Monday, September 21, 2009

A Better Understanding

This is the brothel...not exactly glamorous.

Under what circumstances do 11, 12, 13 year old girls ask someone to pray that they get more clients? How is that even possible? Unlike the red-light districts where girls are often locked in cages, or the children that are abducted and smuggled across international borders at gunpoint, the girls in this Kampala slum sat in front of their brothel rooms seemingly voluntarily. It begs the question, why wouldn’t they do whatever it takes to escape this life-style? They have witnessed the demise of their peers—peers whose small frames encased the internal organs fatally destroyed by clients demanding their money’s worth. To put it plainly, they were literally raped to death. The stories are graphic, sickening and real and the question is only answered with more questions. “Where are we to go? What else are we to do?” They ask. Most of them have been forced out by a guardian and are not allowed to return home unless they have money to contribute to the household. So, how can we, as individuals and a collective body, wrap our western, middle-class brains around this global enigma, and more importantly, what can we do about it?

Because there’s an ever-increasing demand for younger and younger girls, there is a supply, and the recompense for supplying the demand is often living one more day. This is something I attempt to grasp, but simply cannot fully. What I was able to see, even through their sadness and dejection, were girls like my own daughters who possess great ideas, creativity, gifts and talents, hopes and dreams—only these girls just don’t happen to know it yet. I saw glimpses of this as they rolled strips of paper into beads then proudly showed me their designs. It is all they have right now, but it’s a start. I mean that literally. Many of them have never even left the slums. They have no comprehension of a life outside of what they see, know and do. There are no words for how humbling it was to sit with a group of girls and women that devoured the opportunity to learn such a basic skill—one that most of us would complain about doing after a good five minutes or so. They sit for hours talking, honing their new craft, gratefully eating the meal provided for them before getting up to sit in front of their room waiting for the evening’s clients.

It’s so fundamental that it’s easy to dismiss - it's just paper necklaces. Yeah, they are cool, but will buying a few alter the course of your life? No, it won’t, but it can someone else’s. These girls don’t require multi-million dollar programs, just a chance to earn some money, get medical treatment and go back to school. As I was writing this, I heard my phone ding notifying me of an email. I just checked it and it’s from Robinah. She writes: “Your visit to Uganda touched our hearts and the girls were so blessed to have you visit them in the slum and the time you spent with us really touched many other lives.” Clearly, my presence represented all of our efforts. I just happened to be the one that was there physically. What we do has profound affects on their vulnerable lives. It’s really rather overwhelming. I promise you - it all matters, what we contribute, and on behalf of POH and the girls we incredibly sincere thank you!