The Acholi tribe of Northern Uganda returns home after 20 years of civil war to discover their once healthy children developing a bizarre and deadly illness called Nodding Syndrome. Children are described by the locals as ‘alive in dead bodies’ because they become mentally impaired, lose the ability to speak, and their growth is stunted. A child who is 15 or 16 years old may look like he is six or seven years old. These children appear to be sleepy and ‘nod off’. During these episodes they cannot control their bodies and are prone to wander off and drown in rivers or burn in fires. Parents of children with Nodding Syndrome often tie their sick children to trees like animals or lock them in huts during the day so they won’t wonder off and get hurt or die while the parents are away working in the fields. These children are outcasts of their communities because villagers believe they are possessed by demons. The cause of Nodding Syndrome is a mystery and there is no known cure. Most children will die before the age of 20.
A Question of Humanity follows a young Ugandan woman named Collines who operates a small care center for children in Northern Uganda with Nodding Syndrome called ‘Hope for Humans’. The center originally opened as a hospice so these children would have a place to die with dignity. But to everyone’s surprise, these children began improving thanks to a combination of anti-seizure medication, nutrition, and love. Nodding Syndrome was thought to be a fatal condition, but Hope for Humans has found that the illness – while still incurable- can be controlled and some of the children can go on to live ‘normal’ lives.
Frustrated by the lack of governmental interest and support of children with Nodding Syndrome, Collines journeys out to some of her country’s most isolated villages where access to any kind of health care is virtually impossible. She comes to fully understand the lack of resources the Ugandan Ministry of Health has to tackle this health crisis and sees for herself the terrible conditions in which children are living.
Collines meets with the leader of one of the outlying districts who confirms the health crisis and agrees to allow her to build a care center in his district if she can raise the funds to do so. Hopeful that she will be able to open a second center, Collines returns home to learn horrible news that nearly causes her to lose all hope. Inspired by the strength of the children at the center, Collines vows not only to keep running the center, but to empower children and families affected by Nodding Syndrome to take control of their lives. She teaches them how to become self sufficient by farming, raising livestock, and making products that can be sold for profit.
Collines lost her father during the civil war and was forced to drop out of school. Despite ridicule from her community for continuing to pursue and education and refusing to marry according to custom, Collines is awarded a college scholarship and becomes one of the less than 1-percent of woman in Northern Uganda to earn a college degree.
During this journey, the woman discovers the true strength of the human spirit in the midst of tremendous obstacles and realizes the children she set out to help are actually providing her the strength to carry on.
ABOUT THE DIRECTOR
Heather Angel Chandler started her career as an award-winning television news medical reporter. In 2007, she left the “if it bleeds, it leads” world of local news and founded her video production company, Innovative Multimedia Group. Heather enjoyed the process of storytelling through video and sound, but wanted to tell the kinds of stories that she felt were really meaningful.
After learning about Nodding Syndrome, Heather became determined to shed light on the unimaginable conditions children with Nodding Syndrome and their families are dealing with. Despite travel warnings and no budget for this film, Heather and another video journalist jumped on a plane to Uganda with no plan in place other than to expose the story of Nodding Syndrome.
“A Question of Humanity” is a self-funded “passion project” that was created by Heather and other professionals who graciously donated their time to this project because it’s a story that must be told.