Two days ago at Entusi, one of the women leading the “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign from Nigeria told her story at the Second Annual Women’s Leadership Summit. Florence wants to know why the world community can activate vast pools of resources in an international search to find a missing airplane and the tragic disappearance of hundreds of people with families and friends who want them home; but is not as inclined to activate and engage those same resources to find hundreds of missing girls in Nigeria with family and friends who also want them home.
And at the end of her very compelling, impassioned talk the women sitting around the table all reacted differently. Not surprising as we had a most extraordinary delegation of women leaders this year from Uganda, Rwanda, Nigeria, Colombia and the United States. Some shed tears; some were angry; some were vocal and others were very quiet and reflective. But here’s the deal. When you cut through all of the emotion that filled the room on this very extraordinary morning on Lake Bunyonyi in Southern Uganda, there was one common thread that tied us all together. And that was hope. And it dominated us.
I started to think back on my month here in East Africa teaching an interactive graduate class with students from the University of Colorado Denver and hosting our Second Women’s Leadership retreat at Entusi. And with each story and each interaction, hope seemed to be the common theme this time around at every stop.
We found hope when we ventured into the Katanga slums, where the absence of public health is almost as pronounced as the raw sewage that runs through the community. And I ran into a family I have known there for years. The mom invited us into their home. Her two-year old daughter wanted a balloon animal and her elderly Mom needed some medicine as she is dying of cancer. But what she really wanted me to know is that she just got a job. And in the midst of the chaos in which this family lives, this woman had hope.
We found hope when we traveled North to Lira and visited with the young adults who are former child soldiers. Despite the tragedy and despair rooted in their past, many of them are moving on with their lives. One girl is in her senior year of high school and over lunch we told her that we were going to support her to pursue her career in nursing when she graduates. Walter moved back with his mom and is finishing high school in the village where he is originally from.
And everywhere in Kampala, despite the poverty and corruption and typical dysfunctions of the developing world, hope was there as well, albeit subtly. It was at Halals, where my Muslim friend Eddie runs the best local restaurant on the planet. Business is good and the rice, beans, g-nut sauce and chipatti’s are to die for. Based near the slum, you can feast over an amazing meal and orange Fanta and get out the door for less than 5,000 schillings ($2 USD). Simon has graduated from college after four years of support from the Global Livingston Institute and has his first job working for an international business. Martina is in her final year of college and is going to help manage the new campus that we have acquired in Kampala.