A Plea for Help

Poverty is a difficult thing. The more I learn about it the more complex it is. My eyes have been opened in the last three or so years in a way that I never could have imagined. We judge poverty by our own experiences. If someone doesn’t have running water or indoor plumbing we consider that a hardship because we have it and couldn’t imagine doing with out. My husband grew up without it and sees it as a superflous thing that doesn’t mean much to him. He sees what Americans have given up in order to have such modern conveniences and to him it’s not necessarily a win.

Sometimes as Americans we are a bit smug even in our desires to help. People don’t need rescuing, they don’t need someone to push for them to have the same modern convenices that we consider essential. Most of the time they just need an opportunity.

When I was in Uganda, my budget was kind of tight. I had used everything I had to pay my way there and to pay for my expenses during the 5 months that I lived there. Yet I was surrounded on every side by people who had less than me. How could I not help?

On the other hand, how could I help? Every day I encountered handicapped people whose needs far exceeded anything that I could give to make a difference, I encountered children who lived on the streets and had no home to go to. I encountered single moms struggling and often failing to care for their children. I saw people who were sick, suffering and the need was overwhelming. I helped where I could and I consoled myself with the fact that I was there making a difference. I was volunteering for a non-profit that helps single moms become self sufficient. Musana was making a difference and I could feel good about how I was spending my time and the little money I had. IMG_1613

Then one day I was walking the streets of Kampala making arrangements for the new street sign we were putting up at Musana. A woman approached me, obviously hungry, she had a small child strapped to her back and she was clutching her obviously empty breasts and pleading for help. She didn’t speak english but her message was clear. She had nothing to feed her baby. The baby looked at me with large open eyes from his mothers back. I shrugged my shoulders indicating that I had nothing for her and moved on. It felt heartless but what could I do? I couldn’t help everyone.

Since then I have had my own children. I have sat in a cozy gliding rocker in a decorated nursery and nursed my babies. During those times that I have not had enough milk I have gone to the kitchen and quickly made a bottle to satisfy my chubby sweet baby. I have come home from church after several hours of not being able to eat and made myself something to eat to help with that cold empty shaking feeling in my stomach that nursing a hungry baby leaves if you don’t eat enough.

Every day since my son was born that woman has been in my mind and heart. I have wept tears over the help I didn’t offer. Needless to say I would do things differently if I could go back. Still I would be faced with the same dilemma of too much need for my capabilities to help; but this woman, this one woman, I could have helped to feed her child. She came to me I could have done something.

A friend of mine is preparing for her own humanitarian trip to Uganda in May. She s raising $25,000 to build an orphanage while she is there. She is asking that we and anyone who is willing participate in “7 days of nothing” now I cringe a little at the title because having seen people who have nothing and it hardly compares. But the idea is to do without something for 7 days and donate your savings to the cause. Perhaps you can eat simply for 7 days. Nothing but beans, rice and oatmeal (typical food for many ¬†families all over the world) Perhaps you can forgo using your running water and carry whatever water you need from an outdoor faucet, to get a feel for the way the majority of the world lives. Maybe try walking or riding your bike to work or the grocery store if you can.581766_10151416836355658_826602642_n

And if that is too much for you maybe you can skip your daily latte, or a trip to the salon. or go on a sugar fast for a week. Save what you can and send it to my friend to help build an orphanage. For Joseph and I we have washed our own clothes by hand, carried our water, walked wherever we need to go, done without many things and we know how to do it. We will be joining my friend in her 7 days of nothing and perhaps that woman and her sickly child will not haunt me so much. For you I pray that you will find something that works for you someway that you can give and I think you will find that the bigger your sacrifice the more impact it will have on your life.

The hard thing about poverty

When I think about poverty I usually think about living in crowded conditions, getting by on little food and not having the little extras that life has to offer. I grew up in a home where things were pretty simple and we didn’t have a lot, but I never knew we were poor. Looking back I can see that by most people’s standards we were. We always laughed about eating bread and scrape (putting the butter on your bread and then scraping it off for the next person) I remember when I did not have a bed, but slept on the living room floor. I had one drawer in a closet and few clothes. Things were simple but I don’t really associate being poor with negative emotions.

Today I saw one of the hard parts about poverty. The women that work for Musana aren’t “dirt poor” in the way that some might think, but they don’t have it easy and they certainly don’t have the extras. Medina, had six daughters before she finally had her last child, a little boy named Benji. Benji was the first child I saw when I got to Uganda and I was mesmerized by his bright eyes and big dimples. I thought he was about the cutest kid ever.

When he was born his mother had him circumcised by a local man instead of taking him to the hospital to have it done. The money for transport to the hospital was hard to come by so it was easier to just do it locally. The man who did it, cut the urethra leaving Benji with a pretty serious problem that will have a huge impact on the rest of his life if it is not corrected. Recently, his mother took him to see Andrew, a Scottish doctor who is volunteering here this summer. Andrew told her that his condition was serious and that he needs to go to a hospital.

THe waiting room at Kibuli hospital

THe waiting room at Kibuli hospital

So Ellen’s parting gift was transport money and Medina and I took little Benji to the hospital. After several hours on the road in the crowded taxi and then several more in the waiting room, the doctor finally saw Benji. He said that he would need surgery and soon. He would be hospitalized for three days and the estimated cost would be about the equivalent to what Medina can bring in, in a years time. Sitting in

Benji waiting to see the doctor

Benji waiting to see the doctor

that doctor’s office looking at Medina’s face, little Benji sitting on her lap, I realized that these are the moments that make poverty hard.

“What can I do? Where can I get that kind of money?” She asked questions like this over and over on the ride back to Lugazi and I had no answers for her.