Reflections On My Time In Uganda

Cincinnati, OH

I landed Wednesday afternoon in Cincinnati after thirty-eight hours of traveling. My trip home went well, mainly because of a surprise upgrade to business class on Qatar Airways for my trans-Atlantic flight of fourteen hours.

I had the opportunity to meet and chat with so many people during the last two months, and whenever I explained what I was doing, everyone was interested in how the survivors made a life going forward after their attack.

I was struck by the beauty of the survivors’ attitudes. Most of the survivors I met had been attacked several years prior, and had made an effort to reflect and heal as much as they could from the psychological damage their attacks caused them. They were pragmatic, but full of hopes of love and a better future. One of the survivors I met told us that she was born into poverty, but because of her activism now she felt like a celebrity because she got visits from people like our group from Uganda Christian University and End Acid Violence Uganda. She wasn’t saying that she was grateful for her attack, but she was expressing her faith that her God was using her to do what was right.

Medical care in Uganda is very different from that we experience in the US. I had a hard time wrapping my head around some of the differences, for they are so alien to what I know.

When one is in the state hospital, it seems that one’s family is expected to arrange to feed you. It also seems that some medication is required to be prepaid. Some of the survivors were sent home to convalesce and to return every couple of days for more treatment because the hospital just didn’t have the room to let them sleep there.

Something else that I found hard to understand is the amount of public corruption in Uganda. The land and people of Uganda are beautiful and welcoming, but corruption is rampant. I heard stories of people being asked to give policeman money for “fuel” in order for them to investigate a crime. Two of the survivors I met actually chose to go to the police immediately after their attack instead of going to the hospital. They both knew their attacker, and yet in each case, the perpetrator did not do more than a few months of jail time due to a “lack of prosecution.”

The close nature of families in Uganda can help a perpetrator or a survivor. Many of the survivors I met had the support of their parents to pay their medical bills, but it also seemed to be a refrain that the perpetrators’ families might help hide the perpetrator or threaten the survivor.

Taking a step back, I learned that to be an effective human rights advocate, one must work on changing hearts as well as laws. For example, albinos in Tanzania, Uganda’s neighbor, are currently hunted in rural areas of Tanzania due to a myth that their bodies hold magical powers. It is illegal to kill people, but until people are educated and convinced that this is an outrage, albinos remain in danger in Tanzania. All the human rights lawyers in the world can write the best legislation, but the most effective pathway to end this tragedy is education and developing relationships to make the albinos in Tanzania be seen as perfectly normal humans, and not some aberration.

American and European human rights advocates in Africa, South America and Asia run the risk of appearing to be colonials being patronizing to developing countries and seeking to “enlighten them.” I found it instructive to keep reminding myself of the ways that Uganda was more to my taste than the U.S., such as its refugee policy and its hospitality.

I was glad that I was working on a team of Ugandans under the direction of a Ugandan. On the ground, I had contact with a Ugandan non-profit as well. This helped reassure me that I was just one small part of a Ugandan call for change, not just external pressure from America to change Uganda.

I hope I behaved as if I was a guest in Uganda who appreciated my hosts’ beautiful home. To my Ugandan friends, if I ever appeared to critical, please know that it’s the nature of American law students to analyze everything and make analogies and evaluations.

It is good to be home, with the things and routines I find comfortable and routine. Air conditioning and good water pressure are two things I will never take for granted again. But there are things I will miss, like fresh fruit and juice available everywhere and monkeys playing in my yard.

I hope to revisit Uganda someday, and I will keep tabs on its progress in human rights.

I will also follow the plight of acid violence survivors worldwide, and hope that society someday becomes less superficial and their lives can go back to normal once they heal from their wounds. Or, better yet, that there is never another acid attack again.

Thank you for sharing my journey through Uganda with me. I’ve included some photos below, some of which was a weekend at a national game park and others are from my goodbye celebrations.




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