Monday, October 6, 2008

Building More Than Schools

Generally speaking the women in Uganda are submissive, despite their overwhelming importance in the Ugandan culture as the primary care givers for children and their contribution to sustenance farming and trade in the markets. Even though they have only slightly lower attendance in both primary and secondary schools, women's roles in Uganda are noticeably subordinate to the males in their lives. Even today, women in the Buganda tribe are expected to kneel when speaking to or gretting a man.

These are the stories of two yound women with whom I lived.

At the orphanage the girls tended to be quieter than the boys. They kept themselves busy in the kitchen; they prepared most of the meals, did their other chores, completed their homework and hung out in their dormitory.

So we knew something very peculiar happened when a 15 year old young lady, approached Melissa and asked, “Sister, what is the meaning of fed up?”

Naturally, a little confused and worried about this question, Melissa couldn't help but to ask why and who she would say this to.

“Well,” she continued, “I said it to teacher; please tell me what it means.”

Despite her curiosity, Melissa explained, to be fed up means that you are tired of something, you are not going to tolerate an action any more, you will not put up with it any longer, and then, of course, she asked, “What happened?”

The girl replied, “Sister, in school today, teacher was going to beat me, and I said, ‘no, I am fed up’ and I ran out of the classroom and came home.”

Not long after, the jjajja (grandmother) who prepared the lunch time meal left the orphanage. The men who run the children’s home refused to prepare the meals for the students. Instead, each day one girl had to stay home from school to complete the cooking; the older girls often missing 2 or more days of school each week, and at times, missing their very important end of term exams.

It was during this exam week, that another young lady, 13, was taking her turn to stay home from school. She began preparing the lunch in the morning as usual. For half an hour she remained in the kitchen cooking posho and beans over the wood fire stove, until, suddenly a loud crash was heard from the kitchen, we ran out to see what happened, and there she is, storming to her dormitory, proclaiming, “I am wasting my time!!” She continued to put on her school uniform and march to school just as her exams began.

You may be asking the significance of these two stories. Both these young ladies inadvertently recognized that their cultural hierarchy is flawed and stood up to a system that is constantly trying to keep them down.

You cannot teach someone the resolve to take control over their lives, but can only help them build upon the values that you instill. You cannot expect someone to risk grave consequences, unless you have built a support system where they are loved and cherished. You cannot make someone stand up against their adversary, but can only encourage them to build the confidence to do so one day.

Change is possible; change is happening. It is often slow and hard to recognize, but it only takes one or two people to plant the seed of equality in the minds of others. These two young ladies are role models to the girls in their classrooms, and should be to anyone who has ever been taking advantage of, abused, harassed, disrespected, or belittled. May we all have the courage that these young ladies displayed in the face of our aggressors.

Needless to say, I am proud of these girls.

BULA is hoping to develop programs that will continue to empower women. We are currently planning courses for the women in the village so they can learn English, health, and math. These educational opportunities will be greatly valued as the majority of women do not attend school past the primary level. Continued education will not only provide these women with greater employment opportunities, but also empower the women so they lead more fulfilling lives. These women will receive more respect from their community members and pass the value education and the importance of learning on to their children.

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