This morning is grey and quiet. We can hardly hear a single bird announce day. The power returned as we prepared for bed last night. We were able to light a few candles and find all of our flashlights. It feels like camping while living here some days. However, expecting water to always run freely from the tap here is not a reality. Our water tank in the apartment is empty. Not a drop is flowing. No water means our toilets won’t flush. If we don’t wash our dishes immediately the bugs march in battalions. We will go far too long without bathing and our ripe aroma will even offend our own noses. We’ll have to get Robert to help us by bringing yellow jerricans of water to fill in the basins. For the Ugandans, they sigh, yes they are familiar with finding water when their source runs dry. It doesn’t rattle them at all. Me? I have to read the blog I wrote yesterday to help me want what God has given me.
We are never here in this apartment to use our water so it should be full, which tells me someone in the compound is helping themselves to it. And I’m told, “there’s no way to know.” This also means “don’t cause a problem with our neighbors Mama Tonya.” Even my water can be stolen here and I might have to buy water to be delivered and no one will get caught and learn stealing is wrong. It’s just not worth investigating a crime because people will die before admitting they are wrong. When faced with an accusation I have seen man woman and child produce lies with an impulse that is instinctual not cognitive.
In our children’s home one time there was a fire in one of the bedrooms. Oh my goodness what a hassle it was for the staff to sort out the details of how the fire started, who was in the room, what was the evidence, and who did it. To this day we still do not know who started that fire, but for all the trouble a little experimenting caused no one has dared come close to starting one again. And unfortunately everyone got in trouble because one person remained silent. For those kids who don’t ever do wrong but always suffer for the crimes of the regular offenders it becomes a seed of resentment.
I think I understand why they remain silent when guilty. I’m learning why you can pull a group of Ugandanas to sit for a business meeting and no one will say a word no matter how many questions are asked or requests for answers are made. Shame. This culture uses public shaming to control people. Once I was with Julie in Oweno shopping for food. It is the unbelievably vast spread of thousands of people selling their goods wholesale. It’s not a place for mzungus, we are supposed to buy from the shops and they were hostile towards me just for being there. It was a sweltering hot day so I had on a loose swinging sundress that touched just above my knees and if the wind hadn’t been blowing the skirt around it would have gone all the way to my knees and been perfectly acceptable. The ladies grumbled in the local language that they should teach me a lesson for wearing inappropriate clothing in town. What they meant is to tear off my clothing and leave me standing naked in public so I will learn not to dress that way again. Public shaming administered by mob justice.
In the village of Uganda if a thief steals something in public where there are other people around the people will grab him, drag him to a public place throw tires around him, pour gasoline into the tires and set it on fire. If the same thing happens in the city people will beat him with stones and sticks and if the police do not come in time they will take him to his death. Mob justice.
In school the children are criticized and chastised for every wrong answer. They are publicly beaten when out of line in any way. There is scorn and verbal abuse unleashed for any slight disobedience, disturbance or ignorance. If your shoes are not polished you can receive public shaming. If your tuition fees are not paid they will yell and chase you away from school with a stick raised. They use shame to control and it is crippling.
Couple this shame training with a government that forbids free speech and you get a refusal to speak freely. Everyone lives in fear of how his or her words will convict. For me, that would feel like living with a clamp on my heart and a muzzle on my mouth. No thank you.
In America I could go on public television and say what I really think about President Obama. I could even lie and say he’s a homosexual and his children are not even his own. I used this example only to make the point that our freedom of speech we enjoy as Americans is not universal. If you could have seen the shock and horror on Robert and Julie’s face when I said I could blaspheme our president! So I asked them what would happen if you did that here in Uganda? He said, “before you left the microphone “they” would be waiting for you in the studio and you would disappear forever. Imprisoned for words. Tortured for ideas. Ultimately life is risked for what you say here.
I read Brene Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection where she explains her ten years of qualitiative research explaining the cause and effects of shame. Her findings were fascinating to me because though it was secular research her results say what Jesus has been telling us in the bible all along. We crave love and belonging and we are created with a gaping hole in our hearts where only love and belonging will satisfy. As Christians we believe Jesus alone can satisfy our need for love and belonging.
Brown’s research shows, “We all want to live wholeheartedly, love, belong, engage, and connect but we struggle with worthiness so shame, blame, fear and vulnerability become obstacles.” ( I don’t have the book with me in Africa so this quote could be slightly off.) Brown collected stories from thousands of people for ten years to understand shame. Her finding shows credibility for how the general American seeks love and belonging yet struggles with the obstacles of shame, blame, fear and vulnerability.
People with a heavy load of shame believe they are bad, unworthy of love and belonging, and this despair takes them down a path of destructive behavior. When we use shame to parent children we are teaching our children they are not inherently unworthy of love. Her research also showed that the pain of shame is unbearable so we develop ways to numb ourselves, take the edge off. This numbing becomes compulsive and addictive then ultimately destructive. Some of the ways we numb are: alcohol, sex, relationships, money, work, care taking, gambling, staying busy, affairs, chaos, shopping, planning, perfectionism, constant change and use of the internet.
At Kirabo Seeds from the very first day I gathered the staff I introduced the idea of positive reinforcement for good behavior and fair consequences for bad choices. We have a chart and they got green cards when they were caught doing good and red cards when they needed discipline. It didn’t take long before the children understood they were in charge of their behavior. They could get praise and privileges for choosing the right way or chores and punishment for making a bad choice. Before long we had peace and order in our home.
When I first introduced this method the staff said it was too American and that some things don’t work here in Africa. But to their surprise when they tried it they had amazing success. And our children feel loved and they know they are worthy of belonging in our home. They have grown to be confident and expressive of their ideas, thoughts, feelings, fears and secrets. They know they are safe and they know we would never shame them because we love them authentically.
What I wouldn’t give to be able to take this research and change the schools in Uganda. I’m prayerfully waiting for God to show us how to spread more of his love and extinguish the enemy’s lies that take root when shaming is used to control children. I believe ANYTHING is possible when God says go, so if I get the signal that we can spread the idea that shame kills the spirit of a child my own passion will be unleashed. Then look out.
I have taught Irene the outline of Brown’s research findings on shame and she was silenced. She said, “I understand and I see for the first time how harmful shame is to the human soul. We (Ugandans…humans) use shame every opportunity we have to control people.” She admitted “I use it habitually on my two year old.” Oh she was struck. She will study and she will share the message of positive reinforcement as an alternative to using shame. It’s a start.
If only someone would tap my shoulder and say, “I’d like to fundraise to start a school and manage the project so we can prevent shame from reaching the next generation in Uganda.” I’d say, “Let’s go.”
The culture shift will come from children who have grown up protected from the effects of shame. I won’t give up on the adults. I will urge the team to share from their heart. I will assure them they are safe to be open with Darren and Mary Beth. It will take much more than a promise to shift a culture from generations of fearing shame. I have to believe with God anything is possible. My small part is to hold on to what is true and remain in that way regardless of how much opposition comes against me. I suppose I could say that’s my actual job description: “train a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6
My answer to the weight of opposition: “If God is with me who can come against me?” I don’t have to change the whole world. I just have to do my small part and believe the seeds will grow because God is doing his part.