Burned Teen from Uganda Finds Hope, Help and Healing at Shriner's Hospital in Boston

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Just Cause (http://www.jcause.org), a Local Non-profit Working with Refugee, Immigrant and Marginalized Communities, Has Joined with Partner Agency, Engeye, to Assist in Facilitating Susan Nabukenya's Trip to the United States

Young Susan Nabukenya never expected to see the world outside the boundaries of her tiny Ugandan village. Few of her friends or family did either. Such is life in impoverished rural Africa. However, Susan's prospects were far more dire than most. A tragic and fateful day early in her childhood changed her life in one horrifying instant. Her kerosene-stained dress had caught fire while she helped her mother cook a family meal over an open fire, and severe burns covered much of her tiny body. Her burns had been left to heal with no medical supervision, and her badly scarred leg never had the chance to heal properly. Walking inevitably re-opened her wounds, and the pain was excruciating. Susan was denied most of the pleasures that makes childhood and adolescence special. She couldn't play with her friends, and she was missing much of her schooling. Susan's mother passed away shortly after the accident, leaving Susan with her paralyzed grandfather who could be of little help to her. The prospects for this shy young woman were grim indeed.

Then one day in 2006, word came to Susan that a small clinic had just opened its doors in a nearby village. A remarkable group of medical professionals and students were in place to bring medical care to local villagers for the first time ever. Team Engeye knew when they met Susan that her needs far eclipsed the limited capabilities of the fledgling clinic which had no electricity or running water. If she were to have a chance for a normal life, she would need to have access to sophisticated surgical techniques and extensive physical therapy in the United States. It was a daunting task for anyone, but for this group of financially and academically-stressed medical students, it seemed almost insurmountable.

But now, fast-forward to early 2008. Susan will board a plane in Kampala, Uganda, on May 12th for an all-expenses-paid journey to the Shriner's Hospital in Boston where a team of surgeons and physical therapists will help her turn her life around. The list of questions and hurdles that at times seemed endless is now a footnote in Susan's story.

Just weeks ago, it appeared that all the work and energy that had been invested on Susan's behalf might be for naught when John Kalule's travel visa was denied. John is Engeye's co-founder and general manager who has donated his land and his life to the clinic, and who has been given legal responsibility for Susan's travel and medical decisions. He is Team Engeye's priceless Ugandan connection, and is an essential link in the collaboration that makes this project unique. Susan's visa was in-hand, but without John to chaperone her, the trip could not happen. It was this last-minute crisis that would make team Engeye aware of just how resourceful, dedicated and passionate its network of friends could be. Within hours of John's devastating phone call, with Susan in tears as her impossible dream seemed to be once again impossible, the wheels of compassion began to turn.

A virtual torrent of communications poured into the US Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, imploring that officials reconsider their decision, led by team members in Boston and Atlanta. Congressman John Lewis (D-GA), Senator John Kerry (D-MA), Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Congressman Michael McNulty (D-NY) and Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley (Boston) jumped into the fray, and either made personal phone calls to the embassy or offered extended assistance during Susan and John's stay in the United States. By the next day, John's visa was approved.

In an attempt to give Susan back all the years in school she never had, a scholarship fund has been set up to enable Susan to begin schooling upon her return to Uganda and continue through graduate education. Please visit ChooseANeed.org to donate to Susan's scholarship and Engeye.org for Susan's entire story and links to updated blogs. A photojournalist will accompany the next team to the clinic in February 2009 to document Susan's return to her new life in her village.

Here are some significant contributors to Susan's story:

  • Shriner's Hospital for Children in Boston: Providing all plastic surgery and rehabilitation at no cost. Lorrie King, founder of Just Cause, worked with Joe Paparella, a member of Shriner's Board, to make sure things went smoothly.
  • CARE USA (care.org): Derreck Kayongo, a fellow Ugandan and CARE's Regional Advocacy Coordinator, created the fast friendship with Congressman John Lewis (D-GA). Derreck knew Lorrie from her time with Red Cross in Uganda, and from her consulting days with CARE Rwanda. Derreck has enlisted Lorrie to be a delegate at CARE's national advocacy/lobbying conferences.
  • Chetan Payne and Maria DeVito, residents of Avellino, Italy, have become donors to Just Cause through the Om-2-Om Interfaith Learning Center. Chetan and Maria collected $400 to help cover expenses for Susan and John's stay in Boston, paid for their visas and shipped travel bags to them in Uganda.
  • Former refugee youth Jasenka Besic put together care page with welcome/get well cards, pajamas, fluffy towel/blanket, purse and journal.
  • Just Cause forged a relationship with Karibu Restaurant in Waltham, MA, the hub of the local Ugandan community. A welcome lunch will be held there on Tuesday, May 13, at noon. Proprietors Hassan and Amina Lubega were instrumental in organizing this event.
  • Just Cause has worked previously with Engeye by linking with the Georgia Center for Visually Impaired to provide training materials for a village family with blind son. The Just Cause and Engeye HIV initiative launches in February 2009. Just Cause has a long standing relationship with John and Stephanie, founders of Engeye, due to their work on a rural project in 2000, when Stephanie and Lorrie only dreamed of having their own agencies.

Just Cause, Inc., founded in 2005 by Lorrie L. King, is a 501 (c) (3) charitable organization dedicated to addressing disparities within the realms of HIV/AIDS, refugee/immigrant empowerment, genocide survivorship and human rights. To that end, Just Cause partners with grassroots organizations in Rwanda, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda, to facilitate local programming in HIV/AIDS, land and education rights for orphans, women, and vulnerable children, and community building after conflict. At home in the metropolitan area of Atlanta, Georgia, the organization works to provide stop-gap services to address the on-going needs of newly arrived refugees, who have reached the end of their initial resettlement benefits. Just Cause advocates for various immigrant communities, in order to raise external public awareness and bolster internal empowerment of the individual and the collective. In addition, the non-profit provides basic genocide awareness education workshops to the public at large, by collaborating with local chapters of humanitarian and human rights organizations. Just Cause maintains a presence at national and international conferences to network, increase its knowledge base and share academic papers on work the organization has done, outcomes, and lessons learned. For more information, visit http://www.jcause.org or email info @ jcause.org.

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Dawna Lee Heising
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