Before leaving for Kampala one year ago, an old Italian missionary told me, “The people you are going to meet in Uganda are going to love you not because of the things you’ll do but because of WHO YOU ARE. Remember not to judge but instead observe and listen”.
After my one-year experience in Kampala, I can affirm that it has been exactly like that!
In June 2022, I arrived in Kampala to work at Meeting Point International through AVSI and the Italian Civil Service. I had chosen to apply for Uganda because since I was a child I had heard a lot of stories about Rose and her women and I was curious to meet them in person and see MPI’s experience with my own eyes.
I have worked at MPI for a year and it has been one of the most beautiful and intense years of my life, I’m deeply grateful for the people I’ve met and the love I’ve received both from my colleagues and from the women.
The women taught me love and freedom and, of course, pure happiness. And that was not through any lesson or philosophical discussion, but through a friendship that goes to the heart of things, this ONE HEART that is the same for all human beings, despite differences in their origins, language, or culture.
Rose and Alberto taught me that real development is not just delivering projects, and reaching objectives, by giving food, money, or education. What is at the core instead is the value of the person. The most important thing is then to offer companionship to people on a journey of self-discovery as they seek the unique and infinite. This has a multiplier effect on each and every single aspect of life, because knowing one’s own value pushes the person to take care of every aspect of reality: family, education, community, friends, etc.
I am glad I have worked in an environment like MPI where every relationship strives to look at the value of each person, and this is not only true for the women and the children MPI supports, but it starts with its employees.
At MPI I felt embraced and loved for who I am and not for what I can or cannot do. This taught me that life is not a matter of “doing” but of being present and being loved.
At Meeting Point International (MPI), Kafrika Hannah (21) and Muhanguzi Pascal (19) are children. They are children not only because MPI has watched them grow but also because their mother Anyiri Sarah is one of the women of Meeting Point International (MPI) Kireka who prompted Rose Busingye (MPI executive director) to build a school for their children who were being discriminated against and wished them (the children) to get the same education they (the women) had received at MPI.
Although she was interested in building a hospital that would provide medical services for the women because she is a nurse, Rose listened to the women’s requests. The women insisted that a school would help them educate more doctors for the future. They decided to make beads and sell them abroad to raise money for the first block, this is how Luigi Giussani High School (the school to which Kafrika and Muhanguzi go) was started.
Kafrika is currently in her senior five and she would like to be a lawyer in the future. Pascal on the other hand is in his senior two and he would like to be an engineer in the future.
MPI accompanies its members to discover their infinite value and dignity. No wonder Luigi Guissani High School (LGHS) operates similarly to its mother MPI. Kafrika and Pascal are witnesses of this accompaniment that is sought after by not only LGHS but also MPI. Much as both Kafrika and Pascal are beneficiaries of MPI, it is not enough to say that they have made it because they are going to school.
“Here at LGHS, teachers dialogue with students to solve issues instead of beating us because of our mistakes. I have learned to treat others the way I would like to be treated. I would not even walk past rubbish in the compound because understanding my value can’t allow me to be in a dirty environment.” Pascal said while we were conversing. There is no greater gift than this education. It is evident that when you love yourself, the same love is spread to everyone and everything around you automatically. The teachers of LGHS love to say “We educate the heart through reason.”
“Luigi Giussani high school is dear to me because it has taught me not only academic things but also how to face life.” Kafrika continued. “There is a whole life out there. If you are not prepared by knowing how to live with people, then you’re missing the point.” Kafrika said.
The experience of Kafrika and Pascal indicates that one’s development comes from one’s awareness of his or her value. We can only think about embarking on a path where we become protagonists of our destiny if we know who we are. LGHS has brought this reality to life by educating reason so that students recognize the true meaning of reality and freedom to adhere to it, facing with certainty and hope every circumstance of life.
On the 28th of June 2023, a group of eight Italian students namely, Lisa, Francesca, Milena, Leonardo, Alice, Marco, Vittoria, and Giorgia visited Meeting Point International (MPI). They had been hosted by AVSI in a summer camp. Drawing from a conversation with some of them, it was evident that there was a deeper apprehension inspired by their experience with the women of MPI.
Francesca said, “I came to Uganda because a friend of mine had told me about her experience. She told me she had seen happy people with everlasting joy. These people had no material things but they were overwhelmed by joy. I asked myself, ‘How is someone able to be happy without material things?’ It dawned on me that I had all material things yet I had a sad life. It is after this that I made up my mind to come and learn how to be happy by seeing happy people. My favorite moment during our visits to MPI Naguru and MPI Kireka was the time we were dancing. I felt welcomed and comfortable. What stuck with me as a life lesson is the fact that our conditions don’t necessarily have to be determinants of our happiness.”
