BRUSSELS: THE ENERGY OF TEDDY AND SHARON

Teddy Bongomin and Sharon Akidi of the Meeting Point International in Kampala

An AVSI booth at the forum on the most important cooperation in Europe and a table where to build necklaces. So two women from the slum of Kireka have “woven international relations” with the story of their lives. And showing what is dignity.

Maria Laura Conte 08/06/2018

” What a powerful energy “: perhaps this is the most frequent comment expressed by those who met in Brussels in recent days Teddy Bongomin and Sharon Akidi , respectively 45 and 20 years, two of the women of the Meeting Point International of Kampala , which on 5 and 6 June were hosted by the European Development Days, the forum for the most important cooperation in Europe , this year dedicated to women empowerment , the defense and promotion of women.

AVSI and MPI have won together the selection to have available a stand where they can tell the participants (experts, analysts, think tanks, officials, heads of state including princesses and queens) in what kind of development aid they believe and it is worth investing more resources. Especially when it comes to women.

And the proposal made to the EU has routed the competition: focusing the stand on the experience of the MPI, the Ugandan reality initiated by Rose Busingye , and then to invite two witnesses of the multi-sectoral program that with the support of AvsI is here proposed to thousands of women that as vulnerable, as they are defined in cooperation, they become protagonists of their life.

It is difficult to describe in writing the attractive force of the lady and girl of the slum Kireka (for Sharon was the first trip ever made by air): wonder, restlessness, perhaps even envy for their freedom they painted on the faces of those who listened to them or were close to them to make a colorful necklace. At the stand there was in fact a sort of small workshop with everything necessary to offer those who wished to learn how to build their own jewelry. Paper pearls (otherwise doubly appreciated by the environmentalist context because they are environmentally sustainable) have been snapped up.

For days, Teddy and Sharon made themselves available to anyone who interviewed them. They answered questions of all kinds, retracing their personal story from the beginning, with patience, as if every time it was the first, with special attention to anyone who faced, from the top official to the volunteer on duty . And while they were talking in such disarmed ways, without realizing it, they were weaving networks of international relations and conveying a precise idea of ​​what empower means , to value-emancipate a woman.

They started from the description of the situation of fragility they were in: for Teddy the illness, the beatings of the husband, the abandonment by the relatives, the loss of his house and his property; for Sharon, she escaped from her village as a child because of the war, the life of being displaced, without food, care and clothes. Until the meeting for both with those who accompanied them to a change of pace, through health care, education, savings groups, the start of business activities … At the heart of the testimony is always the same pillar: clear communication that to have really freed them was the self-consciousness, or the recognition of their value . « Now I am free, now I am free », they repeated, but of a freedom generated by the discovery of being loved and of their own value contained in their own breath, in the pure, essential fact of being in the world. What then the money is missing, that make sure to arrive at the end of the month, that Teddy’s daughter must resist every day the pressure of those who say that for a woman is easy to make money, just sell … All this does not move a millimeter from their certainty.

“Money is important, but it’s not important,” explains Sharon, who knows how to use facial expressions as a teacher: “Only the rich can say that money is not important, because they have it. The poor know that it is important and they would like it. I always repeat: money is important, but I have more money. Money can not buy me. ”

The two women at the Lgbt stand

“If I find out who I am and I stand firm in my dignity ( nobody pronounces dignity in Brussels with Teddy’s granitic tone, devoid of any rhetoric, ed ), he does not define the poverty or violence that I can suffer. My value is irreducible and therefore I can stand in front of everything. Problems do not disappear, but take on real dimensions, which can be tackled ».

The two dragonflies of Kampala are curious, and they are curious too. Nothing that moved in the exhibition space at the “Tour & taxis” center escaped their radar. A nearby booth was run by an LGBT rights defense association. A solitary young man of about thirty was presiding over him, and he did not receive many visits. Teddy watched him sideways, until he could no longer resist and one evening approached him, with Sharon in the ribs. She stayed with him for a long time, did not seem to want to give up: “I wanted to understand what he is looking for, how he is . For us Africans it is a very distant subject. I have listened to him, I have tried to grasp his need, I have not told him anything, except that he must know that he is worth “.

After 48 hours spent in the great cooperation fair, going through the corridors with Sharon meant stopping every two steps: she greeted everyone and had to exchange something with everyone, as if she were the hostess, with her Ugandan dress and her shoes gym. 

