Outside the crowded and dusty

by francine Hardaway on February 20, 2005

Outside the crowded and dusty city of Kampala, the capital of Uganda, is a serene sixty acres inhabited by one hundred children with no families and their caregivers, the same Sisters who run the Nysambia Babies’ Home. After the children in the Babies’ Home reach age 6, they are transferred to this location, where they are educated and may live until either eighteen years of age or when they have developed a skill that will allow them to make a living in the city.

The girls learn to crochet beautiful shawls, weave mats, and embroider pillow covers. The boys learn carpentry. Some of the students also paint on canvas or batik. There are no parents or families (except for a few children whose siblings are also at the Home, including one family of five children), but there are also no gangs or drugs.

When our van pulled up to the school after a long ride that included crossing the Equator, the children came out to greet us with bouquets of flowers. They waited patiently while we handed out one pen per child. (They need pens for school). They proudly showed us through their dormitories, where their clean rooms were decorated with their own drawings.

There is a great emphasis on education in Uganda. There are many private and boarding schools as well as public schools, and primary education, at least, is mandated. But there are also many universities.

On the way back from the Childrens’ Home, we were stopped dead in our tracks by a tremendous traffic jam around one of them. When we inquired as to what was happening, we were told the students were rioting because the police had knocked one of them down. Eventually, the police used tear gas to break up the riot — so close to us that I felt it in my eyes and lungs. As we drove by, we saw a squad of police with rifles standing by the side of the road ready for action. When we tried to photograph them, our driver begged us not to; she said it would make them angry.

The school has enough extra land to cultivate food for its students and to sell the excess. But they have only hand tools. Somehow, I found myself volunteering to raise funds for a tractor for the school, which they could use themselves and also hire out for still more money. These sisters are so entrepreneurial; every idea is for a new revenue stream.

There were also some youthful volunteers today when we visited; Sister said that many young people in Europe volunteer to intern at the school because they want to be in the teaching or social service professions. In fact, she told me they had more applications than they could handle, because they can only afford to manage a handful of interns at a time.

Yes, I see poverty in Africa. But I don’t see the unhappiness that accompanies poverty in the States, and that may simply be a case of managed expectations. If everyone around you is also poor, there’s no stigma. Here in Uganda, everyone is grateful for peace, and for stability in the government and in their own lives. All the rest is commentary.

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