Kugatta- The Complete Story

I will never forget the day that I found out our adoption agency might have been fraudulent. It is one of those life changing moments that get seared into your memory. My life, what I knew of it anyway, as well as the lives of my adopted kids, were forever altered that day. It was the moment that put all proceeding moments into motion. The driving force of what happened next. 

I received a single text message from a friend that I had met through our agency and adoption process. If you have adopted before, you know that you can develop quick and deep relationships with families going through the same process as you. Jessica Davis was one of those people for me. I cannot remember exactly how our relationship developed, but she was one of those people that I just had an instant connection with. I trusted and valued her from the moment I met her. Her text message on this day read, “Do you have time to talk? It is important.” I called her right away. 

The house that we were living in at the time had a huge walk-in closet in the upstairs hallway. I had kept all my adoption paperwork in a file in this closet. I went in, closed the door, and called Jessica. We went through the paperwork together. We had only had the kids in the United States for a couple of months at this point. “Oh, you had that judge? That judge was taking bribes for adoption cases.” “That was your probation officer? That guy was not even a legit probation officer, he worked for the agency as a fraud.” All the red flags started to wave at my face. Feelings of guilt and being sucker punched flooded my body. Was this really happening? How could anyone do this? I began to cry. 

“I know a woman” Jessica began, “I met her while we were in country. She took care of our daughter for us when we had to come back to the United States without her. She is Ugandan. Her name is Gladys. She is a private Investigator, and she can help you. Please reach out to her. I trust her.” I trusted Jessica, like I said, but with all the corruption surrounding me I was still hesitant. I hung up the phone, still sitting on the quiet of the closet floor. Gentle sobs leaving my body. I felt sick, and unsure, and not willing to believe everything I had just heard. 


 After that conversation with Jessica,  my husband and I decided together that we would have to reach out to this Gladys lady, it was the only way to find out what was true. I emailed Gladys, and she responded right away. I gave her all the information I had in regards to Grace and Abraham. Names, last location of birth relatives, villages where the children were born. I asked Gladys how much this investigation would cost, and I cannot remember the exact number, but it was wildly cheap. I remember thinking that she must be legit and honest, otherwise she had no idea what she was doing. 

In a matter of days, Gladys located the birth family, which for my kids was their biological grandmother on their mother’s side, and their paternal grandfather. Gladys interviewed both, asking thorough questions about the adoption of the kids. She interviewed them in Luganda, and translated everything. She wrote a full and detailed report of the interviews and sent everything to us, including the taped interviews. This woman knew what she was doing, and she did it incredibly well. I read through the report carefully, afraid to miss a single detail. I came to these final questions asked of the maternal grandmother, Jaja, “Do you know what adoption is?” Her answer, “I didn’t, but I do now.” “Did you know that your grandchildren were being adopted?” “No, I was told that they were living in Kampala, going to school. I was told they would come back to see me.” “Did you know that your grandchildren live in the United States?” At this point, Jaja looked distressed. Not quite crying, but holding it back. “No.” was her single whisper. “If you could tell their adopted parents anything, what would you say?” “Can I please see them? Can I know they are ok?”

I could not imagine what this must have felt like to Jaja. As much as I felt my world was turning upside down, how much more was this woman’s life just rocked? Her grandchildren were taken from her, ripped from her arms. She was lied to. All she wanted was to see them, and to know they were well. My heart tore open for her. My heart tore open for my kids. What have they gone through to be in our family today? I could not bear the thought. The only thing I could do is let Jaja see her babies, to grant her this wish. We scheduled a facetime call in the coming days. Gladys made this possible, setting up a place and time to facetime with Jaja. As soon as Jaja saw her grandchildren, I knew this woman loved them with her whole heart. She doted on them, just as a grandmother would. Commenting on their growth, asking them if they had enough to eat. Then she did something I was not expecting, she thanked my husband and I. She addressed us as “daddy” and “mama.” She told the children to listen to us and behave for us. She was everything I know a grandmother to be. 

