Voices of Uganda: Joyce
She knows the kids, their names, their personalities, and how many nappies they wear each day. The children in her care are vulnerable. They have significant medical needs and have suffered the trauma of being separated from their parents. But she shows up and is there for them, day after day. She’s a familiar, dependable person in their lives.
Joyce oversees the mountainous volume of laundry at the Mukono Healing Home.
Laundry on the line was one of the first things that drew my attention when we arrived at the Healing Home in Uganda. Immediately, I pulled my camera out and snapped photos because it represented all that is involved in caring for many young children. Such hard work, I thought. Because I didn’t speak the language, I could only offer a smile.
Later, as I talked with Joyce in the grass outside the Baby Home, lines of drying laundry waved behind us. She giggled as she told a few funny stories about the babies. Just as they do in the US, babies in Uganda make you smile and keep you busy.
They need the love of nannies, the nourishment of bottles and formula, and clean clothes in which to play and sleep. The work of Joyce’s strong hands is essential.
She refers to all pieces of clothes as “overalls” and to diapers as “nappies”. In a home full of babies where nappies are changed multiple times a day, the volume of dirty laundry is immense.
Each piece of laundry is scrubbed by hand with soap suds and a brush. Joyce and her two fellow workers use their strength to heave large basins filled with clothes, sheets, and nappies from the house to the water tank for scouring every day. After each piece is cleaned by hand, it is all carried to the drying lines. The overflow from the lines is laid in the sun to dry on the grass and bushes. The building is filled with children and surrounded by clean clothes drying in the sun.
After all the shirts and sheets have been hung to dry, Joyce goes home to her daughter for a few hours to “do all her work at home.” In the late afternoon, she walks back to the home on the hill to gather, fold, and sort. Those capable arms pick up heavy basins of clean clothes and place them back in the children’s rooms, ready to be worn and then soiled, all over again.
Each day is the same as the last. It is a labor-intensive job that is never finished.
That February day in Uganda, I was on a mission to fill my notebook with stories to share with Love Without Boundaries donors and volunteers. There were lots of staff and lots of stories to be told, so I needed to be quick.
But Joyce was not someone that could be rushed. She was too strong and deeply rooted to not lean toward and learn from.
She spoke, and I couldn’t find the right words to demonstrate her commitment to a chore that I tend to fuss about in my own home.
At my house, I fill our side by side machines with all our clothes. I toss in a detergent pod, push a button and walk away, and the sensors, valves, and electricity do the washing and rinsing for me. Without the slightest consideration from me, my washing machine fills with clean, temperature-controlled water brought in by pipes directly to my laundry room. And when the cycle is done, I transfer them into a dryer that makes them soft, dry, and warm in 30 minutes, without one ounce of my effort.
Providing clean laundry is meaningful. Clothing little bodies at the Mukono Baby Home with washed overalls and clean nappies gives them freedom to play, eat, be held by their nannies, and stay warm and dry.
Washed sheets are the soft foundation for rest. The work might be mundane, but it is has meaning.
Joyce shared that the hardest part of her job is “carrying heavy basins all day”. Her favorite thing to do is “listen to the radio”. As for me, I do very little physically challenging work at home, and my entertainment needs are much fussier.
When asked her thoughts on working at the Mukono Baby Home she replied, “The home is helping babies without parents and gives me a job too.”
And I was struck all over again.
When we support locally-run projects to help vulnerable children, we often impact people in the community as well. She didn’t complain about how difficult her job is. Instead, she expressed her gratitude.
Here’s to Joyce, who serves so well and reminds us all of the beauty in our everyday chores.