Nothing comes easy in Uganda. Every street that you walk down is overflowing with women, men and children struggling to make enough money to survive. Yesterday when we were driving in a matatu (12 passenger van taxi) into Kampala we were passed by a black van, with what sounded like young girls yelling in the back. At the next intersection, while we were waiting behind a myriad of vehicles, we saw dozens of children of all ages run as fast as possible past our taxi. Immediately afterwards the other passengers in the taxi with us began to laugh and yell out the window at the kids. We then looked to our right and saw the same black van that we had previously seen, pulled over with two men chasing after, and forcing the children into the van. What became very clear was that these children were not just regular children, but rather they were homeless and were all out on the streets begging for money from anyone who was passing by (in vehicles or on foot). What I failed to mention earlier, is that the area of Kampala that we were in was the "rich, government sector" where a lot of business people and Muzungus (foreigners) are often found. I should stop here and explain that the only reason we were also in this area is because we were scheduled to be at a lawyer's appointment. Normally we avoid the muzungu rich areas of Uganda. Anyway, back to the "story", it became very apparent to us that the kids were being rounded up by these men as a means to "clean up" the streets so that the businessmen and muzungus would not be harassed by them on their lunch breaks or when they were in their cars driving home at the end of the day. There are countless reasons why these children are homeless, including the loss of their parents, lack of education of their parents and thus lack of ability to provide for their children, fleeing abuse or neglect, or because it is all they know (they were born on the streets). I am definitely guilty of becoming annoyed with the constant stream of children that will unapologetically and with great fervor, approach us on the street for money. However, the reason for this annoyance is a feeling of complete helplessness. There is absolutely no way that we can give money to all the children who ask for it (often dozens at one time) and so we are forced to look these kids in the eye and tell them we cannot help them. We succumb to the feelings of inadequacy and helplessness. Not once during one of these moments of frustration have I wished that the children would just be cleared away like unsightly trash from the side of a road. The fact that the locals only laughed and jostled the kids from their windows was infuriating for me and left me in tears at the back of the taxi. But then it hit me like a brick wall, when we are back home in Canada, how many children have we passed on the streets who need our help, and are in manageable numbers that we could actually stop and offer some sort of assistance, but instead we drive past because they have become commonplace and just another part of the "scenery" on the way home after a long day at work. How many times have we become annoyed by the squeegee kid at our window or the young runaway who persistently follows us to our car after shopping, asking us for money. We are no better than the people here who have become so used to the tragedy around them that they have become numb to the fact that these are children, that they see every day just want a shot at a life like everyone else.
It doesn't matter what continent we are living in, there is extreme poverty everywhere. These people are often victims of their surroundings and can rarely do anything to pull themselves out of their current state without the love and servitude of those around them. So in the short term, we now walk around with a pocket full of 100 shilling coins ready at any given moment to hand them out to any child that needs it. In the long term, we are committed to helping as many children here in Uganda, as well as back home in Canada to be able to lift their heads above the waves of desperation and lack of education, that are seemingly drowning them every day of their lives.
When we are lucky enough to have more than we need, it is our obligation to give to others, to bless them so that they too can bless others.