Ugandan women regain hope to live thanks to nurse Rose Busingye

They were raped, they got HIV, they lived through the war. But now they have found the will to live again. Here is their story

EXPECTED ONLY DEATH –¬†Ketty is 42 years old, with a round face, an endless scar on her leg and a story that takes her breath away: kidnapped by rebels in her village in Northern Uganda, she was raped, she got HIV, she lost a child.¬†She forced her to eat human flesh and do horrible things in order not to be killed.¬†When she managed to escape to Kampala, the capital, her body was full of sores and a patch of burnt skin instead of hair: “In the bush (¬†bush¬†, ed) they made me walk with a brazier on my head and the stuff they cooked in the pot”.¬†She no longer expected anything from her life.¬†Only death.
She now she is there that she dances and she laughs and welcomes the guests who arrive at the Meeting Point of Kireka, one of the slums (¬†slums, ed) poorer than a very poor city, singing ”¬†Now I’m free¬†“, now I’m free.¬†Next to her are Agnes, Teddy, Lilian.¬†And dozens, hundreds of other women, almost all Acholi (a people of South Sudan) and almost all with a similar history.¬†A good half have HIV.¬†Many survive by breaking stones in a quarry, or by selling papier-m√Ęch√© necklaces, wet and pressed into colored beads.

HAPPY FOR THEIR NEW LIFE –¬†Yet, they dance and sing.¬†And they are happy.¬†The next day I see them doing aerobics.¬†Now that Covid has let go, they have started playing football again and taking trips on Lake Victoria, piled up in broken-down vans “to see the beauty of the sunsets.”¬†These are the same women who have set up savings groups and mini cooperatives.¬†They founded two – beautiful – schools for their children.¬†They made a collection to send a thousand euros to war-torn Ukrainians.¬†You look at them, and you have a thousand questions: where does this strength come from?¬†How can you be happy even like this?

THE TURN: IT IS NOT ENOUGH TO TAKE CARE OF THE BODY¬†– It is to look for an answer that he was born¬†Your names are written in the skies(Bur).¬†It is a journey into the world of these women and into the life of another woman: the one that allowed them to come back to life.¬†Her name is Rose Busingye, she is 54, she is a nurse.¬†She and she is in charge of Meeting Point International, an association that helps more than 5,000 people in Kampala.¬†She was born thirty years ago, when Rose started looking for AIDS patients in the slums.¬†But she has deeper roots, she comes from her meeting with Pietro Tiboni, a Comboni missionary, and then with Fr Luigi Giussani, the founder of Communion and Liberation.¬†It is he who makes her discover a faith “that has to do with every aspect of life”.¬†“Many others had told me that God was made flesh, but not in that way there.”¬†Rose’s story began like this.¬†She is studying as a nurse.¬†You enter the Memores Domini, the consecrated lay people of CL.¬†She is dedicated to AIDS patients,¬†when the emergency explodes in Africa.¬†Around her, a little at a time, an important reality is born.¬†But it’s not a linear story.¬†In the mid-nineties, it went into crisis.¬†The Meeting Point is efficient, it works.¬†Still, something is wrong.¬†¬ęI gave the medicines to the sick, came back the next day and found them in the garbage.¬†I said to myself: it’s impossible.¬†That pill is to save your life.¬†Because?”.¬†The turning point came there.¬†When Fr Giussani asked her to drop everything and come to Italy.¬†Rose stayed there for six months.¬†He, already old and sick, went to see her as soon as he could.¬†“We talked.¬†She told me about herself and his experience of her.¬†He didn’t do anything else ¬Ľ.¬†But they are not the words of that priest: it is he, his world of looking, of doing.¬†To enjoy life.¬†But it’s not a linear story.¬†In the mid-nineties, it went into crisis.¬†The Meeting Point is efficient, it works.¬†Still, something is wrong.¬†¬ęI gave the medicines to the sick, came back the next day and found them in the garbage.¬†I said to myself: it’s impossible.¬†That pill is to save your life.¬†Because?”.¬†The turning point came there.¬†When Fr Giussani asked her to drop everything and come to Italy.¬†Rose stayed there for six months.¬†He, already old and sick, went to see her as soon as he could.¬†“We talked.¬†He told me about himself and his experience of her.¬†He didn’t do anything else ¬Ľ.¬†But they are not the words of that priest: it is he, his world of looking, of doing.¬†To enjoy life.¬†But it’s not a linear story.¬†In the mid-nineties, it went into crisis.¬†The Meeting Point is efficient, it works.¬†Still, something is wrong.¬†¬ęI gave the medicines to the sick, came back the next day and found them in the garbage.¬†I said to myself: it’s impossible.¬†That pill is to save your life.¬†Because?”.¬†The turning point came there.¬†When Fr Giussani asked her to drop everything and come to Italy.¬†Rose stayed there for six months.¬†He, already old and sick, went to see her as soon as he could.¬†“We talked.¬†He told me about himself and his experience of her.¬†He didn’t do anything else ¬Ľ.¬†But they are not the words of that priest: it is he, his world of looking, of doing.¬†To enjoy life.¬†it’s impossible.¬†That pill is to save your life.¬†Because?”.¬†The turning point came there.¬†When Fr Giussani asked her to drop everything and come to Italy.¬†Rose stayed there for six months.¬†He, already old and sick, went to see her as soon as he could.¬†“We talked.¬†She told me about herself and his experience of him.¬†He didn’t do anything else ¬Ľ.¬†But they are not the words of that priest: it is he, his world of looking, of doing.¬†To enjoy life.¬†it’s impossible.¬†That pill is to save your life.¬†Because?”.¬†The turning point came there.¬†When Fr Giussani asked her to drop everything and come to Italy.¬†Rose stayed there for six months.¬†He, already old and sick, went to see her as soon as he could.¬†“We talked.¬†She told me about herself and his experience of him.¬†He didn’t do anything else ¬Ľ.¬†But they are not the words of that priest: it is he, his world of looking, of doing.¬†To enjoy life.

NEW AWARENESS РFrom those six months Rose went out without instructions for use, but with a new awareness. Of himself, and of the other. The value of the person, therefore. Not confined to sermons or speeches, but witnessed, embodied.
It seems nothing, yet it is from this discovery itself that “Rose’s women” have started again, with the immeasurable strength that only women can have.¬†And that’s where everything exploded: the Meeting Points, the medicines, the meetings, the cooperatives, the English courses, the hygiene courses … The schools, who wanted them “so that our children are educated as you are educating us” (Rose had plans to start a hospital, but she put her plans aside and went with them.)¬†And much more: in the book there are dozens of stories and facts that forced me to rethink many things as I saw them happen.
Examples?¬†What does it mean to help development: projects and financing are indispensable (important NGOs like AVSI collaborate with Rose), but if they do not help people grow, nothing changes.¬†Or, how crucial is education, at school, and outside.¬†Or, again, because the Church can only exist “outgoing”, as Pope Bergoglio repeats.
In the end, however, Rose’s story showed me one thing above all: a faith lived in this way can make you free.¬†Even in the slums of Kampala.

Davide Perillo

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