Uganda Day 6 – Meeting our sponsor child Hamad
Today is the day we have been waiting for – we are going to finally meet our sponsor child, Hamad.
The drive to the ChildFund centre in Hamad’s part of Kampala is not long. As the van pulls into the car park, drums begin to beat and by the time we are out of the car, a Ugandan song and dance is in full swing. It is spectacular.
After the show, a little boy appears in the doorway of the building with a bunch of flowers. It’s Hamad and he is gorgeous. He comes out into the yard and hands the flowers to me, and whispers something so quietly that I can’t hear it. His eyes are averted and he’s obviously very nervous. Although I want to hug the stuffing out of him I decide that it’s probably not the best move at the moment.
We go inside and meet the team from ChildFund. We are once again thanked profusely for being sponsors and enabling the work that they do. While this is going on Hamad and I have a whispered conversation where he tells me he is nervous and I tell him I am, too, but that we’ll have a great day together.
Hamad gives us gifts from his family, including a woven eating mat and a blue basket that is my new favourite shopping basket. We give Hamad a soccer ball – he loves to play football. His face lights up. We also give him a pump, and a spare ball just in case the other one comes to grief. The board members of the project then present Mick and I with a colourful shirt and dress, and jewellery – a wristband for Mick, hand made necklace and earrings for me. They are beautiful and we put them all on straight away.
We share some morning tea then go back outside to watch another dance. This time Mick and I are invited to join in and once again the dance and song take on a comedic note as Mick and I attempt to keep up with the dancers. After this we all pile into the van to go to the area of Kampala where Hamad lives.
We have driven through Kampala a number of times, but it has not prepared me for what lies behind the shop fronts of the main road. We turn down a narrow side street, and there is the urban slum where many people live. It is a warren of tiny laneways, mud brick and timber dwellings.
Almost every home has something out the front for sale – whether it’s some hand-made earrings or a few onions and bananas. The reason for this becomes apparent when we learn that the average income in this area is 100,000 Ugandan shillings per month – about $40 – and that the average rent is the same amount. With no space to grow their own food, these people rely on every extra shilling they can muster. Even the water costs money – 300 shillings to fill the jerry can at the bore pump.
We enter a small quadrangle and laid out on the ground are the makings of a Ugandan feast. There are women busily preparing the food and I am invited to join in. There are some major differences in food preparation between here and home. For a start, the food is prepared kneeling on the ground. It is considered disrespectful to the food to prepare it standing up. After a little while of this my lower legs go completely numb so I sit cross-legged for a while, to the amusement of the women, and I squat at one point which I get into trouble for. Apparently it’s not the done thing.
Another difference is that there are no cutting boards. Peeling, chopping and slicing are all done in the hand and the food dropped directly onto a plate or into the pot. A third difference is that everything is very, very time consuming and it is explained to me that the preparation of food takes at least two hours every day.
We prepare matooke, which is the green banana dish I wasn’t too fond of last I tried it, but I’m willing to give it another shot. We also prepare sweet potatoes, mushroom and groundnut sauce, and chicken luwombo. All of these things are very carefully and cleverly bundled into banana leaves, piled into a giant pot, blanketed with many more banana leaves and placed on three rocks over a fire to steam for three hours. It is a huge privilege to me, to be allowed to cook with these women. While the food cooks we are taken to some of the projects that ChildFund runs in this area of town.
First we are invited to join a meeting of a savings and loan group. This is a very clever system where 30 women meet each week and bring a sum of money to put into savings. The amounts are carefully recorded and the money kept in a lock-box. One person is responsible for the box and another three for the keys of the three separate padlocks. The women must save a minimum of 3000 shillings (just over a dollar) and a maximum of 15,000 shillings. The money is then available to borrow for these women to start or grow their own small businesses. It attracts 1% interest. There is also a welfare component, each woman contributes 500 shillings per week to the welfare fund and if anyone has a medical emergency, they can borrow from the welfare fund at no interest. At the end of a set period of time the funds are returned to the contributors and they spend it on a goal that they have set. We hear stories of how this scheme has helped so many of the women grow their businesses and help their families.
From here we visit a tiny little candle-making workshop. The girl running it, Naomi, is a former sponsor child. She is also a university graduate who is looking for work utilising her degree in social science, but in the meantime she is growing her business and will continue it even if she does find work. Naomi sells the candles to shops, and she describes with glee how she just kept trying and trying until the big stores got tired of her and started buying from her just to get her off their back. There’s a business lesson in that for all small businesses I think! Persistence. Her energy and her story are wonderful.
We then get to have some time with Hamad and his siblings. Mick has a game of soccer with the boys, who are very skilled at it. Hamad wants to be a professional footballer when he grows up, and he looks to have what it takes! Hamad has come out of his shell and is laughing and having an absolute blast.
Sadly Hamad’s mother has had to go away because of a loss in the family in another part of the country, so we are not able to meet her. Hamad and his siblings are here with their aunt Robina. We find out that Hamad’s 8-year-old sister is at home with malaria. Hamad’s mother supports the family. ChildFund sponsorship allowed her to get some chickens, which she reared and sold. She used the money to start her own business and now sells cooked cassava and rice on the roadside, and is looking to expand her business to also sell groceries and charcoal. She is a part of the savings and loan group.
After a little while we head back to the quadrangle to share the meal we prepared earlier. I am told that I must first serve my husband, by preparing him a plate of food and then presenting it to him while kneeling on the floor. Everyone seems to understand that while this is their tradition, it’s not ours, and it’s a source of great amusement to them when I tell Mick not to get used to it. I then do as they say and get a round of applause.
The food is eaten with our fingers. Once again it is a lot of starchy foods on one plate. I actually enjoy the matooke a lot more this time around, perhaps because it is served very fresh from the fire and has not cooled and solidified like the last lot I ate. Everything is delicious.
It is soon time to leave. I manage not to cry (much), even though I am aware as I hug Hamad that I may never see him again. It has just been the most incredible day, to meet this child who we have only seen in pictures, to interact with him, to see the area where he lives and meet his family. I am leaving with a greatly changed understanding of what child sponsorship is, and the huge reach it has in assisting not only the sponsored child and their family, but their entire community. The ChildFund staff to a person, are committed, passionate, dedicated people with a real love of the people that they serve. I am so grateful to them not only for their assistance to us on this journey, but also for the love they bring to their work.
If you are a child sponsor, I would like to share with you some of the enormous gratitude that has flowed over Mick and I in the past three days. It is gratitude not just for us, but for all of you who contribute to these projects. There is a lot of love being directed at you, from a lot of people here in Uganda. It is something to be proud of.
If you are considering becoming a child sponsor, I can tell you unequivocally that the money you send, will be used in ways that give people dignity, and hope, and opportunity. It will change lives, and it will save lives.
I know, because I have seen it.
* Many of the beautiful photos in today’s blog were taken by Jake Lyell, film maker and photographer. Jake has worked for ten years in the developing world. Visit his website to view his stunning images and stories.