These are the stories of the people that make up the Compassion neighbourhood in Karamoja. Learn how God is working in their lives as they bring the hope of Jesus to their community.
01 Nov, 2023
“Karamoja is the place where no one wants to come,” says Reverend Francis, the local pastor, with tears in his eyes. The breathtaking beauty of the rolling hills, lush green lands and the crystal-clear lakes are a stark contrast to the struggle of daily life here.
Affected by rising levels of poverty, the lingering aftermath of the pandemic, volatile cattle raids and conflict, as well as severe food insecurity, Karamoja is a hard place for anyone to survive. Hope in Karamoja is hard to come by, but the local church is shining a light in the darkness.
Loving and serving over 300 children and their families, Compassion’s local church partner in Karamoja is making a significant difference in the community. The church provides spiritual discipleship, medical assistance, counselling, education and skills training, food relief, and financial guidance among many other forms of support to the local community.
The local staff are passionate about the people they serve and believe that through the power of God, they will see transformation in the region of Karamoja.
They are a testament to how God is at work in Karamoja, in and through the Compassion neighbourhood. These are their stories.
Reverend Francis, Local Church Pastor
“I believe in the local church so much here,” says Revered Francis. “It gives me the opportunity to reach out to the community and to use that platform to help the people here.”
He explains how the presence of the church is transforming ingrained patterns of thought in the local people.
“This community believes in violence, but the church preaches about peace, unity and love for one another,” he says. “The gospel that the church is preaching is bringing salvation to a lot of people.”
As a young man growing up, Reverend Francis always served at church in various roles ranging from youth leader to Scripture Union leader. After a powerful encounter with God in 1988, he started his seminary training and was ordained as a reverend after graduating. Karamoja has a special place in his heart, and he is grateful for the partnership with Compassion that enables them to make an impact in their community.
“We have been working with Compassion for the fifth year now, and we have been empowered to serve our community,” says Reverend Francis. “Before this partnership, we see that there was a gap, but now there is a big, positive change.”
He explains that, through partnership with Compassion, the local church can meet the needs of the community more effectively by understanding the context of the need and tailoring their response accordingly. The challenges are quite overwhelming, but Reverend Francis finds encouragement when he sees the local children filled with joy as they come to church. “I feel God is answering our prayers of transformation,” he says.
As he looks to the future, Reverend Francis can’t help but smile at the hope he has in God.
“We are privileged that God has given us the opportunity to serve this community,” he says. “We are determined, and we are praying that God will change the future of Karamoja. We believe that hope will come from Karamoja.”
Nancy, Church Partnership Committee Member
Nancy’s heart to see the children in her local community have the gift of education led her to open a small nursery school. She soon found that many of the children in her school had no family, as their parents had been killed in cattle raids that plague the region. They were alone in the world and had no support system. Nancy could not stand by and do nothing. She did the only thing she felt she could do—she opened her home to them.
“I picked these children to come and stay with me because, otherwise, where would they sleep?” asks Nancy.
There are 14 children that live in Nancy’s house, of which four are her own.
Nancy’s journey started when she used to sell greens and vegetables around the village. She would often talk to the children she saw around the neighbourhood. On realising they had no home, no parents and no opportunity for an education, her heart was moved. Nancy says that, as she was praying about the situation, she felt God’s prompting to act on their behalf. This is what led her to open up her home and her heart to the children she came across.
The school has been open for 13 years and has grown to accommodate 300 children and eight teachers.
“Some children learn under a tree, and there are only three semi-permanent rooms,” says Nancy. The resources may be limited, but the impact is not. Nancy talks of a student who started in nursery school and went on to sit high school exams and passed with distinction. He is now taking on further studies in a different city with Nancy’s financial assistance. Other students in the school are also sitting the same exams and now have the opportunity to break free of the cycle of poverty.
“I started this school alone,” says Nancy. “I glorify the name of God because the children’s lives have changed.”
While there are still many challenges to overcome, Nancy says she doesn’t feel burdened. She knows everything is okay because “God is the one fighting her battles.”
Jessica, Child Development Centre Teacher
Jessica, a teacher by profession, has been teaching at the child development centre since it opened in 2019. She was inspired to become a teacher because of the teachers she encountered in her own childhood. Her story of education is a remarkable one.
A proud Karamajong by tribe, Jessica has lived here all her life but says there are many challenges that come with it.
“Some people have a negative attitude towards girls’ education,” says Jessica. Since most of the Karamajong people are cattle farmers, they believe that as a girl grows up and is given in marriage, her value lies primarily in being able to bring in livestock to the family in the marriage exchange.
Growing up, Jessica longed to go to school as she watched other children attend. She used to run after them and follow them to sit in classes.
“Studying was hard because of the insecurity in the region,” says Jessica. “Going to school wasn’t easy. We had to walk on foot for great distances.”
