Dignity in Poverty

This morning,Sadath and Maulid were out doing errands, and I was on babysitting duty. That usually means entertaining the young people by attempting to speak a few words of Swahili and watch their bewildered expressions of confusion descend into hysterics. 

Ericki asked me if they could go and play football. I told the boys to put on their trainers and went over to the Resources Cabinet to take out the one football in our possession. (We need more sports equipment, so do consider donating one of the items on our Amazon Wishlist here). Half an hour or so later, I went to check on the guys and noticed that Hassan was wearing only one shoe. I called him over and asked him why he wasn’t wearing trainers. 

“I do not have any,” he solemnly answered. 

“What do you mean,” I asked. “Didn’t Maulid buy you trainers?” 

Hassan looked embarrassed and shook his head. 

When Maulid returned home, I immediately asked him why Hassan had no trainers. 

“We went to the market last week, but they did not have his size,” he replied. 

“So why didn’t you go to another shop,” I said, clearly displaying my frustration and irritation at his lack of concern. “Take him and go now. I will not have one of my boys playing football without shoes.”

Maybe I was a little abrupt. But I simply could not accept that a Kijana Kwanza student plays football barefooted on the stones and broken glass that litter the local football pitch. 

During my various field trips over the last 18 months, I came across NGOs that are unfortunately, neglectful of their duty of care to their beneficiaries. When I questioned one of the NGO leaders why he did not provide healthy food, basic medical care and clothing for the young people in his care, he answered nonchalantly, “They are used to it.”

From that day I made a promise that if we are to support anyone, and take anyone under our care, we must ensure that they have everything that ensures their dignity. People may be “used to” going hungry, but that does not absolve us from our responsibility to ensure they are well fed. It is simply not good enough to make comparisons to their previous life in a rural village where there are few facilities or resources available. 

I insist that all our young people live with dignity. All our students receive healthy meals (including 5 portions of fruit and vegetables everyday), they have at least 3 pairs of clothes in addition to their school uniform and receive a regular supply of toiletries. All of them have medical insurance. I could not accept it any other way. 

Mohammed S Mamdani