Conrad, Samuel, Drew, Blake, Ian (from left to right)
At first I (Jason) thought Drew was talking to himself in a very loud voice, but then I realized he was telling stories to a Ugandan 7 year old, Ian, who lives in a house behind our back security wall. Ian had climbed up a tree to watch Drew and Blake play.
A couple days later Ian, his 12 year old brother and 9 year old cousin knocked on our gate. While theft is always a concern even with people you think are your friends, I thought as long as they played outside we should be ok. The thought kept going through my skeptical mind: “Why would a 12 year old want to play with Drew and Blake who are only 4 and 1?”
All 5 boys were having a blast as you can see in the pictures.
Pure bliss as Ian, his brothers, and cousin come over to play the first time.
Our neighbor friends made a routine of coming over to our house and we quickly laxed on our rules about not playing inside. We found the neighbors did occasionally sneak into our pantry and take food without asking and at one point our guard caught one of them throwing Ugandan Shilling coins from our backyard over our wall into their property where another one was collecting it. Another one walked out of our gate with Drew’s Hotwheel cars saying Drew told him he could have them. When talking to Drew about it, I got a confusing answer and my best guess is Drew felt obligated to say it would be ok (but honestly I’m still not sure what happened). That night I had a talk with the neighbor boys and their father which was awkward but relatively productive.
For the most part, it has been a wonderful opportunity for Drew and Blake to have friends to play with and for us to interact with Ugandans in a way that we had hoped for by living here. We are able to bring Ian, Samuel, and Conrad to church every Sunday and occasionally bring them out to lunch and join Drew and Blake at an indoor play area. We have even offered for the neighbor boys to take a few Hotwheel cars (with Drew’s permission of course).
“Ian will be kicked out of school unless you can help with his school fees,” Ian’s father, Wassuwa, told me.
I had been talking with another staff member at the EMI office about the idea of helping Wassuwa with his vegetable stand business, because it clearly wasn’t enough to provide for his family. There wasn’t any clear answer to how to actually help him improve his business skills. You see 40 feet away from Wassuwa’s vegetable stand was another neighbor who had an even bigger selection of food in a better location. It made me feel like Wassuwa should try to find a different job as he couldn’t really compete in that market, but finding a job in Uganda is next to impossible for many of them. Ian’s mother had passed away a few years before and so the burden of finding school fees for all the children fell to Wassuwa. So with the advice from my co-worker I decided to help Wassuwa with the capital for his business.
Wassuwa’s son, Ian, is playing ball with Drew in our front year.
When Wassuwa came to me with the need for Ian’s school fees, I told him that I had a ‘better’ idea in that I would help him increase his business productivity. I explained how with more food he could turn a bigger profit and still be able to pay for school fees. I also encouraged him to find different types of food than what the other vegetable stand had.
Through my experience here and from reading a book called “African Friends and Money Matters”, I have learned that Uganda’s approach to money, generosity, accounting, and business are actually quite different from ours. The things that we as Americans/Westerners would find offensive or even unethical are considered acceptable here.
Here are a few examples of the different cultural perspectives on finances:
- Africans will become friends with as many people as possible knowing that if a hardship was to come their way they have more people they could ask for money. To us, making friends because of what they can do for us seems conniving.
- Generosity is expected from all people. If you have something and someone else has a need, you should really give to their cause regardless of any other factors that we would normally put into play. Here’s an example, a couple weeks ago a motorcycle ran into my co-worker’s car and busted up the motorcycle’s front. A large crowd started to form (remember my previous explanation about mob justice on the streets of Uganda) and my co-worker ended up giving the motorcyclist money to fix the front light. It was the motorcyclists fault! However, the car driver needed to pay because he could afford it and the motorcyclist couldn’t- it’s just the way things work here. Our definition of what is ‘right’ is constantly being examined by being in a different culture.
- Once you give money to someone, the giver no longer has a right to dictate how the money is spent. The receiver has complete control on how he chooses to spend it. You should be generous again to this same person even if they didn’t do what you wanted, because you don’t have a right to tell them what to do (even if I was your money in the first place). I bet you can see where my story is going now…
In this picture you not only see Ian and Conrad climbing our clothes line but the edge of our house on the right and our security wall and Ian and Wassuwa’s house on the left.
After a long talk, Wassuwa agreed to my business plan and realized how increasing his sales is a more sustainable solution to not only help him solve this one issue but set him up for success in the future. Within one week he could turn around the money I gave him to pay off what the school requested and still have plenty of capital left to multiply his efforts. I was hopeful!
Sadly, Wassuwa came back to me and said he took a significant portion of the money I gave for the business and used it to pay other things he felt was more urgent. I was sad to realize that Wassuwa didn’t share my desire to grow his business and be self sustainable for his family. I realized he was always going to be looking for an external benefactor to always come in when he had a need. You see another person from the US already sponsors his 12 year old son’s school fees.
Ian shows off how to be a daredevil on the plastic toy boda.
The business plan was now thrown out the door and the school was threatening to kick Ian out unless Wassuwa could pay within a week. After some counsel, I decided that paying Ian’s school fees wasn’t too much different than if I sponsored a child through Compassion or a different ministry, so I agreed to pay quite a bit more for the rest of Ian’s second school term.
During our discussion, Wassuwa shifted awkwardly in his seat as we sat on my front porch. He then tells me that he hasn’t been exactly transparent with where the funds I have given him before had gone. The story keeps changing! How am I supposed to help this man when I feel constantly lied to, but I remembered the principles from the book: just because I gave the money doesn’t mean he has to use it towards what I wanted. So what did I do? I gave him all the money needed for the term 2 school fees.
Luckily, Jalina and I were able to have a good attitude through this whole process realizing that we are in Uganda because we want to experience these cultural complexities and hopefully learn and grow through them.
And look who is trying to copy Ian as he balances on his boda with perfect form.
Wassuwa came back with the bank slip showing that all the money went towards Ian’s term 2 school fees. So while Plan A and Plan B didn’t work, at least Plan C was happening the way I hoped. But guess what? I soon found out that Ian wasn’t going to school (in the middle of term 2), but rather just hanging out at my house all day playing with Drew! The school kicked him out… even though his term 2 school fees were all paid. I was flabbergasted and perplexed, but thankfully not infuriated. Apparently the school said Ian couldn’t go to school until term 1 school fees were paid in full, (even though we had already paid for term 2).
Shouldn’t a parent be supervising here instead of taking pictures?
So Wassuwa, with the encouragement of his wife, came back to me essentially begging me to help with the term 1 school fees. Initially, I didn’t know what to do. I mean, what would you do? I’m curious actually. Go ahead and email me or post your answer on Facebook or the blog. I’m interested in hearing what solutions are out there, and keep in mind a big reason for us being in Uganda is to help Ugandans.
In a few weeks, we’ll update the blog saying what we decided to try and the outcomes so far. Hopefully this interaction will be a little fun as we discuss the complex world of finances in a multicultural setting. I’m looking forward to hearing from you…
Blake and his buddy, Conrad.