Preparing for our trip to Africa, I tried to get an understanding of the severe level of poverty that exists throughout Eastern Africa so that I wouldn’t have an overwhelming initial shock and not be able to process all that I would see. However, the reality is that you can never be prepared for the conditions that individuals in a developing country live in day after day. As a social service worker, I have always had an interest in helping vulnerable populations overcome their struggles and improve their well being. However, despite the frequent visits to the dilapidated neighborhoods of Atlanta where I have served the homeless population, they do not compare to the severity of poverty in the neighborhoods we have visited in Kampala, Uganda. The level of poverty I have seen here is different from American poverty that I have witnessed in terms of sanitation and available basic needs. Basic amenities such as clean water, accessible food, reliable shelter, and ample clothing are scarce. Many families have to walk to a nearby pump or well to retrieve their water. In many cases, nearby is a relative term.
Some of these pumps may be more than a mile from someone’s home. It is collected in containers, called jerry cans, and then transported by hand or bike back to the home. They typical jerry can holds 20 liters of liquid. Image the weight! However, this amount of water retrieved seems small when taking in to account all that it is used for-drinking, bathing, washing clothes, and cooking for the household. Additionally, it is not clean in nearly the same standards that we have in America, making it even more difficult for an outsider to understand how the majority of people in Uganda live a healthy lifestyle.
On average, individuals living in Kampala earn less than a dollar a day. While many items for purchase or trade are less expensive in Uganda than in America, it is still challenging for a vast majority of the population in Kampala to live in a healthy, productive way. We have learned that the unemployment rate is reported at 75% for the country, so this puts a lot of their lifestyle into perspective. Despite these unpleasant conditions, I have found the people of Uganda to be unbelievably happy and carefree in their lifestyles. They are a welcoming, friendly, and curious nation that I have never experienced anywhere
else. Their way of life has been incredibly inspiring to me in that their happiness does not depend on social status, income, or material possessions. It has made me reflect on the values that we as Americans place on things that seemingly aren’t relevant to happiness for Eastern Africans.
All photos are my own.