by Mommy Emily
We found her sweeping streets as Uganda’s sun stretched its arms awake. Dressed in a bright orange jersey with tired, swept-up hair, the brisk activity of her grass broom proved this thin woman was anything but what her name suggested.
“Lazia” means “lazy.” It’s the name her family gave her as a child in a Ugandan village. She married a Muslim witch doctor at 18 who would later kick her and her two children to the streets when he got a second wife. She then married another Muslim man who would also abandon her, and by then, her six children, when she became a follower of Jesus.
So this weary, homeless crew, with Lazia’s mother in tow, made their way to Katwe – a foster mother of a slum that holds in its bosom all the lost souls from the villages.
At 5:30 each morning Lazia made her way to the streets, into a mess of traffic with seemingly no laws, only suggestions, where Boda-boda motorbikes swerved, and cars beeped horns, careening around each other. She earned 5,000 Ugandan shillings, or $1.50 USD, each day sweeping streets, and then purchased ground nuts with her earnings to roast and sell in order to try to feed her family one meal before bed.
In the twilight hours, Lazia found her way home amidst countless other mothers, stepping around empty pop and beer bottles and discarded candy wrappers strewn on the dirt path of Katwe, to the little home where they crowded together – herself, her oldest daughter Flavia, Flavia’s son Baker (who was conceived out of Flavia’s desperate need for a meal, the man refusing to feed her until she paid with her body), Hanifa, Mariam, Janat, Shamuzi, and Lazia’s mother, Jajja Mwajuma (her oldest son, Abdu, having already moved out).
Each night they ate maize porridge from a pot, drank black tea, and then fell asleep on straw mats until the wee hours when the sirens of street cleaning called.
We gave her the name Gloria because her story is glorious, this woman with the shy yet quirky smile and oval eyes that hint at a mischievous spirit. She has a quick laugh that trips over itself like a girl learning to skip rope.
When asked what her dream was, she said in a soft voice, “To become a tailor.” But more than that, she said, it was to help young girls like Flavia succeed in life, to help them go to school, to have hope and a future.
Gloria became one of The Lulu Tree’s star pupils at our tailoring school in Katwe, and meanwhile, she and her family took in a young orphan boy who had HIV-Aids, nurturing him with daily medication and healthy foods. She also actively served pregnant mothers through Lulu’s mama kit outreaches in the slum.
Then, when God called us to the villages, she and her family came too, and Gloria saw her dream unfold – as The Lulu Tree took in teenage mothers through the School of Hope, including Gloria’s daughter Flavia. Gloria became a mentor for them, living at the dorms, giving these girls and their babies hope and a future.
This March, Erica and I traveled to downtown Kampala to visit Gloria’s new tailoring shop, located in a busy suburban market. Thanks to our new Director of Finance, Rosemary Zawedde, Gloria has been equipped with a sewing machine, materials, and microfinance training, and the products of her creativity now hang in bold African print for the world to purchase.
Flavia came to visit us, her eyes shining, and we stopped by their new home to hug Mariam and Hanifa – now called Praise Muto – a high school graduate who was known in her school for leading Bible studies and praying fervently for her classmates.
As we visit, Gloria stands proudly by. All praise to God, she’s no longer a street sweeper, but a mama who’s triumphing over poverty, clothed in the bright color of purpose.