October 2009, Mukono, Uganda, Africa
To Larry and Barbara Luke, my lovely sponsors:
I am Ddumba Wilberforce, age ten, in Primary Brain Trust School, grade 5. I am thanking you for sponsoring me and now for my two brothers. We are three boys who live in the house of my father and mother but they are both dead in heaven. So you see we are needy childrens called orphans. Until you chose us we were missing school. Akim and I dig holes and fetch water for the next house people to get pennies to buy food. We will be happy to see your faces when you come here to visit us. We are working hard to make the house nice so you can sleep at our house. I will study hard in school to be the best boy.
Faithfully, Your lovely boy Ddumba
Ddumba Wilberforce, the first child my husband, Larry, and I sponsored through the Child2Youth Foundation, is one of a growing number of orphans forced into child-headed households.
The traditional family structure can no longer function because of poverty, malaria and the increase of AIDS that has taken away an entire generation. Communities that were once able to support orphans are now overwhelmed with the enormous number of children who need help. As a result, older children are forced into the role of parenting their younger siblings.
In one of his letters, Ddumba told us he had an older brother, Akim, 14, and a younger brother, Ddiba, 5.
"Who is sponsoring them?" I wrote to him.
"They belong to no one," he replied.
Ddumba's parents died two years earlier, and Akim, then 12, quit school and took over trying to feed his two younger brothers while they lived together in their family home. Larry and I decided to sponsor the brothers so they could attend school. They are a classic example of the child-headed households that are becoming common in Africa.
When Larry and I traveled to Uganda to learn more about the Child2Youth Foundation, Ddumba was there at the airport to welcome us.
On our way to the hotel, we stopped to visit Ddumba's home. When we arrived, he took our hands and led us to a wooden bench — the seat of honor. He then introduced us to his brothers, the neighbors and relatives who had come to see the American visitors.
The welcome was overwhelming. Tears, smiles and hugs cut through the language barrier. Feeling these little children's hands in ours and wrapping them in our arms was a special experience. I was surprised by how tightly they hugged us and how they stayed close beside us the whole time we were with them.
We brought all of the children we sponsored a harmonica, and it was great fun watching them discover a toy we take for granted. We also brought the boys their own books and other gifts to share. The books had 3-D glasses that Ddiba wore for days. He thought he was something very special. I just hope his eyesight hasn't been permanently affected.
After receiving their gifts, the boys were excited to show us how carefully they had fixed up their house. They invited us into the two-room structure, which was about the size of our guest bedroom in California. They showed us the new beds, blankets and mosquito nets that we had donated to them. They wanted us to spend the night, but time did not allow for that.
We asked about their lives and their schoolwork, and we watched them play with the neighbors. These boys were so warm and loving toward us and those around them. They delighted in even the smallest gifts we brought them.
To show their gratitude, they gave us beautiful gifts of dolls, baskets and woven mats, all creatively handmade from banana leaves. Larry and I were touched because we knew they gave us the best of whatever they had.
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