For many years, I have hung the Prayer of St. Francis in a place where I can see it when I wake to remind myself that each day can begin with the intention of promoting kindness.
When I arrived in Pader, I knew little about the village outside of what history books and human rights reports shared about the brutal violence which occurred in the region: the dismemberment of bodies, the killing, the abduction of children. I came with no set plan of action, but with an open mind and a willingness to give of my time and skills.
After my first two weeks teaching at FRO’s rehabilitation center, I approached community leaders with an explanation of my prior experience in peace building work and asked about their perceptions of what is most needed to promote sustainable peace and development in Pader. Their answer was unanimous: work to educate our most vulnerable children.
In the days following, I tirelessly labored over (and might I admit, stressed about) a plan to educate 1500 primary school children identified by a coalition of international NGOs as the most vulnerable and war-affected. All of these children are fully or partially orphaned, many were abducted by the LRA, and most care for themselves and siblings. None could access education without the support of donors to cover the expense of school fees, uniforms, school materials, and a basic living allowance.
I learned that it costs $30/year to cover all of the expenses associated with a child’s school attendance in Uganda, less than I spend in one night of dinner and a movie back home. For less than $8,000 more/year, the entire program supporting 1500 children in 56 Northern Ugandan primary schools could be administered and have all operational costs covered.
After agreeing to find funding to support this program, I was greeted with another request: help bring peace education to schools in Northern Uganda. I jubilantly accepted this challenge after seeing how happily the Kids for Peace Peace Pledge was received. Over the next few months, I will work to support peace education beginning with the most local primary schools and eventually reaching several more remote schools in areas that once served as battlegrounds for the terror waged by the LRA.
The enormity of the challenges I am facing here are at times overwhelming. While I’m constantly hearing about new “causes” to support here and realizing that one person can only do so much, I know that even so, all people can begin the day with the intention of doing the most they can to foster peace and spread hope.
The Prayer of St. Francis
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.