Saturday, September 4, 2010

Multimedia--The Kyenjojo Orphans

I've received a great deal of positive feedback on part one of the story I did (see below, Sun., Aug. 29--"Finding some perspective") about six orphans in Western Uganda. Click here for photos of journalist Betty Mujungu, the six kids, and their old and new homes. The original radio story Betty did, as well as a follow up radio report that I produced, are both posted here. Part two of the story is below.

Radio's power lifts orphans to better life

From the Parkville Luminary

KYENJOJO, UGANDA—As you look at the one-room mud brick hut—cracked, crumbling, and depressing--it’s incomprehensible that six orphans lived alone in this shanty for 13 months.

The hut sits in a small valley in rural, isolated Kyenjojo district, about five hours west of Kampala by car, and about 45 minutes from the nearest town, Fort Portal. The village where the hut is located, Mbale-Kaigoro, is inaccessible by car, and is a strenuous 20 minute hike from the nearest rutted dirt road.

Annet, at 14 the oldest of the orphans, recently accompanied us back to the hut. As we reached the site of her former home, Annet was somber, as was Betty Mujungu, the radio journalist who first told her listeners the story of the six orphans about three weeks ago. This hut is in the place that the father of the six, drunk, frequently beat the kids’ mom. The father went too far one night, and killed the mother. Remorseful, the father then killed himself. The six children were suddenly orphaned, and left alone with no relatives or neighbors willing or able to help them.

Betty, a journalist at Life FM in Fort Portal, produced a report about the orphans’ plight, featuring the kids telling their pathetic story. In the radio report, the children talked openly about how they were suffering, about enduring a leaky roof in the hut, and about how they didn’t have enough to eat. Annet told Betty about how one of the younger girls injured her leg escaping from a would-be rapist.

It’s hard to listen to Betty’s report without crying.

Life FM’s listeners were touched by the story, and immediately sprung into action. Ten different donors generously gave food and clothing to the children. Shortly thereafter, the biggest miracle of all occurred for the kids. Betty’s mother, Edith Birungi, offered to take in the orphans, all six of them. (This is on top of two other orphans Edith and Betty brought into their home two years ago).

The Kyenjojo orphans, Adolph (5 years old), Patrick (7), Violet (9), Peter (11), Janet (13), and Annet (14), told me, in soft voices, how grateful they were to have food, clean clothes, and affection at Edith and Betty’s house.

However, one final hurdle remained for the orphans--getting into school. In Uganda, as in much of the developing world, students have to pay to enroll in primary and secondary school. For these six kids to enroll in school and buy uniforms, the price tag was $250—much more than Betty and her mom could afford. However, a benefactor stepped forward, and gave Betty the $250 to cover school fees and uniforms. The donor, who wishes to remain anonymous, also pledged to pay the orphans’ school fees in the future. His money won’t be wasted. Janet said she wants to be a teacher, while Annet is determined to become a doctor.

Life still isn’t perfect for the six children. The orphans all share one room, so things are cramped. The kids don’t have beds, and sleep on pallets on the floor. When I visited the house, the children clung to one another very closely, and seemed eerily quiet, even depressed. Also, Betty and Edith’s house has no electricity. An electrical line runs along the street in front of their house, but they don’t have enough money to drop a line to serve their home. Finances are very tight. Edith can’t work (she had a stroke several years ago that left her weak on her right side), so the only regular income coming in to the house is Betty’s small radio station salary. Edith said God will provide for them all, somehow.

Betty attended one of my peace journalism workshops about a month ago. She told me that it was this workshop that gave her the tools and encouragement she needed to report the story about the orphans. In the workshops, I tell my students, all radio journalists and announcers, to give a voice to the voiceless, and to strive to make their communities a better place. Betty was obviously listening.

All too often, radio in Africa has been used to inflame hatred and spark violence. Betty’s story will be a good lesson for my future students that the power of radio in Uganda can be harnessed for the good of society. Thanks to Betty’s report, the six orphans, including seven year old Patrick, are now looking forward to a better life.

In a radio story I produced about Betty and the orphans, Patrick observed, “At least we (now) see that there is some future, some hope.”

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