We were so thankful to be able to have a connection with her, to be able to speak with her, even as we grappled with the grief of what had happened to her and our children. It wouldn’t be until years later that we knew the full details of the day her beautiful grandchildren were taken from her arms, the agony she felt, the hopelessness as time went on and she still heard nothing from or about the babies she had cared for after their mother, her daughter, died.  Sitting in Uganda, six years after their adoption, Jaja told us: “When the agency came to take the children, they had told me they were with child services and I believed them. I did not have any reason at the time not to. They told me I was not fit to care for children as an old lady, and they were going to bring the children to an orphanage. There was a commotion. Neighbors came out of their homes to protest yelling, “You cannot take these children from this woman! She loves them, she cares for them, and this one (pointing to Abraham) never leaves her side!” The children were crying and screaming, and Abraham clung to me. They pulled him from my arms as he fought to stay. I did not know what would become of them. How would this baby survive without my love? I thought surely now he was going to die.”


I sat in a Ugandan Classroom 6 years after the adoption of my two children, Grace and Abraham. A head teacher of the boarding school had just taken Grace back for placement testing, and had given us a classroom to use while we waited. Abraham sat at a desk and removed a coloring book from his bag. He started to diligently work, as his Jaja sat a few seats away. I stood in the back, anxiously looking at the schoolwork on the walls. Gladys, now my cherished friend, and head of an organization in Uganda named ‘Kugatta,’ sat close by doing work from her phone. It was a beautiful Ugandan day. The sun was warm in the sky, and a light breeze blew through the classroom windows. The smell of dry dust and diesel fuel burned at my nostrils, and the sound of excited children starting back to school filled the air. Otherwise, in our little corner of the school, it was very still and quiet. Jaja dozed in and out of sleep, and Abraham was content working on his picture. It was a drawing of a super hero, which maybe had something to do with his next question. He starkly looked up at Gladys and blurted out, “Can you ask my Jaja why I am so small?” His Jaja, of course, spoke little to no English and everything needed to be translated by Gladys. Gladys let out a small chuckle, and began speaking Luganda to Jaja, who was now awake and alert. Jaja answered quickly in Luganda, “Only God knows.” She became still and quiet, her mind going to another place entirely. She turned to Abraham and begian a story which Gladys hurriedly translates. “When you were born, you were small. After your mother died, everyone pitied me. They told me that you would also die, and they warned me not to become attached to you. They told me that a child that small could not live without his mother. I would not believe them. I was determined to keep you living. I kept you warm, wrapping you in blankets and keeping you close to my skin. When you were old enough to speak you cried out to me, “Mama, Mama!” so that I would hold you. I was the only mother you knew. We were living in the slum at the time, and to feed myself and the other children living with me, I would fill jerry cans with water at the well and deliver them to families to earn enough money. When I would get ready to leave it would be very early in the morning. Abraham would wake from his sleep and stand at the door crying, “Mama! Mama!” I was very fond of him and I could not leave him there crying so I would strap him to my back and walk down to the well, carrying cans for water with a child on my back… When Gladys came to me and told me that an American family had adopted Grace and Abraham, and they were living in America, I could not believe it. I was so relieved that they were alive. The first time we Facetimed and I saw how well they were doing, I thanked God for answering my prayers. The day you arrived in Uganda and everyone saw Abraham walking down the lane, playing soccer with his cousins, none of us could believe our eyes. This child whom everyone thought would die, was here and he was alive and well. It was as if he resurrected from the dead.” I looked at Gladys. She had stopped translating and was now crying, as was I. Abraham also was sobbing. Since we arrived in Uganda, he seemed indifferent toward his Jaja, but the moment she was done sharing he jumped from his seat, ran around the table, and leapt into his Jaja’s arms. She held him like that for some time as they both cried. She looked at me and said something in Luganda and Gladys translated, “Thank you. You have kept him alive. You have brought him back here. I never thought any of this was possible.” I had no words for this strong and beautiful woman. She had sacrificed so much and now was thanking me. I did not deserve the thanks. Not long after this, Grace returned from her testing. She had passed, and everyone was very proud. Jaja yelped and sang, and there were hugs all around. Grace would be starting school in Uganda in just a few days.


