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Uganda, a landlocked country in central Africa, is known as “the Pearl of Africa,” aptly named by Britain’s World War II prime minister, Sir Winston Churchill, during his visit to the country. Attracted to the magnificent landscape, wildlife, and friendly culture, the beauty of it all could only be described as “a pearl.” Uganda, boasting some of the best scenery in Africa, is composed of swamps, lakes, rivers, mountains and semi-arid lands. It is home to Lake Victoria, the world’s biggest lake and is also the source of the Nile River.
Uganda’s people have endured much suffering in recent history. Between 800,000 and 2 million people perished during the dictatorship of Idi Amin (1971–1979) and the civil wars, tribal killings, and famines that followed. Then, from 1988 - 2006 the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) terrorized the northern districts. Amidst the oppression of this longest-running war on the African continent the children of northern Uganda are beginning to see the light of day. As the government forces the closure of IDP camps (Internally Displaced Persons camps) much of the population of northern Uganda has returned to their homes or communities. However, countless communities have been completely destroyed and families killed, leaving many with nowhere to go and no one to go to.
Uganda is home to many different ethnic groups/tribes, none of whom form a majority of the population.
Although English is the official language, there are more that 40 regional tribal different languages that are regularly and currently in use in the country. The most widely spoken regional language is Luganda with Swahili a near second.
Uganda has a very young population, with a median age of just 15 years.
The overwhelming majority of Uganda’s population (84 percent) are followers of Christianity—Catholicism having the largest number of adherents (42 percent) followed by the Anglican Church of Uganda (36 percent). Muslims make up 12 percent, other religions constitute 2 percent, and only 1 percent of Uganda’s population follows traditional African religions.
The Way of Life
About eighty percent of all Ugandans work in agriculture. Among the crops they cultivate nationally are cotton, corn, tea, and coffee, though most farmers work at the subsistence level, struggling to grow enough to feed their families. They rarely have surplus food to sell for income that can provide other necessities like clothing and health care.
Typical Ugandans live in villages made up of small houses sometimes smaller than a garage. The houses in very rural parts of the country are made of mud with thatched-grass roofs, though there are now an increasing number of houses with corrugated iron roofs.
Uganda has an extended family system where other relatives and distant relations may sometimes live in the same house. It is not uncommon for small huts to house up to twelve or more people. There is a very strong sense of community in Uganda and raising children is seen as every one’s responsibility, it is not just left to the parents. The extended family system in Uganda is very strong.
Polygamy is still common in Uganda where one man can marry more than one wife and as a result some families have very many children.
Orphans and widows are among the hardest hit as they are left to fend for themselves—either on the streets or in the remains of dismantled IDP camps.
Health care is a great concern for families. Access to medical facilities is limited and costly. Without access to even the most basic necessities or services, acute conditions such as malnutrition are rampant. Treatalbe illnesses including malaria and pneumonia take thousands of lives weekly.
Psychological and emotional stresses affect all ages. Unresolved trauma resulting from horrific war-time experiences haunts adults and children alike.
Uganda’s children are in desperate need of improved educational opportunities to help them escape the cycle of poverty and open up a brighter future.
COTN’s Involvement: Raising children who transform nations
Children of the Nations (COTN) approached their involvement in northern Uganda with their vision firmly in place: Raising children who transform nations. Beginning in the summer of 2005 with African and American trauma counseling teams visiting IDP camps in and around the Lira area, COTN began building relationships with Ugandans and making inroads for long-term success. Through a Village Partnership Program and Children’s Homes, COTN has established a daily presence in the community we minister to, providing resources (including a school and ministry center) that empower Ugandans to raise their own children. COTN has a well-rounded approach in all its work in Uganda, aiming to provide opportunities for children to become the transformational leaders needed to give their country a better future.