SARAH WAS NOT FAZED BY THE POVERTY, SHE BELIEVED .
Story by: Prince Wako
Having taken up the opportunity as a volunteer, I was confronted by a series of scenarios, reason and reality. With a team of four, we travelled far east, to the tail end of Lake Victoria. The reality on the ground and experiences hit me hard. There was no need to employ any kind of excuses, disguised as reason. The status of the village spoke for itself. Isolated with no reliable power supply, survival here was for the fittest. This was a village that many considered lost, but it was part of my country. Thick webs of poverty weaved around the whole village, showcasing years of under development and lack of essential services. I called it ‘the real third world village.’ There was not much that separated families on the village in terms of social stratification, their shelters looked similar – old mud huts with corrugated walls. Huts were made of papyrus mats for walls, many were easily destroyed by stormy weather. Some Small children ran after our vehicle, naked, they shouted on top of their lungs. No one cared if they were dressed or not, to the rest of the villagers, it was ok. As we drove through narrow, rocky village paths, the elderly stopped and gazed, one after the other. In the trading center, I saw children collecting garbage and plastics. I later learned, plastics were sold to mobile junk shops for pea nuts. I had earlier read a newspaper article about this village, a story pinning most of the parents. It was reported that parents forced their sons and daughters into towns of developed districts to beg for money on the streets. Girls ended up falling into traps of prostitution and in the end struggling with unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. It was a common phenomenon for villagers here, to bury the young who lost battles to sexually transmitted diseases. This is the kind of reality that welcomed us.
Next to the elementary school, I saw kids lining up, with plastic plates in their hands, ready to be served free food given by a non-government group that had embarked on setting up a series of development projects in the area. Most of the people in this part of the country wallowed in abject poverty, even when the lake provided fish, there was less of grain-food that is so essential in building the ability of a human body. Some families survived on one meal a day. In different homesteads, I saw naked children sited under mango trees, with ribs clearly visible, they fed on unripe mangoes and starvation kept them grounded. The floods that came with the previous rainy season had destroyed all the crops, there was nothing stored in the granaries. Many young men had resorted to drowning in alcohol and this increased the level of violence in the area. It did not matter whether a woman was pregnant or not, sick, young or vulnerable, if a man was angry with her, she received a thorough beating and several kicks that left her with bruises and wounds to nurse – with nowhere to report the violence. Youths spent the day in bars, drunk themselves silly and initiated fights that turned out to be bloody. It was so clear to me, the source of the pain and instability in the village was poverty. There was one spring well that served both animals and people, the nearby health center was located seven kilometers away and there was only one elementary school. My first interaction with the locals gave me a revelation, there were just a handful of individuals that could clearly express themselves both in writing and speech, the national language was like a taboo to them.
Nevertheless, the village chairperson gladly received us. Despite of the conditions seen on our way there, there seemed to be a ray of hope shinning over a few homesteads. The non-government group we found giving out food had pitched camp in the area. Several developmental projects were now in the pipeline, and for those who understood their agenda, there was reason to be excited. A mini-water pump was being put in place, to pump water from the lake, to where most of the homesteads stood, that was about six kilometers apart. Unfortunately, in a society that looked rotten on the face of it, there were just a hand full that really cared about genuine development, but those who believed in it, had an admirable passion for it. I fell in love with the hospitality of the villagers, despite of them grappling with abject poverty every single day. The more time I spent in the village, the more I understood the essence of reality, education and reason. The other volunteers, officials of the non-government group, which was spearheading the construction of the water pump, classrooms for the primary and vocational schools gave us full access to what they were doing. They worked alongside a few villagers that helped them with translation and co-ordination. One girl that kept translating caught my attention. I later got to know her as the daughter of a retired elementary school teacher. She was so involved in many of the projects, I could not help noticing the difference between her and the rest. She had an unimaginable passion that struck us as soon as we set our eyes on her doing her work. I later learnt her name, Sarah.