The stand was designed to show a way to do development cooperation that, in respect of all the rules and trends that the EU imposes, one of the greatest donors in the world, knows how to get to the real needs of people and from those to start a recovery, trigger a process that allows each person in each context to recover life in hand and play it in full, in its community. Teddy and Sharon transmitted it by osmosis, overcoming the filters of the bureaucracies and pro forma that often envelop these worlds. It is not difficult to think that they have infected more than someone with their way of looking at reality.

Published by Communion and Liberation 

 

From the problems faced, a beautiful story begins

Can you tell me about yourself?

I am Nkundabantu Sarah and I stay in Kireka near Acholi Quarters. I was born in Bushenyi and in a Muslim family so I was a Muslim. I am a mother of 3 children and I lost my husband in 2017.

How did you meet MEETING POINT INTERNATIONAL?

I was suffering a lot and I was tortured by my husband and he was beating me all the time.  I was sickly and my body was full of wounds. We had no food and many other needs. He was a catholic and we always fought over converting to being a Catholic.

One day I went to my neighbour and told her all of my problems. I requested her to teach me how to make paper beads so that I could get transport in order to get money to go back to the village in Bushenyi.

She told me that she also had the same problems before joining Meeting Point International but when she joined, she was helped with most of her problems. And she learnt how to make beads from Meeting Point International.

She invited me to go to Meeting Point International at Kireka and she said that I would get peace.  And so, I asked her on how I would join.  She said that if I wanted, she could take me there. She told me of the days when they normally met. She finally took me to Meeting Point International and I found women there, happy, making beads, and others making matts.

I sat down and I was so quiet and I felt like everyone was looking at me. And I asked her what I could tell them. She told me that I would be sharing with them and if I had any problem, I would share and be counselled. She told me that there was a lady called Teddy and that if she came I would talk to her and share about my problems and that she would hear me out. By that time Aunt Rose had gone for leave. Aunt Teddy counselled me and told me that I would be fine. She encouraged me to continue coming to meet the women.

And the following week I was seeing a change, my stress was reducing. We were dancing a lot. I could go home feeling fresh. In this way, I started to know the women. I started to become happy and I became stress free. I still have problems now though they don’t affect my happiness.

I got a mother who loved me in a special way and taught me about my value (A loving mother Aunt Rose). When I learnt about my value, I became happier. I joined the community school (a place where some friends meet in order to share their experiences and face life in a better way) to learn more about myself until I discovered myself and the meaning of my life.

What makes you so happy about being in Meeting Point International?

What makes me happy is the sharing between the women, dancing, educating me about my value. Aunt Rose teaching us about the value that we have. What makes me happier is my discovery about my value. I was born a Muslim and my whole family was Muslim, I joined Meeting Point International when I was a Muslim but now I am a catholic and I have changed and I am doing catechism at Mbuya church. I am enjoying many things in Meeting Point International.

I saw that you are also working at Meeting Point International, what are you doing?

Before joining Meeting Point International, I was a nurse, I studied as a nurse but my husband could not allow me to go and work, I was just at home. When I joined Meeting Point International, I got a job in Sseta and started working there and when the clinic was sold, I remained without work until Meeting Point International gave me a job so I started working in Meeting Point International as a nurse. Helping the sick women and their children and their husbands, we treat them and we also visit them. If we realise that someone is sick, we go up to their homes and see how they are doing and if it needs the hospital, we report to Aunt Rose, then they are referred to the hospital.

How do you feel when you are helping someone who needs your help?

I feel happy because they are also cooperative. We counsel the sick, showing them love and reminding them of the value that they have. It makes me happy when I can help someone and they also accept to be helped.

What do you Understand about this Value that Aunt Rose made you discover?

the value shows that we are equal. That you and I have the same value and the one who gave me this value is Christ. Christ who gives me life and everyday circumstances is there for me.

What exactly made you to decide to become a catholic?

I became a catholic because of this value which Aunt Rose used to teach me about opened my heart and I want to be near Christ who gave me this value. When Aunt Rose educated my heart, I started dreaming about Communion and Liberation, about the church and priests preaching. My heart changed and I wanted to become a catholic because I loved what she taught me.

I started studying Catechism at Mbuya church and I was baptised on 31/3/18 on Easter Eve.

I am so happy to become a catholic and I am happy to be the child of God. It was not easy for me because my fellow Muslims used to come at my home to embarrass me and threaten me so that I could give up. I could tell them that I do what my heart has decided me to do. No one can stop me now because I am a catholic and I can’t change what God has planned for me.