There was also not much to eat at home, and they often had to manage with one small meal a day. With a lack of support from her family and no resources to support her education, Jessica’s learning was an uphill battle. “I kept studying because I saw the situation my parents were in,” she says. “They were helpless, and I kept studying so that I could create change in the future.”
Jessica’s husband passed away in 1999, and she faced the new challenge of being a single mother to her five children. Through her faith in God and the strength it gave her, she provided for her family and saw that all of her children were given the opportunity to study. She is proud that her eldest will be attending university soon.
“I thank God for helping me to school them, feed them and for giving me strength and courage as a single mother,” says Jessica.
“I’ll never be afraid of anything that comes my way, because God is on my side.”
Talking about the local child development centre, Jessica says that it is having a big impact in the community. With the support of the Compassion program, the children are happy and healthy, and the knowledge she is able to impart is creating change in their homes and families too.
“My dream for these children is that as they grow and learn, they would change Karamoja,” says Jessica. “With their education, my hope and dream is that Karamoja will change and it will not be the same again.”
Lucy, Child Development Centre Cook
The local church changed Lucy’s life. Before she encountered the love of God, Lucy says her life was chaotic. Severely affected by the rising cost of food and the challenges of making a living, Lucy struggled with alcoholism. When she gave her life to God, she says that she became "well, internally and on the outside.”
She started volunteering at church and singing in the choir on Sundays. Not only is she employed as the local child development centre cook, but her daughter is also registered with the Compassion program. Lucy loves to cook rice and chapati among many other nutritious meals for the children on centre days. She says she is grateful to God and the local church for giving her hope for the future.
Chris, Child Development Centre Director
“One of the things I love about my job is when I see a smile has been put on the face of a child,” says Chris. “If we have carried out an activity or intervention and it has had an impact on the child, it causes my heart to rejoice.”
In his role as director, Chris oversees the staff and operations at the local child development centre. It’s a role he is passionate about, because Chris believes that changing the life of a child will ultimately lead to changing the region of Karamoja.
“If we as a church can reach one child, you begin to realise that maybe you can change a whole community,” says Chris. “If we can manage to impact 326 children, what a change it will be for the region. That’s what I really desire.”
Chris highlights that this change comes through focusing on the holistic development of the child. “The four areas that we teach our children include the physical, socio-emotional, cognitive, and the spiritual aspect,” says Chris.
He has seen firsthand how the love and support provided to a child also impacts their families and the people around them. Chris believes that this is how transformation will come to Uganda. One child at a time, one family at a time. He sees the role of the child development centre as those facilitating this transformation.
Chris says the local child development centre has also served to unify the community across religious and cultural differences. He notes that there are children from many religious that come to the project, including those who come from Muslim backgrounds and those who have no religious affiliation.
“The most interesting thing is that even when they come not knowing Christ, they get to know Christ here,” says Chris.
For Chris, this is only the beginning. He believes that He is outworking God’s mandate to him as he faithfully serves the community in his role.
“Our hope for the children is that they become the people that God intended them to be,” says Chris. “I hope they grow into responsible adults that can change the community. That they can be leaders not only in the region, but also in Uganda, and beyond Uganda, wherever God takes them.”
Esther, Partnership Facilitator in Karamoja
As a partnership facilitator for Compassion Uganda, Esther is responsible for liaising with the churches under her care to build their capacity and empower them to be a light in their communities. She leads a busy life, often on the road, travelling to and from the 12 churches she oversees in the region. However, Esther has no complaints—this is her dream job.
“I was born in Karamoja,” says Esther. “I was born into poverty. My father had three wives and 25 children, so there were many struggles in my family.”
Esther says her passion for learning and school helped her get to where she is now. As a young child, her dream was to work for an organisation that would help support children like her—a dream she realised when she started working with Compassion. Esther’s father was a district education officer and valued education more than the traditions of the Karamajong people, who didn't see the education of girls as a necessity. Though he struggled to make ends meet, his job allowed him to ensure that 23 of his children were educated. Something Esther is very grateful for.
Esther's role within the region allows her to see the difference the local churches are making in their communities.
“I am seeing many children giving their lives to Christ,” says Esther.
She says registrations to the Compassion program are never restricted to children who are Christian; they simply register the most vulnerable children in the area. But through the love and care provided by the local churches, Esther says that children and their caregivers are turning to God as they experience His love and kindness for themselves.
The Compassion neighbourhood in Karamoja is made up of people who themselves have very little but have chosen to live with outstretched hands and hearts to the community around them. Through sacrifice, generosity and kindness motivated by the love of God, they are making a significant difference in Karamoja.
God is working through the Compassion neighbourhood to bring His redemption and restoration to this region of Uganda. Hope is on the rise in Karamoja!
Find out more about the global food crisis and its devastating impact on communities like Karamoja by visiting our interactive website. You can also make a difference in the lives of children and families facing food insecurity by answering hunger with hope today.
Words and field reporting by Sidhara Udalagama.
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