The conversation started gaining momentum at this point as the previously quiet students developed an urge to share more of their experiences. Milena had found out about the summer camp through a friend called Marco who was among the eight Italian students. He had been obsessed with coming to Africa and when he told Milena about it, she could barely resist the urge to visit Africa.
“It was challenging to process my travel documents in time because according to what I had been told, I had to get my passport in November 2023 which meant that I would miss the trip,” said Milena with a faint smile. “My presence here is a miracle because my passport came earlier than I thought it would. Oh, how special I felt while the women welcomed us. In ten minutes, we became children to these women and they became our mothers. The look in their eyes was pure and captivating. It was warm and it communicated utter Joy.” nostalgically, Milena went on. “I wanted to be like them. I wanted to look like them. I was in love with the dances. They were so beautiful. I learned to say YES and not ‘I am able or unable’ but simply yes. Yes, to love, and yes to happiness. These women from Meeting Point International taught me the simplicity of life.” She concluded.
Giorgia seemed to be the quietest and most soft-spoken of the students. But when she started to talk about the girl she is supporting in Uganda, she beamed with glamour. “I was not expecting people to be so nice in Uganda,” Giorgia said. “I thought that in Africa, people are jealous because we have everything they don’t. However, I instead found the exact opposite here. They loved us like their own children. From where I come, everyone can help anyone but no one does yet here they don’t have much but they share the little they have,” Giorgia continued.
“In Italy, one would commit suicide if they had half of the problems some of these women have. I kept asking myself why we are so sad yet we seem to have it all figured out. When we reached MPI Naguru, I wondered why they were asking for our names at first. They never asked only once or twice, they rather asked until they could pronounce them. They were interested in knowing us. It was so warm. Through this experience, I learned to see the positive in every situation.” Giorgia toned down as she concluded.
Alice kept interjecting parts of the conversation that were not clear because all her friends called her ‘Google’. This was so because she somehow knew how to expound her friends’ points.
Vittoria, who was listening to her colleagues attentively then decided to say something. She said she came to know about the camp through her father who works with AVSI. “I did not know Rose or MPI. During our visit to Naguru, I saw happy women dancing. Their passion and strength were inspiring. It was at this point that it dawned on me that I do not have problems. When I go back to Italy, the strength of these women will still encourage me to keep moving on.” Vittoria proceeded.
Leonardo was one of the gentlemen on the team. He said he had heard of the trip from Vittoria. When he met the women of MPI, their smiles amazed him. Leonardo said he learned to always smile in every situation no matter how tough.
Finally, ‘Google’ (Alice) was ready to speak on her behalf after representing her mates during the conversation. Just like Leonardo, she had learned about the camp from Vittoria. However, she had lived in Africa, particularly Mozambique for most of her childhood. “I simply wanted to come back and see the happy lovely people I once knew. I did not know Rose, however.” She said.
Lisa too came back to Africa because of her nostalgia fuelled by her stay in Kenya for a while. She wanted to badly come back to Africa. What stuck with her were stories of the women who had a horrible past yet they were happy nonetheless. “It is paradoxical how the women who should be sad are happier than us who should be happier,” Lisa concluded.
Marco on the other hand was directly invited by Rose Busingeye (the MPI Executive Director) to come and have this experience. He had had friendship issues ever since quarantine in the wake of the Covid 19 pandemic. He had started high school and this made it hard for him to fit in. He was so lonely. “I had a meeting with Auntie Rose over the phone. I don’t remember what exactly she said to me but what hit me was the fact that a person from the other corner of the world made me feel loved even though she did not know me.” Marco said.
With a deep sigh, he continued.“This kind of love made me curious. When a friend of mine also shared his experience, I immediately knew that this was where I had to be” I said a prayer to God that he may speak to me through this trip and he did. This was because I knew I wasn’t self-made but needed someone to get the best out of me. My experience with MPI made me realize I am nothing but someone who can love because I am beloved.”
For a person who has not been part of Meeting Point International (MPI) for too long, it is hard to come to terms with the fact that Opiru Sunday alias Sanitizer joined MPI (Naguru) in August 2022. The popularity she enjoys among the women of MPI-Naguru is admirable. Thanks to her famous nickname, “Sanitizer” which she got from the MPI women during her first days.
While the women were discussing their ways of alleviating stress, Opiru quietly processed what she was hearing. When her turn to talk came, she said “Every time I am stressed out, I pull out my small sanitizer (to mean alcohol) and I drink it. Everyone in the meeting burst into a fit of laughter and started to call her Sanitizer that time.
Her nickname and the joy with which those that call her pronounce it will compel you to want to know exactly who Sanitizer is. She is a 30-year-old vibrant lady with an aura of youthfulness that makes her noticeable at all times. Opiru has five children in total and only one of them is being supported by MPI. It is hard to resist the temptation of asking why she is utterly Jovial. You might wonder if she has any problems until she shows you the scars of a hard life.
