Last summer, for International Day of the Child, 200 children in Uganda celebrated with songs, dance, cake and gifts! But maybe the most meaningful part of the day was the children’s reflection on their lives and their heartfelt thanks for the transformational support they receive from their sponsors.
A large group of children from Holt’s family strengthening program in Uganda waited nervously to board a van. It was June 1, the International Day of the Child, and they were driving to the Jolly Children’s Education Center for a birthday celebration supported by Holt sponsors. So why were they nervous? For most of the children, this was their first time ever riding in a car!
At first, many of the young children cried when the car started, but it didn’t take long for their whimpers to be replaced by happy laughter that filled the van. It was going to be an exciting day!
The 150 total sponsored children in Uganda live in the Kalongero and Bika communities where they attend Jolly Children’s Education Center. Primary school-aged children traveled from all around these communities to attend the party. Siblings of children in sponsorship were also invited to attend the party — making it a birthday celebration for a total of 200 happy children. Their schoolteachers would be there as well, along with leaders from Holt’s Uganda program and Holt’s local partner organization, Action for Children.
One of the students opened up the event, thanking their guests and the Holt Uganda staff who stood as a representative of the children’s sponsors in the U.S.
“Our dear visitors from Holt Uganda and Action For Children, we are very happy to receive you at Jolly Children’s Education Center. Our dear sponsors how are you? We are honored to receive you and to have you at our party. Thank you for your caring and loving hearts. We are proud of you because you mean a lot to us! Be at home here and be blessed by the Almighty Father.”
After these kind welcoming remarks, there was wonderful entertainment from the children! They sang songs, complete with choreographed steps and motions, and danced both modern and traditional dances garbed in colorful and festive costume. Even some of the teachers joined in!
Following the dance performance, a representative from Action for Children thanked the children for inviting her and for being such smart and hardworking students. She encouraged them to be good and disciplined in their homes and at school, to focus on their studies, and be spiritually strong and loving towards one another — and that this would make their sponsors so happy. She ended by reminding them that they were so loved by God.
Next came a speech from one of the children, Kwizera Josephine — a seventh grader whose words were surprisingly raw and full of emotion as she shared about mature issues that children should never have to face. But in Uganda, children often do.
“On behalf of my fellow Holt sponsored children, we thank Holt International and Action for Children for hearing our cry — the cry of the defenseless children in our community. You have abolished child labor, early marriage and supported children who were left alone and neglected — little ones who were naked and hungry. The disabled children now attend school through the community ECD centers at Kalongero. You were able to understand our needs and our helplessness. Children were roaming the streets and eating in waste. Some were beaten, burnt and murdered in cold blood, sexually molested and sentenced to a life of pain and bitterness. We lived in hopelessness because of war, learning to fight and defend ourselves at an early age as child-headed families. You heard the agony of our helpless, innocent and frightened hearts. Our eyes were full of tears and pain as we looked at our poor parents who could not send us to school. You heard our desperate cry — a cry for desiring to go to school like other children, to put on school uniforms and speak English in offices in the future. Our small hands were lifted up for someone to hold them, to hear our voices, to see our tears, and to shield them.
Holt International in conjunction with Action for Children, you came to our rescue through educating us. You have given us a lot through our sponsors like shoes, uniforms, scholastic materials and bedding. You have supported and trained our parents and guardians. You have showed us love by visiting us. Even those among us living positively with HIV/AIDS, you have given us a door of hope through your counseling and home visits. We know that educating us will end generational poverty in our families and communities. Our prayer is that the Lord would help us to achieve our ambitions in life so that we can also help other needy children. God bless our dear sponsors. Long live Holt international and Holt Uganda. Long live Action for Children. For God and my country, Uganda!”
Her words spoke deeply to everyone present. Kwizera Josephine spoke boldly and bluntly of the hardship and heartache that many of the children have experienced. But her words were doused in hope. For the children present, this hope meant safety and security, happiness and health, and the opportunity to enjoy their childhood.
The celebration continued in true birthday party fashion. The children cut and ate a beautiful cake and had a picnic-style lunch outside on the center’s grounds. Each one of the children received a gift bag with a pair of sandals, shorts and a bar of soap — essentials that many of them had never owned before.
This was a day full of fun, joy and happiness as they reflected on the hope that they have been blessed with through Holt’s programs and because of their devoted sponsors in the U.S. Holt Uganda staff say that the entire celebration was a beautiful moment for the children.
Megan Herriott | Staff Writer