“We didn’t know what resilience truly meant until coming here, but all these stories—and there are many—prove that it is both within and without. These students are lucky. They had the critical combination of inner strength and drive with outside support at just the right time. These students are the pillars of tomorrow’s Uganda, and their tales prove that under the extraordinary pressure of life here, they may bend, but they won’t break.”Dr. Ari Hoffman and Nurse Kelly Lippi, Volunteers – Uganda
Living paycheck to paycheck, praying that the government is actually able to pay your salary this month. Hoping there has not been extortion of funds or corruption–again. Paying school fees to the same government that has not paid you in two months so that your 9-year-old can get a public school education. Unable to get a credit card because affordable interest rates are non-existent. No Amazon, no PayPal, no eBay. Forced to pay exorbitant fees for money transfers. Hoping you don’t get sick because hospital bills are fee for service—if you don’t have the cash, you can’t get care. But you get sick, because the power is out and spoils your food, the water is contaminated with bacteria and parasites, and mosquitoes carry malaria. And you are forced to beg for money from friends and family in order to get the care you need—or you just don’t get care, and you get sicker.
Life is hard in Uganda. Uganda is not unique to the harsh realities of government inefficiencies and corruption, poor education, bad water, and bad health care, but we have been immersed in this beautiful country with these lovely people who are living in this harsh world for almost a year now. We have befriended many. We have listened to their stories, commiserated with their losses, and been lifted by their triumphs. The people we have met here are truly some of the most resilient people we will ever meet. We would like to introduce you to a few of our friends and students. Their names have been changed to protect their privacy, but their stories are very real.
Meet Natalie. At the age of 27, Natalie entered University, about 8 years later than most of her peers. Her father died when she was in 6th grade, and her mother was unable to get a job to support her three children. Natalie dropped out of school after 7th grade and got a job cooking and cleaning at a secondary school. After 5 years of working there, the headmistress noticed something in Natalie and invited her to join the school, as a student, waiving the school fees. Natalie worked her way through 10th grade, excelled in all her classes, and qualified for A-Levels (advanced levels of high school that enable students to apply for university). Her employer, seeing her potential for success, told Natalie to stop working and paid her tuition. Natalie excelled on her A-level examinations, qualified for a government scholarship, and is now one of the top students at Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST). This year will bring a challenge–she and her boyfriend are expecting their first child in October, but Natalie’s mother has refused to accept the boyfriend as a suitable husband since he practices a different religion. But Natalie refuses to be defeated. She is moving in with her boyfriend who will support their new little family as she completes her university education. She is continuing to work on the relationship with her mother. She stands tall, has a beautiful smile and calming disposition. She will be a wonderful mother.
Meet Georgia. Georgia presents herself with confidence, sass, and intelligence. She is extremely bright, quick, well spoken, and always well dressed. She wanders around campus with a gaggle of friends, always laughing, chatting with boys, and enjoying life. But behind her confident exterior is a girl with a challenging past. Both of Georgia’s parents died when she was in primary school. She and her brother were taken in by her caring uncle who manages to support his niece and nephew, in addition to four children of his own. But it is a constant struggle. Every semester Georgia waits, fearing that her uncle won’t be able to pay for her school fees this term. If fees aren’t paid, even if the student is short the equivalent of five dollars, students are unable to sit for their final examinations and they are forced to fail their classes and repeat the entire semester. Georgia has a dream to complete undergraduate education and eventually apply for a post-graduate degree. She has big dreams for herself, but worries that financially she won’t be able to accomplish these dreams. Still, she studies hard, plays hard, and maintains a poised disposition. She doesn’t share her struggles with her friends, as she doesn’t want them to feel sorry for her. She pushes herself to succeed.
Meet Jonathan. Jonathan is here at MUST, living hours away from his wife and four small children. He wants an education. He wants to advance in his career. This is the only school that offers the degree he needs. He worked hard for years before starting university, saving for school fees. But the university increased its tuition and fees this semester, and Jonathan was short about $400, which is the equivalent of 1-2 months of work. His wife is working two jobs to support their four children at home. They have no savings. There is no credit. Jonathan called his friends, family, neighbors, asking for help. In the end, he was still short $100. He has worked so hard, sacrificed so much, with a dream of advanced education. $100 was all he needed, but he had no other options. We were able to find the money for him, and he accepted the scholarship with tears in his eyes, so thankful for what, in the end, is so little to us, but so much for him and his future.
When life is continually a battle, when money is always a struggle, when health is so precarious, it is no wonder that many people stop trying all together. If every time you rushed to resuscitate a patient, your patient dies because there is no oxygen in the hospital, would you continue to rush? If every time you work hard to earn enough for school fees, the school increases its tuition so you have to forfeit the semester even though you put in the work for the past 17 weeks, would you continue trying to obtain that education? What if that education didn’t guarantee you a job at the end? Would you want to work hard in a job that six times a year fails to pay your salary? We don’t know if we would. Yet, we have met so many people who, in spite of these hardships, in the presence of this chaos, somehow maintain their drive and continue to push, learn, and persevere. People who will not give up until their dreams are obtained. People who want better—for themselves, for their families, and for Uganda.
We didn’t know what resilience truly meant until coming here, but all these stories—and there are many—prove that it is both within and without. These students are lucky. They had the critical combination of inner strength and drive with outside support at just the right time. These students are the pillars of tomorrow’s Uganda, and their tales prove that under the extraordinary pressure of life here, they may bend, but they won’t break.
– Dr. Ari Hoffman and Nurse Kelly Lippi, Volunteers – Uganda
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