Late last month, one of our partner teams in Uganda celebrated the graduation of 36 survivors from our community care program.
The graduation ceremony took place on a sunny Monday morning. Blue caps and gowns were rented for the girls who donned them with heads held high and shoulders thrown back. The regalia and formality of the event held great significance for each survivor.
“You could see how genuinely happy the girls were,” Destiny Rescue regional project manager said, who was also in attendance.
Many survivors were accompanied by their mothers or other guardians who beamed with pride as they posed for pictures around graduation certificates. Also in the crowd were a few notable city government officials, including the representative of the mayor.
Tracy, age 17, shared her story, recounting losing her father and growing up with a single mother. She was later abandoned by her mother who remarried. “I tried looking for different kinds of survival. I tried selling in the market and on the roadside but things did not work out the way I wanted,” Tracy told the group.
Then she found a group of ladies to stay with who showed her a “faster way” of making money, selling her body to men on the street. For a time she stepped away from the street life to work as a housemaid but shared, “I found that life of keeping me always in one place was becoming very hard so I went back to the streets again.”
Tracy recalled meeting one of our female rescue agents when she was 16. The agent told her about our program but Tracy was hesitant to join. After a bit of convincing, she decided to at least visit our organization on the outskirts of the city. Here she met reintegration staff, including teachers, counselors and ‘Mamas’ who facilitate the various classes offered by our program and mentor the girls in attendance.
In Uganda, children enrolled in community care live with their families or roommates and come together throughout the week to attend our classes and receive counselling. In this particular location, we have staff mothers on-site during the week called ‘Mamas’ who mentor the girls and provide nurture and guidance to them individually and in groups.
Tracy shared her experience in the program. “They talked to us and counselled us. They began to introduce the word of God in our lives.”
At this point in her story, Tracy paused. “At some point, I felt my life was starting to … to … to feel like I should leave.” Beginning a new chapter is never easy and requires incredible emotional energy. Restlessness and doubt are not uncommon in a survivor’s journey.
Tracy’s path led her away from the safety of our program for a while. But after a few months, she returned. She talks about coming into the office to visit and the warmness of the staff convinced her to stay.
They took us through the word of God again. They taught us the importance of our lives … how we should respect our bodies. I began to feel the word of God get alive in me,” she shared with a renewed sense of energy.
Tracy then talked about her time in business training and her initial ventures into entrepreneurship. Towards the end, she said, “Right now, I can say life has really changed a lot.” Before the last word left her lips, the crowd began to clap and cheer for her.
She added, “I am a happier person and I feel there is hope again in living a good life, a life of respect and respecting myself and respecting other people around me.”
Tracy closed her testimony with thankfulness and blessings. “Thank you for blessing us, thank you for loving us and trusting us. Thank you for welcoming us here and thank you so much for making us part of your family. I pray that God blesses every work of your hands. May He guide your every step.”
As everyone clapped for her, one of the Mama’s on staff rushed to the front to lift her up in a giant hug, clearly proud of Tracy’s bravery and all she has conquered to make it to this point.
Everyone celebrated with lunch and cake after the ceremony. At last, the PA system began blasting upbeat music and everyone started to dance. Survivors, parents, guardians and staff alike threw out their hands and began moving to the rhythms in celebration.
The next chapter
While the survivors are pursuing a variety of vocational paths, they all share a beautiful strength. They walk and dance with confidence, acknowledge their worth and honour their dignity.
They are starting their next chapter armed with self-awareness, new skills and practical tools for a life of freedom.
We could not be more proud of each unique graduate who was celebrated during this event. We are also incredibly thankful for the army of dedicated people that made her journey possible.