Memories of Mbale

Written by Sally Ryan, CROSO Board Member
(Photos above are of CROSO Scholars Esther and Pamela with Sally in June 2016)

       It is a bit over a year since Molly and I represented CROSO by travelling to Uganda and spending time in Mbale.  Our goal was to assure that our partnership with CRO, the street children rehabilitation program, was appropriate, respectful, and coordinated as we continue to offer scholarships and training to their secondary graduates. I loved spending time playing with the children in the CRO playgrounds and communicating in person with present and future scholars. One year later, all I have to do is walk by my refrigerator where pictures are posted from the trip, and I am instantly transported back to Mbale.

I see a picture of a little fellow whose roots were in neighboring Kenya, who was spending his days on the CRO playground. This little guy was dusty all over from street-sleeping, and would come and spend daytime at the CRO center, but resisted being part of the rehabilitation program. He would run up to me whenever he saw me on the CRO grounds. Though he was holding back and playing by himself on a seesaw, I noticed him speaking along with his CRO peers as they recited orally in their outdoor classes. He would look back at me to see if I noticed that he too knew his ABC’s.  I spent time each day non-verbally encouraging him to go for an interview with a social worker and it pulls on my heart to have learned that he has not been able to become part of the program.

I find myself wondering if the little girl named Gloria, with whom I also experienced a mutual affection, has been able to stay in primary school and sustain the resilience and joy I felt in her last summer. Perhaps if I returned to the playground this year, Gloria and I would have been able to communicate more in English because of her development this past year. I muse and hope that someday I may read a CROSO application written by someone with the name of Gloria. Perhaps I will be able to support her to pursue her post-secondary dreams of education and a life of sustainable employment.

Another walk by my refrigerator, and I am captured by the beautiful pictures of the two CROSO scholars with whom I write letters each month.  I visited both of their homes, and I met their families.  I saw and felt a bit of what it means to live in bare subsistence huts in the Namatala neighborhood on the edge of Mbale, the area from which many of the children come.

  • I remember sitting on a metal barrel in Esther’s family hut, and through Esther’s translation, I visited with her mother and sister who are weakened yet being treated for AIDS.  Their warmth and smiles of gratitude were humbling and touching.  Esther is studying in Gulu getting her bachelor’s degree in nursing with a focus on midwifery.
  • The other student to whom I write each month is Pamela, a striking young woman studying Business Administration.  Molly and I ran into her on campus as we toured Uganda Christian University. She was wearing a bright green dress, and was sitting on a bench studying with another student.  “Oh, you are Ryan. I thought you were a young one,” she said and we laughed as we hugged in our surprise meeting. Now she affectionately addresses me “grandmother” in her letters, and expresses that she never had a grandmother, and she relies on me to be someone who cares about her and believes in her.  I visited Pamela in her humble home in Namatala where she was hand-washing clothes in front of her house, with her hair tied in a red kerchief.  There I met her 14-year-old brother, who is somewhat lame.  He relies on his sister to share her resources and keep him on track to stay in school.

Memories and feelings such as these wash over me almost daily. They encourage me to reach out and contribute my service and treasure to CROSO so that these resilient young people, who once lived on the street, so they can realize their hopes, and fulfill their vocational dreams for themselves, their families, and their communities.