Have you met my friend Judith?

Judith Me and Mom

Today we traversed a crowded dirt street maze. Tuesday morning, September 9 in a suburb of Kampala, Uganda. The local Compassion project coordinator directed us into a dead-end “street” under the eyes of what felt like hundreds of onlookers. I guess they don’t get very many Mzungu (white man) in that area. I am sure it is much like if a van full of Ugandans were to drive into parts of the south-east United States. Needless to say, my three companions and I were the center of attention when we arrived. However, the local Compassion directors are respected so much for what they do with the children of the area that we were completely safe.

Judith met us at the door of the rented 8 foot by 10 foot, one-room ‘home’ she shares with her mother. It was much nicer than some we visited during the week: it had concrete instead of a dirt floor! There is barely enough room for the two twin beds to line the walls and still have room to walk in. Inside, we sat down on one bed to talk and so that I could give her some gifts. She gave me a drawing and a poem with the promise of many more to follow.

I could tell right away that she was a little different than others I had seen this week. It was nothing short of providence that she was the only one who met the criteria we were looking for. We really wanted a girl who is close to the age of our own children. She is 13, beautiful and a little precocious. I can’t believe how quickly and well we bonded. Her personality has just enough sarcasm and irony to be endearing. I was completely stunned by how her face lit up when she smiled. That smile will forever be seared into my memory.

dscn2123Judith’s mother is HIV positive and volunteers at the local clinic. She is not currently working. The father is also HIV positive and abandoned the family some time back. I asked where her father was and she just said he was gone. I understand that it is pretty typical for males to leave their families when they discover their HIV status in order to find a ‘clean woman’. Some of the men still believe that the women are the carriers of the disease and if they find a virgin it will cleanse him of his disease. Miraculously, Judith is not HIV positive. Compassion children who live in HIV infected homes receive regular monitoring and treatment for all family members.

In the corner of the room was a pile of what looked like beet greens. I asked Judith if she did the cooking in the house. She nodded in the affirmative. I asked,  “What do you call that vegetable?” Her response: “I think I’ll call it Martha.” How freaking funny is that? Totally my kind of humor. I could hang out with this kid.

The Jug DanceDirectly behind her home, there is a very orchestrated dance that takes place to determine one’s priority at the water well. I don’t think the water coming from this faucet is directly drinkable, but it has far fewer chunks and nasties that some water sources have. As soon as one jug is full, the next one is moved into that position and children move all of the jugs forward.

There is something about Compassion kids which makes me believe that they can be anything they want to be. Compassion, the sponsors and their local church partners aren’t just providing physical and spiritual support, they provide hope. When Judith says that she wanted to be an author, I fully believe that she could be. Students in America seem to change their desires with whatever whim they have that week. I have a feeling that even though they’re saddled with poverty, these kids stand a better chance of doing whatever they put their mind to than the rich kids in America.

Time was limited and precious and ended way too soon. I could have easily spent several hours there. No agenda. Just chatting over a Coke or going for a walk.

It will be interesting to see as time unfolds which of us will be most changed through sponsorship, Judith or I. My (relative) wealth is starkly juxtaposed with her poverty. I felt such a close bond with her and I am honored to be a financial and spiritual partner with her. I am sure that the reason Compassion takes people like me on these vision trips is to create an impact so that we will be able to tell the stories of our trip. Jose Zayas said it best, “We’ll tell their story until they can.”

Compassion exists to bring children out of poverty: Physical, emotional and spiritual.