Empowerment. It’s a catchy, popular word (especially in development work), but often not actualized (paternalism and giveaways are just plain easier). Our organization cares A LOT about empowerment. Just visit the homepage of our website and you’ll find the word 7 times, including a definition. To empower is to give someone who lacked ability, the ability to do for themselves. Over the last 15+ years working with our cooperatives in East Africa, we have participated in their empowerment, going from a place of great need to being able to meet their own AND others’ needs. Read on to see just how.
During the summer months this year, our family in Kenya and Uganda experienced a great deal of sickness among themselves and their children. Many of them battled malaria, some more than once, typhoid, and various acute and chronic pains. (While they do their best to order their own environments at home, they have less control over other facilities such as their schools, which makes them more susceptible to illness than anyone would like.) Each time they informed us one of them were sick, it was accompanied by faith, acknowledging God’s nearness amidst the illness, and the power of God to heal. Multiple times they also informed us of the advocating they had to do at certain clinics to ensure their children received the care they needed. Their communications with us were not panicked pleas for help or funds. Rather, they were more informational and marked with thanksgiving, as a result of empowerment.
Alongside caring for their own sick children, our cooperatives have been responding to health needs in their community. One day this month, as Annette Nabugo was passing by the children’s playground, she happened to see a young girl who was carrying a boy on her back. Annette asked the girl what had happened to the boy and she said he had been accidentally burnt by hot water a few days prior. The boy was in great pain and could barely walk. Immediately Annette brought the girl and boy to Josephine Nakimuli, who is competent in basic first aid. Josephine asked a lot of questions and checked the wound, which was very infected.
The children are Annette and Josepine’s neighbors, so they went to get their mother to inform her of the infection and that it needed serious care. Within a few minutes the mother came and answered Josephine’s questions concerning the wound. His mother expressed that she needed help treating the wound. When he first got burnt, they rushed him to a clinic in the village where a nurse began to manage the wound. A few days later they had spent 70,000 Ush ($19, or more than 6 days of pay for an average rural Ugandan), no clear progress was visible, and the boy was still in intense pain. They couldn’t go back because they had run out of funds. That’s when Annette had found him, very much in need of healing.
From that day, Josephine has been dressing the wound three times a day, teaching the mother what she needs to do to keep it from getting infected, and what that means in case it does. As the healing progresses, the pain is much lower than it was and he can even walk around at home. The parents have seen already that healing is on its way.
After some days, the mother came to ask the question she’d been dreading: “How much will I pay for this so we start preparing ourselves” (for the financial burden)? Josephine told her, “We are trying to love you our neighbor just like we love ourselves by sharing your situation as if it was our situation. By doing this we are pleasing God and he’s happy as he sees us all happy, and your boy having the hope of not losing his foot but that he will be healed and be able to play again.”
Before this, the mother hadn’t even set foot on our land, but now she is coming every day, expressing her gratitude and saying she has never experienced this kind of love. She sees that love even in the way her son is being handled in the treatment process compared to at other places (clinics).
In the words of Lawrence, who told us this powerful story, “I think as we continue to learn and be more sensitive in all situations, God is going to do so much, not just for us (because he has already done so much for us), but even for our neighbors. They will continue to experience the fruit of that education we are receiving and lives will be saved, transformed. There will be empowerment, eyes opened, healing. I think the kind of sight and sensitivity that Annette displayed in this situation was great, allowing the boy and his family to experience a touch of God to meet their need. I praise God for that.”
We are praising God for the continued healing of this boy, and the empowerment which Lawrence speaks of and Annette and Josephine demonstrated. They who were once in need themselves now know how to advocate for their own health needs AND participate in the healing of others. In the face of sickness themselves, they have not neglected to love their neighbor as themselves, as Josephine said best: “Sharing in your situation as if it were our situation.” Amen Josephine, amen.