Remember this

Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania are among the most beautiful places on this planet. Anybody who has been there will tell you. They are beautiful because of the exotic plant and animal life, and also because of their insanely gorgeous landscapes. They are fascinating because of their history overcoming challenges and strife. 

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But - as anybody who’s been there will tell you - these African nations are deeply exquisite because of the sweet people within. Women who are mentally, physically, and emotionally stronger than any American politician could ever hope to be, children who rise above more hardship before breakfast than most of us do our whole lives, and men who are fighting in every way for their families to have hope and a future. 

Our family had experienced the greatest hospitality, warmth, and love in these African nations. We have taken boats on the Nile River, experienced The Great Migration on the Masai Mara, and stood in an endless field of 4-foot grass admiring how God perfectly provides for His creatures. We have had the most extraordinary experiences of our existence in some of the African countries our President just insulted, because it is in one of these that we met our beautiful Pearl Girl.  

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We met her, and we fell in love with her birth country. We were represented by an African attorney who helped us stand in front of an African judge and commit our lives to parenting her. A significant part of that commitment is giving of our time, attention, resources, and love to this place we hold so dear. We deeply love her country of birth, and we honor it in every way we can conceive.

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Today, we honor it by speaking up to say - African nations are NOT “$h!th0le” places. 

Pearl’s home country and all the nations of color our “President” has spoken so poorly about are precious treasures in our world, and our both lives as Wilsons and our collective life in this nation as Americans would be so, so dull without them.   

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Any dim-witted, racist politician who calls these - and any other nations in our world - a “$h!th0le,” speaks out of ignorance. He should ask someone who has been there. Or better yet, make an effort to see these amazing countries for himself, and try it through eyes of understanding and love rather than fear and disdain. 

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To all our African friends: We love you dearly. We are embarrassed by and wholly condemn President Trump’s remarks about your nations, and we want you to know that this is not the heart of America. We are a country made of loving people, just like you. My hope is that it is our voices and not his that you remember. 

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Choosing to SEE (Mary Beth Chapman)

Thanks to a hot Kindle sale, I was able to read this narrative biographical journey of Mary Beth and the Chapman family throughout their rather tumultuous life experiences. In the book, she tells of her early life together with Christian singer/songwriter Steven Curtis Chapman. She also tells of their family's growth through birth and through adoption. She writes very candidly about the sad accident which caused the death of little Maria, one of their daughters. This is a book that resonates with every mother, and unlike many of the popular "celebrity" books written today, Mrs. Mary Beth is as real as it gets. I'm thankful for her courage in writing this book.

Beatrice's Goat (Paige McBrier)

More than anything in the world, Beatrice wants to go to school. Sadly, her west Ugandan family is too poor to buy her books and a uniform to attend. One day, they are given a goat, which changes everything for her family. The children have milk to drink, which makes them healthier. They are even able to make money by selling some of the goat's milk. The goat eventually helps Beatrice's parents build a newer, cleaner, safer place...and it also helps Beatrice achieve her dream of going to school. 





Girl Soldier: A Story of Hope for Northern Uganda's Children (Grace Akallo and Faith McDonnell)








Grace Akallo is a young woman who was abducted from her school in the middle of the night to serve as a child soldier and sex slave of the rebel army known as the LRA (stands for Lord's Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony) in Uganda. She tells stories of the absolutely horrific things she saw, experienced, and was forced to do. This poor girl suffered hell on earth. The good news is, she lived through it, and is using her voice to spread the news of what is happening in northern Uganda. And the sad news is, we need her to keep doing it because it seems like the entire world is ignoring the atrocities that continue to plague the Ugandan people.

Faith McDonnell is an author and humanitarian who became interested in telling the story of the child soldiers in Uganda, and once she met Grace and heard her stories, it was decided that they would co-author this book, in which chapters alternate between Grace's narrative of actual experience and Faith's historical explanation of how these events came to transpire in Uganda. It's a beautifully written book that tells a very dark story, but again, it is one that will change your life forever. 

What I've learned is that in Uganda's history, the most powerful leader (or the one with the biggest army or the best guns) is who gets to be in charge. There has been a crazy, violent, twisted "king of the hill" tug of war for power since Uganda's establishment as a British protectorate in the 1800's. Right now, things are stable with the Ugandan government, but there are factions of rebel armies who roam the countryside and take their anger at not being in power out on innocent civilians. Most of those are children. 

