June, 1988

Guided by our Ugandan government PR lady Sarah Magala, we travelled to the State House in Entebbe, to meet with Janet Museveni, the wife of the president, and Mrs. Mpanga, the Minister of Gender, Labor and Social Development. The agenda was focused on our work with the organization "Ugandan Women's Effort to Save the Orphans” (UWESO), in what came to be known infamously as the Luwero Triangle. Luwero’s recent history is infamous and chillingly violent, decimated by the twin plagues of civil war and AIDS. Just a few days earlier I had been taken with my cameras to a site where hundreds of human skulls and other bones were stacked in memoriam. The orphan population in Luwero is tragically large, and the devastation of the local infrastructure was widespread. Mrs. Museveni is the founder of UWESO, and Mrs. Mpanga is the leader now. . . It was a formal affair, the State House being an expansive, colonial-era mansion, tempered in it's motif by the African art throughout, including two huge ivory tusks at the entrance, and the presence of camaflogue-uniformed soldiers, (the outfit the president himself often likes to be seen in), pistols in their belts, always on the alert. . .

While we were waiting in the sitting room, I half-listened to our immaculately self-important Swiss administrator chiding me about the holes in my shoes, my too-long hair, and the jacket and tie I borrowed from him (I travel light to Uganda), and distracted myself by looking out the large window, across the lawn down into Lake Victoria, Africa's largest body of water. This was the first time I had ever been in a presidential home or office, and I wondered how the hand of fate had brought me to the First Lady of Uganda (a term that regular guy-soldier Museveni scoffs at).

Janet Museveni herself was tall, gentle, and soft-spoken. She listened to our overtures for ICA's integration into the future rebuilding of Uganda with critical eyes, which softened as the afternoon passed and she sensed that our approach to helping the children of Luwero contained no hint of exploitation. Actually ICA has done a lot for UWESO and the children, including donating a vehicle and financial assistance. I was allowed to asked some questions I had prepared. The interview went well, with Mrs. Museveni sharing her thoughts on the woman's role in contemporary African society. She demonstrated maternal love for the children of her country that had suffered so much from the war.     

Later that week we attended "Masulita Day" in the Luwero Triangle. Representatives of NGOs joined government officials and members of the local population to celebrate what was to be the launching of a coordinated effort to rebuild the region, with much emphasis on the rebuilding of schools. Not yet aware that Museveni’s push to power brought heavy fighting in the area which resulted in countless thousands of deaths between 1981-86, the irony of Janet Museveni laying of the cornerstone for the proposed Children's Village didn't damper my pride in our involvement. It was a festive day, with plenty of food, singing and dancing, yet the specter of conflict still hung in the air, as all of the musicians, traditional dancers and choruses made up of war orphans remained under the constant watch of dozens of armed soldiers. The contrast between the unfettered spirit that Ugandans demonstrate, and the reality of a recent violent past is striking.