Lost & Found

There wasn’t anyone else for us. We were best friends. We were brothers and sisters. We fought like it. We played like it. Our lives were each other’s.

Kids at the orphanage came in and out. Some left quickly. Some stayed for years. Sumi and I were only there for a year and half. Within a couple months, Jhanavi came to the orphanage. We became best friends. We were the two oldest which also meant we competed to be in charge.

Four of us were chosen for an intensive English course with Barbara Auntie, a volunteer from England. Because we spent all day studying, going on field trips together, eating, sleeping, and playing together, we became best friends that were inseparable. Mari, Jhanavi, Sumi, and I. Family.

Sumi and I were the first to be adopted. Then, Mari and his sister, Devi. Then, Jhanavi and her brother, Manju. Jhanavi and I were older so we kept in touch. But, we lost Mari. Sumi and I asked about him, thought of him, missed him for years to come. My Mom found that he had been adopted somewhere in the Northwest. I remember some years ago, I was having lunch in Olympia and I met a young man adopted from the city I was adopted from. I questioned him and prodded him to remember if he was from my orphanage, but it wasn’t him. I looked for Mari in every adoptee I met.

Two months ago, I went to England on a whim. I had a few friends I wanted to see including my old English teacher. It would be over 18 years since I’d last seen her. We’d kept in touch over email and it had been a long time dream of mine to see her again.

Seeing her was magical really. I was rather fascinated to hear her and talk to her as an adult. As a child, she had won my heart. And, there is vulnerability in such connection. Because, for her, I was a blink in a lifetime of experiences and people all over the world. I was amazed to hear about all the countries she’d lived in and the years of various experiences she’d had. For me, she had been a life-line in a season of destruction. It was lovely to see her life and find how intelligent, brilliant, and kind she is. She is truly full of love. In her whole life of sensational adventures, she remembers every detail about us- little children who didn’t mean much to most other people.

 

We didn’t talk about the orphanage much. But, we talked about Mari. I missed him. I told her how we still long to see him and remember him. Inspired by this connection back to my past, I came back to the states and gathered a bit of information about him- the address he had been adopted to.

Last year I had moved to Seattle. The address was in Snohomish, WA. A simple 45 minutes drive. I asked my friend, Lydia, to drive me over and help me. We found that the house had been transformed into a small shop. We knocked on the door of the neighbor’s house. Lydia took a step forward to make the introduction. I had told her before starting our journey that she was the brave one of the two of us- she was always bold enough to talk to new people. But, as we approached the door, I had confidence. I wanted to do this. I was excited about this. I looked at her and said, “Actually, I can do this.” I knocked on the door. An elderly woman opened the door. I ignored the dubious look on her face and very quickly introduced myself and Lydia. I told her that I was looking for a family who had adopted two children from India in 1999. She remembered. Her grandchildren had played with them. But, they had moved away 15 years ago. They had lost touch. My face fell. She said they were happy children. I walked away not knowing how to find them but somehow comforted to know they had been happy. I had been worried for them for so long. Lydia suggested I collect the little shop’s phone number and call during the day to see if they had any information.

I went home wondering how I could move forward. I was consumed- I was on a hunt and I wasn’t going to give up. I had no time to think about the reality of what I was doing. I called a couple friends who had grown up in Snohomish and sent them a photo of Mari and asked them if they had seen any children adopted from India in 1999 in their community. One of the friends, Tricia, talked to her Mom. The Mom called her friend and she knew him! Her daughters, also adopted from India, had been friends with the kids. Tricia found his name on the friend’s list of one of the girls. Around 1 am she contacted him to ask if he was the one we were looking for.

Meanwhile, not knowing anything was happening on Tricia’s side, I called the shop in Snohomish the next day and the owner told me he did not know any information. But, he gave me the last name of the woman he had bought the house from. I looked for Mari ______ on Facebook and could not find him! I was again at a dead end.

Until…

Tricia texted me asking to meet me right away simply because it had been a long time since she’d seen me. Not wondering beyond being filled with the sweetness of a friend who simply wanted to see me, I met her at a park. She walked up and immediately handed me a card. Inside the card, two phone numbers for Mari & Devi. I screamed. Tears came to my eyes. How! She told me the story. I was in awe. I took a deep breath. I was speechless for a moment. I have to call right now! I dialed Mari’s number and my eyes lifted to up in awe to look at Tricia. He answered the phone. I timidly said, “Mari? This is Namitha… I don’t know if you remember me. I grew up in the orphanage with you.”

