Spirit in Action is on a journey toward sharing more leadership and decision-making with our African team members and grant partners. Centering their voices, experiences, and compassionate work is one of the ways SIA is moving towards our vision of social justice and true partnership.
Below is a retelling of a conversation that Sharon, a leader of Universal Love Alliance (ULA) in Uganda, had with a woman she was driving to the hospital. After President Museveni banned all public transportation during the pandemic, ULA realized that they could use their van as an emergency vehicle for people needing medical care. Sharon and Samson, another ULA leader, would sometimes be in the car for 12 hours at a time, answering calls from people who needed rides. It soon became clear that the drives also were perfect opportunities to have groundwork conversations about tolerance, acceptance, and human rights.
How car conversations can break down stereotypes
By Samson Turinawe
Caretaker: How are you, Madam? Thanks for delivering my mother to this hospital. Now there is much congestion on Entebbe Road, which is always busy with many cars. We thought it was impossible to get to the hospital and that Mother was going to die. But now we are here. Thank you, Madam, for driving us and helping us with your organization car.
Sharon: I do not deserve any thanks because I am doing what I am supposed to do. Let us pray that your mother gets treatment and feels better.
Caretaker: No, Madam. I must thank you. No one else would accept to carry our mother from our home, which is deep in the village of Budd. Our road is poor, it is night, and we are not related to you. You know, other people won’t allow people like us in their car, fearing that we might infect them with the Coronavirus.
Sharon: Please do not call me Madam, call me Sharon. I love to be called by my name. Also, do not say that you are not related to me. That fact that you are human beings, and I am also a person, this makes you my relative and it also makes me your relative. In this world all of us belong to one tribe.
Caretaker: No, Sharon, there are many tribes in the world. How can all the people on this planet belong to one tribe? Please tell me the name of this tribe that we all belong to.
Sharon: All of us in this world we have one tribe, which we belong to, no matter of your language, cultural beliefs, faith affiliation, or skin color. This tribe we all belong to is humanity.
Caretaker: Madam, oh I am sorry, Sharon, you are right. But some of us don’t take the time to think like this. We tend to look at families, clans, and tribes only. I think we need to think beyond our tribes, faith beliefs, cultural practices, and look at all of us as one tribe. But it may take many years for people to think and start treating each other as of one tribe. Changing people to think like this is not easy.
Sharon: Can I tell you something? Change starts with you. Change starts with one person. Now, like you, you start seeing all people on earth as one tribe. And you do things that show them that you share with them one tribe. Then change will have started to happen. Now your mother has been admitted. Let’s go to the car. I will drive and we can go back home. Please keep updating us on how your mother is doing in the hospital.
Kukunda Sharon of ULA Distributing food to vulnerable LGBTI people in Uganda. The back of her shirt shares ULA’s slogan, “Social justice is every individual’s responsibility.”
When President Yoweri Museveni declared a nationwide lockdown and banned public transportation, vulnerable communities then became more vulnerable. COVID-19 was like adding insult to injury. HIV-positive people could not get their treatments because there was no means of transportation available to get to their health center. Also, there were pregnant mothers who are to give birth and found that even ambulances were of limited availability. Malaria is still killing people in Uganda, especially children.
We began using the ULA van to provide transport to vulnerable people to access essential services. We have interacted with many different people and shared with them what ULA values and what ULA does in Uganda. These one-on-one conversations happen in the car as we transport patients and their caretakers to hospitals, clinics, and health centers. In these conversations, we have allowed the people to ask us questions, which we answer, without panic or fear.
A certain percentage of Uganda’s population thinks that LGBTI organizations only help people who belong to the LGBTI community. ULA, which is known as an LGBTI organization, is proving that LGBTI organizations are helping all people, regardless of which community the person comes from.
Let us keep standing together, and working together, extending love to each other. Then we shall all survive.
SIA supports ULA with overhead support for office rent and utilities, and we also passed on emergency funds for food and portable stoves for 41 clients during the pandemic.