Ugandans are incredibly generous.
Not in the way that Australians are generous. Most of us volunteer our time to a cause at some point, when it suits us, outside of our own space and family, perhaps with a little of our finances, ensuring that the boundaries are neatly carved in stone from the beginning.
I have resolved that the next 10 years of life in Uganda is going to be one big, challenging, uncomfortable lesson in generosity.
“but a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man [who was beaten and robbed] was; and when he saw him, too took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have’….
Jesus told them: “Go and do the same.”
Most of my friends have heard this story and know it well, whether they have an active faith, have grown up in a Christian family, are agnostic, or have no religious background at all. The ‘good Samaritan’ story has found its way into everyday language in Australia and around the world. Law in Australia even dictates that Doctors cannot be sued for trying to help a person in an emergency, under a ‘good Samaritan’ clause.
But who of us actually lives this day in and day out? I know I wouldn’t even have a clue how….
And then I came to Uganda.
I don’t know why or how it is the way it is. But every Ugandan family I know well, has at some point taken in someone (often many) who needs looking after, be it a single mother, a struggling student, an orphaned child, or a grieving window who needs some TLC.
In Australia, we pride ourselves on having ‘sponsor children’ that we pay a few dollars a week to, receive a pat on the back from our chosen donor agency, and continue with our lives unaffected. But actually taking a child into your home? Getting messed up in their lives? Risking the safety and privacy and finances of your own families for the sake of a stranger?
Time and time and time again, Ugandans invite strangers in need into their lives.
Children/teenagers/young adults that are not theirs (often there is no blood relation) are invited to live with them.
They feed the child
They pay the school fees
They become ‘mum’ and ‘dad’
They ensure the child has the same opportunities they would want for their own biological children.
A good friend of ours in Kamwenge has several children of her own. Then she has ‘adopted’ a few extras along the way. She makes no distinction between those that are hers by birth, and those she has met and taken in along the way.
As she was telling us in a matter of fact way the other day, one of her ‘children’ she met in town at the shop where he worked. When he lost his job and had nothing to eat, she invited him to live with her. Several years later, he has had vocational training (sponsored by her) and she is now helping him with capital and resources to set up his very own business. He still lives with her.
We were speaking with a friend recently, about the length of funerals in Uganda. He explained that one of the reasons they take so long (and by long, we mean sometimes a week or more!!) is because the close relatives and friends of the deceased sit down to discuss what will happen to the remaining immediate family members. Especially when there are children involved. They will negotiate who they will live with, who will pay their school fees and medical bills, and who will supply some food for them and when and how. They plan for the child to be looked after until they are an adult.
Now, I don’t want to be unrealistic or fantasise Ugandan culture. There are a lot of people who aren’t generous at all, just like anywhere in the world. And there are lots of situations where this network of support breaks down.
But what a wonderful way to try and live! Now I just need to get over my selfishness…