March 22, 2012

Station couple travels to Africa to help refugees, gains new insight

Cpl. Aaron Diamat
Photos by Mike and Bekah DiFelice
The young couple spent countless hours providing humanitarian efforts for the people of Africa. "Being in Africa together helped us dialogue about his deployment in a way we hadn't been able to before," said Bekah. "It gave me, as a spouse, a better understanding of his challenges and frustrations over the deployment, one that I wouldn't have had otherwise."

Some couples go to great lengths to better understand one another. One station couple went all the way to Africa.

Mike and Bekah DiFelice volunteered with Light Gives Heat for three weeks, February 11- March 4.

The Light Gives Heat organization was founded by Dave and Morgan Hansow, sister and brother-in-law of 1st Lt. Graham Daub, who is a Yuma Marine currently deployed with Marine Air Control Squadron 1.

“While in Jinja, Uganda, we helped with several projects that supported SUUBI, which is the Ugandan word for hope,” said Bekah, station readiness and deployment support trainer. “SUUBI is a group of 90 women who are mostly war refugees and survivors of the Lord’s Resistance Army.”

The LRA is a militant group that was formed in 1987 in Northern Uganda, led by Joseph Kony, who proclaims himself the spokesperson of God and a spirit medium. The LRA is accused of widespread human rights violations, including murder, abduction, mutilation, and forcing children to participate in hostilities. There have also been reports of cannibalism and child-sex slavery within the group. It is one of foreign organizations designated as terrorist by the United States, and LRA leadership is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

SUUBI makes jewelry and apparel which is sold back in the states by Light Gives Heat to create a sustainable income for the displaced refugees.

“When we arrived, Light Gives Heat was also implementing some new solar cooking and urban agriculture projects,” said Bekah. “We supported these projects and also began a census of the SUUBI women by doing individual interviews through a translator. The census information will help Light Gives Heat be eligible for grant money and also direct their outreach programming.”

The couple also helped in a rebuilding project of a village that burned down during their last week in Uganda.

The trip had many similarities to 1st Lt. Mike DeFelice’s deployment with a transition team in Afghanistan.

“Because of his work as a mentor to the Afghan border police, he had an advantage knowing how to relate and work with Ugandans,” said Bekah. “He used many of the same skills he used on deployment to mentor a young Ugandan business manager on how to use Excel to organize employee pay sheets.”

The trip helped the couple connect on a new level, one many military families don’t get to experience.

“Being in Africa together helped us dialogue about his deployment in a way we hadn’t been able to before,” said Bekah. “It gave me, as a spouse, a better understanding of his challenges and frustrations over the deployment, one that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. It also broadened and complicated our view of the world.”

Leaving the comforts of home to travel to the developing world may seem extreme to some, and indeed it is. The foods are unfamiliar, the water isn’t always clean and sanitation can be nonexistent, but the difference in the lives of everyone involved becomes clear.

“The trip was challenging, but so meaningful because it stretched us out of our comfort zone” said Bekah.

The couple returned to their home with no regrets.

“People tell us they’ve always wanted to do something like this,” said Bekah. “I tell them they can, just save up your vacation time and go.”

The Light Gives Hope organization recently released a documentary called MOVING ON, available for free full viewing at www.lightgivesheat.org, as well as more information on the organization.

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