Saturday, May 4, 2013

Reflections of a Hypocrite? by Stan Allen

We hope you've been inspired as much as we have by the updates we've been sharing with you from our wonderful Nyaka supporter and volunteer, Stan Allen.  Here is his final update from the series. Enjoy the read and the weekend! 

I was at Nyaka this week on, ostensibly, a humanitarian mission that serves the grindingly poor, and now I am at a safari resort, spending personal funds on what could have otherwise been used for bettering the lives of a  host of individuals living in the depressing nadir of poverty.  A night’s stay at the lodge could change someone’s life for years.

I expressed this to my new friend, Robert Wambiri, our guide from BIC Tours, who brought us from Kampala to Nyaka, and beyond.  Over a few beers tonight at the resort (at least I’m buying the beer), we discussed Uganda, tourism, and social conscience.  Robert was reassuring.  “No, you must come and see the elephants and hippos.  You must go home and tell people about Uganda, about its beauty, and resources.”  These resources include water, water everywhere, fertile valleys, game reserves, and a “you’re welcome” culture.   I told him that, before I left, my principle association with Uganda was Idi Amin and my primary concern – to stay alive, or at least not get arrested.  He said that many of his clients for safaris share this ignorance (my terminology here) and this is not today’s Uganda.  And it isn’t.

I also used to be afraid of bats.  They are creepy.  They are nocturnal.  They are surrounded by mysterious mythology.  Around the windows of the resort tonight, where the light attracts swarms of insects so numerous here in this aquatic location, the bats are ubiquitous.   Four, five, ten, or more of them flit back and forth across the surface of the window scooping up untold numbers of unsuspecting insects.  As I started this blog outside on the porch, watching this harvest of invertebrates by our mammalian cousins, I was forced to accept them, or move off the porch out of the gentle, languid, equatorial breeze.  I actually got up and walked into the throng, nary a one inflicting the Vampire inducing bite I would have otherwise expected.  Likewise, the Amin-tainted country where my daughter’s charity resides has similarly inured me to the unfounded dangers of traveling here.

Tomorrow I go on my first game drive, my first boat ride into hippo infested waters, in a couple of days, my first chimp trek.  All these are indulgences afforded me by my birthright.  But these are not the enduring memories I will bring back.  Those memories will be the craggy faced Grannies that danced and sang when we showed up to give out solar lights, their warm embraces when I was allowed to pass out the “awards,” the vision of Emily tutoring an otherwisedoomed cerebral palsy victim, the swarms of purple uniforms singing at morning assembly, and the knowledge that the simplest and easily affordable contribution can change lives forever. 

It is true that there are many such opportunities, frankly.   I just did a quick check of charities available in Kampala alone, and there have to be over a 100.  Never mind other cities in the same country and other countries in Africa.  I remember thinking about this when Emily first mentioned her intentions of getting involved with Nyaka.  As a scientist, I questioned whether this was the most effective charity she could be involved in, or whether, if she wanted such experience, there was a more apt choice.  It was then that I realized I knew virtually nothing about global poverty and charitable organizations.  Since, I have come to realize that there is no optimal charity, they are all . . . well, charity.  Sure, there are shades of reputable and disreputable.  Take for example, Greg Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute and how incredibly popular it was after the publication of “Three Cups of Tea” and the subsequent allegations of misuse and misapplication of funds.  This is partly why “going there,” to Nyaka, was so satisfying.  It was to discover, for myself, the context that Jackson described in his self-styled description of an incipient charity; it was to discover the full meaning of economic conditions that are being addressed; it was to discover the layers of assistance that Nyaka is trying to provide – the layers that culminate in enabling others to determine, and not be victim of, their fate.  The final criterion – enablement – to me is the most important contribution of Nyaka, and therefore, the question of, is it the most opportune one to get involved in, is, in the context of global giving, moot.

That I must return to my luxuriant first-world existence, and forgive myself for the alternative uses of the funds I am using for game drives and the like, is also a paradigm for the Nyaka experience.  We all live in the birthright of our circumstances.  Many, more fortunate, donors have contributed to this grand Nyaka vision, and continue to do so.  In a couple of weeks, a technology expert will be arriving at the guest house to evaluate IT needs at rural Nyaka (and hopefully to keep Emily company).  A Canadian donor built the library.  Another donor built the guest house.  Another promised University education for Nyaka students.  In fact, in the case of the latter, there are yet no Nyaka students that are ready for University, so the donor has agreed to fund other deserving cases until Nyaka students are of age.  The list goes on.  A US physician that donates time, an NGO with solar lights, a high school graduate who funds primary school education for 8 years . . .  We can only strive to do what is possible for us to do and social conscience impels.  But to realize what it is that we should do, we must come to see.  We must understand our privilege.

Pick a cause.  Get involved.  Go there, or at least exercise due diligence in your giving, and know how your kindness obtains.  I know, now, many things I did not before my trip, but most importantly, I know Nyaka.