To Have It All

Around the corner from a major road, across a grass field littered with trash, and down a muddy path, 1000 people live on 24 acres of land, according to the 2010 Jinja Municipality Slum Profile. These “houses” are mostly 10 by 10 ft concrete block rooms, originally built for single male railroad workers in the early 1900s. There is no electricity, running water, or sewer system. To NGOs this is a slum in Jinja, to me it is the Loco neighborhood, to friends it is home in Uganda.

Loco is a community like many in the third world, where dinner roams in your yard. With no fixtures or appliances, cooking outside over an open-pit, and any entertainment is given by friends singing in the day light. Ignored or threatened by the government, the settlement is always vulnerable. Several families lost everything in a recent fire, but, with the help of local churches and each other’s time, they rebuilt.

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Traveling through Uganda, there is a real understanding of true necessity; an average person’s possessions is a very small list. A pastor in a Northern country village pleaded that the major concerns for his congregation was lack of healthcare and low farm yield. Comparatively, with the global economic crisis, the first world is just now realizing how the idea of having it all was a false goal.

In the Bible, 1 Timothy warns the desire for riches leads to destruction. The commonly quoted verse, “For the love of money is the root of all evil,” is not against money, which provides for needs and glorify good works. It is the focus on money that is corrupt. Share today what may be gone tomorrow.

A Material World

Single room shops, with cement porches and giant wooden doors, line the busiest streets of Africa. In Soroti, the largest white-washed buildings encircling the central roundabout are all banks, not giant department stores that are common in Western metropolitan areas. With tiny, uneven aisle ways, an African city market is organized chaos. However, throughout the hardware and clothing areas, personal commerce is the focus. A buyer is not bombarded with large signs for branding, even if that means there is only one model of bicycle available. Contrastingly, walking into an American superstore, there is a large amount of pressure to buy. “To good to pass up” deals tempt consumers to waste money on trinkets.

The fields next to Ugandan country roads is plowed with ox. There is plenty of land to farm, but no government programs or investors to raise the capital. The opposite problem occurs in the United States, where farmers are subsidized by the government to produce passed our need. This overabundance causes food with expired dates to be tossed into locked dumpsters. The 2010 documentary DIVE! reveals that every year in America, 96 billion pounds of food is thrown away, which is 263 million pounds a day, 11 million pounds an hour, or 3,000 pounds a second. 

High resource waste is also in the cost of industrial production. Petroleum is used in fertilizers, pesticides, transportation and packaging.  Unlike the American counterpart where it seems every item is wrapped tight in cellophane, the  food section in Jinja’s market contains rows of large burlap bags for grain and tables of exposed meat. The world is suffering from decades in the plastic age. In an effort to make everything convenient and sterile, hazardous toxins are released when these containers are broken down from heat, either in the microwave or the 200 year decomposition. The 2009 documentary Plastic Planet states that plastic debris has infiltrated the food chain, especially in examined fish. 

Operational Costs

Throughout Uganda, construction is severely limited. Scaffolding of rickety poles are tied together to support wheel barrows containing hand-mixed cement used to restore withered colonial buildings. The only large machinery seen completes the first major highway project, on which a petroleum truck is overturned and leaking fuel. The bulldozer needed to right the semi would not arrive for days. 

It is easy to see how industrialization is better in the United States, it is harder to see how it is lacking. American corporations benefit from overseas accounts by evading their tax responsibilities to keep executive bonuses, while closing domestic factories or decreasing employee benefits. The bottom line is producing cheap goods in third-world nations. This accepted business tactic abuses populations without environmental regulation or consumer protection. 

James 5:4 says, “Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord.” God sees when a person’s work is taken advantage of or goes without the right reward. The next Bible verse warns that those who have lived in luxury have murdered the just, meaning people who have been exploited by the self-indulgent. This promise is one of God’s many messages of encouragement to the oppressed and poor class. 

The economic classes in the United States are being further divided with each legislative session.  Norquist promoted Republican budget cuts give money to the extremely wealthy, including subsidies and tax loopholes for GE and oil companies. At the same time, entitlements are diminishing for the basic needs of the extremely poor, including tens of millions of people from Medicaid and food stamps programs, as well as funding for educating America’s children through Headstart and Pell grants.

In the private sector, Apple who announced this year a dividend buyback program, is spending $10 billion to benefit investors, but at the same time claims the company can’t afford to manufacture  products in the USA. So stockholders who make their income from capital gains get richer, but the average worker who relies on a physical job pinches pennies to feed the family. Isn’t it enough gas, water, and electricity resources, which should be owned by a nation’s citizens collectively, is parsed out to private companies for profit? 

A Developed Nation?

There is no other word to describe the feeling of the American poor facing the greed of the upper class…abandoned. The top-tier of the income bracket want limits on taxes for second homes and millions of dollars in inheritance, while the middle-class files bankruptcy due to health bills and drowns in student loan debt. The justification that these choices are fair to top earners, decrease the deficit, or help the struggling economy are false. 

It is fiscally responsible to invest government collected tax money in a country’s population. The times this nation has prospered was when the working class was rewarded through job training, stable mortgages, or federal and state employment projects. Leviticus 25:35 says, “If one of your brethren becomes poor, and falls into poverty among you, then you shall help him…that he may live with you.” The next verse demands that giving is a gift and not a loan.

What is next, no public funded emergency responders only private corrupt police forces similar to 100 years ago? Should America’s children return to the workforce to help feed their family, which would lessen the need for public school teachers? This is the image to what I witnessed in Africa. Maybe when US citizens have nothing, they will stop loosing sight of what is important. In Uganda, a family may not have more to offer than a place to sit. Still they open their homes and share anything they own. Jinja, has a real sense of community and bright, broad smiles great every guest. 

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One thought on “To Have It All

  1. This topic began when a young Ugandan man, named Johnathan, honestly commented, while traveling the African countryside, that all the Americans on our trip had eye glasses and medicine for everything. Obviously, our friends in Jinja did have that same kind of access.

    I hope this makes my fiscal conservatives think progressively and that it makes my Ugandan friends proud!

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