Voices of Uganda: Deborah
I like my job. I get peace when I cook.
~Deborah, Mukono Healing Home’s cook and foster mom
As we spoke, she was either covering her face and giggling, or swelling with tears. Deborah is a woman of great joy and compassion, and I liked her right away.
She works twelve-hour days, from 6 AM to 6 PM, as one of the cooks for the Mukono Healing Home in Uganda. For eight years, she has been working hard at this job. And to her work, she pours out an abundance of skill and heart.
Deborah and her teammate have lots of mouths to feed when cooking three meals a day for the kids and a full staff. They serve rice, beans, meat, and lots of porridge and bread.
Most of the children in the home have medical needs that also require the intervention of nutritional supplements. Though it all sounds like a tremendously challenging role, Deborah gave us a big smile and claimed, “The work is not hard because I have help.”
Deborah was not accustomed to being the center of an interviewer’s attention. She kept covering her smiling face with her hand and giggling at my questions. I smiled back at her, doing all that I could to let her know how valuable I thought her work was, and how important her job is to the livelihood of the fragile and orphaned children in her care. When asked if she knew how essential her role is, she grinned and responded, “Without the cook, everybody would get too skinny.”
As a child, Deborah was expected to learn how to cook. When she was six years old, she started observing her mother and helping to cook for her family. She has spent her life caring for those around her through food. Cooking has become an extension of who she is, but not one that considers being a lifelong burden.
She says, “Whatever I do, I do it with passion and am at ease.”
Deborah’s gift of cooking has not been her only contribution to the children of Mukono Healing Home. Before becoming the cook, she served as a nanny. When asked if she had any special stories from the kids in her care during that time, she immediately spoke about Evan without hesitation.
Evan was a little one Deborah first met when she was working as a nanny in the Healing Home. Shortly after his father died, he came into care at the Healing Home since his mother was unable to care for him. As Deborah spent more time with Evan, she developed deep feelings for him. She prayed that someday this little boy would once again know the love of a family and felt grateful that he could lean on her when he needed someone stable and steady in his life.
One day, a probation officer came to the Healing Home and took Evan away. He was placed back into the care of an older woman who had cared for him in the past but had eventually abandoned him as well.
Deborah had no way of knowing where Evan was or if he was being well cared for during this time. She was tremendously grieved and mourned for this little one for whom she had cared as if he were her child. At this point in her storytelling, she stopped giggling and smiling and let tears pool in her eyes.
To help heal from her loss and hurt, Deborah transitioned from the position of a nanny to the role of Healing Home cook.
At some point during this period, Evan’s mother returned and was able to get her son back from the care of the older woman. After a year together, though, his mother began disappearing again. Sadly, Evan bounced between eight different homes and started to lose weight. When questioned by the child welfare authorities about the well-being of her son, Evan’s mother stated that she loved the boy but still could not care for him, and so he was brought back into the care of the Healing Home.
Deborah was elated to see him again. But by this time, she was a cook, so Evan was assigned to a new nanny. Because the home’s social worker knew of her deep affection and connection with him, Deborah was offered the opportunity to be his foster mother. Her love for him had only deepened, so she happily and immediately agreed.
Now, Deborah’s service to kids at the healing home has become even more valuable as it has expanded to both cook AND foster mother.
Deborah’s work matters. Every single day, her cooking and mothering have a fundamental impact on both the life of her foster son and all of the Healing Home’s precious children.
“Cooks do a good work,” she believes.
We agree, Deborah, and appreciate you so much.