Reaching Out To Formerly Incarcerated Women

May Yam, a professional photographer and film producer sharing a picture with Shiphrah Nantongo Wells of Hope Women Safe Home Administrator

Home Visitors

September was one of the busiest month with more friends reaching out to the residents at the Safe Home. On September 7th, the Camp David International (CDI) team before they left the country paid a courtesy visit to the home and met with the resident that was there at the time. They encouraged her and prayed for her to face the world positively after incarceration and to know that not everyone is out there to judge her.

We had the interns; Elisa and Eric visit the home and had an orientation about the activities of the home and got to meet the resident at the home on that day.

We had a visit from May Yam, a friend to the home who is a professional photographer and film producer who shared with the team at the home tips on successful filming and how to effectively use the stories of the ladies at the home. She promised to engage some companies back in the United States to get us funding for the story telling venture at the safe home.

Priscilla Ocen and Monica Mocheca visited the home and showed interest in volunteering with the home engaging the ladies and imparting life skills to help them overcome trauma and to participate in prison sensitisation about the home, orientation receiving of the ladies at the home to enable them get the desired services as per the objectives of the safe home.

Shiphrah Nantongo, Wells of Hope Women Safe Home Administrator sharing with Prof Priscilla Ocen about the Safe Home

Wells Of Hope Safe Home Meetings

Board Meeting

The Quarterly board meeting was conducted on September 26th which saw many issues discussed on how to push the home forward and make it a success in regards to its objectives. The members in attendance pledged their availability in case of any concerns that might not wait for the next meeting. They discussed the expenditures for the existing month and also made suggestions about the budget for this month.

My Bundles Of Joy

Babra Namutosi, Wells of Hope Ministries Assistant Programs Coordinator sharing a picture with the Pearls during the Annual Camp (Camp David Uganda). On the right is Florence Nsimire a student (who assisted Babra during camp.

There aren’t many words to express my feeling of gratitude, excitement and gratefulness to the Camp David team-US, we know there is work to do to keep building a future we can all be proud of, and we cannot do it, without people like you. I am inspired each day that Camp David International team have always worked selflessly to impact a child’s life.

 On 23rdAugust, camp was officially opened, with both teams (Camp David and wells of hope team) arriving at the junior school at arriving at 5:30 pm. The team was greatly welcomed to the junior school with a dance performed by the pupils.

The team later met with the children, had praise and worship, Ben (Papa Big heart), who was the leader of the Camp David team, later introduced his team to the rest of the Wells of Hope team (children and staff). This was very exciting especially to the campers who could not wait to have the camp activity sparked off.

The following morning was characterized by excitement; there were 8 teams on ground,(pearls, Lions, Diamonds, Tigers, Panthers, Jades, Rubies and Crystals) and each team had counselors alongside to guide the campers through each day’s activities.

Remembering our first day for camp, my girls (the Pearls comprising the youngest girls)  climbed a set of hurdles; I held onto two young girl’s hands, who fell sick on day one and two. I carried them along to the nurse each morning, afternoon and evening. The rest of the 9 girls followed as they swallowed up in mixed emotions for the two sweet sick ones, and yet the daily activities had to proceed for us. The two however were not ready to let go of the team members! Sickness would never cut them off the team, this was a great team spirit exhibited. I and the girls had each other’s back to the very end of the camp.

Being my first time for camp, though I was excited to meet the little girls (pearls),it was however a mixed emotion of nervousness and excitement  because I dint know what, where, and how best I was supposed to handle the girls, at times I found it difficult to get to their best level of understanding. A team of 11 girls with different traits and personalities; friendly, shy, independent, caring, kind, stubborn all were different in their own ways but interesting at the same time. All these differences spiced up the kind of people I needed in a group. To me, my girls were best in everything, be it in their worst or best moments. I just had fun with them; laughing through each experience. We enjoyed each other’s presence, we took naps together, shared stories, talked about our fears, played together, cried together in moments of loss to the to the lions (the team with the youngest boys) , shared meals, talked about what makes us angry and how best we could help each other, shared our sorrow but later  worked as team to  finally beat the lions!

The camp activities helped to enhance positive impact in terms of building children’s confidence, self-esteem, team building, promoting creativity and above all feeling appreciated and loved as children. This was done through collective activities like celebration of the children’s birthdays.  Both the children and the councilors/coaches and support staff were able to engage and interact with one another freely and happily without boundaries. Through camps as these, the children receive the benefits of spending time with different people, while the counselors feel responsible to create and sustain a secure attachment to children like never before. The support staff as led by Jackie Nakinda, Wells of Hope Ministries Admin Assistant, played a great role in welfare. All meals were well prepared and served on time throughout the camp. Time management was a great deal, the time keeper (Marjorie Lunkunse, Wells of Hope Ministries Deputy Executive Director; who was the Camp Director) was on point, as the bell was rung in time for change of activities. The media team (Lexi, Daniel; Mary and Rebecca, students from Wells of Hope High School)  were seen running breathlessly giving their best to capture the moments through videos and pictures. They worked tirelessly to put all videos and photos together for a great moment to each camper.

