Monday, November 13, 2006

My last (and best) day in Kitgum

Tom & Egidio
Originally uploaded by tomgivemeaning.

Written at 7:30am, Sunday November 12th

Please read this blog entry in its entirety. It's my last post from Kitgum and you will quickly come to see why it might be the most special post of the trip.

I am leaving Kitgum this morning. Driving time is estimated to be about 7 hours but we might make a stop in Gulu. The cell phone network was down for most of Saturday and I was getting worried that I would not be able to get in touch with Okeny Egidio, who runs Northern Uganda Child Returnee Association ("NUCRA") the NGO supported by

Finally at about 6pm, the cell phone coverage was back on and within minutes of the network being on (such a funny thing to say about a cell network but such is life here) Egidio called me and we arranged to meet.

This is Egidio's story:

Egidio was abducted by the LRA when he was 12 years-old. He and a group of his fellow students were ambushed on their way into school. He and his classmates watched as his teachers were slaughtered and some of his other students were forced by the LRA to murder their teachers.

Constantly looking for an escape, he found an opportunity to do so when during a fight, the second-in-command lost his gun. He and about 10 other abductees tried to escape but it was in vain. They were captured and severely beaten. As punishment, he was forced to harvest honey from bee hives without protection or fire. The bees became so agitated and angry from Egidio's attempts at harvesting that the bees swarmed the LRA camp, and scattered the soldiers, providing a great opportunity to escape.

Egidio ran from the camp as far as he could and hid alone for days in the bush eating whatever he could to survive. After days of running, he came across a village and a village priest helped him to a Ugandan army barracks. There he was interviewed, given some food and then dropped at an IDP camp. Through a Welcome Centre (like the one I wrote about earlier this week), he was reunited with his family.

He couldn't stay in his own town (for fear that the rebels might come back) so he completed his O-Level (Grade 10) in Western Uganda. In 2001, he completed his A-Levels (graduating from high school). Shortly thereafter, his sister (his only remaining member of his family) was killed by a land mine along the Kitgum-Gulu road.

NUCRA - My best and final story from Kitgum
Egidio finally felt safe enough to return to his home here in Kitgum. Almost immediately after returning, he and six other young abudctees that he met at the Welcome Centre, started a brick-laying business for income generation. They continued to grow their brick-laying business and at the same time, Egidio secured his diploma in Public Health, and began overseeing contracts for the local districts. From a portion of his salary, he re-invested this in expanding the scope of NUCRA activities.

Now NUCRA stands at over 20 members, each of them former abductees and war affected youth. They have now grown their revenue-generating activities to pay for the education costs for three war affected young people (currently ongoing) and have gained respect from bigger NGO's and city districts to be hired to oversee local projects. NUCRA requires each member to pay a one-time startup fee of 5,000 shillings (about US $3) and an annual membership fee of 10,000 shillings (about $5 a year). This way, members are more invested in NUCRA's activities. What's amazing to consider is that these young people, all former abductees and war affected youth are investing their time and money into an organization to support other war affected youth. Without a doubt, this is the model that we as Western Donors should want to support.

GiveMeaning in action
GiveMeaning donors paid about $2,000 US for a Grinding Mill which has now been in operation for a little more than 2 months generating a net income of about 90,000 shillings (about US $50) in September and 130,000 shillings (about $70) in October. It may be difficult for some of you to imagine that this amount of income makes an impact but here in Kitgum, it is sufficient to significantly contribute to the income of the three young people that NUCRA is sponsoring.

Seeing the Grinding Mill in operation, reviewing the accounting and talking to Egidio about the impact that the Grinding Mill is having in just its first few months of operation was one of the most proud and meaningful moments of my life. It's quite an amazing concept to consider: Chris & Jeannie (people I've never met and who heard of GiveMeaning through a friend) came to the site, posted a project to support war affected youth in Northern Uganda, and a short while later had raised money amongst their friends and family and then here I am standing here seeing with my own eyes seeing the positive impact generated from these funds. It reaffirms for me everything that we are doing. I have in fact been so caught-up in my head (asking questions of Egidio and thinking about how to further support NUCRA) that I hadn't stopped to consider how I feel about meeting Egidio and seeing the project. The pride, gratitude and inspiration that I feel is just too much to even try to put into words. For now, all I can say is that everyone who has worked so hard to make GiveMeaning what it is, everyone who has supported us financially, who has promoted us to their friends and family, we should all feel incredibly proud of what we have built.

Totally shocked to learn that...

Egidio presents himself so well, is so well-spoken and is so efficient with NUCRA's activities that I had assumed he was probably around my age. It absolutely shocked me to find out that he is only 18 years-old!!! This incredibly well-organized, driven entrepreneur who is committed to making his community a better place and who has turned the horrible attrocities that have been inflicted upon him, his family and his community into such positive change is only 18 years-old!!

I am totally humbled by Egidio. Without a doubt, he is the future of this country.

It's now time to leave for Kampala. It will be more than 500km of driving today.

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