Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Transforming Lives

It's easy to complain about the little things. Your latte was prepared incorrectly this morning. The tickets to a show you really wanted to see are sold out. Your dog ruined your new shoes. You lost your lucky pair of underpants. The list could go on and on.

But for some people, these mishaps are little blips that would barely register on their radar. In Uganda, life is a lot harder than it is over here in the States. Children are brutally robbed of their youth and innocence and forced into situations that are seemingly impossible to ever fully recover from.

There are many things we take for granted. After reading Transforming Lives, I realized that my overall outlook on life definitely needed a fresh perspective. It isn't difficult to whine and grumble about having a paper to write or having to get up early after a long night, but for the people of Uganda, education is a luxury few can afford and hard labor from before sunrise to late into the evening is not uncommon in the least. With no healthcare or even welfare system, a family left crippled by civil war and/or HIV/AIDS could find the very prospect of survival nearly impossible. Children are orphaned, subjected to grueling labor for very little pay, and have little to no hope for their future. Many bear witness to the atrocities of rebel soldier brutalities, and some 20,000 young children have been abducted and forced into fighting for the rebel army. These children saw things that no one should ever have to see and were forced to do things that continue to plague them with night terrors and guilt.

That's where L.E.A.D. Uganda steps in. Armed with the belief that education is the key to making a change, L.E.A.D. puts emphasis on developing future leaders for the country. It sends children who show the potential to really flourish in an academically challenging environment to the top schools in the nation and the continent of Africa. These children had no hope before the intervention - they were staring down a future of hardship, poverty, and despair. L.E.A.D. Uganda gave them the means to start dreaming again, regardless of what they had been through before. Through the program, these children have hope. Reading their personal stories is both heartbreaking and utterly world-changing.

Transforming Lives isn't about soliciting donations or peddling out testimonies for pity. It's about showing the empowering transformation that comes with giving a child who had nothing to look forward to the will to hope again. It's about showing the boundless optimism and love of their country that each individual possesses. It's about giving them a voice to share their visions for the future of Uganda, and how they can now see themselves as playing a critical role in changing their home country for the better. Says Ntege, a former child laborer now enrolled in one of Africa's top boarding schools, "I want to be the change I want to see in Africa." Hilda, the eldest child of a widowed mother with HIV, says that since she is now enrolled at a prestigious school and earning top marks she is free to pursue her dream of becoming a neurosurgeon. "I will come back...and use my skills to help reduce suffering in my country," she says. Her goal of returning to rebuild the war-torn nation is one that resonates in the stories of all these children. They seek not only a better future for themselves, but one for everyone in their country.

"I am healing," says Ojok, a former child soldier. With the help of L.E.A.D., this is something more and more children are able to say. Pick up a copy of Transforming Lives today and have your own world transformed by the amazing stories of these children. They are truly a testimony to the endurance of the human spirit, despite earth-shattering obstacles. Be a part of the change these children have dreamed of and are working to make a reality!

For more information on L.E.A.D. Uganda and how you can get involved, please visit www.leaduganda.org.

Transforming Lives was a 2010 Benjamin Franklin Award finalist.

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