By: Jenna K.
On Thursday, June 16th, 2015, at 19:00 hours, the unspeakable happened. My innocent, unsuspecting iPhone 6s was taken from the safety of its charging spot in the middle of my living room. I had gone across the hall for a bit and made the grave error of leaving my front door unlocked for a short time. Whoever snuck in bypassed my wallet and computer and went straight for the one item that is basically an extension of my hand. Let me tell you – that whole phantom limb syndrome is a thing.
However, losing my phone mid-trip brought my level of privilege into acute perspective. I met countless people throughout my two months in Uganda, and each one taught me something about how blessed I truly am.
First, there was Bernard. Bernard is the police officer who has been tasked with the harrowing duty of serving as the personal security guard for the Director of the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP). Last year, the Director of the DPP’s assistant was killed in a drive by shooting by family members of an accused person that the DPP was prosecuting at the time, so it’s fair to say that Bernard deserves every dollar he is paid.
Bernard makes the equivalent of 100 dollars a month. With that, he feeds himself, his wife, and his three children. He pays rent on a small home for his family and he puts his kids through school. As the most educated man from his home village, he dreams of helping his people through education projects, farming initiatives, and by building a church where his friends and family can worship. He is working to build a library in his village to house books, offer studying space with desks and chairs, and to serve as a home for the student debate team he hopes to found. My teammate Cat Price and I have actually recorded a video of Bernard explaining his dreams and will soon be setting up a crowdfunding campaign to help him achieve those goals.
(Cat and I with Bernard and his three kids.)
Then there were the police officers whose church we were blessed enough to attend one Sunday. Uganda’s police force is fairly militarized and many live in barracks. I was stunned at how little these officers have – the barracks are not much more than run down huts in which families of 4, 5, 6 or more live crammed into a couple rooms. It broke my heart that one of the poorest, most third-world areas of Kampala housed the individuals who were brave enough to risk their lives for the safety of their country. However, even though they make pennies, they invited us into their home for the sweetest, most powerful church service I’ve been to in a long time where they proceeded to use their little resources to serve us a massive, delicious lunch. It was incredible to watch these people who work so hard for so little pay still exude a kind of joy that I’ve never seen in the rich in America.
Then there was Sarah*. Sarah is one of the prisoners I met at Mbarara prison during our prison week (for more info on prison week, check out my professor Jim Gash’s blog HERE). I was first struck by the humility in her eyes as she approached my table asking for help. She wasn’t supposed to be on our list for the day, but one of her prison guards drove a far distance to the Directorate of Public Prosecutions’s office the night before to make sure that Sarah would be seen by one of our teams.
She was only 23 years old but she was already a widow whose children were taken away because she couldn’t afford to feed them. When I asked about her kids, tears began to tumble down her cheeks and she shook as she sobbed. After few moments, she slowly recounted for me the story of what brought her to the prison. She had been homeless and terrified and willing to do anything to feed herself. One evening, she walked into a bar and told the male patrons that she would sleep anyone who would just give her food or 1000 Ugandan shillings (the equivalent of 33 cents). One guy volunteered and she proceeded to have sex with him for that measly third of a dollar. However, much to her surprise because he had been drinking at a bar that is supposed to only serve those 18 and older, the guy turned out to be a 15-year-old boy, which constituted “defilement” (Uganda’s version of statutory rape). His uncle caught them mid-act, viciously beat them both, and had Sarah arrested.
When I met her, she was facing a sentence of 8 years – 8 years for degrading herself out of complete hopelessness. This wasn’t a career prostitute. This was a woman who was utterly desperate for food and had nothing to offer in return but herself. By the grace of God (and the generosity of the DPP) I was able to negotiate her sentence down to 4 years, minus the year she has already spent in prison waiting for her court date. Sarah will be 26 years old when she leaves prison and hopefully will be in a better place to take care of herself and her children thanks to the educational programs the prison offers.
The cost of my iPhone is 6 months of Bernard’s salary. 6 months. One of my many material possessions could feed his entire family for half of a year.
The cost of my iPhone could significantly help the officers build the little church building they are hoping to construct soon so that they don’t have to meet in the pastor’s home anymore.
The cost of my iPhone would cover 1,818 meals for Sarah. One thousand, eight hundred and eighteen.
The loss of a phone is definitely annoying, but it’s truly nothing more. I’m not saying that wealth itself is a bad thing, for God even rewarded Solomon’s request for wisdom with innumerable riches. We just get so caught up in the newest technology, the trendiest clothing brands, and the swankiest restaurants that we miss how incredibly blessed we truly are to even have a phone, clothing, and food.
I will tell my children the stories of Bernard, the police officers, and Sarah. I pray they grow up with a deep appreciation of all they’ve been blessed with and that they choose to bless others in return.
*Name was changed for privacy.