Day 7 – Mercy – Passion for children’s rights and shea nuts

At 13, Mercy is the youngest member of the Butterfly Project and full of energy and fun.  She’s also the smallest, but that does not mean she lacks confidence, as this year she has demonstrated a great deal of self confidence, as she fights for the rights of herself and her peers.  Mercy has very good english, both written and spoken, and surprises you often with her grasp of concepts and her ability to be creative in terms of problem-solving and showing initiative.  If she lived in Britain, she would be working on all sorts of projects, leading, learning, doing many things, but, unfortunately, Uganda has no provision for her.  She is interested in education and the environment, but this year she became interested in the rights of girls and in raising the awareness of HIV/AIDS amongst girls.  This is her speech she gave in 2010, where she talked about her passions:

In Uganda, this type of passion generally is not just unrecognised, it is scorned, where a pupil’s passions are most often viewed as disruptive in class.  At the Chrysalis School, Mercy was advised that she could stand up for her rights and she did this early in the year, ahead of all of the other members, when she complained about the poshi and beans lunch that she was being served at the neighbouring school (our schools did not have its own place for lunch).  Mercy refused to eat it, saying that there were maggots in the posho and weevils in the beans.  I guess most people would be appalled at this revelation and fully behind Mercy and her cause.  However, I would suggest to you that most children in Uganda, whatever school they attend would have to suffer eating this type of food.  They say nothing and suffer.  In fact, the boys all were very unhappy and angry that Mercy had raised it.  However, Mercy did more.

Posho and beans - the real thing

She decided that the best thing to do would be to go around and talk to all of the children in the Primary School and tell them that they too should stand up for their rights, visiting every child in the queue and telling them that they should refuse the food and complain to their parents about what was being served.  What happened next was perhaps unexpected.  The woman serving dinner went to the headmaster and lied that Mercy had thrown her food over her head.  The headmaster then came to me saying that Mercy should be expelled from the school because “those type of girls cause us trouble” and Mercy came running to me, saying that “nothing had worked” and that I had been wrong to tell her to sand up for herself and that “the boys hated her”.

The reasons for serving poor food at school are usually financially related, but that does not stop the fact that many children are poisoned at school due to this lack of care in serving food.  Beans and weevils often can be difficult to deal with, though beans can be sorted.  Maggots and posho is much more serious and should not be allowed in any school, as posho is cheap and the maggots can be extracted with some effort.  The issue is a general view that children must eat what they are given, whatever the quality and lack of care taken when preparing it.

Our own version of posho and beans - a bread roll, baked beans and "maggot" crisps

I will simply add that Mercy may have gone about things the wrong way, but she created change.  Food improved almost immediately at the school for everyone and later, when maggots were again served at the school, the boys on the project were very angry about it and clearly had learned from Mercy’s example.  In fact we even had a “Maggots and Weevils party” to raise the issue amongst local children that they should not accept maggots nad weevils in their food.

Some of the local kids at the Maggots and Weevils Party - Mercy to the right

Mercy’s background is interesting too.  She has been living in Palabek with her grandmother.  She lives in a very small camp, where there is significant local land, but the land quality is poor and Palabek very dry generally.  There are many shea nuts and Mercy is something of an expert in the processes of gathering shea nuts and making shea butter, which, for the uninitiated, is a wonderful natural cosmetic, used for babies and skin care in general.  Her mother and father split up a few years back and Mercy initially lived with her father, but she ran away multiple times, as she wasn’t happy with the way she was being treated.  As is usual in Uganda, money tends to rest with men and Mercy’s mother was unable to cover the costs of her living in Kampala and hence she was sent to her “village” in Northern Uganda with her grandmother.

Next year, I hope Mercy will be working on a shea butter initiative.  Shea nut trees are a natural resource for Northern Uganda, which is gradually being used up for charcoal.  However, the long-term value of shea nuts is very high, as the shea butter can be used equally as cocoa butter, as the vegetable fat used in chocolate (and other products).  However, if there is not shea butter project in Northern Uganda (as there are in Ghana and Nigeria), then these resources will deplete and new trees take 25 years to grow to maturity.

I would like Mercy to be the person to lead on the shea butter project into the future, as he has the passion and technical expertise for it.  However, for now we need to find a sponsor for her education and also for her work on shea nuts.  Please contact us at this email if you feel you would like to support the development of a future changemaker in Uganda.  Mercy is the last of our Butterfly North members to be featured.  These young kids are waiting for their chance for education next year, so, please think very carefully about giving them support.

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