by Kelvin Belfon
Uganda is a beautiful country!
In 1908, Winston Churchill said, “The kingdom of Uganda is a fairy-tale…The scenery is different, the vegetation is different, the climate is different, and, most of all, the people are different from anything elsewhere to be seen in the whole range of Africa.”
Then Churchill concluded, “Uganda is truly the pear of Africa.”
Several features make Uganda a unique home:
Home to 11% of birds found in the world
Home to a significant segment of Africa’s largest lake – Lake Victoria
Home to the source of the Nile River – one of the 7 natural wonders of Africa
Home to the Tallest Mountain Range in Africa – The Rwenzori Mountains or Mountains of the Moon
Home to over half of all of Mountain Gorillas in the world
Home to more butterflies of varying colors than any other East African Country
Home to over 50 varieties of bananas, Ugandans consume more bananas than any other nation in the world outside of Brazil!
But as mentioned in Mama Africa: Highlights from my trip to Uganda, of all the things I enjoyed about Uganda, its people topped my list. They are a friendly people. And because their culture emphasizes hospitality, they are not only welcoming to travelers, significantly, they care for their own!
I had the opportunity to meet a young lady called Sherifah. She had been abandoned by her husband and forsaken by her family. She had little food and lived in a mud hut that was falling apart with no door, no furniture and not even a bed.
Sherifah is blind and has four children.
But a young man named William reached out and became her advocate and protector. Through the HFF Sherifah received a new home and now lives in safety with her children.
This family’s life changed because someone cared. Sherifah’s story, in my mind, fits into the category of special. In a world where people are often too preoccupied with their own problems, it would be easy to overlook a poor, blind mother of four.
To go the extra mile in committing oneself to looking out for Sherifah is a question of compassion, human consciousness and ethics. William shines in my mind as a hero.
10 Heroic Habits I Observed in Uganda
1. Speak up for the voiceless. There are needs all around us. We can show charity to people even in our own “backyard.” Advocate for the unpopular, outcast, discriminated and persecuted.
2. We can do more when we collaborate. In Uganda, The Lone Rangers rarely succeed. There is strength in community. Instead of competing, consider networking with others. Build healthy friendships and teams. When possible, don’t burn bridges.
3. Show your appreciation. One of the families we saw started cooking for us around four in the morning. They rented a small tent and chairs for our comfort. They went the extra mile decorating the table with flowers and their children sang for us. Saying “thank you” would have been what we might have anticipated.
We had come to Uganda with a significant amount of gifts. But what will make this family stand out in my mind for years to come, is how they used their everyday resources to show how much our presence meant to them.
4. Give people a hand-up. Giving people money or gifts is a very basic way of showing compassion. But if unchecked, being someone’s financial benefactor can also harbor laziness, dependency, and can quickly lead to abuse.
A more sustainable approach may be to empower people to turn resources into financial gains so that they can achieve independence and self-sufficiency. Self-worth and a sense of competence increases when people learn to do things themselves.
5. Be content with what you have. We don’t always need the next best thing if we can’t afford the payments. Practice restraint and learn to enjoy certain possessions till they wear out. It’s not only good for your budget but also for the environment.
6. Never despise small beginnings. High School graduate Britney Forsteid met a friendly waiter named Jackson in Kirugu, Uganda. The two had several casual conversations and “exchanged hopes, dreams, smiles and laughter.” Several months later the Mount of Olives Nursery Primary School was birthed with over 400 children enrolled today! Your dreams are never too small.
7. Leave your mark on the planet. What will be your legacy? Will others miss you when you’re gone? Our time on earth is limited. So avoid trivial pursuits and do something significant using your talents and abilities for good.
8. Respect your elders. In Uganda, the government recognizes individuals over 60 years. Some of these individuals are active in the public affairs of their communities. The system is not a perfect one; but it was refreshing to see the younger generation honor and defer to their elders for wisdom.
9. A determined woman is a powerful force. The women’s entrepreneurial group I visited started because they wanted to help support their families and send their children to school. The group turned a few hours of business coaching and a $1,000 U.S. gift into a tent and chair rental business.
In addition, the group doubled in sized from 35 to 70 members. From their revenue, they now extend small business microloans to their members. Oh, their account balance is now over $4,000 U.S!
10. There is always a way. I heard the ice cream van sound effect while descending the hills of Mpigi. In the rearview mirror was a man on a motorcycle. He passed our vehicle and stopped ahead to sell his refreshing ice cream to passer-bys. Success is sometimes unorthodox. It involves vision, creativity and hard work.
What other habits would you add to the list?