It has been about a week and a half in Uganda and one more to go. I’m already dreading leaving this country. The feeling of being alive is present constantly. When you’re still, you’re surrounded by chirping of the birds or the choir of grasshoppers. In the night you wake up to the barking of the dogs and in the haze of your sleep you get a thrill wondering whether someone is trying to come and disturb your sleep or is it just a passer-by or some animal the dogs are barking at. In the morning you wake up to the cuckoos of the many cocks in the neighborhood. When you’re in the car you constantly try to hold onto something so that you’re not thrown around like a bag of potatoes. (Seriously, the Finnish bumps on the road are a joke.) When it rains, it pours. When you look around you see a range of colors that identify with Africa. But meeting the people who have gone through challenges beyond the imagination of most and connecting with them, touches me deeper and deeper in my heart every single time.
Being here is a balancing act in many ways. The schedules and traffic regulations are more like guidelines rather than something that people stick to. You just need to adjust and react to things as they come along. Still somehow when everyone is playing the same symphony, this chaos works. The most challenging balancing act anyhow is not becoming too cynical. You see people in need everywhere. Especially in the slums that we have been visiting regularly, there are people surviving until tomorrow in every corner. You want to help every single one of them. But to function effectively you have to have a pragmatic approach. This is what I learned in Ethiopia already. For example, to help the beggars on the streets, you should not encourage them to beg by giving them money, even though it felt like the right thing to do. But many earned ten times the salary of someone who did honest work so they had no reason to get off the streets even though proper work would’ve been better for the society. So you have to fight against the instinct to try and help everyone, because that would be very short-term, and impossible.
I feel like, also because of my childhood time in Ethiopia, I have mastered the pragmatic approach already. I guess it all comes down to logic… Here, the most effective way to help is to empower communities. Teach the most vulnerable people to provide for themselves, educate them, and improve their skills so that they will be the ones providing for their communities in the future. This is the long-term approach and Caring Hands, the organization I’m working for here, is doing exactly this and it is amazing to see the effects of this work in communities. All this said, I hope, that I will never become blind to the individual struggles of the people. That when faced with extreme poverty all around, which could easily turn into a blur, I hope I will always have the compassion, respect and love for the individuals in front of me. And when there is acute need, I will provide for them according to my strength. Luckily I have met someone to look up to when it comes to this. She's the Caring Hands director, Milla, who is living proof that you can connect with individuals while caring for the community.
TIA - This is Africa.