Meeting Raph

In 2011 I was at my home in Melbourne when I heard a knock at the door. It was a young guy from an organisation called Child Fund and he asked if I would be interested in sponsoring a child in Uganda. I invited him in and he told me a bit about the program. We ended up chatting for a while and eventually I chose a chubby little five year old boy from Northern Uganda named Raphael.

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What I liked about the sponsorship program with Child Fund is that once you’ve been matched with a sponsor child you’re allowed to communicate with the family as frequently as a you like. I have been surprised over the past seven years at just how  many letters I’ve received from Raphael’s mother Judith (with support of the CF Field Officers) and more recently from Raph himself. Child Fund also allow you the opportunity to arrange a visit with the child. I hoped that some day when I eventually travelled to Africa I would have this unique experience. When I found out my employer was sending me to Uganda on assignment for nine months I knew I had to make it happen.

Last month Logan and I arranged a whirlwind trip to Gulu in Northern Uganda, about a seven hour drive from our home in Masaka. We made a slight detour to spend a day in Murchison Falls National Park (during which nothing went to plan but we still managed to spot same beautiful creatures) and arrived in Gulu Sunday night.

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On Monday morning we met with the field officer who accompanied us for the day. After chatting about the program and learning a bit more about the local community we were introduced to the field team at Child Fund. There were about five people in the room including a young woman nursing a baby. Strangely, after introducing each team member they told us that the woman with the baby was Raph’s mum. I jumped up and gave her a hug. She was super shy and seemed so young to have a 13 year old son.

What I didn’t know at the time I began sponsoring Raphael was that he was born HIV+ and has spent a lot of his short life suffering from the virus. Meeting his mother I learned that she was only 13 years old when she fell pregnant with Raphael. The circumstances of her pregnancy are unknown to me but I fear the worst having spent enough time living in Uganda and hearing of other similar cases. I learned that Raphael has three siblings, including the nine-month old baby (who was ‘fearing the mzungus’). The father/s of the children are not in their lives and they live in a nearby village with her father, Raphael’s grandfather a frail old man who we also had pleasure of meeting.

After introductions we piled into the van and headed to Raphael’s school. Having become accustomed to school visits I wasn’t shy about stepping into his P4 classroom and introducing myself to the students who greeted me with the traditional ‘we are fine’ in unison. Teacher Robinson introduced me to Raph who was sitting in the front row.

Despite expecting my visit he too was really shy. We stepped outside and sat together with his mother, grandfather and few field officers under a big tree in the school grounds. I asked lots of questions and told him a bit about me, which all had to be translated (in Uganda the kids are taught in their local language up until P3 when teachers switch to instructing in English). Raph’s teacher was great, he could see that Raph was feeling shy and lent over to whisper in his ear. He told me that he was reminding Raph that this might be the only chance he gets to spend time with me and that he should make the most of it and try not to be shy. When we all loaded into the van he climbed in and sat next to me and held my hand, it was his first time to travel in a vehicle.

IMG_5595After the market we took them out for a nice lunch to a local restaurant where he piled his plate high (Ugandan style) with matooke, chicken, rice, beans, posho and greens. For a skinny kid he did a good job at polishing it off. After lunch we returned to the field office and said our last goodbyes. Meeting this young Ugandan boy and his mother who I have been exchanging letters and photos with for seven years was an experience I’ll always cherish. I encourage you to sponsor a child if you don’t already, either with Child Fund or get in touch with me directly if you want to do it through Cotton On FoundationIMG_5586

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