We’re mourning today: Sakulu Damulira, the Ugandan boy we’ve sponsored through Compassion International for the past five years, has died. A big storm blew through Sakulu’s town of Masaka (two hours from the capital city of Kampala) and downed some power lines. Sakulu, 8, apparently stepped on a live wire and was killed instantly, a tragic end to a very difficult life.
I actually got to meet Sakulu in April of 2004 on my second trip to Uganda. I was in the country to speak at a Navigators collegiate conference at a camp on the banks of Lake Victoria. My father, Roger, went with me, and after the conference, we coordinated a day with Compassion to meet Sakulu.
Here’s part of an email I wrote Megan describing the experience:
Our trip to Masaka was long and tiring, but meaningful; I’m glad we went. We left at 8:30 a.m., but by the time we got gas and finalized paperwork, etc., it wasn’t until 9 a.m. before we actually made it out of the city. We got to Masaka about 11 a.m., when we met with members of the committee from the local church working with Compassion there (all Compassion works are usually overseen by a local church).
Because Sakulu’s project is a new one, we were the first sponsors/visitors they had ever had, so they were quite excited, so much so that it was at times difficult to understand all that was going on as they were talking over one another trying to explain what was going on there. While confusing, it was helpful, not to mention honoring as they bought Cokes for us and presented us with gifts as tokens of their appreciation of our coming.
During the time in the office, they filled in many details of Sakulu’s story. I’m not sure of the timeline, but basically Sakulu’s father left for a while, came back, and then left again, after which his mother left as well, leaving Sakulu with an older woman with several other grandchildren who basically has informally adopted him as one of her own grandchildren who lives with her (we met four of the total of seven; one of her daughters lives with her as well).
Anyway, I guess Compassion “recruited” Sakulu and enrolled him in their new program at Masaka, which now is up to 260 kids. All was going fine, but then just a week ago, the father showed up and took Sakulu back to Kampala for a week, during which time he barely ate. The people at Compassion met with him (either before they left or when he returned with Sakulu I missed that detail) and convinced him that Sakulu was doing well with them and with this woman, so he left him (again) with her. When they were telling me all this, I wasn’t sure I was actually going to get to meet Sakulu. It sounded like he wasn’t there as the father had just taken him and not brought him back.
Fortunately, that was not the case. We piled in the car and drove about ten minutes to the woman’s house, which was very small but obviously cared for. As we pulled up, everyone in the house was waiting for us, and as we got out of the car, and began to walk up the path to the house, the woman’s daughter brought Sakulu alone to meet us.
He is a small little boy, much smaller than the picture Compassion sent makes him seem to be (some of this may have been from the malnutrition from the week with his father). His eyes, however, are very big, very expressive, and as he came to me, he took my hand and stood next to me silently (he hasn’t learned English yet because of all the transition he’s been through, but our hosts assured me that he would catch up quickly).
We walked back and met the family in the house, where we were treated like royalty. We sat on the couches, while everyone else (including the woman probably in her 60’s) sat on mats on the bare concrete floor. In the front room about the size of one of the girl’s rooms, there were 15 people four from Compassion (they were all there because we were their first-ever visit), Herbert, Dad, me, Sakulu, the woman and four other grandchildren (all younger than Saklulu) and her daughter, and a couple of neighbor ladies who came to meet us.
With all the translating going on and the cramped nature of the meeting, the whole thing was completely awkward…and yet strangely okay. The children sat silently (I mean silently – none of them said a word) at our feet as I walked them through the pictures you put together, and then I pulled out all the gifts you had put together for Sakulu. It was amazing to me how 1) Sakulu quietly received each one, taking each one carefully, looking at it, and then placing it next to him; and 2) how all the other children were so happy for him to be receiving these gifts, as if they somehow completely understood all that he had been through, not only in his young life, but just in the past week.
Dad had brought packages of T-shirts, underwear, and socks, and a bag of about 12 bars of Irish Spring soap that I gave along with the towels you sent to the woman, who was so beside herself with joy that she just kept smiling while standing up and sitting down a couple of times over. The last thing I pulled out was the big bag of M&M’s, which miraculously had not melted, and gave them to Sakulu. I helped him open the bag, and he immediately and purposely took out the little bags and gave one each to the other children, who simply sat and waited for their turn to receive his gift. I helped them all open their little bags, and they sat and munched on M&M’s quietly before singing a rendition of “Jesus Loves Me” for us, then turning the words into “Jesus Loves You,” which was touching.
A few of the women brought out plates of fresh, short bananas (I can’t remember what they were called), as well as some watermelon and Cokes and bottled water, which served well as a treat. Dad then pulled out his pictures and passed them all around. Chris couldn’t believe how young Mom looked and also marveled at the fact that they’ve been married for 39 years. We all sat around for about 30-45 minutes, Sakulu sitting quietly on my lap, and then the woman’s daughter suggested he try on his new shirts, which were perfect and that evoked many “oohs” and “ahhs” from his family.
We went outside, where Dad took a couple of pictures of Sakulu and me, and then he joined the whole family and us in a picture. One of the other sponsors asked me if I would pray for the family and for Sakulu, who was still holding my hand as we walked together into some shade under a tree next to the house.
Of course I said I would, and I began to, but I wasn’t able to finish as the emotion of the whole thing just overwhelmed me and I began crying, thinking of Sakulu, this family, and all that they’ve been through in their lives, and especially in this past week. I managed to whisper (barely) “amen” and then – thankfully – two of the Compassion staff finished praying while I simply knelt down weeping now and held onto Sakulu, who seemed to somehow understand as he hugged me back, never saying a word, but seeming to hope with me that God would indeed take care of him, that we would see each other again maybe even with you, maybe even with the girls and that all of this – this moment, his life – would somehow make sense to him one day. Even now, as I am typing, I can barely see the screen I am crying so much, remembering this time together.
Somehow, I composed myself, stood up, and together we walked back to the car. After a round of hugs to his entire family, I pulled out the picture of our family and gave it to him (now that I think about it, you may have already sent this to him in your letter which was there, by the way, but that’s okay). I gave Sakulu a hug, walked around the car, and he followed me, wanting to go with us, not in a desperate way to leave, but more I think as a response to the love and kindness he had experienced as a result of our coming to see him. Gently, I walked him back around the car, but he followed me back around again, silently. Once more, we walked back to the side of the road and I put his hand in the woman’s and waved and he seemed to understand. He did not wave back, but he seemed okay with everything, which I did as well.
Maybe because we never had boys, I always thought of Sakulu as our son. Sakulu always talked of meeting his American “sisters,” but sadly, he (along with his dream) has died.
If you think of it, pray for those who loved and cared for him. And if you don’t already, please consider sponsoring a child with Compassion; it’s the best $30/month you’ll ever spend.