I wrote this post for Global Health Corp’s blog, one of our requirements in the fellowship.
I watched him for several minutes as he bent over, clapping his hands over his right knee. Wearing a blue and white shirt with brown shorts, the young boy seemed so frustrated with something. But what? Distracted and perplexed for several minutes, I finally peeked over to get a better look. There were flies buzzing around an open wound on his knee that were bothering him. My heart felt for him, knowing he may not own a pair of long pants to protect his injury.
This was a scene I observed a few weeks ago on a field work day in Kasese District, Western Uganda. I traveled there with my placement organization, ACODEV, to participate in a psychosocial outreach day for some of our orphan and vulnerable children (OVC) beneficiaries. My coworkers spent the morning leading activities focusing on staying in school; dealing with loss and grief; and the importance of community.
The children were so candid in sharing their stories and extremely appreciative for ACODEV’s care and contributions, even offering curtsies our way. Though I was happy to be assisting in the outreach, I still felt like I wasn’t doing enough. Why was I born into a privileged life where I had access to food, education, housing, clothing, and safety yet these children weren’t? It feels unfair. These sorts of thoughts often occupy my mind.
So what could I do for the boy? Earlier in the week, I had cut my finger chopping vegetables at home and remembered that I had packed an extra band-aid in my backpack. I frantically searched my bag, hoping I would catch the young, irritated boy as he prepared to walk by me after finishing one of the group activities. Catching his attention, I motioned him over. Separated by language, I checked to make sure it was okay if I touched him and received a nod. Peeling the band-aid open, I carefully placed the small bandage on his knee, just barely covering the open cut. He smiled and I knew he understood that I had noticed his injury and wanted to help. Now the flies couldn’t land on his wound.
At the end of the day, our staff piled in the car, inviting some of the children who lived a bit further away to join so we could drop them off on the way. Many of them clutched bags containing either all of or parts of the small lunch we provided, taking them home to share. Grappling with the inequity I was observing and feeling, I pulled out a bag of chips that I had packed as a snack. The teenage girl sitting next to me calmly distributed them equally to the excited younger children.
Then, she asked me to take my hair down and giggled at its funny color. As I was reflecting about what a wonderful day it had been and how I enjoyed connecting with the children, the teen asked me if I could buy a pair of shoes for her. I looked down, considering giving her mine for a moment. I quickly resolved that not only would that be unfair to the others in the car, but it would just be a band-aid solution, exactly like the one I gave to the small boy.
As easy as and seemingly effective hand-outs are, my time with ACODEV has demonstrated to me the need for truly sustainable and community-led development efforts. Though I’m distressed by poverty that I observe around me, I am so grateful to work with a local, grassroots NGO that provides solutions to their own communities from the ground up. By training community health volunteers, running a vocational skills-training center, and building the capacity of smaller NGOS, we are providing our beneficiaries with tools that will empower them and their communities. They will break themselves out of the cycle of poverty.
Though it is personally challenging to feel so aware of the inequities between my US and Ugandan homes, I know that by working with ACODEV to strengthen their systems and build capacity, I am doing the best that I can. The immediate fulfillment of placing a band-aid on my small friend can’t compare to the benefit he would receive from long-term solutions that ACODEV, and many other organizations, are working to build. Band-aids stick, but not for long.