Maranatha Health in Kamwenge has received a gob-smacking, hideously ridiculous, completely unexpected setback, and by way of association, so have I. Before I share my thoughts about it all, here is a link to a letter we sent to our supporters recently posted on FB on the MH page, to give you some context and information into the issue that has arisen. If you haven’t read this, the rest of the blog probably won’t make much sense. In summary, a maize mill factory has been constructed next to our health centre, and now chugs out noise and dust 24/7, forcing us to close the health centre and move off-site.
So, less than ideal, obviously. Frustrating. Unjust. Corrupt. I could think of some less-creative, four letter words as well, but will spare my readership the full brunt of my frustration.
To be honest, I don’t really feel like writing today. In fact, today I feel like crawling up into the foetal position, eating copious amounts of chocolate, lamenting the world and my place within it, and reading some of the more sinister of Shakespeare’s sonnets.
But alas, I write. Partly for therapy, partly to let everyone know that my world continues to spin, and partly to share this journey with all of you because the fate of Maranatha affects so many inside and outside of Kamwenge.
Once again, for the millionth time since being involved in this Organisation, I find myself uncomfortably squeezed into the enthralling exhilaration of the unknown.
Once again, I am reminded that I am a teeny-tiny person in this very big, very wide world and my comforting illusion of control has again been mocked and exposed by that same afore mentioned world.
Despite the dramatic dialogue in this blog, we are feeling quite positive, generally. Things are really looking up. We have had some extremely positive developments in the past few days. In addition, media is now splashing the story (albeit slightly inaccurate, tabloid-esque versions) around Ugandan newspapers and TV news.
I’m just having a bad day.
The first few weeks, when we discovered that yes, it was definitely a factory next door, and yes, they were running their machines 24/7 – things were tough. At that point we knew very little about Ugandan law, about industrial and residential zones, about environmental acts, and so had very little understanding of how we could challenge such a situation. We lacked voice and a platform. At least now we know what we are dealing with and the channels for redress. Of course, on a day-to-day level, that knowledge doesn’t make it much easier to manage the constantly oscillating situation and our parallel emotional response; one day we feel we are close to winning the battle and will be reopening the clinic in no time, and the next day we wander around our home listlessly wondering if we should start packing our bags for Australia.
Michael and I have prayed in the last month more than I think either of us has ever prayed before. Not that it’s a very noble prayer these days – most of my prayers consist of a repeated request to finish my season of ‘character building’ and a demand for life to get easier, speckled with a less selfish appeal for justice for the poor of Kamwenge. But I have never before been so aware of how frustrating it must be, for God to continue calling people to love, when the world is so interested in other sinister motivations and agendas.
Every time we think we are moving closer to a solution, we face serious set-backs and suffocating scenarios, reminding us again of the complexity of Ugandan concepts of justice. In a conversation with our Ugandan father, we discussed concepts of justice in Africa, and how the law is applied. Justice here is tangled and twisted with power and relationships, with desires for peace and amicability, with political and business motivations confusing responsibilities. Often it feels as if justice is a negotiation process between parties towards a resolution, rather than a direct application of law. The problem with this, of course, is that unless someone wise and fair is mediating this negotiation, those with more bargaining power and a louder voice will always win. The poor, thus, will always lose*.
Since this issue has arisen, we have found so few people outside Maranatha in a place of authority – a leader, an MP, a government technical worker – who immediately recognises or assumes the position of the law. Time and time again, we are required to remind those involved in resolving this issue exactly what Ugandan law states about residential vs industrial zones, about factories and Environmental Impact Assessments, and the simple ethical and legal realities of our case. More likely, they are interested in what the district leadership ‘thinks’ about the issue, the identity of the investor behind the factory, the size of the two investments for comparison, and what the political ramifications are.
Instead of the acknowledgement that I crave – that we did all the right things, that this project is necessary for the community, and through no fault of our own we are experiencing a grand injustice – many leaders patronisingly explain that this situation is ‘complex’ and ‘politically sensitive’.
It doesn’t FEEL politically sensitive to construct/approve a massive maize mill factory that pumps out dust and noise 24/7 next to the only decent health-centre-soon-to-be-hospital in Kamwenge district. To me, it just FEELS really, really, really stupid. Politically. Ethically. Environmentally. Legally. Everything-ly.
Of course, we have come across many compassionate Ugandans over the past 2 months who hear the story and immediately get behind our plight – who have offered so much of their own knowledge, networks and resources to help us fight this. Our Ugandan family have been a core support to us (we joke that we are currently Kamwenge refugees seeking asylum from the noise, residing in their home in Kampala), and our father, as the chairperson of our board, has wisely led us through the decisions we have had to make.
A few weeks ago I was sitting with some of our staff, after we called a meeting with all of them to discuss the issue. Annet, our receptionist and a compassionate woman who has grown up in Kamwenge, was sharing with me that she was called to help a relative in town. The relative’s child had severe malaria, and needed a blood transfusion. Since we have been closed to patients, the only way to get such a transfusion is to travel 1.5 hours in a vehicle to the next district. The 2 ambulances, owned privately by the churches, both charge fees of $40+ to transport people out of Kamwenge. The average wage per month in Kamwenge would be below this figure. Annet shared how she had to find the money immediately, to save the child. But she clicked her tongue and sadly asked “what do others do, those who can’t manage to pay?” then shook her head and quietly ushered to no one in particular “they take the child home to die”.
We have experienced some really tough stuff in Uganda to date. Some big challenges. But this one is a doozy. This one feels like one of those life-defining-moments, where until you see it resolved, there aren’t many answers to life’s questions, and the future looks like a blank canvas.
I honestly wish I could write a blog that stated that I know 100% that Maranatha Health will still be in Kamwenge in 1 year. I wish I could write that the district will fight long and hard to keep us here, since they know we are essential for this community. I wish I could write that despite the corruption in Uganda, I still believe in the Ugandan legal system enough to say that we would win such a black and white case. I wish I could write that I am sure God will magically and miraculously end this problem.
I try to convince myself of those things every day.
But I don’t know.
All I CAN write is that we will give 100% to fighting for the poor of Kamwenge and their right to access quality health services– until we have won or lost.
And that God WILL be cheering us on, just like he has cheered on those who have challenged injustice throughout history, calling on those in this country that know him well, to act justly and righteously.
*On re-reading my description of justice in Africa, it occurred to me that this concept is more of a description of justice everywhere, at least at an international and corporate level.