As I prepare for my trip to Uganda, I’ve come to realize how easy it is for help to turn into harm. For example, when seeing children who are selling me something, I might want to give them money to help them out. However, that child might have stolen the thing they are selling which isn’t a good long-term behavior.
Or worse, it encourages them to continue in this sort of business instead of going to school. In the end, getting an education is the best long-term benefit a child can receive. Another thing I might want to do is to give a small gift to some rural children. However, this can encourage them to expect handouts and beg. It is astounding to see how such good intentioned acts can become harmful.
Initially, when I decided I wanted to go on the trip, I wanted to reduce the harm being done to the people I met using the gifts I was given by virtue of being born in the US. However, the closer I look, the harder it is to truly help anyone even with these gifts. Even in Uganda which is relatively stable and developing, the president, Yoweri Museveni, has become more like a dictator and is doing terrible things like sentencing homosexuals to life in prison or censoring media. Nevertheless, it would be considered a paradise by anyone in neighboring South Sudan which has been racked with civil war since 2013.
Faced with such odds, the small things seem to be the only things I can do. Having a conversation, opening the door, and saying a thank you are tiny but manageable things I can do. Plus, all great things begin with a small step. Such is the story of Maggy Barankitse. Born in Burundi, just south of Rwanda, Maggy grew up to be a school teacher.
She would go on to become secretary for the bishop. The Burundi civil war commenced in 1993 between the Tutsi and Hutu. It would result in 200,000 Burundians dead and 600,000 orphaned. Early during the war, Maggy was working at the bishop’s house with her seven adopted children. On October 24, 1993, Tutsi assailants attacked the bishop’s house.
They tied Maggy, who was Tutsi herself, to a chair and murdered 72 people in front of her before burning the whole place down. She eventually got free and saved 25 children in addition to her seven adopted children. They moved to a social worker’s house and lived there. Year after year, more orphans flocked there which led to Maison Shalom, an organization giving a home to thousands of children affected by the civil war.
Such an amazing mission began with a relatively big first step of saving 25 kids. But, that began with her being an ordinary secretary for the bishop. Her incredible story gives me hope for the potential good that can come out of incredible evil. My hope is to help others from harm in the best way that I can. I am glad I get to be one tiny part of a force for good.