In The Course Of Service…

Every so often, it is important that one purposely remove themselves from the comfort of their homes, lives, usual life settings and venture into unpredictable, unprecedented environments to experience something new.
Otherwise what’s the worth of existing in one monotonous, albeit comfortable environment your entire lifetime? What then do you do with your mind after fully familiarizing yourself with your default surroundings?

Say for instance, you go to bed every night on a mattress, between sheets and a duvet under a roof, ever wondered what it’d be like to spend a night in a tent under skies so open you hear every little raindrop on the tent canvas just 2 inches above your head? Or imagine, instead of having a car door opened for you, you were helped onto the back of a pickup on a rainy, muddy evening…with a goat bleating all the way to your destination. Quite the experience, I tell you.

Point is, explore. I love to explore. Luckily for me, being a part of Rotaract has allowed me to do just that while I serve. We go to places away from home to try to bring some hope into other people’s lives; people who are in need and indeed many times we do.
Last weekend while with Rotaract Bukoto for their #Kabutemba16 project, I’m afraid I failed. Or I feel that I did. So I thought I’d write about it and maybe then, feel better.

I met a girl. A young, beautiful girl. Jacky Namukisa. A primary six student. She wants to become a police woman. Why? They’re fearless in their fight against crime. At least in her opinion. She referred to me as “Musawo,” loosely translating into Doctor.
She says she’d earlier seen me administering deworming tabs and vitamins to the kids. She was in that queue too; only I didn’t remember because well, the kids were quite a number and you’re not exactly looking to cram a face while at it.

She says she admires what ‘basawo’ do so I ask, why then, she doesn’t want to become a musawo herself?
Her biggest fear with that is losing a life on her watch. That’s why. I ask that she tell me more about her school since she doesn’t go to school to this community’s Primary School whose classrooms the club has brought new desks for.

First I’m curious as to how she ended up being here today.
Her mother who single-handedly supports her and three other siblings, when she heard, had to bring the last one for free medical care (baby has a fever) that was to be given to all during the medical camp. The family walked here from another village. I ask where her mum is and she points to a corner of this classroom structure in which most of us are to get shelter from the now relentless thunderstorms outside.
There, a frail looking middle-aged woman sits, with a distant, seemingly absent in thought look, holding a child in a baby shawl; another little girl sits right beside her. She is yawning.

Jacky remarks in a frustrated tone how fast they have to get home and cook because her little sister is hungry.
It’s 3 pm now and they have been here since morning. Lunch should’ve been served by now (everybody that comes here for the project is served food) but the rain has interrupted the process. In fact, my friend Nas has some news; apparently the huge 3-stone and wood fire on which our food was being cooked outside has been put out by the showers. I rummage through my cross bag for anything to eat and thankfully I have chocolate beans (smarties) which I hand to her to take to the sister.

When she returns, our conversation resumes.
Her father lives in Kampala. He never visits or supports in any way. She doesn’t know his name. Sigh.
After longingly looking at the scholastic material, among them reams of paper, that Liz and Nic are organizing on old battered desks in another crowded corner of the room, she tells me about the printer at her school.
The old boys and girls bought the school a printer to aid in printing of exam papers. The printer has never been used since its inception. Instead, as part of the 200, 000 UGX school fees, the pupils still incur the cost of printing. She says that parents have time and again suggested to the administration that they each provide a ream of paper instead but the headmaster doesn’t heed to the suggestion.

She notes that all the female basawo are wearing trousers and says it must be nice to freely wear trousers. She doesn’t own any pair because should a girl be seen wearing trousers in her village, they are labeled “spoilt.” So she hopes to go to high school away from home like her elder sister and there, wear them freely. Her only worry with this is whether her mother will be able to support her to that point. Her school gives bursaries to top students, so I encourage her to strive for that. She says she’s working hard in school, however, the work at home and the inconvenience to get to school are in her way.

Primary School students at St. Aloysius, Bukalagi are all encouraged to go to boarding school but her mother can’t afford that. As thus, she treks for approximately an hour from Lusenke village to get to school in Bukalagi, right after she has done house chores. Her school has paid an extra set of “expert” teachers to teach during the morning prep that goes from 6 am – 7 am. She arrives at 7 am when these lessons are done.

The pupils whose parents can afford boarding school have a huge advantage over her. I encourage her to not waiver in her faith. I believe in her. I promise her that one day she will make it and will remember that I said she would. I want to walk to her mother and ask if I can leave with her, but then who takes this smart kid away from their mother and where do I put her anyway? I don’t have a home of my own, let alone the resources to take care of her. I have no plan myself. My grip on hope is slackening.

So much energy,a good head on her shoulders and a responsible child who, should she be placed in an alternate environment with resources, exposure and privilege, would without a doubt, shine.
Who knows, maybe she will beat all the odds and shine indeed. I can only hope and pray. Please pray with me. The rain has stopped. All pupils are asked to step out so we say our goodbyes.

My reality has now crystallized. The realization that in the course of service, I met a young girl whose not-so-fortunate situation I failed change slowly, painfully sinks in.