Our daughter, Grace, struggled from the moment she was in our care. She was five years old at the time we adopted her and brought her to the United States. She turned six just a month later. She had walls up to protect herself, and rightfully so. She had been kidnapped, and had endured so much trauma in her short life. She could not trust others, and we later found out that the only person in this world she had felt safe with was her Jaja. 

Around the age of ten, Grace began to exhibit more extensive cries for help. She was stealing, lying, running away, manipulating others, and rejecting our care more and more everyday. We were at a loss as to what to do, and how to best care for her. One day while she was in a therapy session, she had told her therapist she just wanted to go home. “Where is home?” her therapist asked. “Uganda. With my Jaja.” Grace replied. “I think you should tell your parents that you feel that way.” her therapist suggested. It took a lot of bravery on her part, but she did eventually tell us that she felt that way, and that she felt like if she had misbehaved enough, we would send her back. That statement both opened our eyes, and broke our hearts. 

Once again, we reached out to Gladys. We told her how Grace was feeling, and she promised to reach out to her Jaja. At first, Jaja was reluctant. She felt like Grace should adjust to life in America, and that she would likely have better opportunities here. Gladys explained that Grace was not adjusting well to life in America and that she just wanted to be with her Jaja in Uganda, and Jaja replied, “Then bring my baby home.” 

It would take many months to properly plan for and carry out the reunification of Grace with her Jaja. We spoke with therapists, friends, and mentors. During this time, we spoke with other families that had done similar things after discovering corrupt and unlawful adoption practices that had unnecessarily separated their adopted child from their Ugandan family. Gladys immediately got to work involving the proper authorities in Uganda as well as a licensed social worker to ensure we were prepared for safe and lawful reunification. She also helped us find an amazing school for Grace to attend, and we hired a lawyer to help us navigate the ins and outs of this delicate process. At the heart of it all, we wanted (and still want) what is best for Grace. It was surreal to think about life without her, but we also had an overwhelming peace that we were doing the right thing. 

Grace and Abraham’s Jaja lives in the countryside, and we had a long journey to get to her. When we arrived, the clay road leading to her home was flooded with recent rain and turned to thick red mud. Grace was on the edge of her seat as we drove down the small path. You could almost feel her heart beating with anticipation. We had to stop before reaching the home because the road was blocked. Grace leapt from the van as soon as it was in park. We saw the biological family walking toward us, and Grace walked faster toward them until she was in a full speed run. Her Jaja, barefoot, also started running. They met on the road, Grace lunged into the arms of her Jaja, and Jaja swung her around in full embrace. She then embraced Abraham, kissing his cheeks. The rest of the biological family started down the path, each of them embracing the children and then myself. We walked back together toward the family’s home, to our surprise there was a full party awaiting to celebrate the reunion. A feast had been prepared, and gifts were presented to me. Aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors, and friends were all there to celebrate the homecoming of Grace. After some time, we walked down another path to meet with the kid’s great-grandmother who we found out was over 100 years old! She told me she did not think she would ever live to see her great-grandchildren again, and what a blessing it was that they were there. The sun began to set, illuminating the fields of harvest around the home. Abraham was playing soccer joyfully with his cousins and neighbors, laughter filled the air. Grace was eating fruit that her cousin showed her how to pick from nearby trees, their faces dripping with sweet cocoa plant. The fire that had cooked a meal to fill our bellies, was slowly starting to die out, and we knew it was time to go. Grace wanted to stay with her Jaja instead of joining us at the hotel, so we embraced and said our goodbyes for the night. I asked her a few days later if she was scared when we left her that day, and she responded, “Why would I be scared? I am home.” 

