In the months leading up to my brother’s wedding in 1992, very many of his friends and work associates offered him substantial amounts of money in support of his budget.
Though he had not planned to hold a kasiki (bachelor’s prenuptial party), his friends insisted on fully funding one. Several parties followed the wedding, all largely funded by friends to congratulate and celebrate with the newlyweds.
This was not surprising. Ugandans are very generous people when it comes to weddings, funerals, graduation parties and other festive events.
The spending on these things seems to have escalated in recent years. I am told that a modest wedding reception at one of the high-end Kampala hotels costs $30,000 to $70,000! A lot of this money is donated by well wishers.
A friend who knows these things told me that he knew of “one or two that cost over half a million dollars.”
A fundraiser for a church building can generate tens of thousands of dollars in pledges and cash, especially when a “big man” is in attendance.
Lately we have witnessed communities rallying together to raise thousands of dollars for the healthcare bills of critically ill prominent persons.
We watched in astonishment as folks gave lots of cash, animals, chicken and other foodstuff to candidate Kizza Besigye during his recent presidential campaign.
These very worthy efforts bring out the good among Ugandans that endures in spite of a difficult post-independence history.
However, this generosity appears to be restricted to visible and immediate causes with short-term results. Less visible and long-term projects do not often trigger this spirit of volunteerism or generosity.
A decade after his wedding, my brother was offered a place by a British university to do his master’s degree. None of his friends was able or willing to contribute money to his entirely self-funded education.
This readiness to support short-term high profile or entertainment causes while shunning less visible but critically important ones was on my mind during a meeting this past weekend.
My wife and I sat with Canadian friends who are volunteering their time, treasure and talent to support efforts to rehabilitate and redevelop Mparo Health Centre IV in Rukiga County, Kigezi.
Here were European-Canadian people, who do not have a relative or any other connection to Mparo except our shared humanity, spending a sunny weekend afternoon discussing ways they could help people 12,000 km away.
Four of them already used their personal money and time to travel with us to Mparo in August last year, to learn about the community’s problems in order to determine what they could do to help. While there, they happily got their hands dirty as they helped clean the Health Centre.
They are already eagerly planning for a team of Canadian volunteers to travel to Mparo next year to put up one or two buildings, with the approval of the local authorities of course.
As I sat with our friends, I could not but think about Mparo Health Centre’s failure to utilize its operating room (theatre) that was commissioned by President Yoweri Museveni on November 24, 2003. The reason being that the health centre lacked power supply and an anesthesiologist (a doctor who puts the patient to sleep.)
This deficit has bothered our Canadian team so much that it has been a constant topic in all our deliberations since our August visit.
Luckily, Dr. Patrick Tusiime, the District Health Officer, Kabale, has worked very hard to renovate the operating room and to get an anesthetic assistant. However, the health centre still lacks the necessary power.
The cost of providing full power, water and basic modern sanitation that a health centre needs costs less than a high-end wedding or two in Kampala.
This can be easily funded if the privileged sons and daughters of that community came together with the same spirit that propels them to donate tons of money to weddings. That is why we have requested Dr. Grace Mafigiri Kalimugogo, a retired physician who is one of the leaders of Mahali Salama Uganda (Safe Place Uganda), to organize a meeting of Banyamparo in the Ugandan capital to discuss our collective role and strategy for positive transformation of our public health centre and our community. By God’s grace we shall be at that meeting, expected to be held in early August this year.
Mparo, of course, is a prototype of numerous needy communities in Uganda whose sons and daughters live in great comfort in the country’s cities and in distant lands.
We can each help transform our communities if we organize ourselves and don the Bulungi Bwansi spirit of communal volunteerism.
Many are already doing this in some parts of Uganda. Examples: Dr. Jackson Twesigye Kaguri of Michigan, USA, and members of the Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project have transformed Nyakagyezi in Kanungu District.
Dr. Sheck and Peace Matsiko and their British friends of Mission Direct have given significant development support to the people of Rukungiri.
Dr. Linda Douville, a Canadian doctor, and her friends from her church, have partnered with Dr. Mary Margaret Ajiko and other health professionals to offer modern surgical and medical services at Ongutoi in Teso.
This is meaningful patriotism, championed by natives of specific communities, in partnership with world citizens who care about other human beings.
Meaningful patriotism is obuntu (loving humanity), not reciting praises for geographical entities, political parties or one’s ethnic community.
This generosity of strangers ought to rekindle and nourish the noble sentiment of volunteerism that has been handed down to us through our parents’ social DNA. They never hesitated to engage in voluntary community service. It was a duty to others, and to self. That duty endures.