Parents forced to flee Uganda for their lives in 2017 appeal for help to be reunited with their children
It’s been more than five years since Morris Mukasa and Teddy Nakalembe hugged their children, sang with them, dried their tears or tucked them into bed at night.
Back then, their family and their work together in prison ministry and post-prison support in their native Uganda kept them busy.
Morris also led a large prison chaplaincy program for the Catholic Archdiocese of Kampala, the capital city.
But early in 2017 amid a spate of mysterious execution-style killings in the city, including of a close work colleague, Morris faced the threat of danger himself.
The couple escaped Uganda, crossing the border to Kenya, and from there flew to Australia where they claimed asylum.
They arrived in Sydney in April 2017, leaving their five children aged under 10 in the care of their Catholic community.
It’s so exciting…Teddy and Morris do so much good and made so many friends, there are a thousand ‘aunties’ and ‘uncles’ waiting to welcome their children.”
Here, where they were tempted to allow grief and trauma to swallow them up, the deeply faith-filled couple joined Our Lady of Fatima parish in Kingsgrove, secured jobs and have spent every spare moment helping other refugees to settle in Australia.
They were overjoyed to received permanent residency visas in July.
With their future now secure, it clears the way for them to apply to have their children come to rebuild their life together in Sydney.
“The way God has revealed himself in our lives is wonderful and this is just one instance, that in the same month that we received the news that we would finally be safe to stay here we were given full-time status at our work,” says Morris.
Although the couple are working hard, they still are far short from the means to provide the costs of lawyer’s fees, visas, airfares and other costs to reunite with their children and welcome them here.
They have launched an online appeal to help raise a target of $60,000 to bring the children to their new home.
Morris reported growing tension between the government and the Church in its advocacy for people in prisons and for rehabilitation programs when he was in charge of the diocese’s large prison ministry program, and chair of the International Prison Chaplains Association.
He told Others magazine that he also believed that someone in authority was unwilling to see Ugandans raise their living standards. He said politicians who also spoke against the mysterious killings were beaten.
The day they left Kampala Morris had called a news conference following the death of his close colleague. As soon as it ended, Morris was warned by a journalist that after the criticism he made, gunmen would be coming for him that night.
He went straight to a hotel and called his wife. He knew they both had travel visas for Australia, and asked her to bring them, their passports, and other documents.
There in the hotel lobby, unable to return to his office or their home, they assessed their situation. If he left alone, Teddy and the children would not be safe. They chose to flee together and leave the children behind with people they trusted.
Teddy was still breastfeeding the baby and cried every day for the first year of separation.
Morris says it was the hardest decision of his life and has prayed daily for God to protect his children and reunite his family.
“There are very mixed feelings at the moment, excitement but also challenges, but when they are here with us that will be the fulfilment of all my happiness,” says Teddy.
Every day they are in contact with their kids, who love learning about Australian culture and sent their parents a video of them singing the national anthem. “When I see my kids in the flesh for the first time it will be the happiest day of my life, certainly the happiest thing that will have happened to me since 2017,” said Teddy.
“Many good things have happened here in Australia and we are so very grateful but I feel that I have lost something of myself in this process.
“I am looking forward to getting back to myself as a mother and a person and giving them that feeling of having their mother with them to protect and guide them.”
Kylie Cullen of the Archdiocese of Sydney’s Catholic Immigration Office has been supporting Morris and Teddy in their efforts to reunite with their children. “It’s so exciting for them to have finally received permanent residency visas,” she said.
“It will be hard for the children to leave their home and they will need support. But the wonderful thing is that because Teddy and Morris do so much good here and made so many friends there are a thousand ‘aunties’ and ‘uncles’ waiting to welcome them.”
The couple say they deeply appreciate the solicitude of the Archdiocese of Sydney, including the parish which is their second ‘home’, Bishop Terry Brady, Fr Roland Maurer EV and Ms Cullen.
They spend every minute of their free time helping other refugees and asylum seekers, drawing on their own experience of helping families in crisis in Uganda.
Morris has developed mobile workshops in an African therapeutic model as part of his Kwetu Project which incorporates music, dance and drama in overcoming the effects of trauma.
“‘Kwetu’ means a sense of belonging, people belonging to the same culture and sharing any practices they have in common, for Catholics for example, it means living and behaving as Catholics,” he told The Catholic Weekly, adding that prayer is a powerful tool for healing.
Having supportive employers, first events company Moreton Hire and now Officeworks, has also been important.
Helping new migrants and refugees comes naturally to them. The dynamic duo do this in various ways, through partnerships and grassroots networks.
Recently Morris arranged the distribution of 100 donated mattresses to people in need that were donated by a major hotel chain.
“We’re called to love others and do works of charity,” said Teddy.
“Even if someone calls us and they just really need someone to talk to about what they are going through, although we are going through a lot ourselves, but after work we schedule time to be available for that.
“It is part of the grieving process, helping people is helping both of us,” Morris adds.
“If we sit here at home both of us will only feel more desperate when we think about our children, when I think about the positions of responsibility I used to hold, and sometimes you miss your home in Uganda.
“But the community work helps us. We are happy to be closely affiliating ourselves with the community here and doing what we can to help.”
Morris says his faith has never disappointed him, and is confident in placing his family in God’s hands. “Whatever I have asked God to bless me with, he has given me,” he said.
“We are grateful that we are able to add value to the Australian community with the skills we had gained before coming here, and we are very proud of our children who we know will give back to the church and school community as well.”
CAN YOU HELP?
The appeal: www.mycause.com.au/p/290330/reunion-with-children