"They gave my wife a job skill and they are sponsoring my children. I have nothing to offer."
One by one they stood and shared how their dignity had be stripped from them. Some wiped tears from their eyes as they spoke.
"My wife has left me. I can't provide for my family."
"No one has seen us. They have come to support our wives and children but we have been forgotten."
We noticed in Acholi Quarter (slum/urban displacement region) that many men were not engaged in their families and employment. The men would be found playing a local game called, "Ludo," drinking or simply wasting time throughout the day. The majority of the men in this community had directly been impacted by war. For some, their childhood was stripped from them as the had been abducted as children and forced to fight in a rebel army known as the Lords Resistance Army. For other men they had witnessed the killing of family members, village members or strangers. The trauma that many of these men in Acholi Quarter have experienced is incredibly high. We would witness children heading to school each day though sponsorship programs and see women working in various ways to provide for their families thanks to some skills training programs. But our hearts began to break for the men.
Recognizing the pride a Father has in providing for his wife and children we began engaging the men in Acholi Quarter. As they came together one afternoon in a small church in the slum, we began sharing how we see their worth and importance in their families and the community as a whole. It was during this moment that they would rise up and share with us how their dignity had been stripped through well meaning organizations. They were thankful for the sponsorship of their children and the skills given to their wives but they could not comprehend why they had been forgotten. They desired to be provider's in their families but were not given a chance. They wept before us. The war had denied many of them the ability to complete their education and that in turn had impacted their ability to work and provide for their families. On top of the lack of opportunity for education and employment they were carrying deep trauma from the war, forced to flee their homes and were now living in the slum.
So, how can we serve with dignity? The men in this community are viewed as useless by their own wives and children. The needs in this community are extensive ranging from physical, emotional and spiritual. So, how do we engage in this community with dignity? In this blog post I'll share one idea on how we can serve with dignity. In upcoming posts more ideas will be shared. But here is one....
Listen & Honor The Communicator
The rich culture found in African communities should be understood and considered. Implementing a western idea and/or value into a community may do more harm than good. We need to take time to actually listen to the people and understand the culture. You will not understand a culture in a day, a week, a month or a year or even 10 years. The reality is you will probably never fully understand the culture no matter how long or how many individuals you speak with. But, you can gain some understanding through listening to the people. Listen. Then listen some more.
Going into a conversation with an expected response from the person engaged diminishes the dignity and value of the communication and the individual. "We only hear what we want to hear" is the phrase that comes to mind. Set aside expectations and take in what is being spoken. Honor the individuals that you speak with. Give them the freedom to share their values, beliefs, wisdom and experiences. Assuming you know the culture and the individual that is speaking is not only dishonoring but will also lead to disappointment for both the communicator and the listener.
"If I understand your heart then I can move towards you in ways that can build our connection, rather than pushing you to see things the way I do."