In the months and years to come after that initial conversation with Jessica, we would discover that our adoption agency was indeed criminal. They have plead guilty to child endangerment, visa fraud, and the trafficking of children. It has been a long and hard road.  When I think about the people responsible for what has happened, it is hard not to grow bitter. There is no amount of justice to be served that would ever mend the lives they have destroyed. Hatred comes easily, much more so than forgiveness. However, in this story at least, there is a silver lining. Beauty has grown out of the ashes that this agency left in their wake. Without the ashes, I would have never had the privilege of meeting Gladys. Without the ashes, I would have never known the incredible blessing of having an open adoption, something that is so uncommon in international adoption. Without the ashes, my heart for family preservation and reunification probably would not be what it is today. Do not get me wrong, if I had the power to change the past, I would choose not to have the ashes. I would have wanted my adopted kids to stay with their Jaja. I am not condoning the trauma that they, and so many families like them, have endured though all of this. But this is one of the hardest and darkest roads we have had to walk, and we can either allow that to discourage us and further destroy our hope, or we can choose to use what we know to make a difference in the lives of others. From the ashes, Kugatta was born, and so many lives have been changed for the better through it. 

Kugatta was there for us during the entire reunion process. We arrived in Uganda six years after adopting our children.  It had been six years since our adopted children had seen their family. Gladys was there for us through it all, setting everything in place for a successful and joyful reunion. I honestly do not know what we would have done without Gladys, and I am forever indebted to her. 

Kugatta is a Luganda term which means, “Bringing together.” Jessica Davis had reached out to me when she first started thinking about starting this organization. She had asked me to read their mission and had sent me their first website before it went live. I was so privileged and honored that my opinion mattered to her. Kugatta does many different things, with their focus on bridging the gap between the adoptive family and the biological families involved in international adoption. Kugatta helps vulnerable families and children by supporting the family as a whole. They also offer opportunities for Ugandan families to support themselves and their children through their program called YAMBA, which offers small business loans so  that individuals can rise up out of poverty and vulnerable situations. Grace and Abraham’s Jaja has participated successfully in the YAMBA program, and she is now able to provide for herself as well as her mother and the grandchildren in her care. If you are interested in learning more about the work of Kugatta you can visit their website, www.kugatta.com 

Today, Grace is settled and thriving in Uganda with her jaja. After careful and deliberate consideration, we and Jaja agreed that it was in Abraham’s best interests to stay with us, due to a variety of special circumstances, as well as his expressed desire to stay. We talk to Grace and Jaja frequently, have been back to visit, and will do so again as soon as possible.

If anything is gained from sharing our story, let it be this, do not be afraid to question the narrative. Listen to the stories of others, and learn what you can in the listening. If you are an adoptive family reading this, especially in international adoption, do not be afraid  to question what you know and be open to searching for the truth. There are many people and organizations out there that can help. Advocate for your adopted child by seeking out the truth, and being confident that the story that you and they have been told is indeed a true story. Be a safe place for your adopted child to ask questions and make sure they know you will support them in this. It may feel scary, but it is truly the best thing that you can do for an adoptee. If you feel stirred toward justice, seek out organizations, like Kugatta, that are already doing this work, and ask how you can get involved. Be more afraid of the not knowing than you are of the unknown. There is nothing that sets us free more than the truth, and your children deserve the truth. I cannot go back and rewrite the past, as much as I wish I could. All I can do is take what I know and have learned along the way and share it. As I share our story, I hope it stirs others to discover their own truths about what it means to love orphans and widows, advocate for the vulnerable and oppressed, and to truly help and be the good that this world so desperately needs. 






This story is heavy, complicated, and heartbreaking. In order to protect the children involved, their names have been changed and we will not be sharing any actual photos of them. 


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