P eter Mukwano, even as the name “Mukwano” meaning “Love/Friend” depicts, is the perfect assertion of Beyond Uganda’s “Not Forgotten” program. His has been a journey punctuated with lots of difficulties, abuse and ridicule from the society around him. Born and named Ian Karim 14 years ago to a Muslim family, he came into the world deaf and dumb and only grown up using self made sign languages. Peter Mukwano as he was later to be renamed after joining BU was to show him that despite the circumstances of his life, he was still loved and there was still a lot of untapped potential in him waiting to be launched someday.
All it takes is a single unkind word, an isolated act of cruelty or abuse to destroy a life! The reality that children are the sacrificial lambs when our homes break up through neglect, anger, hostility and eventually divorce, resonates well with Peter’s past. You can duplicate someone’s idea but never to their life story. Each one of us walks a unique journey, only designed by God and for Peter; his has been full of agony. His mother dropped out of school and eventually left home a teenage girl for Malaba town at the border of Uganda and Kenya to engage in prostitution. It was under this act of sex trade that Peter was born. Given the circumstances under which his mother conceived, neither Peter nor his mum has ever seen his “dad.” Caught in the cobweb of nurturing her baby alone and engaging in the illicit sex trade, Peter’s mum dumped him at his grandmother’s house when he was only two years and she disappeared into Kenya.
With Peter’s speech condition, it was hard for his granny to communicate with him. Circumstances even worsened when she lost her husband a few years after Peter had moved into her house. She had to fend for her children and still take care of Peter amidst biting poverty in their household. Madinah Bwerere remembers a time when she couldn’t afford house rent; her landlord displaced her with her children and ended up at their neighbor’s house. At this time, Peter was grown and he started following her to the mosque. He was introduced to the muslim leaders who started teaching him Islam.
“When Peter wasn’t in the mosque, he would wander around the streets of Bugiri since his dumb condition couldn’t allow him to be in school. People around town called him all sorts of abusive names. They knew he was wasted and couldn’t amount to anything” explains Madinah.
Peter’s uncle recollects a time when his nephew would follow strangers. He disappeared from home for a week and threw the family into panic thinking he had been abducted and taken for child sacrifice! A search was mounted and radio announcements placed which led the family to Tororo town, 35 miles away from Bugiri. Peter was found on the streets eating from garbage and spending nights under the cold in a taxi park!“When he returned home, we contemplated tying him on the rope to contain him from wandering around” Peter’s uncle explained, referring to him as “a boy who was a burden” to the family.
As fate would have it, one day Peter was passing around BU office. He saw children having a meal and he drew closer. One kid offered to share with him a plate of rice and beans. This was perhaps the best meal Peter had had in the recent past. He kept coming to office everyday. Like Jesus who had mercy on a blind man and restored his sight, this was the beginning of a new dawn in Peter’s life and situation. His condition compelled the BU staff to register him in the “Not Forgotten” program. “We saw his condition and realized such are the reasons why God called us into BU…to breath life into the lifeless and love what the world has forsaken” said the BU director, Konah Wafula. Deep down into those who’re hearted heart, languishing in the slums, whose future and hopes are still bound by the chains of poverty, are the very ones that God has called us to believe in and show them that they still matter in His kingdom because…They aren’t forgotten!
Through the support of his BU sponsors, Peter has been awaken to a world of “disability is not inability.” The 14 year has denounced his former muslim religion and now pursues school at Barclays School for special needs. Peter disproved the world that children under his circumstances aren’t productive. In just one year in school, he has risen to top his class in the previous exams. When his mother heard of such positive reports that a “well wisher” had taken her son to school that she had abandoned at two years, she came home for the first time in twelve years to visit Peter and his grandmother.
With the help of his uncle to conduct this interview in sign language interpretation, Peter says he wants to acquire a hands-on skill in future and help to train other dumb children in his community for he better understands what they go through and the scorn the world pours on them. Gesturing in signs, Peter touches his chest, points into the air and smiles. Ideally to mean his female sponsors who live far away that he’s proud of.
But how does Peter’s muslim family feel about their son being part of BU? His grandma says that it’s a clear line that what her grandson is gaining from the BU program is priceless! “We can’t and shall never stop him” Madinah says adding that Peter has found very resourceful friends in BU who keep him engaged. If he’s not at office attending children’s programs, he stays at home and helps her with home chores. Now Madinah hopes to join the BU women entrepreneurial program…One child despite the circumstances of his life, is not only reuniting his mother and grandmother but also influencing his muslim grandma to attend women weekly Bible classes at office.