I remember the day that I met Winnie. She had a smile that was so bright and eyes that looked deep into your soul. We had an instant connection and a love that can only come from the Lord. She was searching. Searching for love. Searching for hope and searching for answers. That was almost 3 years ago, and today, Winnie is just 12 years old and she has been the primary caregiver for her younger sister, Joyce (10 years old). She has also been the primary caregiver for her 2 cousins, Vivian (7 years old) and Marvin (1 year old). All of the children live with Winnie's JaJa (grandmother) who is very ill. She battles with various illnesses due to AIDS. We were told that the children's parents were all dead. JaJa told me that for generations, prostitution was the only answer.
Through the help and guidance provided by our partnership with JPCC, we decided that JaJa needed to get us records on the children from Gulu. We were told that all parents were deceased due to AIDS and prostitution. What we discovered through this research is that Winnie and Joyce are biological siblings with both parents deceased. Vivian and Marvin are biological siblings with a mom that is still alive. While they are not technically "orphans".....they have certainly been orphaned and abandoned.
We first started this search for records simply because we had to have permission to place the girls in a boarding school. Assisting the JaJa in getting the girls in school seemed to be the best answer for 2 reasons: 1) they are getting older and have no discipline......free to roam.....free to get caught up in another culturally accepted disaster: prostitution. Children are subjected to this trafficking at the age of 12.......Winnie's age. And 2) JaJa needed help. She could not work and could not appropriately care for the children. She has a neighbor who has graciously assisted with Marvin the last year.
When JaJa went to Gulu to get all birth records, death certificates, etc......we were shocked with what she came back with. She came back with the appropriate papers and Irene. Irene is JaJa's daughter; the mother that abandoned Vivian and Marvin; the auntee that abandoned Winnie and Joyce. After talking with her several times and guiding her, she told me that she wanted to change her life. We gave Irene a "temporary Job" at the James Place; we wanted to counsel her and guide her.
This is what we saw: a hard working lady who was growing in faith and love. She began showing signs of truly loving her baby (Marvin), who is in our childcare program. She started showing signs of caring for all the girls and really taking interest in helping us make decisions. We discovered a mom that now realizes she is responsible in helping her mother (the girls' JaJa) and all the children. We discovered that reconciliation and redemption is happening before our very eyes.
Today, Irene is one of the hardest workers at the James Place. She works in childcare, and is learning not only to love and care for other children, but also she now has a deep love for her own family. She visited the girls at boarding school with Juliana and Juliana has been reporting how wonderful Irene is, and how she sees a "change"...a change that can only occur because of love. Irene is another story we see unfolding before our eyes that starts with love and it ends up looking like redemption, reconciliation and family.