Opiyo: Embassy Finally Calls The Black Star News

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Following endless phone calls and e-mail messages to the Uganda embassy in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, an embassy official called The Black Star News regarding the plight of the eight-year old Ugandan brought to this country by an American woman under dubious circumstances.


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Following endless phone calls and e-mail messages to the Uganda embassy in Washington, D.C., from around the world on Thursday, an embassy official called The Black Star News regarding the plight of the eight-year old Ugandan brought to this country by an American woman under dubious circumstances.

The Black Star News had been trying to reach the Ugandan ambassador to the United States, Perezi Kamunanwire, since last Sunday without any success – an elected New York City official also tried futilely to reach Uganda’s top diplomat  (see related story below and other stories in the International news section and the editorials section).

One reader, Mark Tuggle, who learned about Opiyo's plight in The Black Star News wrote a letter to the ambassador that concluded, 

"God is watching you. You don't want his wrath on your conscience."

Jeanette Quinn, a 45-year-old student with no financial resources –who also doesn’t speak the boy’s language --  brought Opiyo Ivance to this country. Quinn could have “done things better� from the very beginning, said Emmanuel Olobo, a consular officer at Uganda’s embassy.

Olobo stressed that now is the time to see how to “move forward.� He insisted that contrary to reports in The Black Star News, embassy officials had been “monitoring Opiyo’s situation from the beginning,� and had been in touch with social services workers dealing with the boy’s case in Boston, to keep on top of developments.  (Notwithstanding the fact that Opiyo is actually in New York City now).

Quinn is set to claim Opiyo from Brookdale hospital sometime Friday, May 11. Embassy staff conceded it was never verified whether Quinn had the resources to take care of Opiyo.

Olobo told this newspaper that the embassy is considering writing a letter to the U.S. embassy in Kampala, to expedite the travel of Francis Ayela, Opiyo’s grandfather, to the United States, to help care for the boy. When asked who would finance Ayela’s trip, and care for him and Opiyo once he arrives, Olobo responded, “We assume Jeanette will take care of that.�

Olobo was informed the reason why this newspaper has published a series of articles about Opiyo’s case in the first place is precisely because Quinn doesn’t have the resources nor training, to take care of the traumatized boy.

The Uganda Acholi community has shown a willingness to care for Opiyo, provided Quinn yields guardianship or agrees to joint guardianship with suitable individuals who can communicate with the boy in Acholi and who have access to resources. One individual is even willing to fly from the West Coast to help care for the boy. 

Some Ugandans have been discussing the possibility of initiating legal action to remove Opiyo from Quinn’s custody should she refuse to cooperate with such an arrangement, or to even force the embassy to take some action.

(More on the conversation with Olobo to follow. For the record, Ambassador Kamunanwire called and left a message on May 11; he has not yet been able to speak with The Black Star News. In the meantime, The Black Star News will keep readers informed with up-to-date developments. Readers should continue calling the embassy--demand to know what plan the embassy has in place to take care of Opiyo).

Below is the editorial that prompted the Uganda embassy to call.


Why do some African countries even bother having an embassy in Washington, D.C., at all? So diplomats can get invited to pose with President Bush?

As readers of The Black Star News know by now, an eight-year old Ugandan boy, Opiyo Ivance, who suffered severe burns on his arms and chest when his mother was shot during a rebel attack and dropped him in a cauldron of hot water, was brought to the United States last fall by a 45-year-old Smith College student named Jeanette Quinn.

Uganda media reported that Opiyo had been stigmatized because of the severe disfiguration from his wounds, inflicted three years ago. He was reduced to begging on the streets of Gulu, the town in the war-devastated part of Uganda; the boy was emotionally and physically traumatized.

Quinn –perhaps seduced by the examples of Madonna and Angelina Jolie – says she felt compassion and brought Opiyo to the US, seeking surgery for the boy. Quinn secured an arrangement with prestigious Boston Shriner’s Children’s hospital for Opiyo’s operations.

Opiyo’s skin on the arms and chest areas, can’t stretch, even as his bones continue to grow: Opiyo needs surgery otherwise he could suffer painful deformation later in life. Already his arms are contorted—the boy says he wants to one day play basketball.

