Thursday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time
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Jesus said to his Apostles: “Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give. Do not take gold or silver or copper for your belts; no sack for the journey, or a second tunic, or sandals, or walking stick.”
Here is a beautiful meditation from a stunning young lady who is spending her summer break in Uganda. She is a treasure to me and has become a treasure to so many others.
Date: July 10, 2014
Location: Nkozi, Uganda (Uganda Martyrs University)
“One of the most important global disparities relates to the lack of decent work available and low incomes. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), about 200 million people don’t have any form of work.”*
A few days ago, Aggie (my Ugandan roommate) and I were having another one of our “America vs. Uganda” conversations, a conversation which I somehow seem to have at least twice a day with anyone and everyone who lives in my village here in Nkozi, Uganda. Not that I actually want to have that conversation…because I really don’t. It makes me uncomfortable. Yet every time I go for a walk in my village, visit the kids at the primary school next door, or conduct my interviews in the field, I hear, “How’s America?” or “MUZUNGU you bring me to America so I can have money like you?!” …Yeah sure buddy let’s hop on a plane and go!!!
Out of all of my America vs. Uganda conversations, some major themes have stuck with me the most, one of them being the availability vs. unavailability of jobs in America vs. Uganda.
“Haley, how are the jobs in America?” Aggie questioned. “Does everyone have a job?”
“Well no, of course not. I know many people who are jobless and even homeless. I know a lot of people who have lived in homeless shelters for years and years.”
She mentioned that before our conversation, she thought everyone in America had a job and everyone in America had a home.
“Every little child in Uganda is taught to believe that America is like Heaven,” she whispered. “I didn’t know people in America are suffering and poor like us here in Uganda.”
“There are 610,042 people experiencing homelessness on any given night in the United States. This number comes from point-in-time counts, which are conducted, community by community, on a single night in January every other year.”**
So, no, America is not a perfect place. It’s not Heaven.
As many of you already know, last summer I lived/worked in a homeless shelter in Aurora, Illinois, for two months. This summer, it’s fascinating to compare the differences between the poor/jobless in America vs. the poor/jobless in Uganda. And as I mentioned above, one of the greatest differences I’ve noted is the availability vs. unavailability of jobs. In America, if you are mentally/physically capable and you are college educated, you will most likely find some form of work, even if it is not the kind of work you prefer. Now, I understand not everyone in America is college-educated, but my point is, if you have some form of college or even high school education, you have a good chance of finding a job. In Uganda (and other countries in Africa, for that matter), it’s not like that.
“In Uganda, you could study your entire life and be the smartest person in this country and still not find a job,” Aggie said to me. Now, this is just one 22-year-old’s opinion, but I’ve been hearing this same sad news all summer from other students, professors, and village members. “When I graduate from UMU in one year, I don’t know where I will work. I will search and search for jobs and try as hard as I can like I always do, but at the end of the day there still may not be a job available for me.”
“It’s really based on who you know,” she continued. “If daddy has a nice job you can work for him, but if not, you’re completely on your own. We work hard for our education and pray that there’s some hope for us, but at the end of the day you never know. The way I see it, in a class of 100 people only the 10 smartest students will actually get a job. As for the rest of us? Nothing. There’s no jobs. No place for us to work, no matter how educated we are.”
This is the sad reality of Uganda, perhaps the saddest of them all because even if you work your entire life to get a quality education (at the university level, I might add), you may still be stuck in extreme poverty for the rest of your life.
“The boom in the global economy has not strongly been translated into decent new jobs: for every percentage point of global growth, formal sector employment has risen only by 0.3 percent.”*
“So what about your university?” she asked me. “Is it really hard to get a job after you graduate like it is for us?”
I didn’t even have the heart to answer her question. No, I thought to myself. It’s just the opposite.
Conversations like this make me very excited to get back to the developed word in just a few short weeks, where I don’t have to have these kind of conversations anymore. Conversations like this are so uncomfortable. But that right THERE proves that I’m not ready to leave Uganda just yet…because I still haven’t fully learned to embrace discomfort. Yes, these conversations are extremely uncomfortable, but they are fruitful and they are so, so necessary. For the past 20 years, I’ve been trapped in my own American-sized bubble full of rainbows and butterflies and quality education and a family who loves me. For years, I’ve had narrow vision, seeing only my personal problems and ignoring the aching pains and heart-wrenching cries of the suffering world around me. My eyes feel more open than ever before.
But I’m not going to sit here in this dining hall, as I scarf down my rice and beans and chug this probably unfiltered water, and assume that I am the savior who will bring poverty to an end. I’m not going to engage in what has become known as “poverty tourism,” and come home from Africa happy and cheerly saying things like, “Wow, what a lovely place! I placed with so many cute African orphans! I can’t wait to change the world now!!!!” #stop (sorry not sorry for using a hashtag). But seriously, no. That’s not what this summer is about.
I’ve said it once before, and I’ll say it again: this summer is my starting place. Everyone has to start somewhere, right? Well, this is my starting place.
I don’t believe I will change the world completely with my life, but I do believe my life can be that “tiny ripple of hope” Robert Kennedy describes. “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”***
I want my life to be a ripple of hope.
Join me in this adventure. Join me in this promise to leave the world better than how we once found it.
“There is no single recipe for success: each country needs to identify priorities and solutions appropriate to the national context. But there are some basic ingredients…work towards a world where peace and prosperity are not restricted to a few but are available to ALL.”*
I love you for reading,
Haley is a student at the University of Notre Dame. This meditation was reprinted (without permission ) from her blog: Hunger and Thirst.
*The United Nations Development Programme, Annual Report 2007, “Inclusive Globalization”
**U.S. News, “U.S. Homelessness is on the Decline,” http://www.usnews.com
***Jeffrey Sachs, The End of Poverty, excerpt from Ch. 18 “Our Generation’s Challenge,” Our Next Steps (0)