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ChildLife Network International
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Allan Ssemugenyi stood in line at the office, waiting somewhat patiently to hear about his application for a visa. He had been at the office just the day before, and he had been rejected. That normally meant a six-month wait to reapply, but his flight was in a matter of hours, and he knew that if he returned to his village he would be facing arrest. He couldn’t hide forever. What drove him to the consulate again in an apparently vain attempt to get his visa was not simply desperation to get out. Allan was driven by hope, a hope he had not grown up with, nor one found in his village in Uganda.

Allan is the founder of ChildLife Network International (CNI), a ministry stationed in Kampala, Uganda, but based here in London, Ontario. ChildLife exists to sow the hope that Allan found in the children, and adults when possible, in his home country.

For centuries African culture was based on a tight family unit, in which fathers and mothers sowed a sense of identity and belonging into their families. The tragedy of decades of war and oppression, leading to mass migration to refugee camps has destroyed those families.

"These generations don't have values because they work to only survive," says Maggie Ssemugenyi, board member of CNI and spouse of Allan. "People cannot raise their children in love."

In addition to suffering through the tragedy of war and the horror of child soldiers, HIV has had a devastating effect on the country. HIV has wiped out entire villages as people traded sex for protection or food. Allan and Maggie have seen 23 family members die due to the illness.

Allan's story was little different than that of his countrymen. His own family ravaged, he ended up in an orphanage, and while he loved the missionaries there he had an emptiness in him. There was a need for someone to see value in him, for someone to walk with him.

"In Uganda there is a stigma against suicide,” Allan says. “I decided to join a militia and I would be killed in the war."

Before his plan was able to come to fruition he went to a store where people were able to watch videos. A Christian met him outside and after they struck up a friendship, he and thousands of others gave their lives to Christ at a Reinhard Bonnke crusade.

You probably already guessed that the end of the tale in the first paragraph is that Allan received his visa, and made it out. London was not his destination, but became so via Washington DC, Maryland, and Boston. His children followed him and Maggie four years later.

"Peace and freedom is the greatest gift of the West," says Allan. "We did not live in fear in Uganda because it was what we knew, but every child should grow up in a peaceful environment."

CNI operates the appropriately named Hope Center with eight staff and 30-40 volunteers. Allan states that eighty percent of the volunteers are girls who have come up through the program, helping people with a personal development plan, and to set and achieve goals.

"Sponsorship programs, which have been wonderful to save lives, have also created dependency. We are trying to help people deal with their wounds, to take healing to the hearts of men and women. For example, CNI started the 'Proud Fathers’ program because fathers are no longer involved in children's lives. Family and child development, which were passed down from generation to generation, are no longer available."

Proverbs 13:12 says: "Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life." When living in a devastated war zone as Uganda has become things like hope or dreams have no relevance. There is only survival. Consider helping CNI to return the hopes and dreams to the children, and adults who lost their childhood. You can help by donating, volunteering, or attending the fall banquet. Information can be found at: http://www.childlifenetwork.com/how_to_help.php