Orphaned at five months, then a life of hopelessness - until sponsorship changed it all

Lillian Nakabiri.
Lillian Nakabiri. Photo: Grant Matthews

Lillian Nakabiri was three months old when her mother died, and just five months old when her father was kidnapped and murdered.

"I don't know what it means to have a mother, I don't know what it means to have a father," the Ugandan woman said.

"My father was a soldier. He was kidnapped and he died when I was five months old. So, I grew up at the hands of my stepmother; one of my father's wives. My father had so many women who he fathered children with.

"I lived a life of poverty, rejection, homelessness, and hopelessness. The poverty I am talking is about is we would be looking for something to eat, because we were very hungry.

"We would look through rubbish bins, for things that had been dumped, and pretend that we are taking them for our pigs, but we would eat them.

"And we were thirsty. We would walk for miles and miles to look for water. You are such a blessed country that you only stretch your hand to the tap, you turn the tap and you take a glass and the water is clean for your health.

"For us, at the age of 7, I was able to carry a 20 litre jerrycan of water on my head and this water was not clean for our health.

"People would get sick all the time. Every year we would bury someone, every year I would bury a sibling. At that time you would not tell me that God is there for us.

"Life was meaningless, life was hopeless."

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At age 9, Nakabiri's fate changed when an Australian woman sponsored her.

"Then it was evident that God had a plan for me ... I got a sponsor ... They decided to pick me out, to pour their life into my life, so I would become meaningful."

This sponsorship allowed her to complete primary and secondary education, and later gain a degree in mass communications and a masters in international relations.

"I look back at the miserable, hopeless, stupid girl I was when I was growing up, and I am now a solution to the many problems my country is facing.

"Now I am a product of hope for everyone."

Nakabiri now works for the Christian organisation Compassion, through which she was sponsored, helping children who are trapped in poverty, just as she once was.

This month she is travelling New Zealand in a tour known as the Beautiful Survivor Tour, and sharing her story in the hope of getting more people to sponsor a child through an organisation known as Tearfund.

"I sponsor a child, and I write to this boy because my sponsor used to write to me. That is what it means to sponsor a child - to relieve them from poverty and to allow them to relieve others from poverty."

On Sunday Nakabiri spoke to the New Plymouth Salvation Army about her life and about the value of sponsoring a child.

"Those of you who sponsor a child - life is meaningful because of what you do."

Stuff.co.nz