Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Only Skin Deep

After spending a long, lovely weekend in Dar es Salaam with my good friend, Steph Smith, I returned to work rejuvenated and ready to jump back into the hoopla. Now, two days later, I'm ready to jump out of the hoopla and return to Dar es Salaam and the island of Bogoyo where we ate grilled fish fresh from the sea and swam in the torquoise waves of the Indian Ocean.

Still, work is busy and interesting (not fun, because as my friend Kenny Weickum says, "If it was fun, they wouldn't call it work").

A new group of beaders started this week so there is a renewed sense of hope and energy floating around that's very refreshing. This is a particularly vulnerable group, though - two members, a young man and woman, were referred to us from the Acid Survivors Foundation Uganda. Apparently, throwing acid into someone's face and then running away is the latest thing in revenge tactics these days. Everyone from jealous boyfriends and wives to petty thieves are committing these life-altering atrocities. Thankfully, there is a group here for survivors of this hideous crime ( doing incredible work providing medical and welfare support, psychosocial support, legal support, training and rehabilitation, economic empowerment and public awareness. We feel very fortunate to be able to offer a safe space and a tangible form of economic self sufficiency to these young victims. Our staff and the other beaders have provided an environment of security and acceptance that I think is working wonders. Today, the young man, only 22-years-old, came early in order to help set up for the training and even led the circle in a song. He has a strong, wonderful spirit that shines through the scars and ruined features allowing us to get to know and enjoy the person he is..

In other news, the entrepreneurial program assistant spent yesterday visiting the new businesses of some of our alumni beaders. One has a very small and very busy restaurant with four employees and another has opened a thriving pub. These are the kinds of endeavors that produce livable incomes for families here and we're very excited for their success. Another woman has not been so fortunate. She used her business savings to build a chicken coop and was having some success raising poultry. However, her neighbor had used the chicken hut to sleep in on several occasions after her husband beat her and this so outraged the husband that he tore down the coop, totally destroying our beader's source of income. She made a report to the police who told the man he had to repay her for the damages but now the police want to be paid for enforcing the repayment schedule. And this is the way it goes in Kampala, Uganda. But whenever I become completely disgusted with the corruption here, I remind myself that the corruption I'm used to in the U.S. is just of a much more sophisticated, cynical variety. Not particularly comforting, but it helps keeps a lid on my self righteousness.

I have occasionally been accused of being a real buzzkill so let's close today's entry on an upbeat note, shall we? If you read the last entry about Sports Day, you may recall the little girl I saw there who had what appeared to be terrible burns covering her face and arms. I couldn't seem to forget about her little smile so I asked the headmaster of Kisugu Academy if he had seen her in the area and if so, would he get me information about her. He did better than that. On Tuesday afternoon, he brought her to the office to meet me! And she is the most delightful little person! That smile of hers is amazing. And I was happy to learn that she had not been burned; she has Vitiligo, an autoimmune disease that causes a depletion of melanin in the skin resulting in white and pink patches that are very noticeable in African and Middle Eastern skintypes. And very disfiguring.. There are new and effective treatments from what I've read, but they are not available here. I will be following up on this, looking for treatment options, so please leave any ideas or the names of progressive, kind-hearted dermatologists in the comment section. In the meantime, we'll be getting her into a school where her bright mind and bright smile will be able to shine.

I told you this would end well....