Lexie (L) and Marjorie sharing a picture with the Pearls wearing face paint

With so much fun being experienced during the camp, my girls would continuously ask, “aunty Babra, are we going to have camp tomorrow as well?” This was a question asked as a result of enjoyment; the girls (pearls) asked it more often because they desired that camp continues. Aunty Kacie and Mama Rose (Grace Smith) were at the heart of the pearls. On several occasions, the girls kept asking me to take them see aunty Kacie and Mama Rose; Little did I know. I humbled myself to go by my girls’ request; I was overwhelmed by what I saw; “Thank you aunty Kacie for the sweets,” they said repeatedly on meeting aunty Kacie. On seeing Mama Rose, the children happily greeted her; while a few shyly stepped back speechlessly watching her beautiful smile as she interacted with them. When asked which team they were, they all replied in unison, “we are the pearls, adding, ever the best!”; this always made me feel so proud of my girls.

 The pearls never let me down at any moment. My girls’ energy kept me going each day and night; even when it would seem so hard, they gave me the reason to try harder, picking me up from my bed each morning, giving me a push to the toilet, singing songs, telling me stories and asking me to dance for them.

There is a lot to talk about my sweet pearls, being my first camp that there was in my life, this I render the best thing that ever happened to me this year (2019)! Receiving the compassion award and having the pearls attain the best position of the little group, for me it was a great achievement 2019. I was thrilled by the fact that I could get to understand these children best as individuals, bond with them, share bed time stories with them; this was an opportunity for me to receive love from the little ones and be able to give back to my girls. These are among my best memories!

I refer to these girls as ‘my little bundles of joy’ I could never exchange the pearls for anything in this world! The relationship I had with my pearls was worthwhile.

To the Camp David team, your tireless effort to Wells of Hope Ministries is a great blessing to the children. This would not be possible without you friends; thanks to Camp David of the Ozarks for your generosity extended to create positive impact in the life of a child with a parent in prison in Uganda.

Written by: Babra Namutosi, Wells of Hope Ministries Asst Programs Coordinator

A Warm Welcome

On 13th September, a welcome home party for the residents was held at the Women Safe Home. It was such an exciting day that showered them with love. In attendance were the formerly incarcerated women who congratulated them upon being released and gave them a brief of how to resettle easily back in their communities, Friends of the home, and volunteers at the safe home. The residents applauded the Safe Home for taking them in and for encouraging them while still in prison as they had not figured out how they would easily encounter life outside prison. They were happy for the love shown to them and prayed for blessings upon each and everyone involved in this work and specifically Susan Burton for thinking about them and caring for their well-being.

They shared various stories of their lives, ranging from their growing up, how they lived their lives before arrest, matters that led to their arrest, prison life, and their experience of living at the safe home. It was a fun moment for each and every one. They cut cake and shared picture moments with everyone.

From the stories told, the ladies embraced story telling as a way of relieving stress and easily forgetting the past instances to embrace the new life ahead. They were interviewed one at a time about their life experiences especially about their life in prison and living at the safe home. We anticipate doing it as an ongoing activity at the home.

The residents also had a dinner at one of the top restaurants in town; Café Javas sponsored by Mama Joann Dolan Martin one of our friends. This was also a welcome party for a resident that missed out on the general welcome party; who was welcomed with a cake and a congratulatory song by the restaurant staff for the troubles she had been managed to encounter during her one and a half years’ stay in prison. She shed tears of joy and later shared that she had been treated as a queen. The residents were delighted and concluded that they had never been to such a place or even tasted such food and had no dreams of ever eating that food. They applauded Wells of Hope for loving them so much considering that they had been out of prison and expected to be stigmatised which was not the case when they reached out to the safe home. One of them said that even her own family could not treat her with a portion of the love she felt she was receiving at the time.

THE FIRST OF A KIND: CAMP DAVID KENYA

What seemed like a dream finally came to reality. For the very first time, a camp for children with parents in prison in Kenya was held; and it was conducted by Camp David of the Ozarks (CDO), an organization based in USA. This was in partnership with Wells of Hope Ministries, UG and PREAJ Ministries based in Kenya. Camp David Kenya was held from 2nd to 5th September 2019 with the theme KUISHI, a Kiswahili word meaning Dying To Live.

On Sunday September 8th a team of 12, comprising friends from Camp David and Wells of Hope members (staff and Wells of Hope High School students) set off for Kenya in excitement for the week ahead. For most of the team, this was our very first time to travel to Kenya. I couldn’t help wondering what the country was like; say culture and dishes; all I knew was what I had heard from people who had been there. At the border, we were warmly welcomed by Chaplain Chrispinus Wafula, a Welfare Officer at Busia Prison and Programs Coordinator of Wells of Hope interventions in Kenya. Right from the border, the most spoken language was Kiswahili; this reminded me of the Kiswahili lessons a friend of mine was to guide me through, which never happened. After checking into one of the hotels in Busia (Kenya) town, the team was treated to a lovely meal and later reviewed the weekly program before retiring to bed.

