Irish Aid. He’s enjoyed getting out and about, particularly enjoying seeing some patients at the health centres when he’s visiting.
The boys have enjoyed getting involved in the harvest - we've had an abundance of mangoes from our one tree and now the beans are ready for drying (top - shelling the beans ; bottom left - Eli with a day's mango haul)
They also spend a lot of time in imaginary play around the garden (bottom right - Ezra and Joel making 'soup')

Finding a new rhythm

Lockdown was eased a few weeks ago and now most of the shops have reopened, apart from non-food markets. Public gatherings are supposed to be limited to 5 and the main imposition is that passenger transport is still banned. The number of cases is still fairly low on a global scale (902 cases, 0 deaths) but as most of the cases have been brought in from neighbouring countries, they are continuing to restrict transport in the border regions. This means there are large numbers of people who are struggling with no income and there are continued problems with people not being able to travel to health centres or hospitals.

We’ve settled into a new routine with Tom working full time for the last month. We manage to get some amount of homeschooling done each morning while Joel and Simeon either play around us -for Joel this often involves climbing on us and sitting on or scribbling over the boys’ books - or they follow Noble, our watchman, around the garden while he tries to work. It’s hard work trying to keep the older boys focussed but we’re doing our best for now.

Joel, Ezra and I go for walks in our neighbourhood most evenings and we’ve got to know some children from a few families who Ezra plays with, joining in with their local games. All ages seem to love babies here so Joel is always a big hit and gets carried off by older children. It’s harder to get to know the parents but I’m slowly befriending a few of the mums and need to be patient in this. Eli and Simeon usually prefer to stay at home. Eli in particular finds it harder not to get upset when the local children point and laugh at us and try and chase and stroke him, but he’s finding it a bit easier each time he comes out.

His grace is enough

There is so much need here and we’re learning how best to help people, when the assumed solution is that we will give money to friends and visitors who ask. I’ve spent a good number of hours in conversation with an interesting chap we've got to know a little, who openly talks about it being good to ‘have access to mundus’ (white people) because 'they have access to money'. A good number of those mundus who have previously supported him are currently stuck in other countries and won’t be back for a while. On the one hand, he’s right and we’re very aware that us just being here means Milly and Noble have a job and can support their families better but it brings up all sorts of questions about our role and how we interact as foreigners here.

We’re thankful that the boys are generally more settled and we’re enjoying getting to know people in the local community. We’re also thankful for some other expat families who we’ve been able to join in with for a small, weekly home church, as local church buildings remain closed.

We’ve always prayed that God would break our hearts for the people here and fill us with love and compassion. We’re thankful for daily opportunities to interact with different people but are conscious we need to be wise in our interactions. Life is generally more tiring here - trying to learn and understand a new language and not offend people by saying the wrong thing, loving and helping people in need but also sussing out when people aren’t being genuine and being careful not to become cynical.

We’ve enjoyed watching a weekly online church upload from Worship for Everyone - a family with four children in the UK. We’ve often been challenged by the uncomplicated take-away messages and the songs they write and perform. The most recent song, Slingshot, reminds us of God’s power in our weakness, based around the story of David and Goliath. We’re so thankful that ‘God’s grace is sufficient for us, for his power is made perfect in weakness.’ 2 Corinthians 12:9.
Hanging out with some new local friends
Things to pray for:
  • Continued energy, love and grace in our interactions with the people God brings into our lives each day
  • For us to keep God at the centre of our family as we live out life together in full view of Milly and Noble, both of whom come from reasonably complicated family homes
  • For protection for health centre staff in the diocese as coronavirus continues to be a major risk near the border and with some limited local transmission
  • For protection for all local people at risk of gender-based violence and for wisdom for us as we look to implement solutions addressing the practical problems whilst pointing firmly to Jesus.
Thanks again for all your prayers and support and please continue to let us know how we can be praying for you in return.

Verity, Tom, Ezra, Eli, Simeon and Joel
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