The Beacon — The Beacon_08/18/16
Change Language:
‘An Arduous And Beautiful Process’
Michael Wojcik

St. Paul Inside the Walls young adult helps disabled children in Uganda with her new non-profit, Imprint Hope

MADISON From birth, Peter, a 7-year-old orphan from impoverished urban Uganda, has suffered with Cerebral Palsy, which left him bedridden — unable to stand or walk independently. Yet while the disorder robbed him of some physical abilities needed to move around, it did not steal his iron will and his hope — that one day, he would walk to school.

By Peter’s side was Clare Byrne, an occupational therapist and missionary from the Pater son Diocese, who worked with him on therapy — what she called “an arduous and beautiful process” — to coordinate and strengthen his motor skills, so he finally could take his first steps independently. “Peter fell more than 50 times, during therapy, but he always got back up. He showed such perseverance,” said 28-year-old Byrne, a member of the St. Paul’s Young Adults at St. Paul Inside the Walls: the Diocesan Evangelization Center at Bayley- Ellard.”

During a yearlong mission trip to Uganda in 2013, she treated about 500 orphans with disabilities, like Peter, who lived in an orphanage, run by the Missionaries of the Poor, which is located outside Uganda’s capital city of Kampala. “These children were among the most severely disabled group of children I have ever seen. Yes, what amazed me was that despite their disabilities and challenging living conditions, their joyful and merciful spirit still remained. These children have felt the greatest form of betrayal on this earth. And yet, they opened up their hearts to me and allowed me to love and care for them. This perspective was an incredible testimony that our deepest, darkest fears on this earth can be transfigured by merciful love — if we allow hope to reside within our broken hearts.”

On Aug. 17, Byrne flew back to Uganda for an indefinite period of time to offer rehabilitation services and medical care to a remote village in Northern Uganda. She also returns to the East African country, empowered by a new non-profit organization that she recently founded, Imprint Hope. It will try to provide desperately needed rehabilitation services, wheelchairs, adaptive equipment, and most importantly education and know-how to care for a fraction of Uganda’s 2.7 million children with disability. Sadly, 94 percent of them will not complete a basic education. Only 1 percent of teachers is trained to work with disabled students with disabilities and is hampered by limited resources, Byrne said.

“Imprint Hope is designed to raise awareness, break down barriers, and overcome the stigma that children with disabilities in Uganda face on a daily basis. It envisions a world where every child with disabilities is appreciated for his or her unique talents and provided an opportunity to actualize their full potential,” said Byrne, who earned a master’s degree in occupational therapy from Seton Hall University, South Orange, in 2012.

Ugandan society suffers from a lack of education and awareness as to what a disability is and how they can help these children, who are often labeled “kasiru,” or “stupid person.” Adults often avoid their children, because of an unfounded belief that their disabilities are contagious or that they are the result of sinfulness. Government efforts to help these children are not enforced, leaving them to struggle without aid, Byrne said.

In 2013, Byrne got her first glimpse of Uganda’s forgotten children during her visit to the orphanage outside the nation’s capital — a mission trip organized by the Catholic Medical Mission Board. There, she cared for children, suffering from neurological, physical, cognitive and visual disabilities, such as Cerebral Palsy, Hydrocephalus, joint dislocation, Epilepsy, swallowing disorders and Cerebral Malaria. These disabilities left many of the children in dire need of medical attention and rehabilitation services, which are simply not available to them, Byrne said.

The Missionaries of the Poor brothers cared for these children the best they could but lacked the education, understanding, medical support, and therapy equipment needed to effectively care for their medical needs. So, Byrne secured some equipment — including wheelchairs, bracing, and a sound system — from her incredibly generous contacts in the U.S. She helped streng - then the children’s weak muscular system so they could more efficiently hold up their heads, sit up, stand and walk. During a few afternoons a week, Byrne also conducted educational classes for the brothers, parents and other caregivers to help shed some insight on the cause of a disability and how to care for their basic needs of how to feed them with an upright neck instead of lying down; how to hold them; and how to appropriately position them in a wheelchair or on a mattress.

“I sought to educate and empower parents on the ‘why’ and ‘how’, so they could greater understand their child. So if their child is having a seizure, it’s not because he or she is cursed by sin, and if they touch their child, they will not get the disorder. The caretakers want to take care of their children, but simply don’t know how. They have never even heard of key terms like Cerebral Palsy, Autism and Down Syn drome,” Byrne said. “I believe in empowerment — helping provide education so parents are able to understand and care for their child with dignity,” she said.

After her first mission trip to Uganda, Byrne returned to the U.S. to work as an occupational therapist in Newark and Hoboken. She returned to Uganda late last year — this time staying with a mission family in the remote village in the Northern region of Uganda, which lacked access to basic medical care. During the month long trip, her heart was moved by compassion to the struggles of about 500 disabled and abandoned children, who lie in mud huts all day, said Byrne. In July, she spoke at a fundraiser for Imprint Hope at St. Paul’s. Byrne also seeks contributions for her monthly living expenses and for the building of a rehabilitation clinic to better serve and provide medical care to the children over there.

On the social-networking website Face - book, Derek Gazal, also from St. Paul’s Young Adults, praised Byrne’ “mission of fighting poverty and giving kids hope.” He also encouraged people to donate to Imprint Hope.

“She [Byrne] is doing a tremendous work in Africa. Especially during these times, we need to be humanitarians by supporting our humanitarians if we our selves are not able to be on the front line of social justice and charity,” Gazal said.

Byrne’s compassion for the disabled has only grown since childhood, when her sister, Katherine, now 22, first inspired her. Her sister struggles with various neurological and physical disabilities, which greatly affects her ability to express herself with words and move her body in a purposeful manner.

“I look beyond disability. I look to Katherine’s heart and how she loves and cares for others. She will get someone a tissue if they sneeze and a cup of water if you cough without even asking. It’s her intuition. It’s her way of loving the way she knows how to love, which is expecting nothing in return,” Byrne said.

Last week in an interview with The Beacon, Byrne called this most recent mission trip to Uganda “an open-ended commitment.”

“I never knew what blind faith was before this experience. I’m open to the Holy Spirit and where God leads me. I’m willing to be an instrument of love,” Byrne said.

[To donate to Imprint Hope, visit the organization’s Web site at]