Empowering HIV/AIDS orphaned children in Africa to a self sustainable future

Catherine Koch

Catherine Koch

Founder and President of Love Is The Answer, a Canadian registered charity serving orphaned children in Africa.

Part 2 – Temptation, Tangles, And The Trouble With Transport!


Part 2 – “Tangles”.. ( otherwise known as “Transformations” 🙂

It was a beautiful fresh new morning, still deliciously cool, with dew drops sparkling all round. I was leaving the house where I stay in Senior Quarters, Mbale, early and with a sense of renewal, post robbery, when I heard the very distinct wailing and whimpering of a little girl who has been staying at the home about as long as I have. She’s part of a local group who are all around because of another guest who’s also staying there, a guest who has invited them to be at the house too.. and, well, a rather long and cumbersome story short, these weeks with them all have literally been for me one communication after another about boundaries, when it comes to sharing the space.. respect for others belongings, use of the kitchen, the cleanliness of the home, the state and condition of various people who are floating through, privacy, personal space, quiet, security, things going missing, and what have you..

What I might consider general respectful roommate protocols have been difficult to establish or agree upon in this African setting, where the meaning of words and the context and attitude towards co-habitating differ completely from the “what and how” I know, understand, and prefer.. so, anyways, the little one was crying, suffering, why..? Because her hair had been in the same “beaded, extensioned style” since the day I met her, so, since some time around the last week of November.. and that particular morning, bright and early, maybe because of the renewal energy in the air, was the morning that the tangled mat was being taken out.. oooouuuucccchhh! It was so sad to hear her as I walked out into the day, and it kinda represented well how tangled my “home” has felt since I arrived in Uganda.

Because of general caffuffles at the house, while it’s a very beautiful and safe home to be at, and one I continue to be grateful to retain a room in as my home base, I’ve been intent for all these weeks on creating another space to spend more, most, of my time in. Coupling home issues with the fact that making my way from Mbale to the center and the children in Mutufu, Sironko on public transport became very cumbersome, very quickly, ( Please see – Part 3 – “The Trouble With Transport” – coming soon 🙂 I looked for ways to be nearer Sironko and, tada, the tent I brought from Vancouver and camped in at the center when the Wagner family joined us for a few days seemed like the perfect solution. So, I set it up there again and called it home.

I was very comfortable in our LITA tent at the center, I had a nice foamie to sleep on, sheets, sleeping bag, my travel pillow 🙂 .. I Loved the air, and the stars, and while the boy’s coughing had me concerned and up and in their “dorm” to distribute cough syrup in the night more than once.. ( of course, EVERY child found a way to cough when they saw the bottle with the pink syrup in hand 🙂 .. listening to them tell stories and giggle at night as they hunkered down was so delightful. I Loved to wake with the birds at sunrise, and hug the sleepy eyed children as they emerged little bundles of cold from their pourous mud and stick home. The tent had a built in mosquito net especially if I was very careful unzipping etc., and I had a little charcoal stove nearby outside and could make tea when I wanted, or just be quiet by myself inside, whenever I needed.. all very appealing to the nature girl I am, all good and a perfect balance to the other environment I had been trying to call home!

So, combing through more of the tangles of this “Part 2” let’s have a look at Vincent and some troubles he’s had for many months now with a small group of people who seem to have misunderstood circumstances, resulting, perhaps, in jealousy/enviousnous, a common challenge that can and does easily arise often between locals. We’re not 100% sure, but we think Vincent ( I, actually ) may have originally upset one person in the community when, prior to LITA becoming registered in Canada, I gifted Vincent a motorcycle for ACIO business ( for traveling to reach caregivers and orphaned children who stay far from where he is located, over mountains and through valleys.. ) from family and friend’s donations, in 2009. Perhaps this person thought Vincent looked to be benefitting too much from his position as Executive Director of ACIO, or ..? However it actually began, some kind of misunderstandings apparently started behind the scenes and this man and a few others formed a small group.