On Monday morning, we headed to Satellite Academy which was the campsite; we were very excited to meet the children and staff who were going to help out during camp. The camp was commenced with setting up locations of the different rotations which included: What About It (a class about helping children cope with parental imprisonment), Crafts, Field Games, Team Pictures (which was done on the first day), Slingshots and Team Building.  Unlike Camp David Uganda, most of the children who attended camp are boys. We were told that most families still keep the girls at home to do chores or take care of the homes while the boys go to school. The children were grouped into 5 teams; 2 (Jades & Pearls) for girls and 3 (Lions, Tigers & Panthers) for boys. Two staff who played the role of counselors were attached to a team. Other team members and volunteers were part of the support staff (in charge of meals, cleanliness of campsite, among other duties) and leadership; the Camp Directors were Marjorie Lunkuse Wells of Hope’s Deputy Executive Director, Ben & Grace Smith, Founders and Directors of Camp David of the Ozarks (CDO). Francis Ssuubi, Wells of Hope Founder was the Camp Uncle.

The classes/sessions were conducted with translators because most of the children related better with Kiswahili.

Ben, who the children preferred to call Papa Big Heart conducting the What About It (WAI) class
Lexie showing Ferrny and Singapaul how to make a face mask
Godfrey conducting conducting a Team Building class with the Lions

At first, the children were a bit shy and reserved but with time, they were able to open up and be actively engaged in the sessions as they cheerfully mingled with the visitors. Due to the language barrier, I was a bit skeptical about our interaction with the children during some activities. I had no idea how it was going to be but I was totally amazed to see the children (especially those who were withdrawn) joyfully engaged in football, talent show and the shaving cream battle. The wide smiles on the children’s faces took away all the anxiety I had earlier.

Children and staff sharing a photo during the shaving cream battle
Talent Show: The Tigers making a presentation about the camp theme, Dying To Live,
Jabari (in yellow T-Shirt) playing football with children during their free time

Some of the top highlights during the camp were the shaving cream battle, celebrating the birthdays of the children and witnessing 12 children being baptized. The birthday party was held in the main hall; the decoration was breathtaking! One at a time, each team made an entrance while they were being cheered on by staff.

Grace, who the children preferred to call Mama Rose giving Juma a high-five as he entered the Hall

The children couldn’t hide their glee as they cut their birthday cakes and received their gifts. For most of these children, it was a whole new experience. The girls wrapped their hands around their dolls while the boys played with their toy trucks and soccer balls. Among other gifts included: flip-flops, dresses and towels.

Francis Ssuubi, Wells of Hope founder joining the Lions as they celebrate their birthdays

12 children who had undergone a baptism session with Ben (who the children preferred to call Papa Big Heart) were baptized by Papa Big Heart and Mama Rose.

The camp was climaxed with handing over photo albums to the children, awarding certificates, awarding medals to winners and a campfire where the children roasted corn. The overall winners among the 5 teams were the tigers; who showed great teamwork and competition.

The tigers who emerged winners

Camp David Kenya was such a great experience for the children with incarcerated parents in Kenya; most of them came from different regions/cities like Nairobi. Chrispinus and his team traced their families prior to the camp and most of the children come from very remote areas. During camp, I got to know some of the stories of these children: Jane 7 years (not real name) stays with her grandmother who’s very frail and sickly. Her mother abandoned her and her father is serving a long term sentence in prison. During camp, Jane was worried about her granny’s well-being. Back at home, she’s the only one who used to look after her granny. Esther 15 years (not real name) stays with her father and stepmother who mistreats her. Her father doesn’t want her to go to school; it’s through a relative who stays nearby that she’s able to attend some classes at school and rush back home before her father returns from work.  Esther’s mother is serving a long-term sentence in prison. These stories reminded me of the children with incarcerated parents in Uganda (under the care of Wells of Hope Ministries). I am glad that by the end of the week, these children had found hope in God for a better future and they could afford to smile amidst their circumstances.

My sincere gratitude to the staff and volunteers in Kenya were very caring; they let go of their busy work schedules to come and serve during camp.

Thanks to Wells of Hope Ministries for giving me an opportunity to serve alongside the team from Camp David of the Ozarks and PREAJ Ministries in Kenya.

Katty, who was part of the media team, painting children’s nails
Jabari and Daniel Smith playing football with the children
Papa Big Heart & Mama Rose sharing a photo with the children. They were joined by Chrispinus Wafula and Judy, the headteacher of Satellite Academy

Compiled by: Lucy N, Assistant Communications Officer at Wells of Hope Ministries