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Spokane grandmother 'adopts' children who live in Uganda

Lackaff

Bea Lackaff plays a Shona mbira,
or finger piano from Zimbabwe.

By Deidre Jacobson

A Spokane grandmother of three has “adopted” and been adopted by orphans in Kampala, Uganda.

“By listening to African music  over the years, I slowly became an ‘Afro-phile’—someone in love with Africa.  Then I visited Africa,” said Bea Lackaff.  “Now I’m trying to make a meaningful connection between my life in Spokane and my African experiences.”

Bea traveled alone as a tourist to Uganda during the 2004-05 Christmas-New Years holidays. 

The trip arose in the summer of 2004 at a Ugandan song and dance program held at Unity Church.  Young performers were traveling with John Nsambu, a member of the Ugandan Parliament.  He came to visit Bob and Diane Lloyd, his host family while he attended a Christian high school in Spokane. 

When Bea mentioned she sponsored a child in Kampala through the African Children’s Choir, Nsambu said:  “You must stay with me when you visit your child.” 

Bea Lackaff

Bea Lackaff

Bea emailed her friends Maasai artist Nicholas Sironka and his wife, Serena, whom she had met in Spokane, to say she would be in East Africa.  They invited her to stay with them in Nairobi. 

She was able to make the trip because of their hospitality.

Two days before leaving Kampala, Bea met Isaac Owor, a 21-year-old  “papa” and musical director of a performance troupe of about 30 young people without families.  Isaac and his troupe—called UFCA, short for Undugu Family Cultural Association—support themselves with lively, joyful musical presentations of dances and songs from tribes of Uganda and other East African countries.

The Undugu Family is a loose, umbrella organization, using music and sports to engage children who have experienced violence by spreading “the realization that we are all God’s children, and therefore brothers and sisters, regardless of race, tribe, religion, gender or social class,” Bea said.

“Undugu” is a Swahili word for brotherhood and sisterhood. The Undugu Family cares for orphaned children and educates the community on Undugu values through example.

Bea said a Rwandan priest, Father Stephen Msele, SJ, started the international Undugu movement in 1996, in response to the genocide in his largely Christian homeland—93 percent Catholic.

His story of developing the movement is on a Jesuit website:  Living in Ireland for his Jesuit formation from 1982 to 1985, Father Stephen was struck by the lack of connection among individualistic people, not just between Protestants and Catholics but also among Catholics.  People “minded their own business.”

He wanted to promote a communal brotherhood and sisterhood, and a God who is “our common parent.”

In the Philippines in the 1990s, he watched, in disbelief, TV coverage of the genocide in Rwanda.

That rekindled his desire to promote brotherhood and sisterhood to reflect “a caring God” who shares time, joy, sorrows and pain.

Returning to Africa in the mid 1990s, he was assigned to a parish in Mwanza, Tanzania, where he shared an Undugu attitude among the 40-percent Muslim and 40-percent Christian population who were in conflict over pigs.  After an assignment in Australia, he later returned to Africa to the Jesuit community at Xavier House in Kampala, where he formed a branch of Undugu.

Through email correspondence, Bea learned that Isaac and his sister were orphaned by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in northern Uganda about 10 years ago—came to Kampala and met Father Msele.  Six other UFCA children came from the same region, one escaping from Kony’s children’s army.

In August after 19 years of violence, Uganda entered a fragile truce with the LRA, Bea said.

After Isaac came to Kampala, he began using his musical talents to support himself and his sister.  He sent her to school and she is now at the university. 

Others joined him and, believing in the family-hood of all people, they became part of the Undugu Family and called their group UFCA, Bea said.

Lackaff-Isaac

Isaac Owar and two orphans

Last year, Isaac and UFCA adopted eight young orphans—victims of Kony and the LRA—found homeless and alone on the streets of Kampala. 

“I began receiving emails asking me to help pay tuition for children or rescue UFCA from eviction,” said Bea. “Several friends and I have done what we can to help.  I never doubted Isaac’s honesty or his devotion to the children and belief in the principles of the Undugu Family.”

Bea sent friends email appeals to “offer them the opportunity to assist.”  Because she is not involved in a church, she does not have that channel for action.

Bea worked for a while as a volunteer and then on staff with Church World Service Refugee Resettlement in the 1980s, before she went back to school at Spokane Community College and earned a bachelor’s degree in geography from Eastern Washington University.  She has worked 15 years with Spokane County in Geographic Information Systems computer mapping.

“There are many musical orphan troupes throughout Africa,” she said.  “Many are unscrupulous, exploiting children.”

Bea admits, “Some say I’m ‘naïve.’ I wondered if I could avoid being hustled by skilled, manipulative, desperate people. However, I am in touch with several westerners, who are skeptical and more experienced African travelers than I.  They have met Isaac and UFCA, and constantly confirm my trust in UFCA.

One couple, Paul and Helene Rippey, work with non-governmental organization in micro-financing and AIDS education in Kampala.  They help Bea decide how to use support money.  She met them through email when their daughter took a laptop, trombone and trumpet to Kampala.

A friend sent a digital camera with Bea on one trip.  After using it, Bea left it in a school where children were taught how to take pictures and write about them.  UFCA also sends pictures and narratives, which Bea put on a website at www.bealackaff.com. 

Bea wants to help UFCA achieve more security and financial independence.

She thought of sending tools so UFCA members can diversify their income sources, but Rippeys advised her that they should focus on performance skills. They advised her this summer when they were in Portland that school tuitions are most important. 

Bea keeps in mind the picture of poverty on a global scale, not just in undeveloped countries, but also in the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Contact with UFCA makes her wonder about millions of people who suffer these conditions every day with no end in sight.

“Their invisible, unnatural disaster is born in part from local conditions, but their situation is more difficult because of indifference, unfair trade policies, financial sanctions, racism and lack of commitment from their Undugu brothers and sisters here in the developed world.”

For information, call 327-8303.