margaret, and the funny thing about ugandan women

July 29, 2010
On Monday, I spent the day walking through the villages in Kakooge, which is about an hour north of Wobulenzi, where I am staying. Kakooge is an area known for its poverty, and the infestation of AIDS that is, quite literally, killing off the village and turning it into a kind of ghost town. We must have walked through twenty homes, taking stories and photos, and figuring out what the greatest needs of the women there are. I say women because there were only two men that I found still present, still trying to help their families. The rest are off 1. Drinking away the money their wives have made 2. Tending to one of their other four or five wives or 3. Dead from a case of AIDS that is now ripping through the women and children they left behind.
One comment my driver said has stuck with me. He was sitting beside me on a bench outside of a stick structure where a woman named Margaret is living with her five children. He broke a long silence, characteristic for him, by telling me that there is a “funny thing” about women in Uganda.
“The women here are the ones who get up early in the morning to work,” he said. “But at harvest time, the women give the money they have made to their men, and they are the ones who spend it. Usually, they drink it all away.”
I looked at Margaret, sitting on a mat on the floor of her rudimentary home, and my heart, literally, felt like it was bleeding down my insides. I don’t know if you have ever felt that for a person that you didn’t know, but it’s an intense experience, realizing that the person in front of you is suffering so deeply that it is making you hurt in ways that are caused by nothing at all to do with you.
Margaret’s  children are from two different fathers – one of them has abandoned them, the other is irresponsible – spending most of his time in bars, or with other women.  Like many women in Uganda, Margaret thought she could find some stability through a relationship. And, like many women in Uganda, she found herself single and starving instead.
Margaret and her five children hadn’t slept the night before we came to see her. It had rained, hard, in Kakooge, and Margaret and her children were exposed to the elements in the small, stick structure they live in. When we arrived, they were air drying the mattresses on the brush beside her small home, wet from the rain that had poured into the stick structure that she lives in.
I was documenting the work of Life With Hope when we visited Margaret. Actually, I was documenting the lives of the people the ministry has helped, along with the lives of those who are in need of a LWH sponsorship (provided like generous donors like yourselves).  While it is a ministry focusing on families damaged by AIDS, Margaret is being supported by Life With Hope’s discretionary fund, a small amount of money reserved for cases like hers. Though she does not have AIDS, Margaret suffers from extreme poverty, and has been unable to get on her feet. Through the discretionary fund, she has been able to buy chickens and two pigs to begin trying to provide food for her family.
I decided to focus on her for my first blog because her case is typical of many Ugandan women. During the day, she goes to dig casava roots to try and feed her children. This means that she hires herself out to land owners in the area, and digs roots on their property for a small amount of money. When I say small, I’m talking about fifty cents for a day’s hard labor.
Most impoverished women either dig, make coal from bark stripped from trees, wash clothing, or work at a local maize farm, picking through huge sacks of corn kernels and finding all the little pebbles that need to be thrown out.
The pastor’s wife in Kakooge gave Margaret 20,000 shillings to have her small, stick structure built, when she found her living out in the open with her children. She hopes to keep providing for her, soon enabling her to pay for mud and bricks to plaster together the meager shelter that she has covered in scarves and old food sacks. But still, Margaret is sending her children to a government school, where they are both receiving an inferior education, and spending their time in a dirty, often hostile environment where children are beaten for low grades, and forced to study without food or water.
Millie, whose family I am living with, explained to me that children in public schools in Uganda are beaten once for every point wrong on their school work. However, the public schools here tolerate late payments, and so it is the best that Margaret has been able to do.
$50 bucks would get Margaret monthly food to help her get on her feet, and $30 a piece would get her kids into school at Donela, where they would be provided with two square meals a day, and taught in a loving, safe environment.
My friend Bridget wrote me a facebook comment last week, and said “Thirty bucks – that’s about five starbucks drinks, isn’t it?”
So buy packaged fair trade African coffee, french press it, and get yourself a carton of half and half. And when you drink that instead of a triple shot breve latte five times a month, think of Margaret, because her children will be getting regular rice, beans, corn flower, cooking oil, eggs, milk, soap and toothpaste thanks to your sacrifice.