A VOICE IN TWO WORLDS (The Record News)
KITCHENER — After spending more than five years providing humanitarian aid to people in northern Uganda, Ayiko Solomon is concerned about the future his young daughter will have when she comes to Canada.
He wants to make sure she grows up in the best possible community, even if he has to work now to make that a reality.
To boost his savings, Solomon is working two part-time jobs, one of them on a farm and the other as a personal support worker. He sleeps on friends’ couches. Every dollar he makes he sends back to his wife, Ayikoru, and their daughter, Latacy, who live in the Arua district of northern Uganda.
Solomon is looking for a full-time job so he can sponsor them to follow him to Canada.
The 38-year-old Wilfrid Laurier University graduate is the founder of an organization called Peace For All International and spent the last two years in Uganda doing research for a master’s degree, which he has now completed through Royal Roads University in British Columbia. He met and married Ayikoru while he was in Uganda.
Solomon says he wants Latacy to have all the opportunities he never had growing up in Uganda. But part of that means healing himself, too.
“I didn’t know what it meant to love or to be really loved and I didn’t know how it feels to have somebody there who will always be there,” he says. “My experience of war and violence was opposite.”
As a child, Solomon says, he was abandoned over and over again. At three, he was taken from his mother and sent to live with an aunt. At five, he was taken by his father to flee the wrath of the Lord’s Resistance Army, travelling on foot from northern Uganda to southern Sudan.
He was unwillingly taken by a family to Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, and made their houseboy, he says, living on table scraps. Despite exhaustion, he says, he wanted to go to school and do well. So he worked 12 hours a day to fit in his school work, holding his books open with stones so he could wash clothes or clean the floor at the same time.
When he was finally let go, he says, he started working in a factory while he continued his education. He slept at the factory, too.
A chance meeting with a stranger reconnected him with his older brother, Mo Waiga, who was living in Canada. Waiga helped Solomon apply for the World University Service of Canada program. He arrived in 1999 as a landed immigrant. Soon after, his brother was diagnosed with a brain tumour and passed away in a Kitchener hospital.
Solomon embraced Kitchener as his home and enrolled in courses in global studies at Laurier. He also started Peace For All International, which tries to heal communities affected by war and violence and address their economic needs by starting sustainable, community-based projects.
He visited northern Uganda for months at a time over the course of several years, providing residents of displaced persons camps with an orphanage that provided food and education to children. He started a restaurant and arranged for the proceeds to provide microloans to women for business ventures. He also brought cows and goats to those in need and a grinding machine for the orphanage. The profits from the flour it produced were used to provide more opportunities for the children.
Sandra Castellanos, a Kitchener friend who helped to pay for Solomon’s flight home and now offers him a place to stay, says he has changed the way she sees world crises.
“He’ll ask, what are the social, psychological, emotional, physical needs — the whole being — rather than just, this person is hungry. How does it impact their whole life rather than just a pain in their belly?”
When Solomon decided to return to school, it was to study human security and peace-building at Royal Roads. He went back to Uganda to research pre- and post-election violence. He also continued his work through Peace For All International, helping 100 women bring incomes into their families by selling cassava seeds from local markets to companies. He also proposed a business project for rebels of the West Nile region in collaboration with the Ugandan government, designed to reintegrate them into the economy.
Solomon says he tried to unite Ugandans by connecting them through their shared pain. He worked extensively with the Acholi tribe in northern Uganda, a tribe that has a history of animosity toward his own Aringa tribe.
Helping the Acholi tribe meant risking his life, he says, but he was able to repair some relations between the two.
“Whether you’re government, whether you’re a woman, or a child, or a man, one element that we’ve all been affected by is the violence,” he says.
Unity is what he wants to see more of in the community here in Canada.
He’s a proud Canadian and he thinks the lack of patriotism in Canada, especially among immigrants, is part of the reason we have the problems we do; people aren’t taking responsibility for what’s happening in their community.
“This is our country, this is our community. We’re here to stay and we shall die here,” he says. “It’s our individual responsibility to protect and to enhance the welfare of this community.”
There are people in the community who remain isolated, he says.
Solomon gives the example of a woman who has been here for many years, but still doesn’t speak English. She relies on her children for support.
“We need to reach to her,” he says. “We need to ask her, how can she contribute?”
The community needs to work together to solve problems such as racial violence — committed both by and against racial minorities — and gender inequality.
He’s concerned about the small number of women in government. He wants to make sure his daughter will have the opportunity to be involved later in life, if that’s what she wants.
“Tomorrow, when there’s a problem in Alberta or Afghanistan, when my daughter is of a mature age, will she have a chance to contribute to these issues?” he asks.
“How can we in the west here practise what we preach?”
Despite his concerns, Solomon wants Canada to be his family’s home and he’s ready to work at the changes he wants to see.
“If it wasn’t for Canada, I wouldn’t be holding a master’s degree right now. Canada helped me live my hopes and I better be grateful with everything I have for that. Today, I’m a master’s degree holder who’s contemplating doing a PhD, not because of Sudan or Uganda, it was Canada.”