How did you start selling traces? And why is it so special for you?

I used to buy traces and read about my value and other peoples experiences and this helped to discover more about my value

I sell traces because I want other people to learn about their vale and to know about Communion and Liberation and to also share the experiences that are in Traces.

I would like to thank Aunt Rose for helping me discover my value and the meaning of life. I also want to thank my mother Lina for selling traces because I learnt more about my value from buying traces and reading about them. I sell traces at Christ the King church Kampala and I am so happy buy them to read for myself and also sell them. I am happy in Meeting Point International.

 

Ayoo Sarah and the VSLA Groups

Ayoo Sarah and the VSLA Groups

My name is Achan Aida Agnes a social worker of Meeting Point International following the VSLA groups in Naguru.

In 2017 after sharing the money saved, I managed to Identify one of our clients Ayoo Sarah, who was enjoying a success from the VSLA group’s activities.

Sarah joined Meeting Point International in 2006 after she was tested and found out to be HIV positive together with her husband. She is a mother of 6 children and altogether lives in a family of 8 members.

Life in this family was not good because of low income earning. The family used to eat once a day and sometimes went without meals. Her husband lost his job because of a health problem and it was hard for them. The business Sarah was doing needed a lot of energy but due to her sickness, she couldn’t continue operating the business of brewing local Waragi (a spirit).

Sarah joined the saving group in 2013, though Sarah went through many trainings about the VSLA she was not contented with what was taught. She believed that they were going to steal her money. In the first year, Sarah hadn’t saved well because she knew that they were going to steal her money. In the end of the year when the group was sharing, her money was so little compared to her group members who saved well.

In the second year (2014), Sarah decided to move together with her friends. She stopped doubting and started to buy all the shares hence saving well. At the end of the year, she was among the happy ones because she had saved a lot of money, together with her friends.

It was in the second year when Sarah’s eyes opened and realized that saving groups were so good. She could easily get loans from the group. Through financial literacy and Select planning and management, she managed to identify a business of selling water and soft drinks, setting up a stall for selling food stuffs like onions, tomatoes, bananas and many others.

                                                                            

In 2015 (her third year) after sharing the money saved at the end of that year, she managed to buy a popcorn making machine adding onto her existent businesses. She was now able to get Ugx 20,000/= per week from water, Ugx 20,000/= per week from selling food stuff, eventually making Ugx 40,000/= per week. She was able to run this business in 2016.

In the end of 2017, when they shared the money, she bought a motor cycle which operates in Kampala. She employs someone to operate the motorcycle and she collects Ugx 50,000/= from him per week and at the end of the month, she saves Ugx 200,000/= from the motorcycle business

.

Sarah is now happy, she managed to rent a double room with electricity and she can cater for school requirements for her children. They are happy because they can now get their basic needs and they now have 3 meals in a day.

«Forced to kill my people»

In Uganda among the survivors of the horrors of the war. In a slum in Kampala they built a school by breaking stones and creating necklaces

by Alessandra Muglia – photographs by Stefano Schirato – video by Aldo Gianfrate

After a year and a half spent in the bush hostage of the rebels, Adelo was a ghost of herself. “I was 15 when they kidnapped me, but I already had two children, one just a month old. I left them to my mother. They forced me to kill and torture my people. They made me feel worse than them, a damn thing. They raped me, the Hiv came to me. I never thought I would survive all this. And let alone one day see our boys graduate and leave these huts to go to university ». It is almost noon, the sun is hot above the expanse of plates and red soil lying on the hill of Kireka, a suburb of Kampala.

Adelo smiles, then became Ketty, Ketty Adong. “I changed my name once I escaped from the forest,” he says, sitting on a bench in his brick hut in the heart of the Acholi slum. A shanty town without running water, sewers and inhabited mostly by ethnic women Acholi, the same rebels, the most massacred during the civil war that for nearly twenty years has bloodied their lands: the insurgents kidnap them to enlist them and make them they, the government, crammed them into inhumane fields before destroying their villages in search of the militia. Women arrived exhausted from the north, where the fighting raged, they found refuge on this hill overlooking a huge stone quarry. To welcome them Rose Busingye, Ugandan nurse, who dispenses care and attention with her International Meeting Point, an NGO local partner of the AVSI Foundation. Magnetic gaze, here it is venerated like a mother Teresa lay: it is the person who has “liberated” these women from the weight of inhuman experiences, as they themselves sing in a kind of welcome show. Women who have seen hell and now put it on stage, dance on it, let themselves be carried away and dragged to the rhythm of drums and calabashes. An explosion of vitality and enthusiasm that you do not expect. “At first they wanted to let themselves die – says Rose in Italian (she studied in Varese) – they did not want to cure themselves, they sold the antiretrovirals we distributed”.

