Most of the world we live in these days is about how people with money exploit those without and my recent read of the “Hole in our Gospel” made illuminating reading, when Rich Stearns stated how the gap between rich countries has moved from 6 times richer to 75 times richer over the last 100 years. I’m going to quote from his book in forthcoming blogs, but in its simplest terms Rich, who was the CEO of World Vision, is stating how the bible talks more about poverty in its pages than anything else. The mere fact that we let ourselves become richer while others became poorer is a testament to the fact that Christians have ignored the main thrust of the gospels – “Love Thy Neighbour” – and our world is full of exploitation as a result.
I discovered recently another exploitation in Uganda, which I feel is relevant to anyone sponsoring children into school anywhere around the world, as I am guessing that what is happening in Uganda is happening too in other countries.
99% of children in Uganda are school-focused. It is the main interesting thing that children have to do in their lives and in general parents will try to make money available for at least one of their children to go to school, all, if they can afford it. Some parents cannot afford school or choose not to pay and then children become outcasts. They have nothing to do and spend the time on the streets or they are exploited by their parents as labour for the fields, depending upon where they are located. Children at school poke fun at children not at school and animosity and shame and other negative issues occur.
In Uganda, there are also people that are rich, just as described in Rich’s book, but over the last few weeks I have discovered that school fees is being used as leverage for what can only be described as slavery, at best servitude. One young man I know, who is sixteen and top of his class is someone that deserves to be at school. He is the youngest in his year and has been the top of the class every year during his senior school. His father died four years ago and, unknown to me, someone stepped in to pay for his school fees, about £80/term three times a year. That person owns a very large farm and the young man has been labouring on his farm during this last holiday, to pay back the person who has been supporting him through schooling. I guess that’s allright but what is not allright is that he has been required to work 16 hours per day. He is sixteen and has been required to move 100kg bags of maize for all of this period. Now, because I have been advising him to stand up for himself and refuse to do the work, his phone has been taken away, so that it does not accept incoming calls. The young man has been told that he will be working for the person sponsored and that other options are not available to him. The carrot was the free school fees, but there was no altruism in the offer, just exploitation. I want to help this boy, but I feel that serious action needs to be taken now to extract him from this insidious work.
Another recent call I had was to a young woman of a similar age. She has been offered sponsorship by a Ugandan woman, but she fears taking it on, as she believes rightly or wrongly that the sponsorship is simply a way to get a free housemaid and that she would be prevented from leaving the house and carrying on a normal life. I suspect that girls all around Uganda are accepting the carrot of free fees, but are then stung by the exploitation.
Lastly, a slightly older boy that I met has finished four years of senior school. Matthew was bright and capable, but had no means to pay his fees. He decided to pretend he had the fees and lied to the school, saying that he would pay and they believed him right up until the end. While clearly he should not have lied, children should not be put into a position by their parents to lie. Samuel, one of our Butterfly members, who has had an impoverished upbringing and has no sponsor is in a similar position. He has said that he knows he should not lie, but when there is no money available and will never have any money for school, then what option does he have, if he wishes to go to school? Samuel is a high integrity person on the Butterfly Project – Universal Primary Education is supposed to spare him this.
So, back to Matthew, who was about 18. When the school heard he had not the money for fees, they contacted the Police and the Police chased after him. He confided in a local businessman, who ran a large business in Kampala and this man said that he could help and that he would give Matthew a job. If he worked for eighteen months for him, then he would pay his school fee bill. The businessman said he would pay for his transport, medical bills and food – essentially look after him – while he was working, so the young man agreed.
What actually happened was very different. Matthew did the work for eighteen months, to the best of his ability. He was not paid, he was not clothed or fed and he became very ill and became starved. Nor was the school fee bill paid. Actually, the young man, who has enormous promise as a radio presenter, almost died through the neglect. Now, after he came to us he returned to the school and is working for free in a shop selling alcohol to pay the school bill, but there is no obvious end point. My guess is that he will be there until he finds the money to pay the school….
Generally, if people sponsor from outside, either directly to a school or through a respected organisation, then you can be more certain that your money is paying for an education, but you should be aware that the schild you sponsor will not know whether you have paid your sponsorship and that the potential for them to be exploited is high.
As Rich Stearns says in his book, there is little more important than sponsoring children in developing countries. In some cases, you will pay for education but in others you will prevent a child from entering a life of indenture or servitude too.