I was at Betty’s house today. Betty is tremendously inspiring, but right now my heart is heavy. It has been a struggle to learn what life is like for those living in severe poverty, and even more difficult sometimes to accept the reality of it. As I am trying to process things, though, I wanted to invite you to learn with me.
To help us get a better understanding of what life is like for those living in severe poverty two of the ladies from our women’s group have agreed to share their stories. We would love to have you join us as they tell them! We often visit while sitting on floor mats outside here, so we’ll scoot over and make room for you; and maybe even have some tea with milk and mandazi. =) Typically when you come to visit in Soroti you will hear a chorus of voices greeting you by saying “Karibu! Welcome!”. So, welcome to Uganda, and to start with welcome to Betty’s home.
It is a bit of a walk to her house-past town, down a dirt road, then finally turning into the slum. Her home is one of many very run down, tenement-type houses packed together with crumbling mud walls. Charcoal stoves are outside for cooking, and children are playing all around. When they see you they might start shouting, “Muzungu, hi!” and run up to greet you.
Most of the time cooking, dishes, laundry and visiting are all done outside rather than inside, so as you meet Betty she will greet you with a beautiful smile and bring chairs (mostly borrowed from the neighbor) outside for you to sit on. She will probably bring the best one for you- a green plastic chair. You might look at the squalor around you and then look at Betty’s beautiful, character-filled, smiling face and wonder if she really lives HERE, but she does. As you talk with her, you will never hear her complain or mention any of her needs.
That experience was very much like mine the first day I met Betty. On that day, as the children ran up to greet me (partially bribed with gumballs =), I noticed one child was different from the rest. He was an adorable boy with enormous eyes. As he tried to greet us and reach out his hand for the gumball, I realized he put his hand in my general direction, but not right under mine for the gumball like the other children did. He looked in the direction of my face, but not right at me, and I saw his huge eyes were slightly clouded. Suzy’s sister said something to her in Ateso, then Suzy quietly turned to me and said that the little boy was losing his vision, and he had to stop school last year because he was no longer able to see well enough to study.
As we stood to leave and I watched the little boy go off to play, my heart was sad and a little overwhelmed. Later, I learned that adorable boy was Betty’s son. He was born with a serious eye condition, and the doctor had wanted him to have surgery over a year ago, but because Betty was unable to come up with the $60 needed for the surgery the little boy had gone blind in one eye and was quickly losing his vision in the other. Oh, that reality is hard to grasp! A mom had to watch day by day as her son lost his sight because she had no way of possibly coming up with $60, and a little boy has to live mostly in the dark because of that reality.
I wondered how such a beautiful, intelligent, character-filled person like Betty came to live in these circumstances, and why she was unable to rise out of them. She has graciously opened up about her story, and as horrible as it is, her story is a fairly common one here.
Betty grew up in Soroti and was fortunate enough to graduate high school, but she did not have money to continue to University. In Uganda there is a lot of pressure for women to marry if they are not in school, so Betty married soon after graduating. She had three children and was eventually able to go back to school and obtain a certificate which would allow her to work in a records department, but, as is so common here, she was unable to find a job once she graduated. (About 80% of University graduates are unable to find work, and it is even harder if you only have a certificate.)
Betty’s husband became very abusive and then married another woman, so Betty decided to leave. She moved back to Soroti, but with three children and no job she was unable to afford anything other than a tiny, run-down apartment in the slums. She tried to sell chapatti (which is a common bread here), but this brought in very little income; and, tragically, these were not her only trials. Her son Jesse was going blind and she was unable to afford treatment.
This was the condition their family was in when I met them, and I wish I could say everything turned out OK. Jesse has had two surgeries now, but I think we were too late. His vision is even worse than when I met him a couple months ago, and it grieves my heart so much to see him like this. I wish someone could have been here a few years ago, but I know God loves Jesse and has a good plan for him.
Through all of this, Betty continues to have the most beautiful faith and a strength under trials that I am in awe of. She is part of our women’s group, and dreams of having her own business selling used clothes someday.
I’m telling her story because I know many of you back home are involved in ministry to these women, and I wanted us to catch a glimpse of the realities of what life is like for some of them. May the Lord allow us to walk alongside them-at least in a small way-as they struggle under the weight of these things!