I first met Teresa Uma Daniel eight years ago, as I whacked my way through the wild bush of Eastern Equatoria. We heaved our machetes against the thorny mess towering taller than our heads with all the force we could muster in the 130 degree heat, in hope of marking off the land the government of South Sudan had given Romano so we could build Hope for South Sudan.
Suddenly, as if tumbling down Alice in Wonderland’s rabbit hole, the bush spread open and I stumbled into a clearing. There in the middle of despair sat a flock of women as still as a sleeping murder of crows. I’m not sure whether they or our weather-worn team of explorers were more surprised, but what I remember is watching one old woman whose face flew out at me from the “murder” as it slowly turned from terror, to puzzlement, to hope. When I saw that flicker of hope rising in her, I approached.
Conversation was stilted and stammered along but this force of feminine grace under fire—named Chenin—began to take charge of the process. She said, ‘When we first heard you coming, we could tell you where more than one in number and we were scared. We thought of running. We figured you were the LRA coming back for us.’
I knew now we were getting to the heart of their story and sat silent as she began to unfold their story for me. I felt weak as if a sacred event was happening all around me and it took all my energy to stay engaged.
The LRA had come into their village, raped the women, killed the men and captured most of their children—more than 300 children captured on that single day. The few seated around us were all that remained of their entire village. So, together they ran for many days until they stopped in this place where they cleared out a small piece of land to sit…and wait.
I asked Chenin for what they waited.
“Help. The LRA. Death. Whichever comes first.” she answered
I learned that they lived out in the bush because to go into town would mean acknowledging from where they came, along with all the shame and stigma of rape and slavery. They had nothing to go back to for their entire village had been burned to the ground and no people remained there.
Speechlessly, we studied one another’s faces. Two women of similar age and little else in common yet something bound us in that moment as if a gap in time. (Click here to read more of Chenin’s story.)
Romano told them that when we got back to town we would send food and medicine to them. Still, we all knew they wouldn’t survive long alone in the bush. We prayed and continued forging our own path…more slowly this time, more weighted by the woods of the world and all the murder that flew, fled, and hoped silently within them.
An hour or so down our self-made trail, we came to yet another “rabbit hole”. This one housed nothing but two figures whose bodies crept as light as shadows across their small opening. They did not fear us; in fact, they revealed no emotion at all. They simply recounted their version of the exact same story Chenin had shared. Teresa Uma and her husband Daniel had fled the village just in time, but life alone in the bush for a blind elder and his aged wife requires constant foraging, wood chopping, and dangerous searches for water. Malaria and dysentery compounded their threats against survival as much as the dreaded LRA. Romano assured Daniel and Teresa Uma also that we would send them food and medicine as soon as we returned to town.
By the time all the arrangements could be made, the murder of crows had flown on; even the promise of provision couldn’t assuage their fear of staying in one place too long. And, Daniel had given up the ghost, leaving his precious wife Teresa Uma alone in the bush not even knowing of what took his life.
As we began building the school, clinic, and orphanage at Hope for South Sudan, Teresa Uma came to volunteer. She was a hard worker and never asked for handouts. She wanted to serve in kind, the way she’d been helped. She continued to live in the small thatched shack where her husband had died. As time went on and people began migrating to the area, thugs found where she lived and began robbing her. She was beaten several times and took to burying her food and clothes in the ground so that the thugs couldn’t find them. She was determined to live.
When Romano heard what Teresa endured, he asked me if we could help her. Generous donations came in and we built a small concrete house for Teresa on the backside of our HFSS property and fenced it in to keep her safe. Teresa never slowed down just because she was being helped. She told me her hope was buried in the strength that God gave her to take care of herself. So, she went out in the bush to collect wood every day. She made charcoal which she walked miles into town carrying the lumps bundled on her head to sell in the market. She also donated a portion of her charcoal to HFSS to cook the children’s food. She grew and tended mangos, guavas, and avocadoes, which she also carried on top of her head to sell. Of these too, she gave a portion to Pastor Romano and our orphans.
When the war re-erupted in July 2016, Teresa moved inside our compound where she helped other elderly and invalids to stay safe. It was hard to leave her little home, but impossible for her to survive the bombings and constant raids on her own. Things are more quiet now, and she has been longing to return to her life of work and sharing, however, she has suddenly fallen ill.
We have tried to get medical help locally, but most everything is still shutdown and no one can find what is wrong with Teresa. She is suffering much swelling, and we suspicion heart problems. Romano is arranging transport for her to our Safe House in Uganda where we can offer quality medical care in a loving environment.
Teresa has suffered much and yet continues to vibrate with hope—sharing every breath to help others. I suppose it is her faith that keeps Teresa so strong as she waits for hope to be fulfilled. Teresa never puts herself above others’ needs so at this time, I am asking on her behalf. Teresa Uma is the one who needs help. Mostly, I write about children who need a sponsor; today, I am asking for a sponsor for Teresa Uma.
It is hard to say how much Teresa’s care will cost, but if someone is willing to provide her primary care of $200 per month/$2,400 per year, MWP will continue to supplement her medical needs et al.
Please click here if you are willing to sponsor Teresa—or another elderly person under our care.