Friday, May 16, 2014

Tension

It's that time again here in Uganda. School fee time.  Lack of free education means struggling to send children to school for most of the population.  Thefts increase....selling a stolen TV can pay tuition in full for at least one quarter. Our Ugandan friends will hesitantly (and some not so hesitantly) ask for financial help for their children.  And, sadly, many will have to tell their kids that school won't be an option this term.

Honestly? It's a place of tension for me.  (Anyone read the book, "When Helping Hurts"?  You should.)   This is a hard topic to write about because there's no quick, easy answer. No situation is alike.  Discernment is important.  It's a culture that's still riddled with a poverty mentality. Where planning ahead is a foreign concept, where even if you have a steady job, the wages of 400,000 UGX a month (less than $200) don't cover much more than food and shelter, and where relationships with your friends, family, community, and neighbors mean they might pitch in financially when needed. Also, it means being an ex-pat in a developing country can sometimes come with a price tag.  We have advantages. The advantage of being born into a nation that has opportunities like free education, jobs, healthcare, clean water, housing, government assistance, must I go on?  We gripe about these things and the enabling situations they sometimes can create, but we have them. Abuse them, yes. Take advantage of them, yes.  Become indifferent or take them for granted, yes. But we have them.  If a financial disaster were to happen to my family and I could no longer make ends meet, I have an option to receive government assistance and my children still can get an education. That's advantage.

So when our friends here ask, we give.  We give to a friend wanting to get married because it's the community that financially helps him put on a wedding, give a dowry, start a life.  We give to the gate guards and house help because we know that by having them employed, it means being a part of their lives and struggles.  As I watched my friend give to the random lady who walked up to her, the "mzungu" in a parking lot, with hopes of some money for school fees, I thought about how in that instance, saying "no" because you don't want to enable or create dependency or confirm the "white savior" mentality - is HARD.  It's hard to look someone in the eye and say, "I'm sorry, but no" especially when you know you have money to give.  It's hard to keep looking forward when the beggar on the street is at your window, knocking and holding her hand out....and the hand of the baby on her hip, too.  It's hard to see the endless need. It's absolutely gut wrenching to not give.

But it's gut wrenching to give, too. ( Do you feel the tension??)   I know that teaching someone with a poverty mentality to learn to save and prepare financially for upcoming expenses, I KNOW that it's in the teaching, not the giving, that sustainability comes.  I know that the difficult tasks of 60 Feet - healthcare education, resettlement with family, counseling (just to name a few) - are where the fruit begins to grow in a person's life.   I know the old adage of "teaching a man to fish" is the better way. In fact, our Ugandan friend, a recipient of support with his school fees throughout most of his education, said just the other night, " When foreigners give, it's helpful, but when they teach us, it's better."

But - again - the tension.   The tension between giving and knowing that the gift might not be the most helpful thing.  It's excruciating to roll around in my mind. But when I do hear stories of someone who pulled up their own bootstraps and figured out a way to be resourceful and make their own ends meet - that's invigorating! But yet, even rolling around all of these thoughts and typing them on the computer right now just adds fuel to my internal fire of why have I been blessed to be the "blessed" one?  Why do I not struggle for food, shelter, and education the way the majority world does? What are the responsibilities of this blessing?

What a burden and responsibility we carry, friends.








1 comments:

VH said...

Flo, this is such a powerful message. Thank you, friend! Not many people talk about what it's like to be disturbed by blessings - I'm not sure many of us consider it. Because you do, it's clear those blessings are not wasted. Thank you for sharing them.

 
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