Wednesday, November 08, 2006

First full day in Kitgum

Mike showing the picture
Originally uploaded by tomgivemeaning.

I have just thrown away a rather long-winded blog entry that I decided was taking too much effort to present my experiences today as cemented conclusions. I don't have any conclusions. And I am totally and completely humbled.

I must admit that I know feel as though my attitude has been arrogant completely about charity and philanthropy in Africa. Despite truly, deeply caring, I went about funding projects here based on a "we need to help them. We've got so much and they've got so little, and so it's our duty to take care of them."

What I saw here today in KItgum was an expression of caring, of community togetherness, and of social consciousness that trumps anything I have seen anywhere else in the world.

There is so much happiness, so much love, so much caring here. There is intelligence, capability, commitment and resolve to solve the problems that kill their fellow citizens. There is so much hope and so much strength here.

This is but one story that exemplifies what I mean: I walked into an AIDS hospice for women this afternoon. In this hospice at the end of the room were two older women sitting on a rug on the floor in front of an empty bed with a few pieces of clothing on it. As I walked closer to them, I realized that amidst those few pieces of clothes, lay a 5 month old baby girl whose mother died of AIDS few months back. The baby is most likely HIV positive. So far, this is a story told a million times before. Here's where for me, the story changes:

First, the two older women. The baby is not related to either of them. They are there not as nurses but as concerned members of the community doing what they can to just be with the baby: Not really volunteers, just people who have come from the community to be with this baby. Second, to the strength and commitment of the staff at the hospice: They have invested a tremendous amount of money in this baby's care and health because they believe that there is a possibility that the young baby might be able to make it. And finally in the baby herself: I began holding her hand and as she got more comfortable with me, she grabbed on to it more tightly and waved her arm while holding my finger. All I can say was that I felt her strength and it floored me.

This has been a wonderful first day for me as it has shifted the way I look at practicing philanthropy. We are part of the solution but us and our money alone is not the solution. The good news is that - at least in this community - they are ready, able and willing to join in the solution. In all of these struggles that challenge life has come this strength and tenacity that feels powerful enough to change anything.

I know some of my friends reading the blog might roll their eyes in thinking that I am quick to find enthusiasm and excitement for new people, places and things. I am uploading this on the morning of my second day here in Kitgum. I went for a walk alone in the neighborhood that I am staying in and talked with many of the villagers. I am feeling so grateful for the opportunity for these conversations and for just being able to be here. My battery is about to die so I have to end this now.

Because of the slow connection, I can't upload many pictures so I'm choosing only a few each day.

Please go to flickr and search using the term "tomstrip" to see other pictures.

I'm hoping to post again tomorrow.

Take a look at, the first project we have funded in Kitgum. With luck, I am hoping to meet some of the people involved in the project over the next couple of days.

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