Sarah was no stranger to poverty, violence and adversity, she was young and semi- illiterate. Someone one would have loved to listen and talk to her on any given day. Talking to her, I learnt she was not ready to settle for what she was at that time. Sarah wanted to become better, she wanted the tag of poverty scrapped off her life, her family and the entire village. To some point, the other villagers seemed not to understand her – just like most visionary people. She was able to read, write and freely talked to many of the volunteers who spoke the national language, the others couldn’t. She made friends with many and always asked for advise on a range of personal development issues, she craved for a better future. The rest of the village thought she had it all, but she was only a young girl, with a vision, a vision that poverty had imprisoned. At the back of my mind, I knew she was going to be unstoppable, her persistence and ability to invest in friends was out of this world. She would have chosen to go to any city area in the country and survive there, but here she was, in this poverty-stricken village actively participating in building the village. This new non-government group was the ray of hope, the classrooms and water pump were the rallying point and from what I learnt from her, she had several ideas, some that most of us researchers had not thought about. Watching all these projects take shape added impetus to her belief that growth and development was possible. I remember her talking about Inviting people over, to teach the villagers commercial methods of farming so that they can benefit from the crops they grow and earn an income to cater for their domestic needs. For me, such an experience was a motivating factor. In my mind, I was thinking about how to avail good vocational skills trainers in the area. Something more had to be done for the growth of this forgotten village. One thing I noticed was the fact that many dedicated youths spent their valuable time helping in establishing the different projects. Some had recently abandoned bars to help. There was a sense of belonging and ownership in their participation.
Before winding up with our research, Sarah invited us over to her home, and there I saw a family that was fully in support of their daughter, the only child they were left with. The parents though elderly, supported her in all her endeavors, she worked hard not to betray their trust in her. Sarah narrated one story that left her at cross roads, with this experience, she was left with a few options going forward, she had to stay the course. “It was 18th July two years back when I rushed my elder brother to the government hospital in the neighboring district, he died in hospital the following day, I did not have money at that time, dad was away on the island and mum was nursing a broken leg. When we reached hospital, my brother told me he wanted water, I told him I did not have any money to buy bottled water, I lay on the hospital floor helpless as the nurses whisked him away on a trolley. I waited in the corridor, clueless until I was told that he was dead. I felt sorry, I could have done all in my power to have money to get him to hospital earlier, but I failed.” Sarah was a strong girl, but I could tell there was a lot of pain that she was working hard to overcome, she continued. “He swept the village market every day during the holidays, he cleaned all the dirt from every corner in the filthy market and just got a few coins. Despite the difficulties in the home, our parents had managed to keep both of us in school, we both walked to St Charles primary school in the neighboring district every day, and now I am alone. I want to have a better future, I want this place to have a prosperous future. My mother never attended any school, and my elderly father was educated as a local Christian evangelist.” Sarah’s moments of failure had made her stronger, from what she said, I could tell she believed in the power of receiving a decent education and that being her choice, she was eager to break the vicious circle of poverty in her family and the community at large. I was moved by what this girl talked about, at her age, her dreams were for her family and her community.
We all spend all our time waiting for that chance, in other instances we keep doing what we believe is our passion until we get that well deserved breakthrough. Sarah is one of a kind, though young, she had accepted the pain and failures of the past, but she was not ready to sleep and cry over that pain and failure. Every day that I watched her, she was faced with a series of challenges but always got up again and again, dusted herself and kept working towards her goals. In the realities of the unseen world, memories sip from our veins and this forces us to strive to find some peace in our dreams and ambitions through hard work and not wish we were in positions to fly away into the dark clouds and the endless hills of fear. We were not to stay forever, but the experience shaped what I dedicated my life to. Before I left, Sarah told something that motivated me further, she said. “I am so grateful that I will be attending school in a classroom of brick and cement here, but I strongly believe, the research you have carried out in my little village is the vehicle that will bring growth and development, I can feel it and every time I close my eyes, I see it.” I knew exactly what she meant, it would be a betrayal of her hope if we presented our research and forgot about doing something to better the conditions we found there.
Now let us be part of furthering the hope, you and I can be how Sarah’s dream of attaining a decent education, training villagers in different skills, availing different community essentials and the eventual development, growth of her entire community can be achieved. Deep down my heart, I know, our research can only be of significance if, practical projects are established to develop the area or funds are realized to fund selected development projects in the area. At Prince Wako foundation, we will stand with Sarah, to us She represents the future generation, willing to work and persevere through all kinds of hardships to see growth and development in their lives and the communities where they live. I have grown to understand that if one does not ask, the answer will always be no, so I will take a leap of faith and ask each one of you to be part of this practical part. This being one of the many communities in the developing sub-Saharan region, we believe the involvement of everybody in providing quality education, community projects and services in schools and villages will encourage growth and development. With needs designed to fit each community, we are inviting you to come up and start up a development project in one of the selected communities or support programs and services that are already ongoing in the different rural communities. We are asking also for your support through donations of goods and or services that would directly enhance fundraising efforts. Donations can also be made in monetary form towards a selected cause and project. If you are unable to donate but would like to support in another way, please contact us with your proposal.