They could only break stones to survive: 50 kilos of gravel for the equivalent of 70 cents in euros. And a whole day splitting her back is not always enough to take them home. A bestial effort for anyone, a massacre for these women with HIV or with already full-blown illness. But the Acholi slum today is also something else. Ketty, after telling of when she was Adelo, gets up, opens the door and proudly points out a big boy out there. Charles Carron meets us, jeans, T-shirt and deep black eyes. She is her eldest son, she is 18 years old and graduated in a very special high school: she built it herself together with other Rose women.
“Here we felt looked beyond our miseries and we were born again, we wanted the same for our boys,” says Doreen Angoon, 52 and 5 children, also from the North of the city of Gulu, and landed here after being kidnapped by Kony rebels. “In the other schools they insulted our children. Your mother has the HIV” they mocked them, sometimes even the teachers. This is why we said: “we must build our school”. And we succeeded ». In 2010, they began to create necklaces in recycled colored paper – strips rolled up like beads and then waterproofed with enamel – they sold 48 thousand, mainly thanks to the Avsi network abroad. “With our gravel we made the floors, erected walls,” adds Angon.

In 2012 the inauguration: the school is a modern mango-colored building on the other side of the hill, along Kireka road. State-of-the-art laboratories, spacious classrooms with wooden furniture, bathrooms with running water, reproductions of “The Sower at Sunset” and “First Steps” by Van Gogh and phrases like “teaching is the adult way of learning”.
The slum seems light years away. Many arrive after more than an hour’s walk and stay there until the evening to take advantage of the light that is scarce at home. Within 450 students, girls and boys together, 45 per class, half compared to 90 of the national average. Seven years after birth, it’s time for budgets. «Since 2014, they have reached maturity in 156, of these 78 are attending university – explains Matteo Severgnini, educational adviser -. The others could not access it because they were not able to pay taxes. ” Even if they work in the quarry every weekend, as many students do barefoot, from elementary to high school, to be able to pay the contribution for the school material. The tuition fees are covered for 352 slum students from Avsi with distance support. Another 100 students instead, of (relatively) affluent families, provide for themselves. The institute is also frequented by young people living outside the slums, now recognized as a school of excellence. «This year we entered the top 100 of the best schools in Uganda – 76ths out of 1592 – based on the results obtained for the final exam. A great result: nobody expected it from an institution that welcomes children from the poorest areas of the city and where it is forbidden to beat to teach ». An innovative method compared to the others where the “spare the rod and spoil the child” is valid (if you do not use the wand vices the child). “So much appreciated by the students that 80% of the 78 slum university students study pedagogy because they want to teach,” says Severgnini. The revolution of education (and of a society) starts from here.

 

by Alessandra Muglia – photographs by Stefano Schirato – video by Aldo Gianfrate

Published from Corriere Della Sera

 

How Selling of Traces is a journey to self-discovery

Selling of Traces, a journey to self-discovery

 Struck by how Aisha, Hanifa and Sara (three Muslim ladies of Meeting Point International) would gratuitously avail time to monthly sell Traces, we decided to go deeper to discover the reasons why they are so moved. Here is an abstract of what transpired in the dialogue with them.

By Andrea Nembrini and Rose Busingye

Left to Right: Aisha, Hanifa and Sara

– Why do you sell Traces? Why do you like it?

Sara

I’m a true Muslim, an original one. I joined Meeting Point International in 2011. I didn’t know what Traces was, but I started buying it, reading it and loving it. There are a lot of beautiful things in this magazine, which you can learn from. In particular, there are other people experiences, and when you read an experience that is different from yours, you discover more about yourself, about what you really desire for your life. As a consequence, I’m now studying catechism, I’m going for community school, because I want to learn more about it.

Hanifa

Even if I’m a Muslim, I joined Meeting Point International. This is because there were other people around me, but in my life nobody has welcomed me like at MPI. I was so surprised by the way they welcomed me and treated me. I used to have a lot of sorrows, my heart was heavy; but from the day I reached this place my life has changed. I’m now happy, and my family too.