What Grace tells us- from her own personal experience- is that the LRA would raid schools and villages in the middle of the night, when people are most vulnerable. They would abduct the children, and immediately begin the process of dehumanizing them by forcing them to kill a sibling, their parents, or another child. This tactic ensured the child would feel alienated from society and therefore would not attempt to escape. The manner in which the murders took place were the most savage, most violent possible. Smashing heads in, using a panga/machete to chop bodies apart piece by piece, stabbing with bayonets, beating with clubs, cutting lips and eyelids off with razorblades, stabbing through lips and pinning person to the ground with a knife, etc. Many of the killing methods I read about that these children were forced to carry out were so terrible that I have never even heard of them. So incredibly sad. These same methods were used to kill parents, teachers, or village elders who tried to protect the children. 

Once they had taken another life, then the children were trained to be killing machines. They were forced to walk for long distances with no shoes or food, carrying materials and weapons for the army. The girls were given to soldiers as "wives," which really meant that they were raped repeatedly. 

I found it interesting that the Islamic Sudanese were funding the LRA through weapons and militia. 

At this moment, Uganda is slowly recovering. Hundreds of thousands of Ugandan people, including those who were children who were forced to serve in the LRA and people who lost their land/homes/family/lives to the LRA, are living in refugee camps scattered throughout northern Uganda. That is a very slow start to the mountain of needs these people have. They have extremely limited medical care, no government protection, very little food, no access to education, and no clean water. 

Eventually Joseph Kony was driven to Sudan by the Ugandan government's troops. There are still divisions of the LRA who are in and active in Uganda. They repeatedly attack the refugee camps and burn families alive, demand food from the people, and continue to kidnap children. 

There are thousands of children who have been forced to become "night commuters," which means they literally walk up to 10 miles one way each day to make it to a shelter or hospital just so they can sleep without fear of being abducted in the middle of the night by the LRA. Rather than providing for these poor kids who are forced to take such desperate measures, it is reported that they are harassed by men and teenage boys along their route. Some girls have been raped. 

Then there are all the former child soldiers whose innocence was stripped away from them when they were forced to kill- violently. They are trying to re-enter a society which does not understand how to help them. The children's minds and hearts have been changed forever. There are organizations like World Vision who have a presence there in Uganda who have counseling centers to help rehabilitate the children back to a point where they can function within Ugandan culture. Slowly but surely, the country is trying to recover from such a nightmare. 

Included at the end of the book is an exhaustive list of resources for people who have been moved to help the Ugandan people after reading this story. It is wise for the authors to include this, because there is no possible way a person can take all of this in without being moved to action. 

Knowing these things leads me to pray more specifically and exhaustively for the Ugandan people. I am praying for resources and help to arrive soon for the refugees, for the Ugandan government to step it up in caring for these displaced people, for families to be reunited and restored, for physical, psychological, and emotional healing to occur for the people, for the former child soldiers to forgive themselves for what they have been forced to do, and of course for all the orphans left behind in the massacres of the Ugandan people. I pray that the Ugandan culture is restored, and that every orphan child has someone to truly love and care for them.

Welcome to Uganda (Grace Pundyk; Welcome to My Country series by Gareth Stevens Publishing)

This was a wonderful basic-level overview of Uganda's history, government, and culture. The author provides very simple descriptions and explanations of the features of the Ugandan flag, its rivers and lakes, its plants and animals, and its history (including the terrible years of Milton Obote and then Idi Amin). She briefly mentions the existence of child soldiers, but does not explain that they are kidnapped from their families and forced to fight in the rebel LRA army. I suppose that may be a bit too much for young adult nonfiction, though.

I found these points very interesting:
-When a boy turns 15, he is old enough to serve in the Ugandan national army.
-In 1997, President Yoweri Museveni (still serving as President) introduced the Universal Primary Education program, which provides free education for up to 4 children in every family. If a family includes boys and girls, 2 of the students must be girls. If a child has special needs or some sort of physical disability, he or she must be given preference among applicants to local school programs. This program has increased the number of Ugandan schoolchildren from 2.5 million to over 6.5 million.
-Some Ugandans believe that their living elders can curse family members with illness or bad luck.
-Storytelling is a vital part of Ugandan life, and is even included in the school program.
-Popular foods are matooke, ugali, yams, potatoes, cassavas, and luwombo.

I think this book would be a perfect introduction to a 3rd or 4th grader to the Ugandan culture. I think that it would be good for them to read about how difficult it is for children to get an education in Uganda, and would likely prompt them to be thankful for the abundance of opportunities they have here in the United States.

Despite the number of books I have found about Uganda, I am pleased with the consistency in its story, even if I continue to be heartbroken over the plight of this country and its millions of orphans.