Beliefnet
O Me of Little Faith

I’m trying something new on the blog today, and I hope you’ll find it as interesting as I think it could be. I love to share good stories — and storytelling is the foundation of writing — so from time to time I’m just going to tell a (true) story. Today’s is about Daniel.

First, some background: In addition to books and magazine stuff, I also do a lot of freelance copywriting — which is a vague term describing any writing-for-hire I perform for companies or organizations. It can include everything from radio or television ads to editorial features to corporate communications stuff like email or blog posts or news releases.

One organization I am proud to freelance for on a regular basis is Empower African Children. Empower is a non-profit that works with orphans and other vulnerable children in Uganda, providing them holistic care, education, and scholarship opportunities in hopes of allowing them to reach their potential as they grow into the next generation of African leadership. It’s also the organization behind the wonderful Spirit of Uganda Tour, a dance and music program entirely comprised of orphaned — and crazy talented — Ugandan kids.

(The Empower African Children blog is a great look behind the scenes of the tour, by the way. Imagine what it’s like for a bunch of Ugandan orphans to get on a plane for the first time, fly to the U.S., and start traveling the country in a tricked-out bus.)

Anyway, I recently had a chance to write a newsletter feature for EAC about Daniel, a teenage member of Spirit of Uganda. His story is a powerful one. I want to share it with you here, just to give you an idea how different life can be outside of the wealth and privilege most of us are accustomed to. Part one today. Part two will come tomorrow.

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When you see the children of Spirit of Uganda on stage — with their bright smiles, exuberant dancing, and obvious joy — it’s hard to imagine the painful back stories of their lives. It’s easy to forget that many of them are orphans, and that they’ve grown up in the kinds of abject poverty and extreme hardship that we in North American can hardly fathom.

Daniel is one of these children, and his story is a reminder of the kinds of struggles that many Ugandan children face on a daily basis. Now an energetic teenager, Daniel was born in Mitoma, a village in the southwestern corner of the country, in 1993. He lived in a two-bedroom house along with his mother and father and a younger sister, protected from the elements by walls of thatched grass and metal sheeting. His father was a car mechanic. His mother grew sweet potatoes and cassava in a small garden. They lived entirely off the land.

Then, when Daniel was around four years old (his sister was two), a drought hit the village. The family garden — along with the village’s well — dried up. The neighboring village of Rusoroza still had water, so Daniel and his mother began walking several miles each day to draw water for cooking and drinking. “My mother always went to dig for other people in their gardens,” Daniel remembers. “In turn, they gave her food from their garden which she brought home.” The family could subsist on that food for a few days at a time. “But even then, it wasn’t enough.”

Before long, the distance between the villages became too much of a burden for Daniel’s parents, so the family moved to Rusoroza. Daniel’s father left his mechanic’s job to grow tomatoes in a friend’s garden, selling them for posho (corn flour). His mother continued digging in exchange for food. They worked from 6 a.m. until 1 p.m., often leaving Daniel and his baby sister at home alone. “We never usually had any breakfast,” he says. “There was never enough food.”

Then Daniel’s father became ill with a mysterious disease…

(Stay tuned for the rest of Daniel’s story tomorrow.)

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