So, about Traces: actually I don’t know English very well, and I even can’t read this magazine, but because of the friendship I got here, I sell it, and I love doing it. This friendship pushed me to sell Traces, but also to love this religion. Sometimes I think I believe in this religion even if I’m walking on the Islam path. I remain Muslim, but I love Catholicism.

Aisha

I joined MPI because I wanted to be happy like these women. One day there was a woman next to me with an issue of Traces, and looking to the pages of the magazine I could read a word: happiness.

But that woman was going away, and I didn’t know how to find that magazine again, so I asked her to take a look. And I saw a lot of pictures, and in all these pictures people were happy. So I asked her the cost, and I bought my first Traces for 3.000 ugx (approximately 1 usd). Reading it, I was surprised because everything in that magazines was about happiness, the possibility to be happy even if you are in trouble. So when you read about these experiences of happy people, you also become happy. Not even one story in this magazine could make you not happy.

Even now it’s like this: every time I buy it – and I always buy it – it makes me happy. Traces made me also understand that religions are different, but often what separates us is just the way we dress; instead we are together, because God is one. This is what I’ve learned from Traces.

– Could you explain your love for this Catholic experience, for Traces despite the fact you are woman of Muslim faith? How can these two go together?

Sara

Rose told me about my value, which I didn’t know about before. So I understood that this Catholic religion does not segregate, it welcomes all religions. That is because of what Rose thought me: you have to discover yourself. It means that nobody should tell you: “Come here and be a Catholic!” You are the one to learn it by yourself, but after you have discovered yourself. When you know who you are, you decide what to be. And for me, after discovering myself, I decided to stay with these Catholics.

Hanifa

When I was suffering so much, no one was touched by my situation, nobody helped me. But here I discovered I was helped… Someone has loved me, someone gave me her friendship. I even don’t know how to explain it: one day I was crying all day long, and my children as well, they were going to a very bad school, they even didn’t receive their reports… Now I’m happy, my home has changed completely, my children go to school, they study in peace, they are happy.

So how could I not love this place, which brought to me all this happiness? How could I not love this magazine, which tells stories about this place?

Aisha

Usually I buy all the remaining copies (because I don’t want to waste them) to give them to my friends and family members. At first my father, who is a Muslim, asked me where I got it from; but now he likes it, I told him to ask me if there is anything he doesn’t understand. Often Traces is so beautiful that I buy more than one copy, because I know that the one who will receive it, surely will also be happy.

– When you are selling Traces, what do you tell the people you meet?

 

Aisha

First I read it very well, and I pay attention to those beautiful things which make me happy, which help me. And because I want other people to be happy like me. And people understand if you are selling something important for you. What I read in Traces is what I tell to the people I meet, I even show them the page where the point I like is. And people ask us a lot of questions.

Hanifa

I can’t read Traces because I don’t know English, but my children read it for me at home. They show me on which page the article I like is, and so when I’m selling I can tell people: “Look, it’s right here!”.

Sara

Before you sell it, you first go through, so you know the meaning of what you are saying when you are out of the church shouting “Traces, Traces!” And you have to explain, otherwise it’s just a name for the people, they don’t understand. But if you tell them your own experience, they will tell you: “Ok, I trust you, I’ll buy it”.

– What was your most beautiful experience while selling Traces?

 Aisha

The most beautiful thing for me is that when we are selling it; a lot of people come to us because we are Muslim, asking why we sell a Catholic magazine. And we can answer them: “Because we love it; because we are getting beautiful things from it, and we want also you to get them”.

Sara

One day I was selling Traces, and an old educated Catholic man came to me, asking me a lot of questions to embarrass me. He said: “You people, what are you doing? Is this thing from Uganda? Where is it from? Is the Pope aware about it?”. But I could answer very well to all his questions, I told him about Communion and Liberation, about Italy, and I told him that even the priest, during the mass, had given the announcement about this selling. At the end he said: “You Muslim woman, you have challenged me”, and he started looking for money in his pocket to buy one.

When I’m selling it, I’m feeling as if I’m selling gold, a very expensive thing!

Hanifa

Sometimes other people who are selling other magazines in the same place told us that our magazine is very expensive because is a muzungu thing [a thing for white people]. But they also ask: “How can you stay with this white people, hugging them like friend? I wish I would also be embraced in this way.”

So, we can answer to them: “Yes, the magazine is expensive because it comes from far, but we are also “expensive” and valuable, because of the friendship we are living.”