Decades ago famine and extreme violence perpetrated by the LRA and armed cattle raiders caused the Karimojong tribe to flee from their homeland. They left everything seeking help in refugee camps and urban slums. It was here that many hoped to start over. Generations later they remain dependent on aid and are oppressed by a system that is prejudice toward their tribe, their poverty and their lack of education. Their own countrymen despise the Karimojong as 'lesser' humans. Many, including young children, are urban-nomads traveling between slums as beggars. The hard working depend on society's leftovers, digging through rubbish for food to eat or materials to recycle. Others search for fallen branches to fashion brooms and collect firewood. While this work will earn less than a dollar a day they still find a way to survive. Many cope with these hardships by turning to addiction, gambling or drinking away what they earn. Some literally drink themselves into a coma and to death. And then there are the hard realities of tropical and communicable disease, including HIV-AIDS. Population density, promiscuity, low levels of sensitization, poor health services and little to no infrastructure have combined to cause a community health disaster that is a constant drain on family income.
By far the greatest poverty is of the heart, mind and soul. We knew a young man who, in a fit of jealousy, cut his brother's head off with a panga (machete). When his deceased brother haunted his dreams he cleared his debts and hung himself from a tree. We saw a sister place her TB positive brother in a chicken house to die rather than pay the $1.50 to transport him to a ward where the treatment was free. As an alcohol brewer she had the money. We've lost friends because they were poisoned by their enemies, and we were once forced to protect a dying woman because drunkards were raping her lifeless body. We've seen a crippled man left in a sewage trench to die in the middle of the village, between two churches. We provided safe haven for a woman whose face was smashed with a glass lantern by her husband. We've seen the blood stains of children beheaded and sacrificed by witch doctors. The slum environment is like a war zone where the extremes of the human heart are revealed. Too often the heart reveals hate, jealously, indifference and other forms of inhumanity rooted in self-preservation and fear. On occasion a humble, loving heart will shine like the sun through the darkest clouds.
Few Karimojong have a sense of their God-given worth or any hope that their lives can and should be different. Generally speaking, the organizations that serve them expect very little and reinforce the lie. We've watched more mothers than we can count give their babies away because they believe their children will be better off raised by an orphanage or a rich stranger. The Karimojong are a tribe of warriors who have been weakened by perpetual aid. Like an abusive relationship, the slum environment paralyzes people with fear and a false sense of protection while robbing them of their God-given dignity and a fuller life.
It's time for them to leave the slums and return home. Find out how.