Finding Hope In The Pearl of Africa

Bruno moved to Australia in 2008 where he became friends with his very first credit card holder at university. His friend explained to him how the credit system worked as up until this point Bruno was living in Uganda where he had never met someone who owned a credit card. After living in Australia for a year Bruno received his very first bank letter suggesting that he was eligible for his very own credit card. What makes this moment so monumental is the level of amazement that a person in todays world can have over a credit card, something we take for granted.

According to World Bank Uganda is one of the poorest nations in the world – 37.7 percent of the population living on less than $1.25 a day (1). The incidence has incredibly fallen from 56% of the population in 1992 to 31% in 2005 (2), however when we take a step back and look at the poverty that remains a majority remains in the country’s rural areas which comprise of more than 85 per cent of Ugandans. This was well reflected by Bruno’s own opinion where he felt that 75% of Ugandans live in poverty.

According to Bruno there are two main causes of poverty in Uganda. The first is disease. AIDS kills numerous amounts of adults every year leaving many children orphan. These children are thereby unable to attend school and the poverty cycle continues. In the 1980s more than 30% of Ugandan residents had HIV whereas now this number has fallen to 6.4% by 2009 (3). Bruno credits this greatly to the Government spreading the word about health awareness. But now there is a more prevalent threat in the form of alcohol abuse.

Often widows –left by men whom have died from AIDs- brew alcohol from fermented bananas to provide for their families. As bananas are as common as Eucalyptus in Australia as Bruno put, women are able to grow them in their backyards easily as rainfall sustains the banana plants naturally. They grow, ferment and sell the alcohol to the community at a good price which allows them to survive. This method of survival has become such common practise that it has created a large amount of alcoholism amongst the community. Men who are fearful of the prospect of AIDS -as according to Bruno many men are promiscuous but tradition so methods of protection are often not used- or are unable to work due to the economy being unable to provide a strong level of employment turn to alcohol as an escape, leading them back down the path of poverty.

Bruno tells me that widows who brew and sell this alcohol are often able to send 3-4 of the 7-8 children in their care to university. 3-4 of these children are often orphans from relatives who have passed away from AIDs and the other children are her own. Those who are sent to school are often boys, as girls are commonly taught how to run the family alcohol business. Whilst the boys may be given the opportunity to receive education they are often unable to find work leading them to drink and the circle of poverty continues.

So comes the magic question of how do you break this cycle? Bruno gave me this his views in a simple example; If we/the government could simple provide the start-up capital and knowledge for a widow to purchase/receive a sewing machine (est. $150) she will be able to repair clothing and establish a business that can support her family and lift her from this extreme level of poverty. Teaching community members basic accounting so they are able to run their own businesses in retail or selling fruit and vegetables or teaching members of the community basic healthcare that they can then pass on to other members of the community, the chain of knowledge leading to an escape from poverty will continue.

Bruno believes that one of the greatest saviours for the nation so far has proven to be religion. According to the census of 2002 Christians make up about 84% of Uganda’s population, Muslims represent 12% and the remainder of the population follow traditional religions (1%) (4) Statistics Bruno accurately provided to me. Community programs such as community gardens, and fundraising for the necessary equipment needed to sustain these gardens can be very successful as communities are able to grow, sell and maintain these gardens and their community independently once the garden is initially established.

The most beautiful yet significant thing I took from my conversation with Bruno is that he sees a silver lining were many of us would/do not. He believes that poverty can sometimes be a good challenge for a community as it can bring out the best in people and cause the community to come together. Great leaders are often born out of poverty and so is innovation. In a world dominated by poverty a Ugandan University project saw the creation of the first Ugandan electric car. There is hope, we simply need to be that tiny push that topples the very first domino and begins the catalyst of change.

1) http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SI.POV.DDAY
2) http://www.ifad.org/operations/projects/regions/Pf/factsheets/uganda.pdf
3) http://www.guardian.co.uk/katine/2008/dec/01/world-aids-day-uganda
4) http://www.ubos.org/onlinefiles/uploads/ubos/pdf%20documents/2002%20Census%20Final%20Reportdoc.pdf

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