Susan Tendo grew up in poverty and, after great perseverance, heard the call to serve the needy herself.
Just one verse each day.
I was born in Uganda, in a suburb of Kampala called Makindye, on August 28, 1990, the youngest of four girls.
My mother and father separated when I was 3 years old and this marked the beginning of our suffering. My mother was a housewife and had to find a job to earn a living. She began to go door to door washing peoples’ clothes. Eventually we were chased out of the house we were living in and reached a point where we were eating leftovers my mother collected from restaurants. I grew up not knowing that people eat three meals a day.
We moved to our grandmother’s home, but she was also a poor old lady. My mother kept on looking for work and tried all kinds of casual jobs to help us survive.
The time came for me to start school, but there was no money for my tuition. People would tell my mother to drop us at our father’s village and leave us there and come back and start a new life, but she refused.
One of the things I admire most about my mother is that she had great faith and hope in God. She used to take us with her on pilgrimages and we would walk on foot for about 9 miles, going to Kiwamirembe Catholic Shrine to pray the Rosary and imitate the way of the cross.
One day, after praying at Mother Mary’s shrine, we met a lady named Sarah who said to my mother, “I always see you with your daughter … isn’t she in school?” I think this lady was an angel sent by God as she directed us to an organization that sponsored children. I received a sponsor from Switzerland by the name of Margret Springer. I still pray for this lady as she put the foundation of my education in place. May God bless her always.
During that time I was in the Legion of Mary group, which helped to form me into a responsible young woman. We did charity work in peoples’ households like washing dishes, sweeping, and visiting the sick, among other small activities. I grew up knowing that it’s good to help the needy.
The worst moment in my life, which I cannot forget, is when I was about to sit for my primary school examinations. All my friends at school were receiving congratulations cards from their parents. I asked my mother to contact my father and let him know that I was going to do my exams and my father promised to bring me a card and told me to wait for him on the road side near our home.
I remember it was a Sunday that I waited. I sat on the road side from 2:00 until 7:00 p.m., hoping he would come. My mother eventually came for me and brought me home. I still had hope that maybe he would come to see me, but it was in vain. The next morning I sat for my exams and from that day, I hated my father. He had abandoned us and we had suffered so much. But later when I grew up, after spiritual counseling, I forgave him.
After my primary school level, the charity that was supporting me closed down and I had no way to contact my sponsor so I lost hope of completing my education and began helping my mother again with the work of washing clothes. When we collected a little money, my mother learned to bake cakes and cookies and we switched to this as an income stream. We used to carry them on top of our heads. I did this for a year, gathering tuition to go back and study.
After a year, there still wasn’t enough money for school so I wrote a letter to the parish priest asking for help. He gave us some funds and I joined my O-level. I also joined the music, dance, and drama group. God had blessed me with talent in this field so I was given a scholarship to study for free — on the condition that I attend the boarding section of the school. There was much happiness but also tears, as I felt depressed living away from my mother. She was only allowed to visit me once a term.
Eventually I went to university and studied social work and community development because I loved helping vulnerable people, as well as people with disabilities. I had a dream of building a children’s orphanage after my studies, though I haven’t achieved this yet.
On campus I met Fr. Andrew Katende when he was still a deacon at a parish called St. Agnes in Makindye. We ministered together, visiting the sick and the elderly.
After that, the fire of helping the poor and vulnerable increasingly burned within me. I began an internship with a small organization that served the poor and gained more experience. After finishing, I looked for a job, but failed to get one so I resumed helping my mother make cakes and cookies.
When I was home, Fr. Andrew contacted me about working with him at the Don Bosco Children’s Foundation, whose mission is to love and care for the needy through collaboration. I began right away. I now work as the vice executive director of the Foundation and as its secretary. We needed others to help us so a woman named Lillian Nakirya and I now serve together.
To help make others aware of the extent of suffering here I began making posts on Facebook. The first was about the well where we fetch water. The water there is contaminated, but we still use it for drinking and cooking because the community lacks the funds to construct a proper well. The responses where so many, from different people. And although we still don’t have the funds to construct it, this motivated me to keep going.
I wrote another post about Elizabeth and William, two elderly people who live under extreme poverty, and someone contacted me about helping them. There are many other stories I have shared which have inspired people to send donations.
So I continue to write posts to show the world that if we join hands and collaborate we can make this world a better place to live for everyone.
The poor always pray for the people who have helped them. Whatever contribution someone makes makes a big impact in people’s lives, helping them to know that someone loves them, that they have worth.
My work has drawn me closer to God. I believe nothing is impossible for Him and that He touches the hearts of those who help the poor. This work has also showed me that being poor is not the end of it all, but that having hope in God can lead you to reach your destiny regardless of poverty. We always find the poor smiling and still believing that God will come to their rescue.
I am now addicted to helping the poor. I can’t get something and not share it with them. And when I have nothing to share, I can give them counseling and lift them up in my prayers.
I thank the Almighty God who enables me to serve in this way, and I am always praying for those who sacrifice the little they have to help others. To all those who have stood by me in my own times of need, I love you. May God bless you abundantly.
To find out more about Susan Tendo’s work at the Don Bosco Children’s Foundation visit them on Facebook. Donations to their work can be made here.
How we should “think differently” about poverty