Photo: Seane Corn
Suzanne and I have also found in the past that if people aren't accustomed to working in impoverished environments where trauma, abuse and neglect are often present, their own "stuff" can come up. This means their own trauma or fears can be triggered and they can become reactive or hypersensitive as a result. If we don't acknowledge this probability, and they don't deal with their emotions, very often reactions like burnout, judgment or shutdown will occur. Sometimes this can look like isolating, over or undereating, picking arguments, watching TV, gossiping, acting out sexually, drinking or using drugs and/or spending too much time on the computer. We look at the habits they may use to numb or anesthetize their big, although unidentified, feelings.
For service to truly be sustainable, the participants must be willing to self-reflect and look inward as honestly as possible. So we do yoga, pray, meet, share and provide different skills to acknowledge and process the feelings as they come up. This has proven to allow all of us to remain more open and available to each other and the populations we've come to serve. This part of the journey is exceptionally important, but for some it probably will be the most challenging. We will ask them to commit to owning their feelings, speaking their truths and serving their spirits with as much enthusiasm and fearlessness as they are willing to serve others. You can't change the world unless you're willing to change yourself!
On a personal level, I'm still struggling with laryngitis, but I have managed to keep it in perspective. It is a nuisance, but I take comfort in the absolute knowing that it will be gone shortly and soon forgotten. I think about the men and women I've seen over the years lying on the floors of their huts or slums, dying miserably of the very curable tuberculosis. Because of poverty, they don't have access to the drugs that are available to us and, as a secondary infection to HIV/AIDS, their immune systems can't fight the infection and they will likely die. I hear them in my mind coughing and struggling to speak, and I put quickly in check any inconvenience I'm feeling over my own lost voice and cough and remain grateful.
We've spent the past few days in the company of various nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) learning about Uganda; it's politics and culture. It is important to Suzanne and I that the participants understand a little about the Ugandan history so that they can appreciate why some people are living and acting they way they do. War, violence and displacement are traumatic circumstances that effect each generation of people, especially when there are not enough services available that aid in the natural response to trauma, like fear, low self-esteem and grief. When trauma is not processed and remains repressed, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse and depression are side effects that affect not only the individual, but also their family and community as well. It can define a culture for generations.
Uganda is a culture in trauma, having only known uncertain peace over the past few years. Since the early 1980s, Northern Uganda has known civil unrest resulting in the estimated death toll of well over 200,000 people, the displacement of over 2 million and the abduction of thousands of children forced to fight. Just prior, the Ugandan suffered at the hands of dictator Edi Amin and a reign that also amounted in thousands of deaths and cultural terror. Both these conflicts have resulted in genocide, rape, political persecution, individual disempowerment and a breakdown of Uganda's rich tribal culture.
Why the children in Uganda are suffering