The Missive

The path was somewhat circuitous, but the scrawled, handwritten plea for help from Christine eventually found its way into my email inbox.

Christine was one of 40 female former child soldiers I worked with last summer in northern Uganda.

I’ve tried to keep in touch with her the best I can – a difficult task in rural Patongo where internet and mobile coverage is patchy at best.

The last I’d heard in January was that she’d done me the honour of calling her newborn child Marc Ellison.

But the letter I received last week – translated by an NGO employee and then scanned/emailed by another – caught me off guard. The letter also came in the week that I finally completed the multimedia project, Dwog Paco, based on last summer’s research.

The missive details the ways in which she’s still struggling to provide for her children. Christine asks me to also help her set up a business to sustain her.

The message is simple and desperate.

I’m happy at least that I’ll be able to help Christine and many like her when I travel back to Uganda later this year to disburse the funds that many of you have helped me to raise, by buying a book, a photograph.

But this letter also reminds me that I have to be careful in helping these women financially.

I have no wish to perpetuate the cycle of dependency on hand-outs in northern Uganda. I have no wish to create division between the haves and have-nots in their communities.

Whatever course of aid I decide upon has to be, above all, sustainable.

I have a few ideas, but they’ll need some polishing over the next six months.