Sleep will come when Uganda trip is over

Sleep came fitfully Saturday night, thanks to troubling thoughts about the monstrous crimes of Joseph Kony.

Unless you've been sticking your head in the domestic sand, you'll recognize the name of the vicious monster from northern Uganda who leads the Lord's Resistance Army. His militia is known for kidnapping children, forcing them upon threat of death to become child soldiers. They then routinely order the youngsters to shoot or hack defenseless folks to death.

For these youngsters, slicing off ears, noses and lips with a machete is quite literally child's play. It's beyond ghastly.

My restless night came after seeing my daughter, Amy Fattig-Drury, off at the Medford airport in the predawn hours Saturday, marking the first leg of a two-week trip whose ultimate destination is Uganda.

Kony and his thugs have been pushed into Sudan by the regular Ugandan army. But the rebels still make forays into Uganda to murder and mutilate. For 20 years this insane civil war has raged. A million people have been displaced; countless have died.

"Don't worry, Dad," Amy reassured me a few days before departure. "There is a warning system in place that will alert us if they are heading our way. Besides, a lot of people visit Uganda."

She is part of a group of volunteers with the non-profit Vancouver, Wash.-based Courts For Kids program. Their mission — check out www.courtsforkids.org — is to use sports as a vehicle to promote friendship, compassion and service while expanding the horizons of children in economically deprived regions. They plan to build one, possibly two, sports courts while in Uganda.

It's a good group. I'm glad they are there working to make a difference. Obviously, bouncing a basketball or kicking a soccer ball while learning positive lessons about life is a far better activity for a child than serving in a murderous militia.

The problem is that in my mind I still see Amy — I've fondly called her "Amos" from her first day on the planet — as a child running after butterflies, a favorite childhood pastime of hers. In this father's mind, little people who love butterflies shouldn't be going to regions where Kony and his hideous ilk could pop up.

Of course, Amos is quick to remind me that she is no longer a little person. Granted, she is 30, has a master's degree in history and teaches world culture and history at Eagle Point Middle School.

She also has done some traveling, principally Europe and Jamaica.

She notes the organization is no stranger to Africa. Another local person on the trip is Michelle Vail, a friend and counselor at the middle school.

"This is something we can do to help the kids over there," Amos said. "Ugandans have been through horrific experiences. But they are extremely wealthy in terms of family, community bonds and human spirit. We can learn from each other.

"A two-week immersion like this is a great way to understand their culture," she added. "It'll help me motivate my students back here. It's easier to teach world cultures when you have a first-hand learning experience like this."

She had me there. It was the same argument she successfully used on her congenial husband, Denny Drury. But Denny and I, along with other family members, can't stop ourselves from worrying.

The itinerary calls for them to spend tonight at a university in Kampala, the Ugandan capital. They will board a bus Monday morning, heading out to the field to begin their good work.

Like the others in her group, Amos packed deflated basketballs and soccer balls in her luggage.

"Many of these kids we will be working with have been affected by the LRA rebel army," she reiterated. "Many have been forced to do awful, awful things. We want to show them a world where they can learn to work together to build something, not to destroy.

"You know, I'm always telling my students that tears and laughter, that our hearts, are the same the world round," she said. "Now I'll be able to tell children on the other side of the world the same thing."

After her plane roared off into the dark sky, Denny and I commiserated over breakfast. The food was good, but we both picked at our meals and talked small talk. We didn't talk about Kony's atrocities.

Our hearts and minds were on the wonderful person we love, the one still chasing butterflies.

Godspeed, Amos.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

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