Monday, April 02, 2007

A Tittle of This and a Little of That

If there’s one word has come up consistently since I arrived in Africa, it’s hope. Most of the people I’ve come across in my travels have lived a life harder than most of us could ever have imagined. They’ve learned to live a life where suffering is a part of life. And yet, they still have hope. Hope for the future, hope for a better life, for them, for their children, hope for their country, their town, their village, hope, it seems, in general that is just unwavering. And it’s amazing and heart-wrenching and inspiring. You see it looking into their faces. There’s sadness, pain, suffering but again, there’s still hope. There’s a smile that could light up the world, a hospitality that is not often found from people who have substantially more than they need, and a fire in their spirits than can’t be put out.

Two weeks ago, a bunch of us went down to a project (discovered by a past volunteer) called House of Hope. It is run by an amazing 23 year old woman, Jenifer, and will start getting volunteers through The Real Uganda and GVN next month. The project currently is a school for orphaned kids living with elderly relatives or in child-run households in the area. There are 4 unpaid teacher volunteers who are working for food and accommodation and Jenifer who is using her own money (saved from when she was a teacher) to keep the program running. There are roughly one hundred kids and more coming daily because no there are no fees and the kids are fed one meal of porridge a day, which is more than they would receive at home. The piece of land, a gift from Jenifer’s father, is probably one of the only patches of unfertile land in the country, so we went down to plant fruit trees. This was the first time I had seen the project after hearing about it and it was incredible. It did, however, bring up a question that has been troubling me. The project is similar in terms of end goal to the project in Ethiopia (Hope Community Home). Both hope to eventually be a sustainable project with accommodation for the orphans and a school attended by both the orphans and kids from the surrounding areas whose families are able to pay fees. Then I looked at where they both are now. Hope Community Home currently has a completed structure which cost more than $1 mil and can house over 75 kids, but they only have four. Construction has already begun on two other buildings. The four kids however, are currently receiving 3 complete meals a day and going to the nearby village school (the same one I taught at) until the other is completed. They have multiple outfits of clothing, are sleeping in beds, are clean, and have received proper medical care. Then I see House of Hope tending to over 100 kids. They are being taught in an incomplete school building which was built for less than $5000. They most likely receive only the one meal of porridge a day and are living on the floor somewhere in the village practically taking care of themselves. Twenty-five kids have been tested for HIV and all 25 were positive.

So the question that has been troubling me: is it better to help a lot of people a little bit or a few people a lot?

Honestly, I don’t think there’s a correct answer, but it’s something that I feel I will be thinking about for quite a while. I would however, like to take a moment to thank you all again for your donations. Having money set aside specifically for donations has forced me to look at situations here differently than I might have otherwise. Is it sustainable? How many are affected by it? Positive or negative effects? Could the money be better used elsewhere? Can I trust the method of handing over the money? Does it set people up for dependence on an outside source? Which is the most pressing issue? Which is the most pressing issue that I can do something about? I am constantly forced to ask myself all these questions and look at the situation from a different point of view and it has troubled me and challenged me and made me consider things I wouldn’t have otherwise, and I thank you for that. I thank you for trusting me to make the best decision I can and for allowing me this opportunity to be able to make even more of a difference.