His response, “What the ___!! Holy___!!” I laughed. We agreed to meet the next week.

I remember walking to the bar. The bus ride was too long. The walk was too slow. I was filled with that sort of blood-rush that comes when you’re nervous about what’s going to happen next. My stomach was doing flip-flops. I called my big brother, Jake, and left a voice message, “I am about to walk into one of the craziest situations in my life, and I just wanted to tell you.”

I walked in and my eyes landed on the lone figure at the bar. He turned and smiled. I recognized him by the scar on his forehead and his smile. He was the same. So different but the same! In my mind he had always been seven. I laughed and gave him a big hug. “Can you believe this?” I exclaimed. We laughed. They asked to seat us. I grinned at the waiter, “Do you know what is happening here?!” I explained the story quickly. I don’t think they understood. Then, I made some remark about my excitement to try their food and they were quite happy about that. I made up for my ridiculous giddiness, I thought.

We sat down and without words, exchanged our memory books from the orphanage and flipped through the pages. He made fun of my penmanship and my drawings. I couldn’t disagree. My art had never improved. Though, I proudly explained, my penmanship was in much better shape.

There were so many questions. I had so much to tell him but at the same time, I didn’t know what to say. He was my brother. My old friend. Then, he was this new grown up man I had never spoken to; I did not know anything about his life. The juxtaposition of familiarity and strangeness were somewhat disconnecting for my brain. Overarching all of these feelings was a giddy energy that spilled out into my expression of my awe and happiness, at moments in tears that brimmed in my eyes.

We didn’t miss a beat. We rushed through sharing pieces of information about our lives, trying to update each other on 19 years we felt we had missed out on.

He took me to his home after to introduce me to his sweet wife. Tomorrow we are going hiking all together, and I get to meet Devi again, his sister, who was also in the orphanage with us.

It’s hard to mentally comprehend that we are reunited. We are in each other’s lives again. Back to normal. The fact that we missed 19 years doesn’t seem real. It’s natural and odd all at the same time. Brother and sister. Family that was once lost is now found.

I can’t explain all the feelings, but those are just a few words to share with you about my happiness. I don’t know why I get this gift- this gift of reconnecting the pieces. I hope this gift somehow fills this world with a little bit more love. In the midst of so much loss, these are the little treasures I get to cherish.

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The First Year of Sinza

Almost exactly a year ago, a small group of animators from Crossroads (the production company of our first episode), a couple tired uni students in exam week, and I hosted a launch for Sinza using our first sample video in a classroom at Makerere University. We had sent out the invitations a couple days before- 200 invites to all the NGOs we could find. I remember my engineer boys from another uni and another friend met me, and we boda’d the whole city for the day, taking various sections and hand delivered all these invites. It was a crazy week.

50 people showed up and went crazy over the idea of Sinza. News paper articles came out, TV interviews. One of the ministers of the Buganda Kingdom represented. I was about to head to uni in London for a master’s program. Everything changed that day. All of a sudden, the realisation hit that what we had was real and it was needed. And if there was no team to support it, it would not move. So, I declined my master’s program and decided to come back in the Fall of 2016 to Uganda to establish Sinza.

In November, we finalised details of the strategy to officially bring Sinza into the community. By the end of December, I had a managing director and 2 board members selected and we launched a campaign to locally fund Sinza. Here we are 6 months later, and in just 1 week, we will officially launch The Sinza Project, a community developed tool for health education that is relevant and effective.

I am so excited for the first year of The Sinza Project. As I move back home, I will remain as the lead from a far and discern how long I am necessary to be engaged for sustainability. I hope I will be humble and let go easily when it is right.

Here are some of the amazing developments we look forward to!

