One of our boys has a traditional Ugandan name that is uncommon here in America, “Desire”. He is seven and one of our youngest boys. I always thought his face was too pretty, so when we went to visit his jjajja I learned they are Rwandese. Desire likes to get attention so he will find me where ever I might be and do a silly little trick with a big smile to get a hug, smile or laugh out of me. He is also quick to whine for his way and put up a little tantrum. All of the children in the home peg him as second big trouble maker in the family. Curiously he already knows he is cute enough to use it to his advantage. Except that with Auntie Julie, Kiah, Phiona and Robert, it doesn’t work. Maybe it works at school with his teachers though. He is a good student.
Visiting his home was nice because his jjajja is hard at work making palm branch mats to sell. She was quick to recognize me as a potential customer. When she said, “what are you doing to help the elderly?” I admit my guard was raised. It is so easy to become overwhelmed with requests for help that I have to enter every day knowing our specific calling and cause. What hurts more than anything is to perpetuate the expectation that foreigners will just give away things. I was relieved when she asked me to support her business!
I was happy to put in an order for ten mats. I am quite romantic about the way people spread out one of these colorful hand woven mats under the shade of a tree in the middle of the day and enjoy a meal there. It looks like a picnic to me. I have a romantic vision of throwing down the mats and sharing the bible with people out in the village. There’s an urgent need in my heart to share that God loves them, hears their prayers, has not forgotten them and craves their devotion to him. I want to share what Jesus taught during his ministry and what he did for us so we are able to go to heaven for eternity. I want them to know the promises of the bible. And I want to learn from them and hear their life stories. The highlights of my life have been sitting in small circles with villagers from Uganda listening to how God is working in their lives. I can’t get enough of that learning.
So yes! Please make us some mats. Maybe someday I’ll be able to fit them into suitcases and bring them home. I have always wanted to overlap the mats and attach them to one wall in Kira’s room to cover the whole wall. I feel strongly about supporting those who work with their hands.
While sitting in their small house with Desire and his jjajja I learned that she is his mother’s mother. His father died before his mother, who just died last year. He has a nine year old sister who has gone to live as a daughter in a pastor’s home. She is well cared for and going to school. Desire has never mentioned having a sister. Jjajja was so happy she got to live at their home, so she prayed and prayed that Desire would get a home to live in too. Kirabo Seeds was the answer to her prayers when we came to talk to her about Desire. Part of me wonders if Desire’s undesirable behaviors are part of how he is sorting out the feelings about losing his mom recently. These feelings are deep and complicated so he probably doesn’t have words for them.
The way families parent in Uganda is not at all the same way we do it in America. During the six weeks we lived there for our adoption I learned a lot about how they raise their children and it rocked me out of the chair! In my arrogance I had assumed all parents do it the American way. “Of course our way would be the only way that it is done.” I was so embarrassed once I understood the alternative, but it took me a while to understand it. And then it altered my thinking on adoption! Once I understood how they raise their children I realized how devastating it was for one to leave the country and have a forever home somewhere else. Everyone in Uganda is somehow related, or so it seems, so the whole country grieves to see one go.
The parenting in Uganda really is done by the village. A mother is not the only authority over the child. Every adult who knows the child has a responsibility to discipline and teach and care for him. With this understanding it makes sense that all women of a younger age are called Aunties, then those my age are called Mom, and all older women are called jjajja. If you are of the mom age, you are expected to act like a mom to those children in your circles, and likewise the children will think of you as mom and come to you to meet needs. Children naturally go to any adult when they have a need and trust them to care. Men are either Uncles, or Tata. Sadly, it is not traditional for the men to be involved in parenting. The men who have learned the biblical model for parenting are great dads and uncles, but otherwise they do their own thing. They work, hang around with their friends, and the women do the work of raising the children. Sadly, most cases I know, the men have just gone their own way and left the women to raise the children. I don’t know many fathers who are actively in their home helping to raise the children. This is one condition that may be true, it may be cultural, but it isn’t right, it isn’t God’s plan for the family according to the bible. I wouldn’t mind losing my breath teaching God’s way for the father’s role in the family, but Craig has more clout for teaching this topic.
It shocked me to find out that a child can be, and most likely will be spanked on the street by a friend who knows the child. I think that would be a charge for assault in America! It is quite common for children to be sent to live with relatives in other parts of Uganda for a couple years. Phiona was sent to live in the village with her jjajja for a few years as a child. She went to a school there and did a lot of house work for her jjajja and the uncles who lived there. I love to hear the stories of what she did and learned from living in the village. It sounded to me like she was their slave, but the way she describes it sounds like it was great fun leaving her with happy memories. She treasures those memories and now has a great appreciation for the village life. Just because she spent a couple years away from her mom didn’t mean her mom wanted her or loved her less. There wasn’t a big problem to solve with Phiona’s behavior, she was just sent away because of the school situation. It is simply the way they raise their children. It is common for a child to go live with a family member somewhere else for a couple years and mom isn’t degraded or judged for making that choice.
If I sent my kids to go live with my mom for a few years I better be in a mental hospital! We don’t do it that way at all in America. So the fact that we have fifteen children living in our home doesn’t at all mean that the extended families have let go of the children. They essentially see us as worthy relatives and are allowing us to raise them. But at no point ever would anyone agree to them being adopted by foreign families and taken away to live in a different culture never to be seen again. Even though both parents have died and they are legally orphans, they have family members who need them.
These old jjajjas are relying on these children to take care of them when the children are grown and especially if they become feeble. That is the way. There is no option out of that responsibility. They don’t have nursing homes in Uganda. That’s another embarrassing American family way. When I explain that to Ugandans they are horrified. But…Craig’s grandma lives in an assisted living home and loves it! She’s 97 and enjoys her social life there.
Is it clear now why children are not adopted out of our home? They are Ugandan and they have relatives that love them and want to be a part of their lives, even though their parents have gone, they are still family. The children who should be adopted are those whose parents abandoned them without identification at hospitals, in the road, on trash heaps, in busy markets, or worse case a pit latrine. Our Kira was totally abandoned without a single person claiming to know her while her umbilical cord was freshly cut. So we try to tie her life to Uganda as much as possible. Our organization is her legacy, it is the seeds sown from the love we have for her and her culture.
Now that I understand how valuable relationships are in Uganda I feel the deep sadness at the thought of children leaving Uganda. Our family connects our lives with Uganda and the benefit for Kira is she will always know her culture because she won’t remember a time when she didn’t visit or participate in our children’s home. I too feel the sadness Ugandans feel when a child goes away. But there are those children who have no one to claim them and they will flourish in their new forever families.
What I have learned is adoption is not the only option for every child who loses their parents. The culture of Uganda taught me this valuable lesson. I also see that the way we parent in America is not the only way, nor should we assume it is the right way. What I didn’t even know is it “is A way”. And our Kirabo Seeds home is one way for orphaned children to grow up in a family. Having differences in parenting styles are only interesting as long as they honor God’s design for the family first.