It rained all of last night and throughout the morning. There was some delay in picking me up and at this point after all the rainy days I’ve experienced in Africa, I expect things to be running behind schedule when the roads turn to mud. Pastor Angelo and Ivan arrived and took me to the Donela Kakooge school to discuss with teachers the implementation of the Health Together curriculum. Kakooge is the farthest from Bombo of the two other Donela schools, requiring a one-hour drive.

We stopped for petrol and Angelo asked me, “Brooke, in America do they do this for you, wash the window?” He gestured to the attendant who had begun cleaning the fine layer of dirt of the car windshield before we barely had a chance to stop.

“No,” I replied, “and I fuel my own car.” This made Angelo laugh.

“Eh, they make you work in America!” Throughout Uganda–I have witnessed this in South Africa as well–people are employed in jobs like pumping fuel, waiting on tables at fast food restaurants, and monitoring toilets. This is massive job creation, an interesting thought as America moves more and more to automation.
Ugandans are some of the most hardworking people I have ever met. They always deliver on tasks, in sometimes very interesting ways, but still, they always deliver. If little sleep is required to ensure a whole Medical Mission is fed, they will sleep little. If the church they pastor is 60 km from their home, they will take all the necessary taxis and boda-bodas (small motorcycles) to reach it every day, making no excuses and asking for no sympathy.

This absurd dedication to executing work translates into the schools as well. Children cannot help themselves but to do exactly as they learn, something I continually hear from teachers during these Health Together evaluations. One baby class teacher (4-5 year old) said after teaching the Health Together lesson encouraging students to reduce their amount of sugar by, for example, limiting soda, children returned the next day and handed the teacher their bottles with soda, saying they did not want it because it was unhealthy–with no trepidation, instead almost fear of it.

I have never witnessed such eager application of learning by students. I told each group of teachers who have alerted me to this, “I do not think children in America are this willing to apply what they learn to their life.” I also used this time with teachers to address some concerns. For example, in this scenario with soda, we discussed how teachers can help the students understand soda is not evil (but Coca Cola might be for their infiltration of the most remote corners of Uganda with manufactured neon drinks), but we must limit soda. We talked through some examples teachers can use to emphasize this. 

I think this is very hard for us as Americans to understand what it takes to change cultural norms. Washing hands as a norm here in Uganda first requires soap to be present at sinks, which is not a norm. Hand soap in the pumps as we know it is not even widely sold in Uganda. Primarily it is bar soap that falls in the dirt when balanced on a slippery surface. In San Pedro, CA when I go into a Target bathroom, I don’t ever wonder, will there be soap? Must I carry my own soap? If there is a restroom, soap is present. While some scoff at the term “privileged Americans,” we really are so privileged, even in little things such as this.

As one teacher aptly said, “these healthy habits should become our culture.” I hope to develop a long-term plan with the Donela teachers for repeating and reviewing Health Together lessons over the course of many school years. To me, the beauty of Health Together is we do not expect an overnight change. We give our partners grace–as we would want when attempting to change something ingrained in our culture–encouragement, and the ability to grow this program themselves. They are the conduits through which God uses what we have been inspired to do in service for His glory. Then, we can quietly step into the background as they own the victories.

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