Sunday, April 29, 2007


On Friday evening, as a rainstorm was beginning to blow in, Lamech, the Ugandan extension worker for our Matiti (goat) project, visited my home to tell me about the plight of one of our HIV positve mothers and goat recipients, Alice. He had been following up on her goat in the village where she lived, only to learn that she had moved into nearby Nyahuka trading center without her goat - whom she left with another goat keeper - but with her 5 children and her mother. Recently widowed, her home in the village was accidently burned to the ground by one of her children, and she was only able to afford to rent a small shelter. Lamech took me to her home, just behind a main road and I found her huddled in a tiny grass covered hut, smaller than the size of our 8ft x 4ft cho (pit latrine) and much less glamourous: unpainted mud walls and an unfinished floor. The door was ajar and she was cooking food just inside the doorway over a charcoal stove, with a newborn baby in her lap, and her 3 and 5 year olds playing on an old, tattered 4 inch mattress. I wondered to myself who got to sleep on it at night. Both of the children were coughing heavily and frequently. The room was so small that neither Lamech nor I could fit inside and so we sat just outside the door, our eyes tingling with smoke from the hot coals. All of Alice's wordly possessions were contained in this tiny room that she shares with 6 other people. As if that weren't bad enough, on the other side of one of the walls, inches from where they live, sleep, and eat was a pit latrine the same size as her shelter.

It was truly one of the worst housing situations I have ever seen, and I just couldn't help thinking of how vivid this picture was of what a terribly broken world we live in. We talked about her options- building a new home on property owned by her husband's family but Lamech said that would cost upward of 1 million Ugandan shillings (about $600) which is currently beyond what I can help her to do - or at least in the short term, moving to another place to live. She was confident that other rented rooms were available nearby, at least with cement walls and zinc roofs, even if they didn't offer any separate space for cookng. So I gave her money to rent such a place for the next few months. I then came slowly home with a heavy heart and a deeper appreciation for my 3 bedroom house, my electric lights, my running water which I heated for a bucket bath, my spacious kitchen, and the nutritious dinner I prepared and sat down to eat. My assistance to her felt like little more than a band aid because that's really all it was.

It was extremely humbling.

There but for the grace of God go I.

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