When flooding occurred at the former center in 2010 and the 60 children in care needed to be relocated, Vincent removed most moveable items from the former center to protect them, and when ACIO was given a piece of land on higher ground by a man who donated it for use for the children – the same land they are on now – Vincent arranged the removal of some iron sheets from the former site for the new site. Here was where his troubles multiplied. The community member and group misunderstood Vincent to be stealing the iron sheets and he ended up having to defend himself in a case that has twisted, and turned, been delayed after delay, and still remains outstanding

While it has long been known that Vincent and the other ACIO members involved were relocating all the moveable items and the iron sheets in question for use at the new center, over the months as these and subsequent allegations have been proven to be erroneous, the group has seemed to bring forward other misunderstandings against Vincent each time, apparently causing the case to remain open and the former land to be held in limbo until all such issues are layed to rest. In the meanwhile, the group have sought to connect with me, and now that I’m here in the area, they’ve reached me in person. One morning, while I was on public transport heading to Mutufu, the driver stopped the vehicle to drop a passenger off in Sironko trading center. Immediately, a man approached me at my window seat. He was friendly and asked if I was Catherine. “Yes” I said, “Mulembi” ( “Peace be with you” ). Turned out he was the man spearheading the group and had watched for me to be driving through the center. The taxi soon departed and I did not discuss any of his issues with him. I later learned that he had approached me to request that he and his group meet with me to discuss their current misunderstandings.

Rather than meet with him and his group, I listened to the advice given by local friends and went the “meet with the authorities” route instead. With dear, unsuspecting Eilis 🙂 – who happened along in Uganda for part of her holiday at exactly the right time to help provide support on all the various issues going on for me – we found ourselves on one hot, dry, dusty afternoon sitting, discussing the issues, with a number of male officers in the Sironko police department, and even more recently, on my own with a local magistrate, where I tried to provide clarification and composed a statement that I ( me, because all claims against Vincent from the group stem from long before LITA became “LITA” officially.. ) am completely satisfied with the accoutability and transperancy ACIO and Vincent have provided throughout our relationship since 2007, and, I further wish to ask that all charges centered around improvements I helped ACIO with at the former site be dropped, now, and the former center land to be released free and clear back to ACIO so that the remaining materials can be removed and used at the new center.. and so that the former center land can be used for crops in this next approaching growing season.. ( which is great use of the wet land that it is, and really something ACIO’s children will benefit from in terms of growing food for the those living at the new center).

In the few days between when I was identified and approached at Sironko trading center and when I visited the police department in the area, there took place a few more attempts by the group leader to reach me, and his enquiries seemed to be taking him ever closer and closer to the new center, and the children, and where I was sleeping in my tent. On New Year’s Day two people, we don’t know who exactly, arrived close to Vincent’s home on a motorcycle and asked his neighbour where Catherine was, and then drove away. When Vincent heard that he became concerned for my safety and told me it was best if I was to sleep elsewhere that evening. That was the night we ended up transporting the little girl who had been burned in the house fire to the hospital in Mbale as we headed back to the house in Senior Quarters.

Upon hearing the story, Eilis and friends here strongly recommended it’s best if I do not camp at the center again for now, so.. in an effort to remain close the children, and not have to be at the house in Mbale too often or travel from it every day for 2 hours each way, I made the decision to check in at a base camp for Mt. Elgon some 20 minutes or so down the road from Mutufu.. which is, whoops, the same place where I, along with a couple other guests, were robbed on the 3’rd night of my stay.

So, yes, things have been a bit convuluted, and peace and patience for me have certainly been challening some/many moments, but, here’s what I’ve got on it all, right now..

I think we are inching closer to helping the situation that’s been ongoing for so many months between Vincent and “the group” come to a clear understanding, and a peaceful, final outcome.

I’m back sleeping full time at the house in Mbale, focsuing energies to be mindful to dwell in gratitude, and basically, laying low. I tend to leave early and arrive late anyways because of the transport thing, so that’s working.. and on days like today when I give myself some time off, I’m usually quite tired and happy to rest, write, in my room.

And.. I’m approaching the days I must travel hours on public transport with a smile..

Coming soon, the final part of this shedding 🙂 ~ Part 3 – The Trouble With Transport!

Alongside all of these issues I’ve been experiencing on a daily basis are the beautiful orphaned children you see here with their masterpiece butterflies.. and many more not pictured here.. each one precious.. each one inspiring.. each one a constant and welcome reminder of the call I am answering by being here.. each one transforming, and helping me to do so, too.. each one a gift.. each one Love.

Be Blessed.

In gratitude,

Cath xox

PS.. These butterflies all came to life during an I AM workshop created by our friend Arna Baartz in OZ. First the children drew their own butterfly with a pencil. Then they dove into coloring with wax and pencil crayons and then I asked each one to search around the grounds for something they wanted to decorate their creation with. All of them found a wrapper or label or some piece of discarded paper that would do the trick! We set about cutting, and gluing in the areas they reserved for the adornments and wow, their beautiful butterflies emerged! It was a very fun and inspiring afternoon during which we discussed “Change and Transformation” and how every day, every moment, is full of the unlimited potential for both! Thank you Dear Arna ~ Blessings in Love ~

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