The past few days I have been starting to work and meet everyone with The Zion Project. There is a girl’s rescue home for at-risk girls in a separate part of town than where I am staying. The house includes eleven girls ages 4-13, two house mothers, and two other female volunteers. Many of the girls are daughters of women in prostitution. The Zion Project was asked to take the girls out of the situation because they were being sexually abused and neglected.
We went to visit the girls for the first time the other day and I was greeted by overwhelming hugs and love. It is such a good sign when the children are affectionate and loving towards people they are first meeting. They seem very well adjusted and happy. Later this week I will be tasked with doing individual interviews with them to see how their level of contentment with life has changed since coming to the home about one year ago….but for New Year’s Day, we just played and they had a special treat of cake and soda.
The girls were asked to sit on their beds so I went in to read them a story (the three little bears). They all climbed onto the same bunk bed and sat on the floor next to me just so they could be close! Many of them went out to play but little Jacquelyn and Charlotte cuddled with me on the bed while handing me book after book to read to them.
After story time we went outside to play for a bit and they proceeded to braid my hair (one of their favorite activities). They call me and the other women all “Aunty”!
Yesterday I was able to meet many of the women who come on weekdays to The Zion Project Counseling Center (attached to where I am staying). Their day starts off with singing and prayers and some more singing, drumming, dancing and general African awesomeness that I can’t seem to get enough of. In fact their singing the first morning resonated so loudly and beautifully in the tiny empty room we were in that in brought me to tears.
The women all bring their children so again there are many children to play with and love. They spend the remainder of the day making the paper beads for those beautiful handmade necklaces. I attempted to make the beads and successfully made about 5 even though the woman helping me had to adjust them before the final gluing. I now have a much larger appreciation of how much time and skill it takes to make the jewelry!
The women are all Congolese and have migrated to Uganda due to dangerous political situations or family abandonment. I look forward to finding out more about their life stories but it is quite difficult because they do not really speak English and I do not speak Swahili. I did discover that some of them know a little French so that is mainly how I’ve been communicating. (Thanks International Studies Major for providing real life skills haha).
The women have regular counseling sessions both group and individual but they are put on hold for now due to the counselor needing to be in the girl’s home at this time. I have a deep respect for the Zion Project and was able to have a day full of meeting with their Executive Director, Sarita Hartz-Hendrickson. Sarita told me that she saw the need to not only help the women spiritually and emotionally, but that they were still needing to participate in prostitution so she saw the need to help them become economically viable as well. This is what started their beading projects and so far it has been of great benefit for the women to help turn their lives around.