  1. Sinza books + audio recordings
    We are partnering with a local publishing company whose mission is to inspire reading in a culture that does not read. The books will be sold at a very low cost of 3,000 UGX ($0.90) and will be in English. They will follow the same formatting as the animation videos. We will also be producing voice readings in various languages that will be distributed with the books for an additional cost. This allows for these books to be accessible for multiple tribes. And, it has an added element of exposure to a variety of languages for people who never move from their regions. The audio recordings will help us get the message of Sinza out to a more diverse groups of people more quickly.
    The books will be a source of revenue to support the production and local sustainability of the project.
  2. The Sinza Club
    The community outreach branch of Sinza. Ambassadors who are local nutrition professionals will go out to schools and community groups to offer nutrition assessments and teach about a specific topic using the Sinza video, books, and organised practical activities. These clubs can be done on a series basis as we develop more videos.
    The school clubs also have a special project they will develop to promote healthy living. Any income or benefit from this project will be used to support a neighboring community/school to have access to healthy meals.
    The schools and community groups will pay for this service (probably via sponsorship) also making this a longterm source of revenue to support the sustainability of the project.
  3. The Sinza Animation Team
    We are so excited to begin the formation of our own local animation team who will join us at the beginning on a mostly voluntary, part-time basis to slowly work on production of the second episode of Sinza nutrition series. We hope to build capacity to support a full-time, paid team in the future.

In the first year of Sinza, we hope to have a complete series of books on the topic of nutrition. Audio recordings in 20 languages. A second animated episode of Sinza. Sinza clubs multiplying through various outlets. We have an exciting year to look forward to. We’ll see where God leads us and how He will build the team to empower and serve their own community.

Desperate Plea

I know you don’t want to hear another boda story. Maybe I’m finally getting wise- And I’m realising that maybe bodas aren’t all that amazing. I’ve had 3 incidences in the last month. And, I’m done! I only have to survive 14 more days.

Monday was the most extreme Uganda Day I’ve ever had!!

A Uganda Day is a combination of a few different crazy things that happen:

  1. Nothing goes as planned.
  2. There is absolutely no system for anything.
  3. Someone takes advantage of you because you are a muzungu (foreigner)

I had to hit up a few different places where lines were crazy. I stood in lines for a total amount of 5 hours between all the places. There was complete chaos, no organisation. My wifi and phone had been shut off for a couple of days as security is being tightened in Uganda. Even though I had registered my phone last week. The whole city was in chaos with phones shut off. Memes were going around saying “Jesus never disconnects you”. Haha..

A boda driver I picked up began to take me when he made it clear he did not understand where to drive me. Even though I had clarified to him many times before getting on. It’s become scary and suspicious to me when a boda driver agrees to take me but then acts uncertain about where to take me. So, just seconds after getting on, I tell him to pull over and stop. He does not stop. I tell him repeatedly and then tell him I am going to scream if he does not stop. So, I begin to scream. This is a busy downtown area. Imagine a main Rd in NYC. He pulls over. I immediately jump off. I was furious! Why didn’t he stop when I asked! He demanded money when he had not taken me anywhere. Or to get back on. I refused. After this fighting for which a rather large crowd had gathered, I began to walk away. The driver jumps his motorbike on to the sidewalk and chases me!!! My body was shaking. I turned around and shouted at him to leave me alone. I wanted to find someone else to take me. He continues. A man steps into intervene. And, I tell him what happened. Other people are shouting at the boda guy to leave me alone. The man discusses with both of us and leads me away from the crowd to help me get another boda driver. I get on the boda and we join into the main road. And, as we curve around the roundabout, the first boda guy chases us threatening to slap me! I was in tears. My adrenaline was high the rest of the day.

(FYI: Bodas are great. Just take ones you absolutely know and trust. If I lived in Uganda again, I’d simply hire one to be with me at all times.)

So, yeah.. I’ve decided that boda drivers are crazy! Ok, not all of them but I’m finding more and more.

But, the last month- why am I encountering such crazy boda situations! There is actually a reason. And, of course, it has everything to do with economics.

The dollar is really high —-> sugar prices have gone from 2,000 UGX/kg to nearly 7000 UGX/kg! ——-> People are desperate

I’m in tears in fear but also in pain to see the desperate situations people are in. What has happened in the inequality of economy in this world is that for one people group to have more, they steal from another people group. When humans are stolen from- whether its emotionally, physically, economically, or spiritually- they lose all sight of love and fear overtakes. This boda guy- wow! How desperate, how much fear is in his heart.

I’m exhausted at seeing the devastation. I’m emotionally torn up seeing the desperate cries of people who don’t have a voice to cry out.

