One early morning I woke up in a very remote area, in a place where normal life seems to be non-existent. To find any of the necessities of life there is very difficult. There is no electricity, and to simply have water requires one to travel distances carrying a jerrycan.
My friend and his two siblings live in this remote area in a very small house made of mud, with grass on the top as a roof. Many other people from different countries who fled war and conflict live in that area, too. Located in Southwestern Uganda, this place is called Rwamwanja Refugee Settlement. It is inhabited by more than 80,000 refugees mostly from Congo.
Being my friend’s guest for a few days, I was the fourth person in his little hut which was smaller than my closet. All four of us slept on a very tiny mattress under black weird smelly covers that the UNHCR distributes to refugees. The conditions in which they live their day to day lives is horrible, along with the many other refugees living in Rwamwanja. They have no other choice.
My first night was very long, cold and scary. Even though we stayed up late (after eating our rice and beans for dinner) cracking jokes, me telling them stories of life in America, and them sharing their experiences of living in the camp, the night was still long as one after one would fall asleep, and I found myself still awake. There was no phone because there is no electricity. Locating an internet network is a long story. You cannot play music because there is no radio or anything entertaining. The only choices I had was to either force myself to sleep, stay awake, meditate, or confuse myself with weird thoughts.
After a very few hours of sleep, I started hearing birds singing, hens chanting "kokorikoooo", and dogs barking outside. Then I heard some noise and soft voices. I got a little bit scared and tried to listen carefully to know from where the noise and voices were coming.
I woke up my friend and asked him, “Do you hear the noise outside?”
“Yes,” he replied in a sleepy voice.
I asked again, “What is that?”
He just laughed and kept quiet. I also kept quiet for a minute but the noise went on and on and on.
Me, in a scared tone, "Bro, be serious! What is that?”
He answered, “It happens almost every morning. You will get used to it. It's shamba time.” (Shamba means “time for digging” in Swahili.)
“Well, those voices are very soft and sound like kids singing,” I said.
His reply was, “Yeah, they are kids digging their plot.”
“What? Kids? At this time?”, I asked.
I checked my friend's brother's old Nokia phone to see the time. It was 5:00 am and still dark.
He continued firmly, “Bro, we are not in America. This is a refugee camp and this is what kids do first thing when they wake up. Just go outside. You will see.”
It was very shocking to hear that those were children outside at that time and singing that early in the morning. I got up, trying not to step on anyone as I jumped across the others on the small mattress where the four of us had slept. I opened the door being careful not to hit my friend's brother’s head who was sleeping close to the door, and then I closed it slowly again.
While standing outside of the front door, I looking to my right, and there they were. Three siblings, one boy and two young girls were singing and digging seriously. They looked to be close together in age, between 6 to 8 years.
I sat down in front of the door and started weeping. Too many thoughts came into my mind, and I couldn't help myself. I stayed there for almost thirty minutes looking at those kids. The surprising thing was that they didn't even get scared when I stepped out. They totally acted as if nothing unusual was happening. It seemed like a normal early morning routine for them. I saw no fear in those kids’ eyes.
That moment took me back twenty years ago to my home in Congo when I would not even try to go outside when it was dark or cold, but for those kids it was not the case. The way they were using their hoes was very scary because of how rapidly they were moving them up and down. It seemed like they were going to hit each other because they were working very close together.
While sitting there I felt like telling them to, "Please stop! Don't play with that hoe like that!”
Directly I realized that they must be used to that digging style, because for the almost thirty minutes I had sat there, nothing bad had happened. Suddenly my friend came out and saw me sitting in front of the door weeping, and he laughed at me again.
I said, “It's not funny. Please tell them to stop and go to sleep.”
He questioned, “What do you mean? You mean to tell them to go home?”
I replied, “ Yeah, tell them to go home to sleep because it's too early, cold and dark.”
He explained, “Do you want their parents to kill them today? That's their morning work, and it's their daily routine. Don't worry. This is what most of the kids do here.”
My friend took my hand and told me, “Sedrick, come over to the main road. I want to show you something. Then you will see what most of the kids do in the morning in this camp when they wake up.”
I stood up and went to the main road and what I saw that early morning was like watching a movie. Dozens of kids with machete in hand, hoe on their shoulder, and a small food supply on their heads walking out to farm. They would go either to their parents’ farm or to someone else’s farm to get paid very little money or work in exchange for crops. Both boys and girls aged between 6 and 17 are "forced to do farm work" because they don't have anything else to do.
Those refugee settlement kids made me think too much. I compared them to other children, mostly those in America. The first thing many of those other kids do in the morning is to begin crying for their tablet, phone or video game. Sometimes they fight with their parent because they don't like to eat bread, drink milk, or the type of cereal their parents bought them. Some will wake up complaining about the style of shoes or clothes they are wearing. Others wake up mad at their parents because they want to go to Disney World, or a movie, or a vacation to the Bahamas, or need that superhero game and so on.
I do not say that all this is bad, but ...
I started realizing that many things that some kids take for granted, others don’t have a clue about. Most of the time in our society we fail to understand and to know what it is like in the world somewhere else. We forget that things we take for granted can be a dream life for someone else.
I know you will say, “It's their life. They wanted it. It's their choice.”
You are wrong. If they could choose, those boys and girls in Rwamwanja would not choose that refugee camp life. Those children would want to be like every other kid in America, Canada, UK or any other place where they could live like normal human beings. Their life circumstances does not allow them.
Be grateful for the blessings you have. Teach your children kindness and gratefulness. Help them learn to be happy and contented with what they have.