A Child Slave?

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A few weeks back, the president of Uganda came to speak at a local school. We went to hear him. It was very interesting to hear Museveni speak about how he originally rose to power with the gift of some guns from the president of Tanzania … and then how he distributed those guns throughout his network of soldiers in Uganda. It was also interesting to listen to him threaten a local doctor, telling him if his staff didn’t start showing up to work, he would kill him the next time he was in town. Then he laughed. Everyone in the outdoor audience laughed, adults and school-children. Was he joking?

I didn’t have any particular desire to meet the man, but Eugenia, the manager of our birth center site, did. And she said to him, “Remember us. Remember we’re here. Remember the good work we are doing at our birth center.” Then, a few weeks later, the archdiocese we are located in miraculously — after years of us asking — decided to hire two nurses and a midwife, pay their salaries, and have them work alongside of us. Coincidence? Maybe. But the midwives here are agreed that’s it’s altogether possible that the government has given the health funding for the salaries to the archdiocese to give to the new health workers who will help here at the birth center. This is a big praise!

But like so many things in Uganda, it’s complicated.

First, a midwife is nowhere to be found at this time, scarce as they are in the world. (The world needs more midwives!) However, two nurses showed up briefly to consider whether they would work here. Neither one is sure they’ll stay. One of them, let’s call her Harriet, brought two children with her. The little one was her own. The older one, however, wasn’t.

I asked the nurse about this older child, “Where did you find her?”

“I got her in Oyam from my work.”

I got her in Oyam.

“Is her family there?”

“No.”

End of conversation.

I watched this girl, whose name is Fiona, haul water, scrub dishes, and care for the smaller child. Fiona appeared to be between nine and eleven years old. Shouldn’t she be in school?

I wasn’t the only one asking that question. The nurse’s answer? “She doesn’t want to go to school.” Eugenia, the birth center manager, was having none of this sort of explanation and said, in no uncertain terms, that if the nurse worked here, Fiona would have to be enrolled in school. That’s the law in Uganda.

But the nurse left after a week and took Fiona with her.

The last thing I saw Fiona doing was hauling the nurse’s suitcases up the road so they could catch the bus back to wherever they came from.

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