As we drove down the red dirt road to the Obya IDP camp, we saw long lines of fences with barbed wire on top that seemed to last forever. We weaved through a maze of tall trees and huts. The huts were tattered and worn from many years of use.
It had been a few years since I had been back to the Obya IDP camp. Many children at our Villages have come from Obya such as Barbara, Stella, Patrick, Irene, Tracy and “Bill” Clinton, among others. I used to come to Obya every time I came back to Uganda. I felt guilty for not coming back for so many years. I think it was because it was so hard to see the many who have still not been moved to our Villages.
Even though many perceive that the IDP camps do not excite, this one does. Since the families and orphans have no place to go, the IDP camp land owner has allowed the people to remain there. He charges them a little rent, but it isn’t too much.
When we arrived to the camp, some children jumped and greeted us while others sat silent in a small group under a tree. As we got out of the van, they didn’t rush toward us like in years past. They didn’t greet us with a song immediately, but instead, they looked sad and withdrawn.
I greeted them and tried to make them smile, but after my unproductive efforts, the only thing I got was a blank stare. A few of the children sang songs for us, but they were rehearsed not heartfelt.
After greeting them on behalf of Village of Hope, a thought came to mind, “let’s teach them a song, a silly one such as ‘Father Abraham.’”
We gathered them into a circle and began to sing, “Father Abraham had many sons…right hand…and many sons had Father Abraham, right arm, left arm…and I am one of them…right arm, left arm, right leg.” Their stark faces began to smile and some even giggled as we sang, “I am one of them and so are you…right arm, left arm, right leg, left leg. So let’s just praise the Lord, right arm, left arm, right leg, left leg, turn around.” I was completely dizzy by now, and we were all laughing. “Right arm, left arm, right leg, left leg, turn around, SIT DOWN!” With laughter, we all sat down, and I was so pooped. I fell to the ground and laid there for a while. It was so fun to see the smiles.
I then reminded them how God was their Father and He loved them. They were not alone. I told them how He knew the number of hairs on their head and I even tried to pull hair from their shaved heads, and they laughed. I shared how they can have hope even if God doesn’t bring them to the Village and they have so much to be thankful for. I asked them what they were thankful for and shared things that they could thank God for, such as life, a place to sleep two hands, two feet or even just one foot. Then I asked them to say out loud in unison five things they were thankful for.
As we said goodbye, I started walking around and touching their heads. I didn’t do it as a ritual, but for some reason I have this desire to touch each one of them and kiss their heads. At first some of them pulled away, but as I continued they began to lean into me, wanting their heads to be held by the two of my hands and to be gently kissed. My heart prayed for them, and I pleaded with God for peace, protection, provision and that He would bring them all to the Village.
Even though we were able to provide them with some food, it was not enough for all of them. The worst part of this best day was driving away not knowing what the rest of their days, weeks, months and lives would look like.