On the walk from my house to Masindi town, I pass by a small pair of homes where a few families live together. From what I've seen, these families consist of three mothers and about sixty-five children. I've been in Uganda for a year and in Masindi for about ten months, and everyday the children still freak out, start screaming and running towards me only to hug me and ask me for money, bananas, sweets, anything they seem to think that I just carry around in my pockets. I usually greet them in Runyoro, ask how their days have been, and move on quickly to town. I got into the habit of bringing them a few bananas so they would let me walk in peace back and forth from my house.
My friend Peter came to visit my site a few months ago. While we were on our way to town, those same kids freaked out, started screaming, and running towards us. They asked for bananas again, and I thought I'd bring some back. On the way back from town I saw the kids and immediately reached into my bag for the bananas. I gave them to the kids and they ran back down the path to their houses. Peter immediately said to me, "You know, Tori, there are other ways of loving those kids besides just giving them bananas." I've been dwelling on this statement ever since Peter said it to me. I've been trying to figure out how to love people and have realized it cannot be in just giving them things. I began sitting down with the mothers of these households and having actual connections and exchanges with them instead of just waving and passing them by. I started teaching the kids songs and playing duck duck goose and tag with them. Our relationships are all we have. Our money, our things, our ideas, are all transient, but our relationships are what last. Sister Marie O'Hagan told me that my senior year of high school, and I have never witnessed it so much in my life as I am now in Uganda.
I have considered this on a macro level, too. It made me disappointed in the way development is done in Uganda and other developing nations. Most[certainly not all] of what I've seen over the past year is the following: 1-Someone has a lot of money and a feeling that there are things in Uganda/Africa/Wherever that need to change. 2-They believe that their way of doing things is absolutely right. 3- They pour astronomical amounts of money into a project that is completely top-down with no recognition of or consideration for culture, long-term effects, and community needs/priorities/capacities. 4- Everything is done in an office in Kampala and the village or individual person scale is never addressed. 5- The appeasement of the wealthy consciences is taken into consideration but not the actual development of the country and it's PEOPLE. These ingredients plus a few others lead to disjointed development, a lack of understanding on the part of country nationals about what is happening and why, and information is passed on but no skills are acquired.
Hand outs are not sustainable. Love is. [I know that's the corniest thing ever, but it's true! I also know that this post may sound negative, but these are my experiences and I have created this blog so that a piece of this can be shared with you. Anyways...] The whole reason we are here is to glorify God and love His creations! The way I was treating those children and the way some development organizations treat Uganda is the opposite of love. It's just doing the minimum to appease ourselves and feel good about doing something to help all of those poor people out there. I have to give the children more than bananas. I have to give them sacrifice, time, and love. And development orgs have to give more than money. They have to at least give cultural considerations and at most make their projects sustainable and make themselves self-eliminating. NGO's should not last forever. If their missions are completed, it should mean that they close up shop. I'm definitely not a development expert, and not all development orgs are doing it wrong. However, some of the patronizing, corrupt, insensitive work I've seen being done here really makes me sad. If love is what we've been given, then love is what we must give!
I am probably the most loved person on Earth, because today I'm getting on an airplane to see my family in Italy. After a year without them (and without decent wine and cheese) I know it will be such an amazing time! God Bless you all!
Webale! Mukama Akuhe Omugisa!!