We all reached home full of joy from the USFW Women’s Conference in Uganda that was full of breakthroughs. On Tuesday,12th December, I travelled with Alfred Wasike, General Secretary of Uganda YM to Mbale to the home of Sylvia Wopicho, the new presiding clerk of women of Uganda. We went with the Assistant Clerk of Uganda YM, George Odoi, who’d come from Busoga region driving his motorcycle, to the Mbale School of Nursing and Midwifery. There we arranged how to pay the fees for the bright young woman from Busoga who has started her training. We had found that in Busoga region there is not a single dispensary, doctor, nurse, or hospital within an hour’s drive through the dust or mud. In that region, I have found bedbugs in the houses, little boys who looked pregnant due to many worms, and one older woman who had broken her leg from falling off a motorcycle. The woman said the leg was healed. It was covered with skin, but you could see a piece of bone sticking out, (it had never been set!). We had looked for several years to find any young woman who had done well enough in high school to qualify to be trained in nursing and Stella Awino had passed well this year. In order to train a basic nurse/midwife it is a 2 1/2year course that costs $1100 per year. If any of you know some doctors or nurses in USA or a meeting who would be interested in helping us pay the fees for this girl, please let me know. The girl has agreed to stay in Busoga and help us begin teaching hygiene and basic health in Busoga for at least five years. (The previous girl we had found changed her mind and unfortunately was lured to the Middle East where young women are lured by claims they will get rich jobs, only to find themselves enslaved as prostitutes).
The next day, Eileen Malova, and Elizabeth Odera, (Pastor for USFW for all of Kenya) arrived and together with a choir of young women from Mbale filled up a matatu travelled through the very dusty road and up the slopes of Mt. Elgon to Butuwa to start the conference. The first day We had 27 register, and the next morning, the rest arrived. To have this number come fulltime and to be willing to pay registration is a breakthrough in itself.
The second breakthrough is that during a talk on Changing our Mindset, they were all willing to quit saying they are poor. Instead with God’s help they are willing to work hard and start pulling themselves up. (Uganda has the richest soil in the world, so no one should be poor or hungry).
On Friday morning, we received a phone call from FWCC world office in London that Sylvia Wopicho, as a young woman and Monica, the woman who is clerk of Bware Yearly Meeting were chosen to represent East African Friends on the interviewing of candidates for the new director of African Section of FWCC. We all rejoiced that the up and coming Uganda YM is now on the map of Friends and that at least one Friends Organization recognizes that the life and future of Friends is with women and youth, (not the older men who dominate the leadership of most Yearly meetings in East Africa). She thus left that evening with our prayers to travel by bus overnight. She had improved the organization of the women so well, that the rest were able to carry on in her absence.
The hosts of the conference had raised enough food and money to feed us and accommodate us all into their homes, another breakthrough. The host showed me a local kind of nut from an indigenous tree that can be stored several years. When he cooked sample for us to try, it tasted like a sweet potato.
Another breakthrough is that women led everything at the conference, including the translating into multiple languages. They even plan to get young women playing the keyboard next year. When the executive committee met the last evening to plan for the next conference, they decided to hold it in Mutoto, a suburb of Mbale, (the first time outside the rural Bududa/Mount Elgon area). One former male leader tried to prevent them, but they were united to expand their area and function at the national level, not one province only, and thus politely refused to be led by the former leader.
The final breakthrough was that for the first time they gave the speakers at their conference more than just vocal thanks. To the main speaker from Mutoto and the two from western Uganda, they gave gifts of food. To the three of us from Kenya, they gave us bright colored dresses! They all left the conference planning to attract others to come to the next one which will have a theme of peace (as politically it is a likely time of unrest in Uganda next year).
The Kenya team stayed in Uganda one more day to meet with the large Wefafwa family (the first Ugandans to become Quaker) and pray and counsel them. Prayers were given for the various issues, including many of the young ones who have completed trainings or degrees, but not received jobs (a common event worldwide), and sickness of several members. They had not all met since their parents died a decade ago, and they enjoyed it so much the oldest son and wife offered a large goat for the next time they meet.
We all travelled back to Kenya the next day safely along with the heavy pineapples and simsim (sesame) butter we had purchased. We now look forward to a few days of rest. May you all have a Merry Christmas. Thanks for your prayers and the hard work of the women pastors from Kenya that there have been so many breakthroughs in Uganda Friends.