Uganda is a rich land with rich soil- so people should not be starving. Yet- they are… and, unfortunately, it has everything to do with the dollar.

Over the last 3 years I have been in Uganda, I have visited home twice. Most people go to a developing country and realise they are too selfish and they want to get rid of everything!!! I went back and rediscovered some of the cute shoes and blouses I left behind and would get so excited to have them again! I felt rather heartless.

This time- I don’t know how to come back and enjoy the nice things. I’m not into the whole privilege narrative. It’s not wrong to have good things, safe things, secure things. What’s bothering me now— that for me to have those good things, someone else is suffering. (Goes back to unfair trade policies between countries.)

I don’t know how to look at this world anymore. Migration saddens me so much! Because to me- it’s not the beauty of our community becoming diverse. It’s the reality of families that have to abandon their homes because the security of being able to thrive in their own homeland has been stolen by the very countries that now provide for the few, the most intellectual of them.

By countries stealing from people, we are stripping away everything that makes us human. Beings made to love, live in fear and hatred. Beings made to serve each other, steal from each other. When these people take advantage of muzungus in big and small ways, they are simply responding to those who have stolen from them- just to survive.

There is a desperate plea! But, Jesus will answer! If we change a few things…

“This is the kind of fast day I’m after:
    to break the chains of injustice,
    get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
    free the oppressed,
    cancel debts.
What I’m interested in seeing you do is:
    sharing your food with the hungry,
    inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
    putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
    being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will turn on,
    and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
    The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.
    You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’

9-12 “If you get rid of unfair practices,
    quit blaming victims,
    quit gossiping about other people’s sins,
If you are generous with the hungry
    and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,
Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness,
    your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.
I will always show you where to go.
    I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—
    firm muscles, strong bones.
You’ll be like a well-watered garden,
    a gurgling spring that never runs dry.
You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,
    rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You’ll be known as those who can fix anything,
    restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
    make the community livable again.

(Isaiah 58:6-12, MSG)

Love Like We Will Never Be Hurt

“Our most intimate Self, our most vulnerable Self, is our spiritual Self. Yet, it is our strongest Self. We think we can be protected from suffering by cloaking our spirit in activities and intellectual symbols. Fear causes this and the fear is simply a cover-up for, as Ellie so eloquently put it, pompous, egotistical idiots who are ultimately afraid to be human. You say God is real, but as sentient humans to us it’s really God’s expression that is real…
Emmanuel, love is real and we must live and love like we will never be hurt, without fear.”

– Cell Phone Mama, Emmanuel’s Pray by Paul H. Sutherland

The more opportunity I have to love, the more I realise that I don’t know how to love. I fumble my way through this life trying to figure out how to have relationship, how to be a friend, how to show care, and how to love. God has been so gracious with me. People have been so gracious with me. And as the expression of God’s love becomes more and more my daily reality, I learn to love. Love by it’s very nature transforms the object of its affection by saturating it.

Loving like we will never be hurt.

I think this requires realising first that you cannot be broken. Who you are in your soul- your spirit, it cannot be destroyed. You are created in the image of an eternal God who has also created you to be eternal. There is nothing that can break you.

Be human. Be fully you- strong! You were created to be strong. Fear is a liar. Broken security from past experiences do not have the power to keep us weak unless we allow them to. And, if you do… remember you are allowing something weaker and smaller than you to create a false illusion of destroying you.

Don’t despise weakness when you see it in yourself or in others. Weakness means you are trying to do something you do not have the capacity for. When you are stumbling, you are attempting to walk without having known how to before. That’s brave!

That incapacity is simply a not knowing. Not knowing how to love can make you feel stuck. Especially when you feel your heart longing to love. But, there are people who can teach you if you allow them to enter your life. There is a God who is love and as He fills you, you will become love.

And, when we see someone who does not know how to love, our love can transform them. Our love can have grace so that they are not ashamed in their stumbling as they learn to walk in love.

Loving like I will never be hurt. I pray I have the courage.

Impossible Becomes Easy

The assurance of knowing I can hear God… this has never concerned me more than it has recently. It’s become extremely important to me that I can without a doubt hear and know God’s instruction to me.

