Uganda Part 1: Live It Up! Home for rescued children

Happiness comes from helping others
by Mina Liccione

Last week Ali and I headed to Uganda for what proved to be a life-changing, eye and heart opening experience. Our dear friend Yasemin Saib started the Live It Up! Home for rescued children after literally stumbling upon an African woman named JaJa living in a very small one room home with 28 children that she was raising. All of the children had been left with her for different reasons, but mainly because their parents couldn’t afford to raise them or were ill. JaJa and the 28 children had become a family and Yasemin desperately wanted to help improve their living situation. With a great deal of hard-work, passion, persistence, help from friends, fund-raising and prayer she was able to open the Live It Up! doors. Words can not describe how amazing this home is. The children and JaJa represent the pure essence of gratitude and love for life. They look out for each other and cherish every moment. Though they had a very hard life in the slums they have been given a second chance and the joy you can see in their eyes is by far the most beautiful thing we have witnessed. Have you ever wondered what would become of someone in need if simply given the chance? We look at Oprah and the likes of many others, they were given a chance and look at what they did with it. Sometimes all that’s missing in life is having someone believe in you and knowing you are worth giving a chance to.

As most of the children don’t know their exact age or birth-date they decided to celebrate everyone’s birthday together. This year we were very lucky to have been able to share their birthday celebration with them!

We arrived a few days prior to the birthday festivities to meet the children and JaJa, see their home, help install swing sets and keep the children entertained while getting their blood taken for routine medical and malaria tests. Another volunteer, who just happens to also be named Yasmin, is an eye doctor and generously volunteered her time to give eye tests to all of the kids. We also visited plots of land where a bigger facility can potentially be built to house many more abandoned children.

Upon our first arrival to L.I.U. the kids ran up to us with gigantic smiles and hugs! They were so excited to have us there, though, WE were the lucky ones! They gave us a tour, told us stories, sang songs, taught us dance moves, played games and created memories filled with laughter and silly antics.

On the day of their big party the kids were full of energy. We were there with a group of loving volunteers including Anoushka, Nick, Daniel, Sonia, Sara and Dr. Yasmine. Yasemin’s husband, brother, father and his wife were all there as well to ensure the kids had an incredible birthday. Yasemin arranged for a DJ, jumping castle, presents for JaJa and the kids and a big ole’ buffet. We had the great pleasure of performing a physical comedy and tap dance show for the children and can still hear the sound of their tiny giggles. After the performance came games and of course, the birthday cake! Everyone sang and danced to celebrate their lives and thank God for all these blessings. Each child was called up one at a time to get their birthday gift, they were so humble and gracious….. and upon receiving it they ran up to JaJa and handed it to her. Though they have such little they wanted to share it with JaJa and the older kids who help take care of them. When we handed out lollipops to the kids they all wanted to share them with us as well. It was the first time we saw kids constantly sharing and not arguing over whose turn it was to play with something.

On our last day at the home, a few of the older girls were very worried that we wouldn’t return and one even cried as she hugged us tight. When seeing these children beaming with joy it is easy to forget that they were abandoned and the deep psychological and physical damage these lovely souls have had to endure. Some long term effects of abandonment include:

  • Alienation from their environment – withdrawal from social activities, resistance towards others.
  • Guilt – the child believes that he/she did something wrong that caused the abandonment (often associated with depression)
  • Fear and uncertainty – “clinginess”, insecurities
  • Sleep and eating disorders – malnutrition, starvation, disturbed sleep, nightmares
  •  Physical ailments – fatigue, depression, lack of energy and creativity, anger, grief

We were happily surprised to see that the environment these children have been living in has helped combat many of the symptoms associated with abandonment. Their physical health has improved immensely and their appetites healthy. The structure of this home, in that they are a FAMILY unit, is making a huge difference. If these children would have been separated from each other their progress and health would NOT be even close to what it is today. You can feed and clothe a child but without love they are lost.

After visiting the home and meeting the kids we now have a much better understanding of what we want to do to continue supporting them creatively. The kids LOVED to sing and dance. Many of the girls wanted to learn dance moves and made us promise to return to give them lessons. We also noticed that the kids enjoyed listening to stories that included big physical movements and funny voices. Though some of them weren’t as strong at speaking English they were very confident in telling stories through mimed actions. Like any kids, their attention span is short however when engaged in physical action their focus was locked in and would quickly mimic English words and phrases when spoken in a rhythmic pattern. In terms of social skills the children were not shy. They were extremely happy to have guests and simply wanted to give you affection and spend time with you. As mentioned earlier even the little ones whose verbal communication skills weren’t strong were still very happy to communicate in a more physical manner. One boy is deaf and he did not lack in confidence or social skills what so ever. It was wonderful to see that his hearing impairment did not take away from his vibrant personality and desire to connect and make new friends. We would like to design a series of performing arts and visual arts lesson plans including special art projects and circus skills with supplied equipment, video choreography tutorials and song and dance routines for the teachers and care-takers to implement. It was clear that the majority of the kids were right brain thinkers and implementing diverse styles of creative thinking and learning will greatly help them in their education.

We also intend on keeping our promise in returning to lead workshops, build their creative arts training as well as deepen our friendships with them all. These kids are used to many people coming in and out of their lives, what will help them the most is having consistency, structure and sustainable relationships. We were able to plant tiny seeds on our first visit and plan to return to continue watering and nurturing those artistic seeds as they grow into a fertile ivy vine.

We have been back in Dubai for a week now but only physically. Our hearts and minds are still in Uganda. Our lives have been elevated by this journey and we thank God that we have be given the opportunity to continue to know them, visit them and in some small way continue to support them as they grow. If you would like to learn more about the Live It Up! Home for Rescued Children in Uganda and how you can help continue elevating their lives please, please visit http://www.liveitup.org/ They intend on building a much bigger facility and school to house many more abandoned children and they NEED your help and support to do so. We promise you that your lives will only be enriched by helping this incredible foundation build a future for these children. IMG_1914 

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