It is such a beautiful and gratifying thing to find one’s purpose and serve God, giving Him glory. Joanna Kasemire, a former marketer felt the need to serve God by helping juveniles at a remand home. She shares her journey with Pauline Akello.
In the early 2010s, Kasemire had persistent thoughts to serve her community.
“I was doing well in my work, and had just got a rise in the budding career of marketing, but I got an urge to do community service,” she says.
Not sure where to start, she quit her formal job and transitioned into a teacher at her mother’s school.
Even though she was not professionally trained, a natural aptitude for teaching and nurturing is what she discovered in herself.
“Teaching and spending time with the children was not something I had ever considered, but once I began, I have seen God mold me into a nurturer,” Kasemire adds.
Given the persistent thoughts about doing more, Kasemire reached out to her friend with whom they prayed about the change in the direction of her life.
The only place closest to her was China-Uganda Friendship Hospital in Naguru. In 2016, Kasemire and her friends went to the hospital and shared with the supervisor about the burden she had to help the youth in this area.
Their idea was appreciated, but they were recommended to try the Naguru Remand Home. Kasemire prefers to call it Naguru Correction Center.
This is a centre where children involved in crimes are held.
She went through the legal stages of making inquiries to volunteer her services at the correction center and met success.
Around the same time, her Church Worship Harvest was pushing the cell-based worship called Missional Communities (MC), where they shared the word, disciple one another, and reached out to their communities. They named their community ‘Upendo’.
“By the time our Church had settled through a series of similar programs, my MC was already having visits to the correction home,” she says.
Kasemire invited her MC fellow members to share their skills and each volunteered based on their gifts at the correction centre.
Their vision is to have vocational learning in all places for access for the children.
As the years have gone by, some reformed children have returned to help those in the correction center as tutors.
One of them is Suula Sseguja, a horticulturist who runs a horticulture class. He says that Upendo changed his life forever and that he is doing the same for any of the children at the remand home.
Kasemire says, now the correction center can make its uniforms in-house because the children have studied tailoring lessons.
“I am forever changed by what I have seen. You see with the children we meet, it has been helping skill them, but with time, the way we do what do has caused many to ask and that has been how we have shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Kasemire explains.
During one of their visits, Kasemire remembers one child asking:
“Why do guys come all the time? Do you look like you have jobs and could be anywhere else?”
Such questions provoke her to share the Gospel.
In the long run, she hopes to have the former inhabitants return to train others in the different homes.
Upendo is now fully registered and publishing the book ‘The Treasure in an Oyster’ meant to share the realities of the plight of less privileged children and help them realize their true potential.
She advices: “Do not write people off, even when you have found out they have committed crimes. What they do is all they know to do, teach them another way.
Kasemire hopes to maximize every opportunity. After leaving or during their stay in the correction centers the children will be in a learning center.
With partners, they can cast the net far and wide to reach more children in many more places.
Simon Ejoku, who had been held at the remand home three times says Upendo had started visiting during the time he was there.
“They shared their skills and love of Jesus. I remember sharing my story and I was embraced. Upendo became my family. They paid my tuition for the teaching and catering courses and covered scholastic materials and welfare,” he says.
He adds that he has learned how to live positively because of the power of someone reaching out irrespective of the terrible things people have done.
“My mind is completely renewed and I decided to be a changed man. Auntie Joanna was such a big encouragement to me. I listened and indeed changed,” he says.