Opiyo: Thank You Readers

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This newspaper wants to thank readers for coming to the aid of Opiyo Ivance, the eight year old Ugandan boy brought to this country by Jeanette Quinn, a 45-year old Smith College student.

Prompted by phone calls and e-mail messages from around the world, the Ugandan Embassy in Washington, D.C., Friday sent an official to meet with Quinn, to determine her capability, including finances, to care for the severely traumatized boy.

Opiyo is one of thousands of child victims of Uganda’s civil war, in the northern part of that East African country. He sustained severe burns which have damaged his arms—he requires surgery to avoid permanent and painful disability.

Quinn felt compassion in bringing the boy. Yet, she didn’t have the experience or finances to undertake such a mission alone. It didn’t help that she didn’t speak Opiyo’s Acholi language.

In March, Quinn decided to return Opiyo to Africa. A Boston hospital had already agreed to provide the needed surgery, once Opiyo’s trauma stabilized. An incident occurred at JFK Airport and the boy ended up surrounded by National Guard troops and New York Police and taken in a straight jacket. The incident was widely reported—yet Uganda Embassy officials simply folded their arms.

For several weeks, the boy was at Brookdale hospital where doctors and social workers were impressed with his intelligence and math skills. He taught other children there to sing in Kiswahili. Doctors realized the boy wasn’t mentally ill at all; merely traumatized from the war experience and homelessness in Uganda. He was also confused by his unfamiliar foreign environment.

Ugandans in the New York and New Jersey learned about Opiyo’s case and visited: They brought home cooking of familiar Ugandan dishes and spoke with the boy in Acholi. One Ugandan in particular, Becky Odyek, deserves commendation. She became a mother to Opiyo: She visited the boy almost daily and took him his favorite chicken dish. Opiyo’s condition improved remarkably. Quinn herself became convinced that the boy would benefit from engagement with the Ugandan Diaspora community.

Opiyo was released from Brookdale last Friday and returned to Northampton, accompanied by Becky. Quinn has guardianship over the boy –  there are now discussions with the Ugandan Diaspora community for an arrangement whereby Ugandans will be involved in Opiyo’s care. The ultimate goal is for the boy to get the surgery he needs. Ugandans from all over have responded to Opiyo’s plight—they are willing to provide the resources to help care for the boy. They will do so once an arrangement for his proper care is concluded. It’s preferable that the arrangement be negotiated. Opiyo shouldn’t be involved in further acrimony. Yet, if negotiations fail, the courts remain an option and an official has said the Embassy can declare that Quinn is unable to take care of the boy.

It is a terrible shame that it took an editorial –after our phone calls, fax and e-mail message were ignored – to embarrass Ugandan officials to do their job. At the very least, officials should have become involved once the Kennedy Airport incident was reported. Yet, it’s not surprising; it’s symptomatic of the Uganda government’s neglect of the many Opiyo’s suffering in squalid camps in Acholi as the government and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) continue their snail-pace negotiations to end their 20-years civil war.

Let this also be a lesson to officials in all African countries: While Western adoptions may seem like an escape for many African children from poverty or war violence, not everyone from the West has the resources of Madonna or Angelina Jolie. Better yet; get your act together and your children wouldn’t have to go anywhere in the first place.

To subscribe to or advertise in New York’s leading Pan African weekly investigative newspaper, please call (212) 481-7745 or send a note to Milton@blackstarnews.com

“Speaking Truth To Empower.�

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