December 27, 2014
It was only last April when Friends Ugandan Safe Transport Fund [as Friends New Underground Railroad] was founded. It began when a couple of us heard from friends in Uganda – both gay and straight – that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) folks there were encountering grave threats to their lives and safety and the situation was getting worse because of the impact of the soon-to-be enacted anti-homosexuality law. People were being kicked out of their homes, fired from their employment, removed from colleges and universities, denied medical care at clinics and hospitals, pursued by mobs, beaten, and sometimes killed. While they understood the risk to their own lives and those of their families, our friends there were prepared, in the manner of the Underground Railroad which operated in the United States prior to the Civil War, to conduct people to safety in more welcoming countries.
After much reflection, several of us took this concern to Olympia Friends Meeting (Quakers) who adopted the effort to support the work of these brave Ugandans as their own project. While supported by seasoned activists with a broad range of experience, both in the U.S. and in Africa, quite frankly we had no idea at the time the full extent of the effort needed for what we had undertaken. We have had to learn as we go, and we continue building the road as we travel.
We have met so many courageous people since April and have made so many friends among people who joined us in making it possible for Ugandans who saw no other possibilities to leave and start new lives. As of today, we – with your support – have funded the passage of 715 people (including eight children and six straight allies, and 33 people who identify as transgender) to flee from Uganda to pursue better lives. Many of them are now in their final countries of destination – Canada, Sweden, Rwanda, South Africa, Norway, Denmark, South Africa, UAE, France, the Netherlands, Germany, and Ireland. And we are receiving their stories — and their thanks to you! You can find those stories on our website at http://friendsugandansafetransport.org/category/the-stories/
The Railroad has not been without its losses. We are still mourning the loss of our conductor Tony. Tony was pressed into service when his predecessor S. was beaten so badly he suffered intracranial hemorrhaging, a broken skull, and multiple rib contusions requiring a very difficult medical evacuation. We understand that S. is now in detention in Canada, awaiting a hearing on his request for permanent refugee/asylum status. Tony was a 35-year-old pharmacist with no experience in the matter of leading passengers to safety. But with his daring, great resolve, and a huge heart for people, in three months, working himself sick, he engineered the escape of almost 280 passengers, including five children. Returning from his last mission (which involved three of the children), Tony suffered a blood clot in his lung, which was traveling to his heart. He was operated on successfully, but when he returned to the ward, it was found that he had been doing all of with work with the Friends Ugandan Safe Transport Fund while suffering from malaria, typhoid, active tuberculosis, worms, bacterial dysentery, and severe malnutrition. Tony’s spirit, we would like to believe, continues to animate everything we do.
Over the course of eight months, we have had two conductors die, and two others beaten severely, who are still recovering from their injuries. Amazing to us, none of our passengers have been lost in the course of their being led to safety.
Our work is, sadly, far from over. The Ugandan Parliament is very close to voting on a new Anti-Homosexuality Bill, one even worse than the last. Among other provisions, those who house, feed, transport, or assist gay people in any way can be subject to up to 10 years in prison.
Friends Ugandan Safe Transport Fund is operated by Africans for Africans. Our role is to tell their stories and to raise funds to support them in the brave and remarkable tasks they have taken on for LGBT Ugandans.
Each escape costs us between $55 and $185, depending on route, mode of transportation, and interim destination. There have been some other expenses such as medical care and temporary lodging while passengers wait to cross into other countries.
So not to sugarcoat it: we need your continuing support. Yes, we need cash – and every little bit helps! Not one penny and not one Ugandan shilling has gone to our personal expenses or those of our conductors – we are all volunteers.
We know many of you have already donated. We hope you will again and we hope you will let your family, your friends and your colleagues know how much we need their support as well.
We need the opportunity to tell our story in your community – in LGBT groups, churches, meetings, synagogues, civic organizations – either in person, or via Skype. We need contact with your local media, your local newspaper or NPR or community radio affiliate. We need you to tell your family, friends, and neighbors about us. And we need your prayers and good thoughts.
So now you know what needs to be done. We and these brave conductors will keep plowing ahead in the New Year – the rest is up to you.
Please make a donation with the form below, or if you prefer to contribute (one time or monthly) on-line via PayPal or with a credit card, visit http://friendsugandansafetransport.org/donate/
Manager, Friends New Underground Railroad
Olympia Friends Meeting
3201 Boston Harbor Road NE; Olympia, WA 98506-2800 U.S.A.
Phone: 360 888-5291
Return this form with your donation to FNUR – Olympia Friends Meeting, 3201 Boston Harbor Road NE; Olympia, WA 98506:
_____ Enclosed is my contribution for $_____ via check.
Please make the check out to Olympia Friends Meeting and put “Railroad” in the memo line. All checks dated in 2014 will be tax-deductible in the 2014 tax year
Phone # __________________________
_____ Contact me about a presentation in my community.
_____ I will keep you in my thoughts or prayers.
Contributions Olympia Monthly Meeting (Olympia Friends Meeting) are tax-deductible. Olympia Monthly Meeting is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization. Cash and non-cash contributions are tax deductible to the full extent of applicable law. Our’s Employer Identification Number (EIN) is 94-3145171.