Patricia Anyango was just nine years old the first time she was abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army. Life with the rebels was so horrific that Patricia prayed she would die. She escaped after about six months, only to be abducted again. By the time she was rescued at the age of 10, both of her parents were dead. Patricia was free but had joined the ranks of Uganda’s 2.5 million orphans.
9,000 miles away at Snake River Correctional Institution on the Oregon/Idaho border, an inmate like Pete Sostilio counts the days until he is released from prison. He has served 16 years of an 18 year sentence for kidnapping. Patricia and Pete, on opposite sides of the world, unlikely partners. Theirs is a story of hope lost… and found.
Patricia’s and Pete’s paths merged thanks to Bob and Carol Higgins, retired school teachers from Bend, Oregon. The Higginses had absolutely no interest in visiting a prison and even less in visiting Africa. Then in 1999, they were invited by friends to attend a conference in Uganda. They less-than-enthusiastically said “yes”, not realizing the children they would meet there would turn their world upside-down and enrich their lives in ways they never anticipated.
Bob (whose mantra had been “We don’t do orphans”) and Carol have lived in Uganda for more than a decade now and if you ask them how many children they have, they will say 260. They have built Otino Waa Children’s Village, a place that is truly more village than orphanage. But it has come at great personal sacrifice: the Higginses live half a world away from their own children and nine grandchildren.
The Snake River inmates heard about the orphans and the Higginses’ work and wanted to help. But how could they? Turns out some of the men were quite accomplished self-taught artists and so they asked prison officials if they could create works of art to be donated and then sold to the public with all proceeds going to the orphans. The officials said “yes”. Their payback, say the inmates, is a sense of purpose they have not felt in years.