I'd like to preface Katelin's latest e-mail from Uganda to explain why I think what this incredible young lady is doing overseas is relevent to us here on Aquidneck Island.
I think it really helps to give us a sense of perspective on what is important in life and how lucky we all are to be living in United States. The people of Uganda in Katelin's stories show us why even a few dollars made by selling beads can be a life-changing event. While we worry about our children being overweight or watching too much TV, the people in Katelin's stories are concerned about starvation, disease, extreme poverty and war. Many of them are living daily on the very edge of existance, with few prospects for improving their lives. And yet, they freely demonstrate compassion for those even less fortunate and a strong drive to address their own problems in their own way.
So, I guess the real reason Katelin's journey is important to all of us is that it shows us that human nobility is not a function of economics or geography. The people in Katelin's stories have a lot to teach us, if we want to learn. And I appreciate this young lady from Newport who shares with us her amazing experiences.
Excerpts from Katelin's latest email:
Since I’ve last written you, as you’ve probably imagined, I've been incredibly busy. I’m currently writing a blog on how BeadforLife finds its members. Last week Claire and I went to a home visit where I videotaped her going to a woman’s business where she sells vegetables and charcoal. And afterwards we went to investigate her home situation. BeadforLife posts signs in slum areas to announce that they’re recruiting women for their programs. A group of staff members go on an arranged day and interview women. The most important qualities that BeadforLife looks for is women who have “the spark.” As Claire says, "Women who want to get ahead, yet have failed." After the woman is qualified, another arrangement is made for a BeadforLife staff member to go to the candidate's business (if applicable) and home.
Monica, the woman Claire and I visited lived in a small room inside a concrete apartment building. I videotaped as Claire asked her questions in Luganda. The room has one window with bars on it, the only furniture is a mattress on the floor. A rope is tied from one end to the other where clothes are hung. After the interview Claire told me that Monica saved 50,000 shillings (about $25) over a four-month period from her business. Yet someone broke into her room and took the money. This is one of the many challenges a lot of these women face. Many don’t know how to open up a bank account or don't have the capital to do so. Not only does Monica sell vegetables and charcoal at her small store, but she also weaves baskets in her spare time as well as purchases water containers, which she brings to her village to sell. Monica is the perfect example of the kind of woman who will make the most out of the money she earns at BeadforLife. And the thorough business trainings she will receive, will help her business become more lucrative.
But that’s not all I’ve been up to of course! Since I last wrote you, I’ve met a journalist from the UN, the High Commissioner of the Kenyan Embassy and a regular contributor to Rough Guides as well as the Voice of America. We also have a new intern at BeadforLife from Seattle. She’s been staying with me in Kampala for two weeks and is heading up to live in Otuke for one year. Her focus is to develop the Shea Program into a bigger business and expand their community development programs. But since she’s been in Kampala it seems her goal is to enjoy every meal and fun thing to do, because she’s going to be living in the middle of nowhere! Yet Hannah arrived in Uganda after doing the Peace Corp. in Mali for the last year and a half, so she's had plenty experience taking bucket baths and surviving on cabbage stew.
One of the most bonding moments Hannah and I have had since she’s been here was last weekend when we volunteered at Missionairies for the Poor in Mengo. It’s a center dedicated to housing and taking care of disabled children, children with AIDS, disabled adults and the elderly. The center is run by a small group of full time employees: ten volunteer brothers and eight staff members. There are six hundred children that are fed and assisted everyday. Most of the children arrived at Missionairies doorstep by family members who couldn’t take care of them or who’s parents died of AIDS. One of the brothers gave us a tour of the huge compound that was colourfully painted with Mickey Mouse and scenes from Disney’s Jungle Book.
Many of the children have special needs. Some children are physically disabled, others mentally. Several children have AIDS and have lost both their parents. Most people who are disabled in Uganda end up on the street. It's common to see them asking for money in downtown Kampala. In many cases their family members abandon them. During our tour, William, (who I have already mentioned in previous emails) went up to many of the children and touched their shoulders, greeting them in English. Afterwards saying to Hannah and I, “God is in every child.” William along with a group of many other ex-pats, raise money for the Missionairies of the Poor so they can provide food for the children. Hannah and I took part in preparing and serving the healthy meal of rice, beans, gravy, eggs, bananas, chapati and cake. It's a real treat for the children to eat this as they usually only eat rice and porridge on a daily basis. Before we left, a brother told us that several child receive physical therapy and are able to walk again. He pointed at a small child and said, “She was one of the those children.” When a child is able to walk again, they are sponsonsored by Missionairies of the Poor to go to school. They currently are sending one hundred children to school.
It’s amazing how the dedication of a small group of people can help the lives of so many! In the words of the Ugandans, “Never give up!”
Until next time….