Emmanuel was born on Christmas Day. And Emmanuel’s mom died on Christmas Day several hours later. His first home is with the Sisters at the Lira Baby’s home in Northern Uganda. I met Emmanuel last week and he is an indescribably, incomprehensibly beautiful baby. The life that awaits him is uncertain and for Emmanual nothing is constant. Everything here in East Africa is changing. The cliché that change is constant is particularly true here.
You see it everywhere.
Maternal mortality is changing. While emerging markets and improving public health is creating more opportunities for the people of Uganda and maternal mortality is actually the lowest in the region, the risk of either mother or child or both dying in childbirth remains outrageously and unacceptably high. Just ask Emmanuel.
The economy is changing. You feel it everywhere here in Uganda as chain-restaurants, hotels and fancy Western malls are making their debut in Kampala. Kentucky Fried Chicken and the Intercontinental Hotel are moving into Uganda and luring an emerging middle class to consume products that they never had access to before. If you meet that special someone on Tinder in Kampala, nothing says love like Colonel Sanders and a night at the movies!
Politics are changing. The Ugandan Supreme Court recently ruled the anti-homosexuality legislation to be unconstitutional and Uganda recently joined an unprecedented union of East African countries to waive work permit fees to attract skilled workers across borders and boost economies through more competitive trade.
People are changing. Cell phone technology has everyone from the Prime Minister to the women in the slums of Kampala texting, tweeting and snap chatting. Information is moving rapidly and Africa is waking up to the rest of the world. Technology is quickly changing the face of education and health care for people in Uganda.
Even the rhinos are changing! With over 15 rhinos now at the preserve, they are hoping to have as many as 35 white rhinos and two black rhinos in the next five years as they are being reintroduced back into Uganda!
And (as a side note) should you ever be chased by one of these changing rhinos, it is strongly recommended that you change as well! Change your course and either climb up a tree or run into the bush as rhinos prefer wide open spaces and can clock at 46 km per hour! You’re welcome!
But in the midst of all of this change there is one constant. It is constant in Uganda and Rwanda; and it is constant in Cambodia and Canada. It is constant for Emmanuel and it is constant for me. What IS constant is the love that a mother has for their child and the critical role that a mom plays in the life of that kid. I never met Emmanual’s mom. But his mother gave up her life for her son. And for Emmanual to thrive, he will now need someone to love him back.
In the midst of abject poverty I watch in awe with how mothers care for their children from the slums of Katanga to the rural villages in Southern Uganda. They share their food, even when there is not much to share. They keep them warm and they keep them safe, even when there is not much of a roof over their heads. They share their wisdom and their knowledge and their values and their faith, even when many of them have never spent a day in the classroom. And they share their love.
And even when you are 40 years old and no longer able to outrun a white Rhino, we still seek out that love! It is a constant; both here in Uganda and back home in Denver. And the role that moms play in our lives define who we are forever. My love for travel and my spirit for adventure and my work with the poor all was shaped by my mom; as is my proclivity to make balloon animals for kids, talk to anyone who will talk to me back and cry unprovoked at everything from graduations and weddings to random dinner parties and department store closings.
And so as my first trip of the new year to Africa winds down after spending an extraordinary week with an extraordinary group of students and professors from the University of Colorado – Colorado Springs, I am returning home more keenly aware than ever of the constant role that our moms play in our lives. Whether living or deceased, their love is what guides us and shapes us.
For sweet Emmanual, as he awakes to this world in the loving care of the Sisters of Lira, my heart hurts for him…and yet remains hopeful as he is in the hands of a group of women who genuinely love him back. The world around him is changing and as technology and politics and economies and even rhinos continue to shift in a global economy, our values and our priorities and our life journeys will continue to be shaped by the moms (and other women) who love us back.
Thank you Sisters of Lira for your tireless commitment to the poor.
And thank you Mom.
Love you more, jamie
By Jamie Van Leeuwen, Founder and CEO, Global Livingston Institute