While enrolled in school in Northampton, Massachusetts, Quinn’s hometown, Opiyo impressed teachers with his math skills. But the boy didn’t speak English. Quinn became frustrated with the rate at which Opiyo was learning English; she withdrew young Opiyo from school.

Shriner’s hospital also determined that the boy wasn’t yet emotionally prepared to start the series of operations that he’ll need for as long as he continues to grow—he still suffers from too much stress.

Quinn doesn’t have Madonna’s or Angelina’s money. African and Caribbean students at Smith College held a fund raiser to help take care of Opiyo – the Northampton community also opened its arms, donating $10,000.

When Quinn realized she couldn’t take care of Opiyo, last month she decided she would take him back to Uganda. While at John F. Kennedy International Airport on March 20, something occurred between Quinn and Opiyo.
With security measures extremely heightened, even sneezing at a US airport is now risky.

Within a short time, young Opiyo was surrounded by National Guard troops and New York City Police. He was taken into custody in a straight jacket to a New York hospital where he was injected numerous times and sedated; a Ugandan who saw him said he kept crying in Acholi that he was being killed. Opiyo was later transferred to Brookdale hospital in Brooklyn, and has been there since.

Opiyo is not mentally ill – he is traumatized – so Brookdale can’t keep him much longer even though he has become calm and relatively stabilized after therapy sessions there. Now Opiyo is set to be released on Friday, May 11. Unfortunately, since Quinn has “guardianship,� she will be coming to collect Opiyo from Brookdale.

Enter the Uganda embassy. How did Quinn manage to bring Opiyo into this country in the first place? The Black Star News has learned that the Uganda embassy in Washington, D.C., was told that Quinn worked for a humanitarian relief organization and on that basis helped facilitate Opiyo’s journey.

Let’s give Uganda embassy the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps embassy staff was indeed duped. That was then. What about now? Opiyo’s story has been publicized in US media and in this newspaper. The embassy can intervene and challenge Quinn’s “guardianship� if indeed officials were duped.

Quinn cannot take care of Opiyo—she even told this to hospital staff. She does not have the financial resources or training to care for such a traumatized boy. There are also cultural issues; she complained that Opiyo doesn't get along with her dog.

If Uganda embassy intervenes, maybe a suitable guardian, with connection to the Ugandan Acholi community in the New York region, can arrange for Opiyo Ivance’s care: Quinn has already made arrangement with Shriner for surgery and can work with the new guardian.

Why hasn’t ambassador Perezi K. Kamunanwire responded to phone calls, e-mail message and a fax from The Black Star News? Why hasn’t he responded to a call placed by an elected New York City official? Is he an Ambassador for all Ugandans or only for some Ugandans? Ambassador Kamunanwire can’t you hear young Opiyo’s cry? Opiyo’s life must be worth something.

Publisher’s Note: Readers can call ambassador Perezi K. Kamunanwire at the Ugandan embassy at (202) 726 4758. His e-mail address is: pkamunanwire@ugandaembassyus.org

Readers can call David P. Rosen, CEO of Brookdale hospital at (718) 240-5212 and tell him that his hospital would be negligent in releasing Opiyo to Quinn who has stated, including in an article in the Daily Hampshire Gazette that she can’t take care of Opiyo. Rosen’s e-mail address is atwalcot@brookdale.edu

Below is a letter from a Black Star News reader to Ambassador Perezi K. Kamunanwire,

Dear Ambassador Perezi K. Kamunanwire:

My name is Dawn Speaks and I am a Brooklyn resident.

I have recently been made aware of the Opiyo Ivance situation and as an educator of children I am vested in seeing that they all receive the best treatment, education and assistance that the world has to offer.

As adults we have the power and the duty in some respects to change the lives of children. Here is such a case when that power must be wielded. You have been charged with a duty to protect and aid those that cannot help themselves. Though I am but one voice I believe that what I have to say is significant.

You hold a young child's life in your hands and can be instrumental in making change that could better Opiyo's life. I ask you to consider and recognize that this child's life is worth something. If you as the Ambassador to Uganda would intervene, then maybe a suitable guardian, with connection to the Ugandan Acholi community in the New York region, can arrange for Opiyo Ivance's care. In the end it is really only about this child's life and what all of us can do to make it better. 

Dawn M. Speaks
Concerned Citizen

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