There were seventy widows, split up among the four of us, and because the building reached capacity about 55 of us found ourselves outside sitting in the rapidly shrinking shade as women shared their stories.
I was getting one of those headaches that you get when it is too bright outside as my fingers frantically struggled to keep up as she told her story. She was number 12 of 13 to speak and by this time I knew that the lump in my throat was to stay there, holding back tears and words I didn’t know how to say.
Her name is Rosa* and her story is not the most shocking or heart-rending, rather the norm for a girl growing up in rural Uganda. I could write books of these widow’s stories and as you read them the same lump would form in your throat as it did with mine.
You would get angry and sad that anyone would have to live that way. And frustrated at your own inability to produce the magic it would take for everything in their life to change. But in the end you would realize, like me, that love was the most powerful weapon you had.
So here it is, one story out of a million, Rosa’s story. I chose this one because it ends with hope and after hearing all of the stories heard, what we all need is just a little more hope.
Rosa began to speak like every other woman had that day, by thanking God for his goodness in her life and for Dorcas Widows Fund who brought her here to our retreat. By this time I had learned these widow’s thankfulness had absolutely nothing to do with their circumstances.
She was the daughter of the second wife to her father and was quite a bit younger than many of her siblings. Her mother had been raised in the traditional view that girls didn’t need to be educated, so as a result she saw her 8 brothers go to school while she was left at home.
But being a fiery young girl she decided that she would get educated anyway she could, so when her oldest brother became a teacher and got married she ran away to live with him. Her abusive brother and his wife would let her go to school as long as she worked very hard to earn her keep.
She woke up at the crack of dawn every morning to go work in the fields and would go straight from there to school with her clothes torn and dirty. After working hard in school each day her next chore was to collect firewood and get water from the river where there were often crocodiles lurking about, if Rosa did not return when her brother wanted her, she would be denied food and beaten.
One evening she remembers going to draw water from the river and seeing the water ripple as a crocodile drew close, in a split second she jumped high into the air just as the crocodile did her and barely avoided being eaten alive. Out of fear Rosa ran miles to another river to get water, knowing that if she brought home nothing she would be beaten.
Her life became more and more miserable living with her brother and one day her father came to visit. When he saw his daughter he hardly recognized her, she was dirty, bare-chested and skinny. Moved by compassion for his daughter he wanted to take her home, but her brother knowing that he would lose his slave insisted that little Rosa finish her term in school. Knowing that she would not last that long she decided to go home on her own.
Rosa remembers jogging and walking four days and three nights back to her village, sleeping in fields and eating scraps that she found. She returned home skinny, with swollen legs and her clothes hanging of her torn and dirty.
When her mother saw her she wanted to cry, but Rosa stopped her mother’s tears saying, “Don’t cry, it is you who made me like this when you did not let me go to school. Please mother, let me go to school.” Her mother repented and allowed Rosa to go to school and for the next couple of years she excelled, she began to run for the school and eventually became so good that her school fees were paid for. She became well known in her little village and even began to do running events for the police.
Then when Rosa finished senior two, she met and married a man who had already three children by a recently deceased wife. She quickly gave this man three more children and remembers him as a good man who provided the necessities for her and her children.
Her husband also liked to sleep around, he loved women and wouldn’t let a woman pass until he slept with them. I paused her story and asked again if this was the husband she considered a “good” man, and she smiled and said “yes, he took good care of us.”
I quickly learned that a husband is considered good as long as he pays for the food of you and your children. It doesn’t matter if he beats you or cheats on you as long as he feeds you.
She continued with her story saying that is, of course, how she and her husband became infected with HIV. When he became sick she cared for him until she died, leaving her a widow to six children, three of her own and three of the wife who had passed earlier.
Left with nothing she began to make chapati and sell it to pay for food and the education of the children. She managed to get by and found a very deep faith in God, who cured her of many ailments so that she was able to provide for the children
But one of the older sons became upset with her, accusing her of killing his father with HIV, he would bet her until she vomited blood. But Rosa would simply remind him that it was his father that slept around, she was merely a victim of it. With God, she found the strength to forgive her step-son and the beatings stopped.
At that time she was still struggling to pay for school fees by selling chapati, and every night she would pray to God saying “These are your children, find a way to send them to school.” It was then that she ran into Dorcas Widow’s Fund and was able to get sponsors for all of her remaining children.
Today she is happily living in community with Dorcas Widow’s and thanks God for really caring for her and for giving her the courage to forgive.
Her story is God’s story and she is changing lives by telling it.