Tuesday, 31 January 2012
The reality of poverty
>After our very stressful court hearing on Friday, our lawyer got a phone call. We’d been trying to figure out when we could visit a little 5-month-old baby boy who has a family waiting in the States. We had a care package for him and other necessities. We heard his living situation was not ideal.
This might be our only opportunity to visit him, our lawyer said. Exhausted and worn down by our court hearing, we still happily agreed to go. As others have blessed me by caring for Benjamin before I could get there, I have a deep desire to bless others in the same way.
We arrived outside the slum — a garbage heap with vultures circling overhead. Driving on impossible roads past filth and stench. we stopped at a water runoff, where kids were gathering water, adults were washing themselves, and many other children were running around, playing. This “watering hole” served as the entrance to the worst slum I’ve seen.
As we made our way up the narrow passageways through the slum to the baby boy, murmurs of “mzungu” (white person) echoed throughout the community. We get a lot of attention everywhere we go — a couple mzungus with a Ugandan baby. It’s still a very strange concept to Ugandans that we would want to adopt a black baby.
The visit with the baby was hard and heartbreaking — he had an infection and a cough, and was generally miserable when we were speaking with his caretakers. But he was taken to the doctor the next day, and we have heard he’s going to live somewhere else soon, which is a relief. It was difficult to see him in those conditions. Benjamin was living in a slum, too, but his home and community was pretty nice in comparison. It gave me even more respect for the local secretary of women’s affairs in Benjamin’s district, who has a passion to make things better there. We are grateful to her for many reasons.
The reality kept hitting when we returned to our van and the baby’s advocates and our lawyer needed to talk about the baby’s case for an hour or two while we waited. As soon as we were back at the van, the slum’s children were upon us. We saw completely naked toddlers, bellies swollen with parasites; half-dressed kids playing with little scraps of garbage they could find; we saw scalps marked with ringworm and other infections. But most of all, we saw lots of kids starved for attention and love. They wanted to touch us, to play with the van, to get a little attention from a caring adult. Another American in our group set out giving some kids hugs, recognizing their need for love. I sat in the driver’s seat with the door open (sitting to keep from fainting, our driver instructed me), and every time I turned around I saw a few new kids swarming around the door, touching my leg, searching my face. I touched their sweet hands, smiling at every opportunity, breaking up squabbles over position nearest to me.
I started taking pictures and videos of them, showing them the playback to their great delight and laughter. One girl (the one holding the baby in the bottom left picture above) walked up and spoke to me in English, in the sweetest voice ever, quietly asking my name. Then she said she wanted to sing me a song. Of course, I listened and applauded this beautiful 15-year-old girl, a definite leader of the smaller kids with her baby sister strapped to her back.
After we were there for an hour or longer, my heart was so heavy. In the face of such poverty, how does one even begin to help? One person told us for that the hundreds of people living there, they have only 2 latrines. The entire place reeked of sewage, not to mention the stench of the garbage heap nearby. I am taking one child out of these conditions, but what about the others? It was heartbreaking. It was depressing. Mostly, it was completely overwhelming.
Solutions have to come from multiple places for such a complexity of problems. There are many needs — for clean water, for schooling so the children can escape the slum eventually, for family support, for nutrition. We can help people like this. We can pay to dig a well, to sponsor children’s school fees. We can provide microfinance loans. We can adopt a child. The need is great, but we can all be part of the solution.
It’s hard to describe what it was like to be in this place, but it was real. Please consider where God is calling you to help.