Well, in reference to my last blog entry, I knew I could do better if I had more time. So I went back yesterday (my first free day) and decided to spend as much time as I could with these kids – to find out more about who they really are, what their life is like, and what their real needs are.
Finding the boys
After making the 2 hour journey from Kampala to Jinja I figured I would start by going to the “American Super Market”. Only I did not see a single kid there – and it started to rain, so I was afraid I wouldn’t see any.
Well, on my way to the taxi park one kid popped out of nowhere with his hand outstretched.
I tried to talk to him, but he did not understand either English or the little of Lugandan that I have learned. A parking guard came over and tried to help me speak with him. Within a short period of time, three more of the kids came over.
We walked to a little table under an overhang where we could get out of the rain and I could talk a more with them. The guard and a man at the next table over tried to help translate my questions and explain to me more about what they knew of who these kids were and where they came from. The man who was helping me ended up being a teacher at a local primary school – a school with 600 children attending, 300 of which are orphans.
Learning more about who they are
These particular kids I was speaking with (whose names I found out were Mio, Moru, Ocuro, Abra, and Shira) actually came from the northern part of Uganda and didn’t speak much Lugandan or English at all, so even these men had difficulty communicating with them. But slowly we were able to get more information. They are from the Karamajou tribe, and came to Jinja either because of the insurgency (where their fathers had been killed) or simply because it was too dry and they could not grow any food. I asked the kids where they stayed and they told me “Masese” – a little squatter camp area out away from town for refugees. I asked them if they would take me to see it, and they agreed to.
The teacher walked with us to help translate. As we walked through town it seemed like more and more boys kept joining us until everyone in town was looking at our little parade. Many of the boys followed us to the edge of town, but did not want to go with me to Masese. Later as we were walking the little ones that came with said in Lugandan “The other ones had fear.” I asked why, but they did not give much of an answer, other than that they did not want me to see where they lived.
But five boys walked with us the whole way, playing with their “toys” (an old tire and used CDs they found on the street) as we walked. And it was a long walk – through a little squatter camp area, over a railroad track, through a huge field of corn – and during our walking we talked. The teacher found out that not all of them were orphans, as they still had at least one parent, and that some had already been helped by one NGO to be able to start going to school.
Without mentioning that I was the one who was the mzungu (white person), I told the teacher about the M&M story from last week and asked him to see if any of these boys had been there and what they did after the car drove away. I was touched to find out I was wrong about what happened. One of the boys explained that there were not enough M&Ms for everyone, so they broke some of them in half in order to give some to each boy.
Visiting where they live
Finally we reached near the place that they lived. I smelled it before I could see it – as there was a stench from a waste area which we had to walk past.
Shortly after passing it, we came to a crowd of a few adults standing and helping feed a couple dozen dirty little children who were seated on the ground. As soon as they saw me many of them gave surprised cries of “mzungu.”
In this house, someone had just passed away, and so they were in morning. It is tradition when this happens for visitors to come, sign the guest notebook, and leave some money – which I did. I then asked them if it would be OK if I took a picture, and they actually loved the idea. They wanted me to take as many as possible, in each place of Masese that I visited (one woman even requesting that I hold her baby for the picture).
We went one by one to each of the homes of the boys and heard a little more of their story. As one example, the boy in this picture lost his father recently, killed while fighting in the army, and his mother was left with 8 kids – some of which are pictured here. Everywhere we passed, kids (and some adults) would say excitedly “mzungu” and wave to me from their houses or alleys. We met the living members of the families of each of these five boys, and each wanted a picture taken. Each of them was in a difficult situation. I found the names of organizations that were already helping them. I gave the mothers just a small amount of money, and also this time had a lot more M&Ms – to make sure that each child could have at least one.
After talking for quite a while with them, it became time to go.
As we walked out of the settlement to the main road, the kids who walked with us kept asking when they would see me again?
“Anytime,” the teacher said – which he told me means you are not committing to anything.
As we climbed onto the back of a “boda boda” (a motorcycle that acts as a taxi) the teacher told me that they were going to miss their new friend.
The boda motorcycle had a hard time getting started with our weight (the driver, the teacher, and me) so the driver asked the kids to help push – and soon we had enough momentum that they waved to me as we drove away.
It is still a sad situation, however you look at it. But I guess at least this time I did not leave feeling like I had made the situation even worse.
– I took a little more time to find out some more about who they really were and what their needs were.
– I acted much more out of concern than guilt or expediency.
– I went into the situation knowing I needed a lot more M&Ms and with a better distribution method (I made them line up one by one).
– I gave money directly to the mothers and the teacher, who would hopefully get them things the kids need the most.
– I asked the teacher to also give me the names of the organizations that seem to be doing the most to help them already – which I can now contribute to.
– I also got the address for the primary school, as one of my friends who is a teacher in the US (VeNicia) wanted to get her kids to put together a package for them. I emphasized to the teacher that it should be a two-way thing and the kids in Africa should also give something to the kids in the US, even if it was just pictures they drew.
– [Here is a link to comments from the previous entry with some initial ideas about how the specific experience might be analogous to development/aid in general]
Still, my heart goes out to them. I realize that my impact may not be great or transformative for them, but I can at least feel some peace in believing there are actually some things we can do to make the situation a little better for them. And, conversely, that their kindness, noble spirit, and hospitality, regardless of their situation, has also made my life situation better too.
Maybe it is strange, but just looking at the pictures again and hearing their voices in my head makes me miss those kids (my “new friends”) already.