Friday, December 16, 2011

And then I was again humbled...

Sometimes things happen that just entirely shift my frame of reference while being here. Now my schools were all pretty competitive, and by no means do I think that’s a bad thing. St. Jude is also a pretty competitive school. and I think a fair number of schools in Uganda ARE really competitive. Class rank holds a really high significance for a TON of people, and it can make all the difference for if parents are proud of you or not. So a common conversation with a kid can go like this (after all the introductions):

Me: What class are you in?
Him/Her: Primary __ class.
Me: Ahh, and are you going into this class? You were promoted?
Him/Her: Yes, I was 5th in my class. (or whatever number)
So it’s a pretty common conversation topic, particularly for highly motivated people, like a fair number of the poeple I interact with.

So anyways, these last two weeks, since school has been out, I’ve been volunteering with an NGO in Jinja called Adolescent Development Support Network (ADSN) (Shameless plug: like us on facebook and/or follow us on twitter!) and particularly working for one of their programs called the Child Headed Household Project. This is made up of kids (aged 12-22) who, for one reason or another, were forced into growing up more quickly than the average person. Sometimes their parents are really sick and they are forced into the parenting role to take care of them. A lot of them come from the northern regions of Uganda (particularly the Acholi and Karamajong regions—both areas which were devastated by the war), and tried to escape the highly dangerous situation by coming down south, either by working their way down as they gained enough money for transport along the way, or by sneaking onto a vehicle or something of the like. Many of these then ended up on the street, picking up metal scraps or charcoal to sell for some little money which could then get them a meal or maybe help pay the rent. Going to school is often WAY too expensive for these adolescents, so they try to exist on just getting by. ADSN then tries to find these kids as they are working on the streets and get them into better situations. So through external sponsors, they have 50 kids in the program who now have places to live with each other, they have rent paid, school fees paid, and they get food delivered to them once a month for the month. They also have the workings for some counseling and some other such help.

This week, they are having a holiday programme (as they spell it here), and I came along to help out. Typical Ugandan style though, things start late and slow. So I showed up and the kids were just watching some Nigerian movie, which was not in English, Luganda or Lusoga, so they weren’t really understanding most of the move. I had brought some colored paper and pens, and we made an “I am” poems. These are the poems that I made in elementary school and then again in Junior year English where the poem starts and ends with the person's name, then includes facts and information about the person in between. One of the questions I asked them to do was to write 3 things that they are proud of. This was a difficult question for them, because humility is a HIGHLY emphasized trait here. So I gave some examples, which included, “Winning such and such football match, being able to jump very high, being 5th in my class, etc” or something along those lines. And I talked about which position a fair amount--maybe gave 3 examples of it, kind of lowering the number as I went, trying to be sensitive, so that I didn't make those who did not get as high of positions but were still very proud feel left out; "I'm proud I'm 21st in school," etc.

I get all of the poems back, and the majority of them say,

“I’m proud I’m in school.”

Ok, paradigm shifted. I’m humbled, and again blown away by the people I meet here.

Love from Uganda.


  1. brings up tears...and gratitude

  2. That's pretty awesome Anna. Maybe I was wrong about learning a lot at the NGO meeting. It seems like the kids have a lot to teach you (us as a culture). Thanks for sharing.