The people of the village of Kibisi are beautiful and our hosts, Gonzaga and Paskazia Lubega, could not have been more hospitable and loving.
We arrived in Entebbe around 11:00PM Tuesday (having left our home at 4:15AM Monday) and then we drove for three hours to the village of Kibisi. Even though it was 2:00AM, our hosts still laid out a lavish meal of ugali (a stiff maize porridge) and matoke (a cooked plantain/banana mash). We rested for a few hours and then began to walk the village to spend time in people’s homes and businesses.
Every person we met greeted us warmly, and it was our honor to listen to their stories and learn more about their daily lives.
We drove on long, long, dirt roads that always had to be shared with people walking and with animals. Thinking about my peacemaking teaching in a few days at the women’s conference, I was eager to learn about real-life conflicts that the people of Kibisi face. Many of the stories were utterly identical to the conflicts we face in the USA and that I’ve heard about through my teaching times in Latin America and Europe — workplace, marriage, parenting, in-laws. Apparently these are very common to all of us!
I did make our hosts laugh uproariously, however, when I asked if neighbors ever had any conflicts over where they allow their goats to graze. “Every single day!” was their response.
(I was glad to give them a chuckle—and to have another good case study example for my teaching time.)
Tragically, I also heard horrific stories of physical and sexual abuse, especially at the hands of drunken, polygamous, husband-in-name only men. This was crushing for me personally, but I must tell you that so many women (and many men, too!) are working day and night to change the culture for girls and women that I was simultaneously devastated and inspired! The women leaders I met are truly the unsung heroes of Uganda. They often do all of the domestic work (gathering water, food, the cooking and laundry) and try to earn funds (to be able to pay for subsistence nutrition for the extended families).
The home of the average Kibisi woman includes 8 or 9 people living in, at most, two rooms with dirt floors and no windows or doors to keep out mosquitos or animals. We heard story after story of extremely smart, gifted girls who long to continue their education, but are unable to do so simply because they cannot raise the $30/month necessary to pay their school fees.
We visited one of the poorest schools in Kibisi and were again humbled to meet incredibly intelligent, devoted, and self-sacrificing teachers. Oh. And the children were ADORABLE!
At every stop, Sophia delighted our hosts by perfectly speaking greetings, thank you’s, and basic conversation in their native language of Lugandan. (I was never able to master even the basics.) She always got down low on the level of the
children; stopped for conversations with every school girl who approached her; and jumped right in when we were asked to speak impromptu to large groups.
I was so proud of her kindness and humility—and her deep care.
One of our favorite stops was to Maxy’s Hair Salon. This young woman (early 20’s) is one of the very few women who do not find themselves pregnant in their early teens and then spending all of their time trying to find sufficient water and food for six, seven, or even eight children by the time they are approaching 30. Maxy worked hard to learn the skill of hair dressing and save enough funds to be able to rent a two-room space that allows her to work in one room and sleep in the other. Maxy already employs other young girls and her dream is to be able to purchase a solar-powered hair dryer one day. We absolutely adored Maxy.
Another favorite stop for us was with a family whose girls were just about to walk the long, dry path to try to find sufficient water for the evening. Sophie asked if she could go along—and I was eager to allow her the experience, but I was also concerned because we had just learned that boys and men commonly lie in wait along the path to try to defile the young girls who must fetch water each morning and each night. Our translator, an adult man from the local school, offered to accompany the girls, so off they went!
Sophie told me later than carrying the empty jug was not that hard, but once they jumped over the gap of the well to fill their containers, she quickly recognized why the girls had given her the smallest jug. Once the containers were filled and old plantains were stuffed in the spouts as make-shift plugs, they were extremely heavy! Sophia is strong—she boulders for fun and I always think she is pretty much 5’9.5″ of muscle and bone—but she could NOT make it all the way back up the trail with her water jug.
She tried putting it on her head like the girls—but she did not have the balance and skills necessary to make that work. She tried holding it at her side, dropping it down by her legs … but finally, she had to accept the girls’ offer to trade their youngest sibling for Sophie’s water jug. And thus, the next time I saw them, Sophie was covered in dirt and sweating profusely, but smiling and carrying a baby as she declared: “I am not strong enough to be a Ugandan woman!”
I could completely relate!
(Our translator, John, loved to tell and re-tell the story of Sophia attempting to carry the water. If you’d like to laugh along with us, here is a video of John’s interpretation of Sophia’s efforts …)
We saw barefooted little girls scaling tall trees to bring down one large fruit to feed themselves and their younger siblings. “Older” girls (6 or 7 years old) caring for 2, 3, and more younger children. Elderly women working all day in fields to try to scratch out tiny amounts of vegetables and then sitting on the side of the street by the light of one candle with the wares spread out on a cloth at their feet—trying to earn a few pennies to stay alive another day.
These women are so brave. Devoted. Self-sacrificing. Strong. They not only work every day just to survive and help their families to survive, they work to improve the living standards of of their entire community.
One night, we were almost home when our translator pulled the car over suddenly by the side of the road. It was dark and we had no idea what was going on—especially when an elderly woman was talking loudly and quickly to our host through the window and young girls started climbing up on top of the vehicle with giant bundles. Later, we learned that those families are some of the poorest of the poor and that they spend all day making homemade charcoal sticks and then they sell the huge, heavy bundles for a few pennies. The elderly woman was discussing with our host how her granddaughter thinks that her work is shameful because it is so lowly—but our host quickly called the girl over and gave her a stern talking-to about how her grandmother is deserving of her deep respect, honor, and gratitude, because she is breaking her back every single day to keep that girl alive and try to raise sufficient funds to keep her in school so that her future is very different.
This message is the heartbeat of the charitable organization, “I Am That Woman.” Founded by women leaders who were born in Kibisi, this organization exists to improve the lives of all of the villagers by shifting women and girl culture.
The leaders of this charity have already done so much for Kibisi that the entire village honors them. Everywhere we went, the president of the organization, Paskazia, was greeted with honor and the title, “Madam President.” At the women’s conference (where Sophia and I served), the highest ranking government official in Kibisi, a Muslim man, described Paskazia’s good works as the kinds of things that politicians do to earn votes, but that Paskazia (and all of the leaders of I Am That Woman) do for love.
(Click here to see our next stories, photos, and videos—these are all about The November 2016 Women’s Conference, the groundbreaking ceremony for the Life and Peace Health Centre, and one more section with a few of our favorite candid photos, videos, and stories. Please also consider sponsoring a girl’s education!)