My Response

Date: June 26, 2014
Location: Nkozi, Uganda

I'm sure you've either read or heard of this article: "Instagramming Africa: The Narcissism of Global Voluntourism" (click the title for a link to the article)

There's something I'd like to address.

Yes, I agree, it is important to make sure that your heart is in the right place before coming to a place like Uganda - i.e. are you doing this to receive praise and admiration from family and friends, or are you doing this to learn new things and to experience discomfort for the glory of God?

But, I assure you, I have my heart in the right place.

All I know is this: I came here for Jesus. I came here to learn - to open my mind, heart, and spirit in ways never before. And boy, have I learned or what.

I am not ignorant enough to think a random white person like me can actually change an entire country like Uganda. That's not my goal. My goal is simply to learn...to love this place and be loved by it.

***

For those of you who don't know, I am participating in Notre Dame's International Summer Service Learning Program (ISSLP), through which I am living and working in Nkozi, Uganda, for two months this summer. Right now, I'm halfway through week five.

One of my friends messaged me on Facebook and asked, "Hi Haley, I don't mean to be rude, but I'm wondering why you think it's your place to serve in Uganda. Are you offering something that local Ugandan workers could not do themselves if given your funding? This (click "This" for a link to the article) is one of my favorite lectures by the famous Catholic intellectual Ivan Illich which explains (a lot better than I can) the offensiveness of volunteerism. Please let me know what you think."

This was my response: "Incredible article. This may surprise you, but I agree with the majority of it. Last summer, I lived and worked in a homeless shelter in a suburb of Chicago for two months. I went into the summer planning on making a difference there, and I think in some ways, I did.

This summer is quite different. I did not come to Uganda to make a difference. I personally HATE when people think they can simply waltz into a different country and magically make a difference with their presence without even understanding the country, its people, its culture, language, history, successes, failures, etc. It's virtually impossible to make a LASTING difference in a country you know nothing about. 'No theologian can legitimately think he or she knows another situation without honest dialogue with concrete believers who live in that particular social location.'*** 

Obviously, I know a lot about America, and I have a pretty good understanding of homelessness in America (I've worked with the homeless in America for the past two years of college), so last summer you could say I actually knew (somewhat) what I was doing. This summer, I really have no idea what I am doing. I 100% did NOT come to Africa to 'sacrifice' or 'make a difference' or even 'fix' Uganda. None of that is possible for someone like me who barely knows anything about this place. Instead, my goal this summer is simply to LEARN. My only goal is to observe this place and everything about it and to live each day faithfully and fully aware of everything and everyone I come into contact with, so that one day I may return to Uganda with a better understanding of this place and how I can help in some small way (in the future, I plan to work in international development). You have to start somewhere, right? Well, this is my starting place."

"Making an 'option [for the poor]' requires the courage to accept small beginnings. Mother Teresa was not doing a lot of social analysis when she first started ministering to the dying...There is a danger to thinking of the lives of exemplary people only as a series of big and remarkable events."***

Everyone has to start somewhere. This is my starting place.

I'm actually not even really "serving" in Uganda this summer. I'm not doing the typical week-long stay at a school or orphanage (although that kind of service is definitely needed...but ideally for longer than just one simple week). Instead, my work here can be considered a "business-service" program. I am an intern for the Ford Family Program in Human Development Studies and Solidarity. I am a finance major at the University of Notre Dame (go Mendoza go), so I am working with microfinance solutions in rural Uganda. Catholic Relief Services (CRS) started community-based savings groups here in Uganda called Savings and Internal Lending Communities (SILC) a few years ago. I am working with the 30-plus SILC groups in the 12 villages of Nnindye Parish, both evaluating their progress thus far and working on developing the next phase of SILC: a business skills training program for the members of the SILC community. I'm basically working as a consultant for the community, advising them on how best to design and implement this "next phase." Very exciting stuff! Not your average internship, to say the least. As a side note, click here for more information about CRS/SILC.
So no, I am not stupid enough to think I can change this entire continent.
No, I am not prideful enough to think I am here to tell people how to live.
Because if anything, these people are teaching me how to live.
I've learned more from Aggie, Kush, Francis, Michael, and all of my other peers/supervisors here than I could ever possibly teach them.

And another thing that I've been really wanting to write about for a while now.
Just because I post a picture like this (below) on my blog or Facebook of me and Aggie's (my Ugandan roommate's) baby sister, does not mean I am "instagramming Africa."
Simply because I post a picture (below) of me and the kids that I visit multiple times a week at the primary school next door to our university, does NOT mean I am the exact same as the tourists described in the article at the beginning of this post. On the contrary, I am not pretending to "fix" or "change" these people or tell people back home how "wonderful" I am for being here...I am simply here to love and be loved. And I'd also like to point out that that the children in the pictures I post are children I know personally - I know their faces, their names, their stories, their family lives, their dreams - not some random village kids I thought were cute and wanted to pose with (although every village kid I see is, in fact, adorable).
So there you go, THAT is my response to the anonymous person who posted the "Instagramming Africa" link on my last post and to everyone else who has shared, or has thought to share, that article with me.

Are some people like those tourists discussed in that article? YES, without a doubt.
Is that how I am? Well, I guess that's your opinion, but hopefully after reading this blog post, your answer will be a definite no.

To conclude, I'll leave you with this. Take it as you wish. "Making an option [for the poor] is not an abstract undertaking. It is about faces and voices. We get to know the faces of individuals by sharing life with them. There is a clear distinction between 'to live with' and 'to do for' (Vanier 1989, 150). Sharing life means sharing the everyday struggle; that is why again and again throughout history Christians have chosen to be with the people. It is not always possible 'to leave everything.' We are bound by responsibilities. But we can make an effort to think about priorities, to discover the underside of our societies with the destinies and stories we encounter."***

As always, I love you for reading.
And as always, comments are welcome (but be nice this time pretty please).

Peace love hugs kisses cats and all that good stuff,
Haley

***Source: Clemens Sedmak, Doing Local Theology, Ch. 5 "Local Theologies and the Social Situation"

Comments

  1. Haley,
    I find so much joy in reading your blog posts. I have learned so much from your perspectives on helping others, giving of yourself, and how you define joy. It reminds me to live like Christ, even in the small ways, like you last post said, with getting up every morning and making Jesus part of your life. And thank you for reminding me and all other readers that God is always with us, especially through sharing your experience with Uganda and your bestos with all of us.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for reading and for your support. You are an angel! Let me know if you ever have any comments/questions or topics you think I should blog about in the future! Thanks again!!!

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  2. I don't know you, but I wish I did. You are wise beyond your years. God bless you for your compassion and commitment.

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    1. Thank you so so much! You're too sweet!

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  3. Haley, just finished reading your response to the anonymous comment you rececived regarding your stay in Uganda.. I am so very, very proud of you for doing everything that you do for the homeless and now working with the people in Uganda. It is very true that poeple who think they can change a country by a one week visit is a myth, but what you are doing is absolutely beautiful for you and your friends in Uganda, Keep it up.G-ma

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    Replies
    1. You rock g-ma. LOVE YOU like crazy and can't wait to see you in three short weeks!!!! (:

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