The Sisters of the Holy Cross seek to empower those they minister alongside. In a recent Fruits of Holy Cross, we shared with you the Prottasha Sewing Sheba Kunjo ministry in Bangladesh, where women who have dropped out of school learn to sew and embroider. A similar project was recently undertaken in northern Uganda by three Sisters of the Holy Cross. This month we introduce you to this new project made possible in part by donors to the Ministry With the Poor Fund.
Northern Uganda has been terrorized for the last two decades by the presence of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), led by Joseph Kony. The LRA conducted a reign of terror through northern Uganda, Central Africa, Congo and South Sudan that brought widespread violence and destruction. Thousands of Ugandans were murdered or raped, and hundreds of children were abducted and enslaved into this army. Many fled the Koch Goma area, creating a massive refugee crisis in northern Uganda while producing a devastating economic, social and educational impact on the entire Koch Goma community.
“The young mothers are working hard. I attend classes with them and see the dedication and the attentiveness that they give to the tutor. They are determined to make it and to be able to change their lives around, and they know they are the only ones who can do that. They are aware this is their life, for them and their children.”
Sister Lilian Briege Awino
In the wake of this terrible event, and as the LRA threat has subsided, many Ugandans are now returning to their native villages and communities. They bring with them the emotional and psychological trauma of the past compounded by living in Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps. This is especially true of many women and children who were raped, abused or kidnapped. In November 2018, the Sisters of the Holy Cross answered a request from Archbishop John Baptist Odama of the Archdiocese of Gulu in northern Uganda to journey with the vulnerable Acholi people in Koch Goma parish by sending Holy Cross Sisters Lilian Briege Awino, Beatrice Wangatia and Grace Kitinisa.
The Sisters of the Holy Cross are assessing the needs and attempting to build programs that can provide socio-economic stability to the Acholi people. The challenges are many, and include illiteracy, poverty, health deficits, feelings of despair and lack of self-worth, among the women and children especially. Ugandan census data from 2014 reported that 65 percent of people in Koch Goma were illiterate. Fourteen percent of children do not attend school, and 11 percent of children under 18 are orphans. More than 95 percent of the households depend on subsistence farming, and there is a real need to expand skills for income-generating opportunities. Because of severe poverty, 10 percent of the population has fewer than two meals per day. Since this census, the number of refugees in Koch Goma has increased significantly, including both Ugandans and refugees from Sudan.
While the Sisters of the Holy Cross have only recently arrived in Koch Goma, they are already collaborating with St. Joseph’s Catholic Church to provide much needed counseling to the traumatized people and are compassionately walking with them in their difficulties. After church on Sundays, Sister Lilian meets with many young women to help them understand their worth and better their futures. Illiteracy, sex abuse, violence and human trafficking are significant social problems that the sisters also are trying to address through group and one-on-one counseling. Sister Lilian also teaches business and religious education at the local primary and secondary school. The sisters are working with the youth spiritually and provide them a safe space where they can share their struggles with each other. The children’s groups learn valuable agricultural skills, which include raising cows and tilling and planting the land. The three sisters have worked hard to get to know the people and their needs intimately and have built trust so their future projects can be fruitful.
“They did not have a voice”
While the socioeconomic challenges of Koch Goma are significant, residents also struggle with lack of skills and confidence. People have difficulty believing they have the ability to sustain themselves and their families. Answering that need, the sisters are helping individuals recognize their talents, particularly through skills-based training in sewing and embroidering that will provide critically needed income for the local women.
Donors to the Ministry With the Poor Fund support this training and have provided for several sewing and embroidery machines. The embroidery machines allow the project participants to assist local schools that need their names and logos sewn on school uniforms. Previously, most schools in the region had to take their uniforms to Kampala, which is a great distance away. Now this work can be done locally, providing a reliable source of revenue for the project and opportunity for women to enhance their skills and income. Sister Lilian trained for two weeks on the specialized logo machine and has trained another woman, who can continue training others as the project evolves.
As of April 2020, 15 women in Gulu were training to use the manual sewing machines and another five were learning both sewing and advanced embroidery skills. According to Sister Lilian, the women have been making shirts, shorts, skirts, blouses, trousers and sportswear. Koch Goma Central Primary School and St. Jude Primary School have been placing orders to the women, asking them to make uniforms and to apply school logos to students’ and teachers’ shirts.
Sister Lilian reflected on these young women, many of whom are single mothers. “I discovered that these women were not recognized and did not have a voice — they were nonexistent. They shared their plea with me to acquire skills and learn something to better their lives.” This discovery provided the spark that initiated the training empowerment ministry. “The young mothers are excited for the unknown and are resilient in pushing on with life, regardless of the challenges. They prayed a lot for God to open the ways for them to acquire the skills,” said Sister Lilian.
The women are truly recognizing God’s gift to them, thanks to the prayers and financial support of many. “The young mothers are working hard. I attend classes with them and see the dedication and the attentiveness that they give to the tutor. They are determined to make it and to be able to change their lives around, and they know they are the only ones who can do that. They are aware this is their life, for them and their children,” said Sister Lilian.
The women, too, share their gratitude and their newfound hope. “Sister Lilian has made us be aware of our giftedness, our talents and skills. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. We are rooted in prayers and always hopeful that God is with us. We thank God for the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Cross and all those good people of God who are taking their time and resources in empowering us,” said two of the women in training.
Gifts to the Ministry With the Poor Fund have enabled these women to find hope in their lives and see the wonderful gifts God has given them. We invite you to donate now to the Ministry With the Poor Fund to help so many others around the world who struggle. Together, we are God’s loving embrace for a hopeful tomorrow. Please select Ministry With the Poor in the “My gift is for” section.