On her recent trip to Uganda, World Vision writer Kari Costanza met Juliet, a 5-year-old girl whose family is struggling and can't send her to school.
We've just registered Juliet for our child sponsorship program. All she needs now is a sponsor. Read her story and see how you can help her and her family!
For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.
—William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
If ever a story needed a happy ending, it would be that of 5-year-old Juliet.
She lives in northern Uganda in Oyam District — a place of mournful peace. From the 1990s until a peace accord was signed in 2006, rebel army leader Joseph Kony made life a living hell in northern Uganda, abducting some 25,000 children into his army. The boys he forced into fighting; the girls he made their “wives.”
During that time, World Vision operated the Children of War Rehabilitation Center in Gulu for children who were able to escape Kony’s army — often during skirmishes. Since it opened in 1995, the center has rehabilitated and successfully reunited children back into their communities.
The children had been through the most difficult of circumstances, sometimes forced to kill their parents by Kony’s army. All were traumatized and lacked the social and educational skills needed to reenter society.
Today, World Vision sponsors from the United States sponsor more than 35,600 boys and girls in Uganda. World Vision is working in Oyam District, where sponsorship funds provide the foundation for community development work in agriculture, economic development, healthcare, and education.
It’s education that Juliet yearns for. She watches her friends travel down the path toward school in the mornings.
“When her friends go to school,” says her mother Evelyn, 24, “Juliet says she wants to join them. She says, ‘I want to get my clothes and go to school.’”
Clothes are a problem. Juliet only has two dresses. She owns just one pair of shoes — if you consider flip-flops shoes.
In December 2013, the family home burned to the ground. Now they live in a grass-thatched hut next to the charred ruins of their home. They were able to salvage one mattress. Everything else was lost.
“We don’t have a toilet,” says her mother. “Right now we go in the bush.”
The children fetch water from a nearby stream. Both Juliet and her brother, Laston, 3, have distended bellies — a sign of worms. Worms come from poor hygiene and from drinking dirty water. It is impossible in this place to have good hygiene.
Laston has orange hair, a sign of malnutrition. He clings to his mother, tired and weepy. “We eat beans,” says Evelyn. “Sometimes just once a day. Sometimes we can buy milk.”
Evelyn’s husband, Bonny, 28, is a cassava farmer. “He works hard,” says Evelyn. “Most of the time he is in the garden.” But what he grows is not enough to meet the family’s basic needs.
Evelyn has lived in Oyam District for 10 years. Like tens of thousands of other children, Joseph Kony’s army abducted her as a child.
“I was captured at my home,” she says. “They tied us at the waists.” Evelyn was marched off with other children carrying six big chickens, an axe, and a machete. “I escaped from the battlefield,” she says. “Someone who was next to me pulled me away. We escaped together.”
When she returned home, she married Bonny and began having children. It is clear that she adores them. Evelyn admires Juliet’s spunky personality. “She is a disciplined child,” says Evelyn. “She is a fast learner. She is playful.” Evelyn laughs. “Juliet is also stubborn.”
“I have no idea where her confidence comes from,” says Evelyn. The family attends the Catholic church nearby. “Juliet goes to church even when I don’t,” says Evelyn.
“I would love to go to school,” admits Juliet. “I would love to study mathematics.” She is shy in front of strangers. She would also love to eat her favorite food: fish.
When Evelyn is sick, Juliet cares for her. At only 5, she can already sweep the house and do some cooking. “When I am sick, she cares for me,” says Evelyn. “I am always falling sick. I think from malaria.”
In Uganda, malaria is the biggest killer disease. The Ugandan Ministry of Health says that between 70,000 and 110,000 people will die this year from malaria.
Evelyn wants the best for Juliet and Laston. She is praying for better than this life full of woe.
“My prayer is for my children,” she says, “that they will remain healthy. I pray for their future to be bright.”
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UPDATE: Juliet has a sponsor! Pray with us for her future and for the blessings of her sponsor.