By the time Opiru joined MPI Naguru, she was selling tea by the roadside to survive. However, before she ended up by the roadside, she had already tasted the bitter side of life.
Opiru had quite a normal life while growing up until she got pregnant in Senior three in 2008. Because she was the last born girl out of three, her parents hoped she would at least get a proper education because her siblings never had a chance to go to school. Her parents were so angry to the extent that they denounced her. Meanwhile, her boyfriend, the father of the child had fled to Sudan because he was afraid of the consequences of his action. Her parents cut all sorts of support from her and they did not want her anymore in their home. It was at this point that Opiru decided to relocate to Kampala where she hoped she would find what to do. Life couldn’t get any worse when she came to the capital. The child’s father who was sending some financial help died in a motor accident while in Sudan.
In 2016, Opiru fell in love with a workmate in a security agency where she had been working. Unfortunately, it was not too long until all the workers of the agency were laid off because the company ran bankrupt. This meant Joblessness to the couple. By this time, Opiru had a child with her new man. When they were no longer working, it became hard to care of the family. Her husband did not want to work at all. He would simply stay home sometimes and Opiru had to wash clothes for people to get food. She would wash clothes at any amount no matter how many they were.
Opiru tried to connect her husband to her big brother for a job. Fortunately, he got the job and started to work. The saddening part is that Opiru would never see any of the money her husband worked for. Even with her husband working, she was the one feeding the children with the money she got from washing clothes. She thought she had seen the worst until 2021 when Opiru’s husband became abusive on top of being negligent.
Her husband stopped providing on the pretext of his company not paying him. Taking care of two children by herself became a huge burden. She barely had anyone to talk to. “I even almost lost my life on various occasions” Opiru spoke as she showed me her scars. “My husband connected a coil to power so that he could beat me with it. Thank God my son had come with people to rescue me by that time.” She continued.
Opiru would make sure she spent wisely. “We could eat five thousand shillings for three days. We would buy Posho and eat it with boiled silverfish.” Opiru said. “The most annoying part is that my husband would come back home and eat that very food top of complaining about how it wasn’t prepared well.” She proceeded. Opiru was so distressed that she would cry every time. She would walk in the streets while wailing because it was too heavy for her to carry. She had no one to confide in at all.
“To keep my first child in school, the second one had to stay home because I could not afford to take both of them, to school.” Opiru narrated her story with a reflective tone. At this time, she had exhausted her capital for the tea business because she was torn between buying food for her children and investing in her business. She preferred to preserve her children by getting food.
One day Opiru decided to visit her brother to tell him what was going on. She was so broken that she could not stop crying. When she never found him at his place, she sat at his door and cried herself pale. A certain lady that was passing by came and asked her why she was crying. Opiru could barely express her pain in words. She was allowed by this woman to first cry then she will start to talk. Later when Opiru narrated her story to this woman a conversation about MPI came up. The lady offered to take her to MPI.
Before they could leave, the lady told Opiru, “I cannot promise you food or money but I promise you will be a happy woman when you encounter the people I am taking you to.” When she attended her first meeting, she was amazed at what she saw the women do. They were all happy and vibrant as though they lived in another world. She was introduced to the women.
“I am looking for nothing but peace,” Opiru emphasized when she was given a chance to talk to her fellow women. “I am tired of crying every day”. The women she found there that day for the meeting encouraged and advised her to trust God and be resilient in her battle.
Despite her newly found peace at MPI, Opiru’s husband grew worse in character. Opiru’s happiness became her husband’s source of bitterness. He beat her badly until she bled for a while. Her husband always accused her of being a prostitute saying she sold herself to get money that would take care of her children. He was angry at her because she had found happiness despite the status quo. Opiru was consistent with meetings at MPI that helped her to relieve her stress. “The songs we sing at MPI cannot leave you the same. As one of the senior song composers at MPI, I am always excited to get my creative juice flowing. The music isolates me from my stress.” Opiru excitedly told me in one of our conversations.
Auntie Rose (Executive director of MPI) one time offered to visit Opiru to speak to her husband. It helped so much because her advice and intervention tamed him for a while. Her marriage is not perfect but at least her sanity is protected.
Opiru started to learn more about who she was as she interacted more with Auntie Rose. “My biggest treasure is that I know who I am. I have no limitations even when life brings its ups and downs. The value that I have is more precious than my circumstances.
I am grateful to Auntie Rose and MPI for taking my son to school because I would have never been able to afford it. I am also glad I can look forward to facing another day by the grace of God.” Opiru concludes her story.
It is an absolute pleasure to behold Opiru smiling endlessly while with her fellow women at MPI who are now her “authentic sanitizer”.