Recognizing homegrown potential

As Westerners, it is easy to feel as though we have the answers to all the world’s problems.

This very sentiment motivates many Western youth to spend time volunteering overseas. While Westerners believe they can make a difference in the lives of the worlds most needy, they tend to ignore the compassion and leadership from within the very community they are trying to help.
In turn, the capable youth of the developing world are overlooked and their potential is left unrealized.

Living in a war-torn country as a child is unimaginable. An entire generation of Uganda’s youth does not know peace due to the two-decade-long presence of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
Some Ugandan youth dream of growing up to be boda boda (motorcycle taxi) drivers, waiters or farmers. Most Ugandans dream of peace and having their basic needs met. However, one must look to the local people who have successfully helped their own communities.

Sera and Vincent are two such individuals.

Sera

Sera is a Rwandan woman who moved to Uganda as a child. While still young, Sera began caring for 14 boys between the ages of seven and 15. With the support of a Chicago couple, she was able to rent the boys a home and send them to school.

“I care about each of them. I want to see them grow up to be successful. We are a family,” said
Sera.

Even while the boys were living on the streets, Sera would visit and bring them food. The Chicago couple were sponsoring Sera to go to school and wished for her to travel to the United States for her post-secondary education. Instead, Sera asked them to come to Uganda.

After their two week trip, the American couple agreed to support Sera, rent a home and ensure school fees for all 14 boys. Caring Place Ministries is now the home of the boys along with Sera, Frances and Mama Grace who care for them.

While living on the street, the 14 young boys found one another and became a family unit. Today, all of the boys are now in school and have excelled; each one is in the top of his class. They love to sing, dance and play soccer and dream of becoming pilots, teachers and leaders in their own right. One of the boys, Marc, even dreams of doing what Sera has done for him for a new generation of Ugandan youth.

If not for Sera and the support from international donations, the boys would continue to suffer on the streets, addicted to drugs, fending for themselves. Such a selfless act of not attending university and caring for these boys has given them hope for the future.

Vincent

Yet another exceptional example of homegrown leadership is Vincent.

Vincent grew up in northern Uganda and attended Makerere University as an art student.

Upon graduation, he travelled back to Gulu and began an art therapy program at a school called Laroo. The school is home to over 400 children; over 95 per cent of the student body are formerly abducted child soldiers.

Vincent runs the Let Art Talk program for students. The premise is to use art as a form of therapy. Vincent believes art helps the young people process and discuss the atrocities that they have experienced during the time they were abducted.

Of the program, Vincent said, “The therapy is going to hurt. Art is a release for the soul. Everything that has happened to these children is so horrific that they deserve to experience the joy of art.”

Almost every painting and sculpture portrays an AK-47 toting child.

While the horrors that each of the students has experienced is never blatantly depicted, the pain and suffering in each child’s eyes and artwork is unmistakeable.

Vincent is not a paid teacher. While his program receives little funding, the impact his personal investment and teaching are having is overwhelming. These children, who once endured the brunt of warfare, are now permitted to laugh and paint. These former child soldiers now recognize it is okay for them to once again be children.

Far too often, the compassion and leadership of local African individuals is underrated. Neither Sera nor Vincent have had the opportunities that a Westerner has. Regardless, both have made a positive impact on their community and the youth of Uganda.

The two are prime examples of Western underestimation of the citizens of the developing world.
Perhaps instead of believing that the Western world has all of the answers, it is time to look within local communities for answers and for homegrown leaders to bring about change.

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