A reflection by Sally Ryan, CROSO Board Member since 2010, after visiting Uganda in June 2016.
Sharing a week in Mbale, Uganda with Molly MacCready, the Director of CROSO, has altered my mind significantly.
We had enlightening visits with present and former CROSO scholars who were forced to live on the street at one time, but now are current university students and graduates as a result of our CROSO scholarships. We were also invited into the network of our partner organization C.R.O., Child Restoration Outreach. C.R.O. is an organization that rehabilitates and cares for the street children in Mbale and has supported all of the CROSO Scholars through the end of secondary school. I have previously thought and read about many realities related to the struggles of such developing societies, but those concepts now have taken on a new heartfelt personal and profound reality inside me. It is easier to understand and care about such challenges conceptually, but to have this new and deeper knowing has changed me.
Do I regret this deep inner change? Was it more comfortable not to live in this altered sense of reality? In some ways, I was definitely more comfortable before my visit; it was easier and I liked that comfort zone. Can I ever go back to my old self? Revert to my old mind and relieve this intensity and sense of connection?
Maybe I could “go back” to that old reality of myself….
- IF I had not felt the physical touches and emotional attachments of little children on the CRO playground like Matanda Derrick who needed to perform his raps for me, from Nuri Gloria who wanted me to sing her name each day, and Wasua who was just off the street and needed encouragement from me each day to connect and get help from the CRO staff….
- IF I had not walked the streets with profoundly dedicated CRO social workers and seen these wise workers advise, counsel, and invite several children to rehabilitate at CRO. Maybe I would not be so altered if I had not seen the looks on these children’s faces showing fear or resistance or hope in these street corner encounters, or walked with the young boy who accepted the social workers’ invitation and walked back with us to CRO, possibly leaving the streets for good….
- Maybe I could “go back to my old self” if visiting our CROSO scholars at their Universities had not revealed rave reviews from professors regarding our scholars’ leadership, discipline, and academic success, making it clear how much is possible for young adults whose early lives were lived begging on the street…
- IF in interviewing our present scholars they did not express such hope, resilience and gratitude for CROSO and the future possibilities that these scholarships gave them and their families….
Maybe I could revert to my old comfort zone if when I walked through the area where many of our scholars live in bare subsistence housing, I had not felt the warm welcome of the scholars and the honor that they expressed to us due to our visiting them in their humble homes and poverty challenged neighborhood….
- IF I had not heard the deep concern of some of the graduates and near graduates about the weak Uganda economy and lack of jobs, their fear that the CROSO scholarship ending at graduation could mean a struggle to fulfill their dreams and lift themselves and their family members to a new level of comfort….
- Maybe if I was just touring, not sharing with so many people in my own language, English, one of their three of four languages with English being the one they learn in formal education, I could have stayed on the OUTSIDE of this community, just peaking in, not communicating in full shared discourse, victories and struggles of their lives in the past and as their life is unfolding today….
But these experiences were the reality of my journey with Molly into the needs and aspirations of former and present children on the streets of Mbale. I really did hear over and over with the CROSO scholars their gratitude and hope that their CROSO scholarship gave them. Yes, I saw it all…I felt the desperation and the hope…I experienced one by one, the beautiful resilient spirits of these Ugandan people, young and old…and now, my heart and mind are changed forever.