Last weekend, we went up north to Kitgum. It was amazing and emotional and challenging and inspiring and everything else. We went with a woman named Rose who runs a women’s group called Pit-Tek. She receives volunteers through The Real Uganda. Rose is originally from Kitgum and her family is still there, so we paid for her transportation and her family hosted us (fed us) during our time there. We spent two days actually exploring the area and two days traveling there and back. The first day, we interviewed a bunch of women from Pit-Tek. They had just unbelievable stories. One woman had two sons who were abducted by the LRA. One son was made to carry a 50 lb. sack of maize at the age of 6 and when he couldn’t they chopped off his head. The other brother was forced to carry the head around for days. He finally was able to escape and returned home and 3 years later is still acclimating back into society. He is currently sponsored by one of the volunteers and is in school. Another woman’s husband was in the Ugandan army and was killed in battle. Just these unbelievably amazing, inspiring stories, and then you look into their eyes, and there’s sadness and pain, but there’s still hope, and it’s just the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen. We hung out a bit during the afternoon and decompressed and then went for a bit of a walk around Kitgum Town. We climbed up a hill and could faintly see the Sudan in the background which was pretty cool. Just amazing to look down and see a sea of mud huts and children. It was interesting to see such an obvious presence of organizations- Unicef, Oxfam, Doctors Without Borders, War Child, Norwegian Refugee Council, World Food Program, and others. The next day we interviewed a few more women and then visited an orphanage, and IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) Camp and a School for Disabled Children. We spent barely any time at the orphanage as they were in the middle of Sunday school. The IDP camp was pretty intense. There are 222 family units, only 150 of whom are receiving food from World Food Program. (They are using a card system that is inefficient and incomplete.) All families are living in mud huts that they had to pay to build when they arrived at the camp. They are landmines surrounding the entire area. There are not really any good schools in the area so children are forced to walk miles to and from school daily. The School for the Disabled was probably the most incredible project I’ve seen on my travels. It is run by one woman, Theresa (a former nun), and receives no consistent international funding. There are currently 138 children who are blind, deaf, formerly abducted child soldiers, mentally and physically handicapped, and others. The children range from 8 to 18 all are living on the premises in tents donated by Unicef. Theresa is also following 147 kids in the surrounding areas, meeting with their families and trying to foster acceptance. There is a great stigma here for disabilities. Children with disabilities are practically cast out. They can’t work so they are therefore not worthless. Theresa cannot charge school fees because families would not pay them. She currently is relying on World Food Program which provides her with enough food to feed the kids two times a day. Norwegian Refugee Council built all the buildings, and Unicef donated the tents. There is a woman who comes every day to teach sign language to all the children. They also teach vocational skills such as tailoring to give the children a usable skill for when they leave the school. It was absolutely incredible. If I had extra time in Uganda, I would, without a doubt, go up there and volunteer.

I would also like to clarify my feelings about my time here. I am definitely enjoying myself. I like all of the other volunteers; we have a really interesting group consisting of totally different types of people: different backgrounds, different places in life, different religious beliefs, etc. I am enjoying teaching at the school. When I am in the classroom with my p4 kiddies, I love it. But quite honestly, I am not totally happy here. There’s an ease of life that I hate. I could see relishing it if I was to be here for an extended period of time but it’s not something that I need or want at this point, conveniences that I wouldn’t really miss if they weren’t here. I feel removed from the community. Unlike in Ghana, I don’t feel like an integral part of the world here. In Ghana if someone else was frustrated, unhappy, excited that transferred to me, and I loved that. I loved feeling involved, feeling like a part of it all, but I don’t feel that here, and it’s frustrating. It doesn’t help that I also feel somewhat burnt out and that this situation is close enough to Ghana to compare but different enough to be frustrating. I’m bored and a bit restless. The biggest challenges I’m facing here are my own emotional issues. So, at the moment, although I don’t know what I am doing yet in South Africa, I am looking forward to the challenge I will face there.

I think that is all for now, so I will sign off with a quote from Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, A Long Walk to Freedom:

“Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mineworker can become the head of a mine, that a child of farm workers can become the president of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.

I love that quote and just wanted to share you all. I hope you all appreciate what you have and take advantage of it because (and I know I keep saying this) we have it so fucking good.


Blogger Katie and Julia said...

your experiences and observations are so very interesting and thoughtful. We can't wait to hear more and read the book you quoted. Have you heard of Youth Venture and their global seed grants? We are part of their work here with two projects , one in health and the other in education. we will communicate more soon. With love, Katie and Julia and family

9:21 AM  

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