Greetings from Uganda!
Greetings from Uganda! Barbara and I landed Sunday morning in Entebbe and were greeted by our amazing local coordinator, Naomi Ayot. (Thank you, Naomi, for all the logistics work you have done for our trip!) That same day we arrived, we met with Samson and Sharon of Universal Love Alliance, who are supporting the rights of women, HIV+ people, and LGBT individuals.
Here is Barbara’s direct account of that inspiring gathering:
Today we met with 20 men and women who have taken part in the trainings offered by Samson, Sharon, and ULA. Their focus is those marginalized by their communities – vulnerable women (widows, single mothers), HIV impacted and HIV positive, the elders in need, and LGBT people. People in each of these groups find themselves ostracized, at risk, and often cast out even from their own families and churches/mosques.
The people attending this meeting were a lovely mix of Christian and Muslim leaders (pastors, church musicians, secondary school teachers). Both men and women participated in the leadership of the event, in a culture that does not normally include women in leadership roles. Samson invited a Muslim woman to open the meeting with prayer – women are not often asked to lead in groups with men. In addition the group included, the two largest religious communities in Uganda, Christian (about 80% of the population, though some Christians also observe the traditional religious practices), and Muslim (about 19%).
ULA, in addition to encouraging community economic projects, also supports people in seeking HIV testing, and if positive, staying on their program of medications to stay healthy. LGBT people are valued as children of God, as are all people children of one God.
In a culture that does not talk about sexuality, education is offered in how to prevent the spread of disease, and safer sex practices. Young women are expected to obey their parents and to marry young. ULA supports girls in not yielding to family pressure, and to marry the husband of their own choosing, when they are ready for marriage.
ULA has wisely chosen to draw in the religious leaders of the country, making them allies in building a more inclusive society. People listen to their spiritual leaders with more openness and respect than other means of educating.
During the gathering, one pastor said that he was shocked and scared during the first session of the ULA workshop he attended on human rights. It was information he had not heard before. He was afraid that he might be harassed or killed for participating, and for changing his mind about the place of LGBT people in the church (usually ostracized), in the family (usually disowned and sent away) and in society (ostracized, denied employment, education, and a place in the community.)
Nearly every one of these leaders shared their own transformation in thinking, and change in how they are supporting the marginalized in their own communities, churches, schools, and mosques. They said that once they went home with these new ideas they began to find that LGBT individuals were already living in their communities, though they were afraid to speak out for fear of being shunned.
In addition to the workshops and community village projects, ULA provides a 24-hour Help Line. This is a phone service that LGBT people in crisis can call to receive support, and referral to groups, services, and community supportive of their needs. They also field calls from clergy who wish to understand and better support the marginalized in their congregations, and from family members who want to understand their relatives who are in crisis.
SIA is honored to support this work for justice and human rights, and the passionate leadership of Samson and Sharon. Monday and Tuesday were filled with visiting some of the village groups out in western Uganda, and some of the school Inclusivity Clubs working for social justice. Follow our Facebook and Instagram for photos and updates direct from the field!