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Jennifer Adoch: a small woman with giant shoulders

Jennifer at home, next to her 8 year old

Jennifer at home, next to her 8 year old

My friend Jennifer is such a tiny woman, that she's hardly taller than her 8 year old daughter. She is wise beyond her 27 years, however - very intelligent, quick to learn and creative. Her experiences working with the Life in Africa group on craft product design, quality control and computers, plus her ability to speak good english, landed her a steady job last year with a local designer's shoe company. The painful trade-off is that in order to take the full time position across town from the displaced camp/slum she calls home in Kampala, she's had to send her young children to be cared for by her mother and sisters, who have recently resettled in the war-torn North of Uganda, 400 km away. Jennifer didn't know how much she would need the Family Transition Center that Life in Africa's now raising funds for until after she'd sent her children to the North, when one of her sisters called with the news that neighbors had destroyed most of the crops they'd planted, and were disputing the family's claim to the land they were on. Ostracism has been a familiar theme for Jennifer's entire life - If I spoke Luo I might have guessed why from Jennifer's second name "Adoch," which means that her mother has leprosy. The land the family's trying to rebuild on was given to 10 families affected by leprosy before the war, much to the unhappiness of surrounding neighbors at the time. Twenty years later, and the myth of contagion prevails in the current context of  post-war land grabbing: Jennifer's frail widowed mother is not welcome, and will need to find somewhere else to live. There are 5 more families there facing the same set of impossible conditions, and Jennifer feels the weight of their plight on her shoulders.

Jennifer and her 2 youngest children at home

Jennifer and her 2 youngest children at home

With Jennifer's steady but not huge salary, she is now supporting her mother, her 2 younger sisters and her own 3 children (whose irresponsible father is no longer in Jennifer's life - a fact which her friends tend to think is a good thing). She is also supporting herself and her daily transport to and from the displaced camp called the Acholi Quarter - which she now needs to leave since it's been sold for commercial development and will soon be torn down. She is saving as much as she can to be able to help her family resettle once again to a place where they can grow their food and live in an environment that will provide her mother with peace in her old age, and where Jennifer could join them.  If she could, she'd invest in land enough for the entire leprosy-affected community she knows. But she doesn't yet have enough to buy a piece of land even for her own family, and needing to move from the Acholi Quarter now is an expensive setback. A bit of hope is in sight for Jennifer through her 7 years of membership at Life in Africa. LiA is a longstanding group of self-empowering displaced women in the Acholi Quarter, who are now planning to leave the Acholi Quarter together and establish a Family Transition Center in Kitgum District, which will invite Northern Ugandan families who are in the process of resettling back home to work and learn together and support each other. While most of the LiA ladies have land to resettle on and might only stay temporarily at the Family Transition Center, part of the land to be purchased will be available for 8-10 of the 35 member families to stay long term and help build out the center's programs and services. This plan is a godsend for those among them - like Jennifer's family - who really have nowhere else to call home.

Jennifer is an extremely capable young woman, and a natural leader in the Life in Africa group.

Jennifer is an extremely capable young woman, and a natural leader in the Life in Africa group - in spite of her small stature and young age.

What's more is that Jennifer's skills, wisdom and leadership experience gained through growing up displaced in Kampala have always flourished in the Life in Africa group context.  The Family Transition Center would not only solve Jennifer's most pressing family challenge, but will also provide a nurturing framework through which she can give the best of herself to rebuilding Northern Ugandan society. From there, perhaps she could still do something to help the other families who've faced some of the same challenges as hers has. In an interview last year, I asked Jennifer "What do you hope to contribute to the community you will help to rebuild? Why should Acholiland want you back?" She replied:

It’s me now to stand up for the people there and help to bring their voice. I just have to go where those people with my mother are to get started. Children’s rights, women’s rights, domestic violence, there are a lot of things concerning the law that people need to learn about and I can help them.

There's a week left for making pledges to Life in Africa's Family Transition Center campaign, which will help this important and urgently needed initiative get underway. Please make a small or large pledge today to help with the end of campaign momentum, and share Jennifer's story if it's touched you in any way.

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