My amazing roommate shared with me today that Esther knew the end of the story- God would save His people. That is what allowed her to have the courage to put herself into impossible situations. I believe we can know the end of the story for our journeys too. We walk in faith to places we have never been before but God gives us the end purpose and goal. I am leading you to do this thing… but, maybe we just don’t always know exactly how or specific details. I’m realising more and more that if He told us details, we may get too scared and run the other direction. Sometimes, it’s just we don’t have the capacity to understand what is actually going to happen because we have not learned yet- knowledge of life and purpose and God expand as we walk the journey.

And, I don’t think putting yourself into impossible situations has to be a difficult or overwhelming thing. If you have assurance of the purpose, putting yourself into impossible situations simply becomes part of the journey.

So, if it’s important to our journey to understand where we are headed so we can walk with confidence, I believe God is faithful enough to be clear about where He wants us to go and what He wants us to do.

Being Generosity

“The solution to poverty is not being a recipient of generosity, but being generosity itself.” – Namitha Grace (paraphrased with help from a friend- Thanks, J)

To inspire a community to serve each other- that is the solution to poverty.

People ask me all the time, “Namitha, why don’t you just use whatever methods/funding available to get the health education videos out into the community. People need this. What does it matter if the money comes from America or if an American company does that work?”

When I hear words like this from my Ugandan brothers and sisters:

“Nothing good can come from Uganda.”

“Africa is cursed.”

“If we do anything here, who would know us? Nothing good comes from Africa.”

“We will always be slaves.”

“We go to church because they tell us if we do, we can get a visa to America.”

My heart breaks. Friends, this is not what Jesus made any human being to be like! This is hell on Earth. The dependency mentality is breaking a nation, a continent of people to be disillusioned about their identity- a lie of powerlessness and worthlessness!

This is the gospel- that Christ has come to set us free to be powerful Children of Light. And, THAT is what I’m concerned about. If a community’s identity and self-esteem can be changed, they can create health education tools that are more creative and better suited for their culture and environment.

We are not only created to be recipients of love, we are created to be love. We are not only to be recipients of generosity, we are to be generosity personified.

We are created in the image of God, to be like Him. And He IS love.

I want to see a generation set free beyond the limitations of resources to be a people who generously serve each other.

And, wow! Look at that team! They are the leaders of change in this community. They are revolutionary in their dedication to show concern for a world beyond themselves. These are the Children of Light who will break into darkness and bring healing to this land.

Harder Than I Thought

Letting go of Sinza is a lot harder than I thought.

I talked the talk. I said Sinza was all about Ugandan ownership. And, I’ve been so excited about that. Especially as the team has just run with the idea and are moving it forward with great success already. The Sinza Team presented the project at a youth symposium that I was not able to attend. The word on the street is that it was powerful and moving! So proud of you, Rita! So proud of the Team as they networked and found more people to add to the family.

FOMO hitting big time! Now that Sinza truly is leaving my hands, it hurts.

It’s difficult to explain the joy I get from working on Sinza. When I get to meet new people and involve them in the plan- it’s exhilarating. I love watching people become passionate and carry out a vision together. Hard to explain why it hurts to let go. I want to be there for all the moments- I want to be a part of the action. I love the process of designing and innovating new ideas.

And, then- life in UG… Well, it’s crazy. There is so much corruption and horrible things that happen and it can break you. But, there are all the wonderful moments. Life is slow here and it’s centered around community and relationship. And, people are hospitable and kind. We smile all the time and we laugh. The humor- it’s absolutely endearing. The Ugandan humor is over-the-top cheesy and sarcastic- you tease each other. People are so fun. There are those perfect perfect moments and you don’t want them to end.

I’ve been spoiled by the perfection of community here. And it’s hard to leave that. I am full of joy working with the young people. I love learning from the older people. The community is diverse and there are many languages and cultures. There is genuine care and family. It’s a bit of Heaven on Earth.

This is when you have to know God’s voice. I know it’s time to be back Stateside for my family. And He had told me I just had one part to play here. Then I was supposed to leave the rest of the path for the team here. It’s to the benefit of the project and the community that I go. They are amazing. They have it. I’m incredibly blessed to watch their passion and dedication grow. I just didn’t anticipate it hurting so much to let go.

I go with assurance that the project will succeed and grow beyond what we can imagine. I go with a full heart filled with the love and relationship of many dear friends. I go with the sadness of not being with them longer.

Beyond grateful for this time I have been in Uganda. Always family.