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.
This touching personal welcome was repeated as we made the rounds to many homes of the children sponsored by our family and friends. The Child2Youth staff members accompanied us on our visits, and we were impressed by how close they are to the children and how protective they are of them.
During one of our visits, Steven Ssenyonjo, director of the Child2Youth Foundation, said, "I am personally responsible for each child we take into our program, so I need to know how they are and where they are at all times."
He is in frequent contact with the children's teachers, and he or a social worker personally visits them at their school once a month to check on their grades and behavior. They also check on them at home once a month to make sure they are being fed and cared for.
The local villagers now feel it is an honor to house a needy child through the Child2Youth Foundation. In return for caring for the children, the foundation gives them goats or chickens so they can support themselves.
This system benefits the family and orphan. No one wants to lose their new status in the village, so they treat the children very well. There is also an expectation that the children perform well and behave in school so they are not removed from the program.
"Steven, what message would you have me take home to those who are so willing to help us?" I asked through my tears before departing.
"Please tell the great people you know that we don't need any more stuff like clothes or books sent to us," he said. "Our prayers are answered as they help us to fund small businesses for the families to rebuild their lives and to help our economy grow over here in Uganda by obtaining the items we need locally."
With tears in his eyes, he held our hands and said, "Now you know why Heavenly Father wanted you to come here. You are the messengers for our children. Please tell those who stand with you that we love them with our whole hearts."
We're so happy to report that everything we had heard about Steven's Child2Youth Foundation is true and, with the help of his dedicated staff, the foundation functions even better than we had hoped. The leaders and the villagers respect Steven for his vision, generosity and dedication to helping their families and children become self-sufficient.
January 2011, Mukono, Uganda, Africa
God be praised Larry and Barbara Luke,
It is I, Ddumba your best boy. Seeing you the first time my heart was so big with happiness. When you came to our house we were smiling always and felt tears wanting to come out from our eyes. Thank you so much for help with school for us three boys. We are being careful to look after each other. We pray for you always. Our goats are so beautiful, we brush them everyday. I like to report the white one had two baby goats.
My aunts, uncles and grandparents are missing you so much after your weeks and visits with us. They never believed they would have white people in our family who they feel love for. The food you sent to the family is a blessing from God. He shines in your faces. The latrine you built for our family is the best in the Village. Now we will not be in trouble with the neighbors for having no latrine.
We tell you these things from all our hearts and love you forever.
Your lovely boy, Ddumba Wilberforce
Akim and Ddiba send much love on this paper to you.
Akim and Ddumba are currently head boys (leaders) of their classes of more than 200 children at St. Lwanga Secondary School. We are very proud of them and of Ddiba, who has started kindergarten. We are also proud of our other African children who make our family complete.
Barbara Luke and her husband, Larry, are the U.S. managers of the Child2Youth Foundation, which partners with Mothers Without Borders to care for suffering children and families. Learn more about the Child2Youth Foundation by visiting http://www.child2youth.org/ or by following the foundation on Facebook and Twitter.