Joe and I had coffee sometime the month before Ben and I left Denver. Sipping on something fair trade, Joe said that as outsiders wanting to “help” groups that are suffering from war, injustice and poverty—really the only thing we have to offer is solidarity. I found that idea sobering. Solidarity is significant—the importance of it shouldn’t be downplayed. It has deep spiritual roots—we should mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who are celebrating. Maybe our contribution is tied to our dear Prof. PVA’s notion of “witness.” Or to what I shared with the students in Azerbaijan volunteering in deplorable orphanages—there is value in crying over children who have never had anyone to cry for them before. Or maybe it’s related to what Mark and I talked about in the ILLC’s kitchen when he was discouraged about Lebanon—there is a spark that can lead to empowerment when an outsider shows hope/energy/optimism to an insider too beaten down by years of oppression to remember the strength of his/her own spirit.
In the reading I’ve done so far about Uganda several key characteristics that are either sources or results of the conflict stand out: fear, mistrust, desensitization/normalization of violence(that drives the night commuters, that keeps the land uncultivated, that makes children kill, that keeps Kony from negotiating, child soldiers from returning, communities from accepting back the abducted…) . The results are too many to mention. And I’ve only read about them. I haven’t seen them yet. As someone who wants to be an active agent for positive social change in Uganda I hope that in addition to solidarity I can offer the opposite of fear, mistrust, and desensitization: hope, trust, and a profound respect for human life. God help me.