I did something this last week that I immediately regretted and continue to feel bad about – wanting to help but honestly feeling as if the situation was worse after my arrival than before.
I’m asking for your thoughts in what I could have done differently.
Thinking about it, I have started to see the experience as an analogy for how aid/development is generally given and received in Africa.
I was in a little village about an hour and a half outside Kampala, checking on some options of places that I can bring the participants of the upcoming TEDC conference. A friend of a friend was kind enough to offer me a ride back to Kampala, and so as a thank you I wanted to buy something to share with him.
Funny enough, we drove past the “American Super Market” (which was run by people from India) so in addition to taking a picture, I went inside to look for something to share. I got some peanut m&ms, and just outside the store gave some to this friend, a girl he was talking to, and then just to be nice also to the guard sitting outside the front door.
My first thought was compassion, “Of course I want to do something nice for this little guy, when I have been given so much and he has been given so little, due to no fault of his own.” Just as I went to pour a couple in his hands, I was jostled as another pair of slightly bigger dirty hands pushed the other ones out of the way in order to try and catch the candy. Then another pair of dirty hands attached to a cute little dirty orphan joined them, and another, and another, until in what seemed like a matter of seconds, I was surrounded by hands and orphans. A lot of them had left their places sitting on the street near the building and now surrounded me. (someone told me nearly one in four children in Uganda is an orphan, mainly due to AIDS – although most of them get taken into live with extended family, these ones looked like they lived on the street)
I quickly counted heads (15-20) and how many candies were left in the bag (about 11) – not enough to go around.
I looked over to my companion for some advice or help; he just shook his head at me (like “stupid mzungo”) and walked quickly across the street to the car to start it because he was in a rush to get back to Kampala.
I obviously looked confused and at this point the kids were kind of pushing each other for spots at the front so that they didn’t get left out.
My first thought was to simply do nothing and keep the candies to myself so that it would be “fair” (or at least equally unfair for each of them) – but that thought made me feel selfish and guilty.
I was trying to think quickly but my friend was already in the car and it seemed like more and more anxious kids kept coming over and surrounding me.
So I just light tossed the bag towards them while I broke free of the crowd and hurried across the street to get in the nice, comfortable, clean car.
I looked back just once to see what happened, and instead of the candies being spread as equally and fairly as possible among all the orphans, they had fought and struggled over them until one or two of the bigger kids won all of them and the rest got none.
By then we had driven away.
Maybe you can see now why this situation keeps bothering me.
My question for you:
What could/should I have done differently?
Feel free to give simple answers or ones in which you creatively think out of the box. And don’t be afraid to hurt my feelings either, I’m asking for your honest thoughts.
After I get some answers to these questions, I’ll share a bit about how it seems like an analogy for current aid/development situations in Africa in general. But for now, I’m just interested in how you think I could have done things different with this particular incident?