My journey up to Atin started off on a shaky note. I was running late that morning (big surprise) and missed catching the bus Chelsea had booked for me up to Lira. I was able to find another bus, thankfully (This Is Uganda), and settled in for the five hour trip from Kampala to Lira. The constant flow of music videos and Steven Segal films kept me entertained for the ride. I reached Lira around 6pm.
I lugged my massive bags off the bus. I had happily been the mule for these bags, which had been brought from Canada to Uganda for Atin. They were loaded with donations for the kids that Chelsea and others had secured from generous donors back home. The bags were heavy in weight (British Airs had marked them as overweight, in fact); though, I was to discover throughout my week at Atin that the amount of joy brought to the kids by their contents was immeasurable.
I stood at the bus park anxiously waiting for Chelsea to arrive. I was beyond excited to see her again. She greeted me with Morris and his friend Robert in tow. While Chelsea and I made a spectacle of ourselves hugging in the street, Morris graciously loaded my bags into Robert’s vehicle. Robert was kind to drive us to Atin, which was only a short distance from the park, but would have been a gong show getting to on a bodda bodda with all the bags.
When we reached our destination, I saw that the gate to the compound proudly boasted the name Atin Afrika. I instantly felt immense gratitude, awe, and respect for the work Morris and Chelsea had done to make the Atin dream a reality. I had seen how tirelessly Chelsea had worked back in Canada to fundraise, organize, and develop this beacon for homeless youth. I had also heard about the amount of work Morris had accomplished in Uganda to get everything up and going. Now, I was really there!
I stepped through the gate and was overwhelmed by the big greeting the kids gave me. There was Zubedah, Jimmy, Vianney, Francis, Alex, Walter, and Joel all standing there with Mama Grace. It felt like a real home. As I entered the house and was given the tour of the grounds, this feeling deepened. The environment was both humble and welcoming. I was struck by the simplicity and down-to-earth atmosphere that the house imbued. There was no pretension there. There were no airs. Everyone was equal and the compassion and caring were genuine and tangible.
Once all the excitement and commotion settled down, Chelsea and I sat talking and catching up as the children got ready for bed. I was comforted being there, and I was so happy to finally meet Morris. Here was an amazing person with an incredible background and a real knowledge for life, who possessed a genuine caring for others that was obvious in his interactions with the kids of Atin. I went to bed that night with a happy heart and a feeling of wholeness.
The next day, I leisurely tolled around with the kids. They took me on a walk of Lira. We walked down the very streets that they had been sleeping on not too long ago. I felt humbled to be privy to their past, and I was overjoyed to be a part of their world now; to see their amazing journey. I felt privileged to walk with them. I remember passing a man, who asked me if I was taking them all for a walk. My response to him was: “No, they are taking me”.
And, we continued on this journey together for my short time at Atin. They graciously invited me into their world without hesitation and showed me the true nature of life at Atin. We spent the days and nights together, playing football, cards, Twister, tag, hide & seek, doing crafts, going swimming, chewing hubba bubba, laughing hysterically, and jumping on the trampoline. They lived like kids. I also witnessed them taking responsibility for the running of the house. Each had chores to do, and they worked together. It was a real family environment, and they were safe, happy, and whole.
This is what Atin has provided to them. It has given them a place to rediscover themselves and their childhoods. It is a place where they can feel secure. It is a place where they can live contently in the present and are able to imagine their futures. They are able to feel hope and promise, whereas once, I imagine they felt disappointment and despair. Understanding, hard work, and cooperation are encompassed in all of this.
My last day, I didn’t want to leave. I felt that I could live there contently for a long time. It was extremely hard to say goodbye to the kids, the animals, Mama Grace, Morris, and of course to my beautiful friend Chelsea. I was deeply moved by my short experience at Atin. I encourage anyone who has the opportunity to visit Atin and/or to work with the foundation to do so. The place is one-of-a-kind. In Canada, I have been fortunate to work for an organization that promotes the rights and personal development of vulnerable individuals in a similar way to Atin. It seeks to give opportunities to individuals, who might not otherwise have them, by giving them a home first. This organization has been operating for a long-time. I look at Atin and am blown away by what they have accomplished in such a short time. Chelsea and I would sit on the trampoline most evenings at Atin and chat about the work she and Morris are doing there. She would question whether it has been a success. I can say without hesitation that from where I stand and what I have seen there: Atin Afrika is a success. I am confident that Zubedah, Jimmy, Vianney, Francis, Alex, Walter, Joel, Medi, and Fred would say the same.
Laura Richard (friend to Atin Afrika)
***Medi came to Atin the week I was there. He was warmly welcomed into Atin without hesitation.
***Fred was transitioning into being resettled with one of his uncles the week I was there. I was able to visit Fred at his new home, and he seemed healthy and happy.