I'm not going to lie, this interview moved me. The work Patricia Twomey and her family have done over in Kitgum Uganda with the Irene Gleeson Foundation (IGF) is beyond anything most of us will ever experience when it comes to giving our time to a charity. I asked her to share with me some insights into their experience and what I got was that this family is all about love, respect and kindness.
I would like to take a moment before you read this to thank Patricia for sharing just a little of her family's journey with us and to encourage others to reach out to their local charities, or even international ones if you can, to offer up some of your time to a worthy cause. I think you'll agree that what Patricia and her family have done goes above and beyond the call of duty for most people and yet they couldn't imagine having not done it!
How did you first hear about IGF?
We first heard about IGF in October 2013 when we met Alfred Komagum, John Paul Kiffasi and George Lubega (Exodus) when they spoke at the La Dolce Vita on the Gold Coast. They spoke again in October 2014 and we read Irene Gleeson's book "Heart of a Lioness".
What prompted you to take things to that next level and actually go to Kitgum?
Having heard these young men share their stories and then reading Irene's book the vision was growing within us to not only support them financially but also to spend time with them and to see how we may be a blessing to their mission. Nothing could have prepared us for what we would experience. John Paul and Alfred had met our daughter Kathleen and her husband Ryan. They asked if we could take them with us to encourage the young people.
What are you and your family currently doing with IGF in Kitgum?
We've come to IGF to serve, to gain knowledge of how IGF functions and what the needs are here. Every day we've served wherever we were needed. The drums and singing start at about 7:30 each morning. They have primary school, business school, vocational school and staff assemblies. We have spoken at a different assembly each day. 10:30 am is the first of two meals each school day. When we were free we would help to serve food. Long lines of children with plastic bowls wait patiently. Once the feeding starts It's so fast there's no time to even smile at the children. The focus must be on dipping the cup into the huge pot and pouring into the next bowl. Before long hundreds of tummies are fed.
The first day I was there I visited the new babies. Little Moses was rescued in March. I saw the photo on Facebook. At the time they didn't know if he would survive. I'm holding him in my profile picture and he's growing beautifully now. Little twins arrived one day. They'd been abandoned by their mother and brought to IGF by a relative. They weighed 5 kgs at 16 months of age. I picked up the little girl's hand and looked into her eyes. They were empty and expressionless. What horrors had they experienced? Here at IGF they would be loved and cared for. The doors here are open wide to all in need. A little baby arrived just one day old. Her mother had gone into the bush and given birth without telling anyone. She cut the cord and covered the baby. She bled to death. Each baby is given a Mama to care for them. Once they are established and walking if there are no relatives to take them home they are raised in the dormitories with house Mamas.
We've visited one of the hospitals to encourage and pray for the sick. I can't think of an appropriate way to describe the suffering we saw there.
Much of our time has been spent at the 'Mighty Fire' radio station.This was the first time we've spoken on radio, at the same time learning to work with an interpreter. It was quite daunting at first especially after they told us more than a million people would be listening. Each day we were free we would spend an hour sharing on one of the programs. I've been asked to keep recording at home so that I can share on their radio each week. At present I don't know how to do that but I'm sure I'll learn. I also spoke at their women's conference while I was there. Through 'Celebrity Evolution' I've written my book 'Giving Birth to Miracles'. My chapters were my notes when I was speaking. Thanks Pat!
The more we served the more we learned and the more insight we had about IGF - the amazing work that is happening and the overwhelming needs.
Do you have any inspirational stories of children or people who you have worked with there?
There are so many inspirational stories here. One that stands out is a young man whose name is John. He was taken by the rebels during the war. He tried to escape and failed. Instead of killing him they cut off his nose, his ears, his lips and both his hands. Irene found him in the hospital and took him home. He thought he could never forgive but through Irene's love and teaching he was set free. Today he is married with four children and works at IGF.
George Lubago has an amazing story.His mother died when he was 10 and he had to live with his Dad. His Dad didn't want him and eventually told him if he was there in the morning he would kill him. He left home and lived on the street. One night he was sleeping with about six children. Gun fire woke him. He was lying with a group of boys in a pool of blood. They were killing the street children but they missed him. He was the only one who lived. He escaped to a church where Irene found him. She took him home and raised him. He is married with children today. He is a famous Gospel singer in Uganda and works with IGF. There's much more to his story but the most inspirational part is this. As an adult George took his father home to his family and cared for him until he died last year. These people understand the power of forgiveness. Forgiveness is power!
The war finished seven years ago. IGF is full of inspirational stories. These young men and women have lived through the horrors of war but they have overcome. They have risen from death to life, from failure to victory, from weakness to strength. They're not only building their own lives, they're feeding and educating thousands of children so that they too will have hope for their future.
What would you say to other people who are thinking about volunteering at IGF? Any advice?
People who are thinking of volunteering for IGF - if it's short term (a few weeks) come and observe and serve. It's a very large project and takes time to take it all in. If you would like to visit for a longer time be aware that it's a huge adjustment. Bring your skills and work in unity with the vision of IGF, under the guidance of Director John Paul Kiffasi. You can go through the IGF volunteer process. They love volunteers to come and help. There are IGF offices in Australia and America and can be contacted through Google. We went to IGF to give but we received so much more than we were able to give.
This is truly a life changing experience. Most people can't go but if you have skills that could help and feel the call they would so appreciate your help. Finances are their greatest need. If you could feel in your heart to give out of your abundance you would find as we have that you will receive much more than you give.
What is the biggest thing you are taking away from your experiences in Kitgum?
If I were to focus on the negative I would see that the needs here are endless and overwhelming, but the biggest thing I've taken away is far greater. I've witnessed an amazing miracle. I've seen what one woman has been able to do through the power of faith and grace. I've seen the fruit of her labour in the men and women who were once the hungry, hurting children that she rescued. I've seen here men and women of faith, courage, patience, persistence and strength that is far beyond the natural realm. They've not allowed the horrors of their past to destroy them. Instead they've risen up to stand together to provide a home for hungry and abandoned children, to educate and feed thousands of children. Through vocational school and business college they are preparing young people to be able to find work and build a positive future. Through their radio they are blessing, encouraging and supporting millions of people.
How has your time in Kitgum changed you, your family and how you see the world.
In the western world we complain if it's hot and we complain if it's cold. We open the door of a full frig and wonder if there's something we'd like to eat. We open our packed clothes cupboard and wonder what we can wear. The children and staff at IGF have very little of this world's comforts but they have gratitude. They start every day with singing and dancing. Often in the evening we hear the drums and the singing and we know that somewhere these beautiful people have come together to celebrate.
Our lives will never be the same. We have fallen in love with every one of them from the tiniest baby through the thousands of children to John Paul, Alfred and the men and women who serve together here. We are home in Australia now but we haven't left Kitgum because Kitgum is in our hearts. We will never return to Kitgum as visitors for now we are family. We are in our mid seventies but we have not retired, we have refired. We intend to live every day to the fullest. We are one spirit with IGF. We will love them, pray for them and serve them as they give all they have to serve so many. Through their love, commitment and hard work these men and women are giving birth to many miracles.
Thank you Patricia for taking the time to share you story with us and if you would like more information about the Irene Gleeson Foundation and the work they are doing in Kitgum, you can find this and more at their website www.irenegleesonfoundation.com .
This article was prepared by Ant Ulijn, Social Media Extraordinaire and Values Alignment Expert from emanation. If you found this information useful, please comment below, subscribe above and like us on Facebook for more great content like this.