“I am because you are” – Africa through JL’s eyes

Ubuntu on the bus!

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The story starts on Monday, February 13, a few minutes after I take this selfie at the Busia border compound.

As we were waiting for the remaining passengers going through immigration, I wanted to board the bus to take a rest. I was denied boarding as some official had to inspect the bus. I waited outside, noticing a heaviness in the mood. No official showed up, and after we departed a passenger gave me the explanation. A thief had disembarked with the bag of a lady passenger at one of the few nightly stops. The lady was in tears as she had lost everything….

While we were proceeding towards Kampala, a young man took the floor and proposed to collect some money for our fellow passenger. A few moments later, he had collected 5000 Kenyan Shillings, 220000 Uganda Shillings and some Tanzanian shillings as well, the total amounting to more than 100 USD.

I told the story on Tuesday at the opening of my speech at the launch. What seemed natural to my audience was a great demonstration of a basic tenet of bantu culture: Ubuntu, a concept that seems so hard to grasp by the Western mind and is probably best translated as “I am because you are”. My co-travellers had acted naturally in solidarity with the lady. They were practicing Ubuntu.

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On Wednesday Arthur Namara and the Health Nest Uganda (HENU) team took me to a group of older persons in Katabi near Entebbe. A lady who had attended the launch told the bus story to the group and how I had appreciated the gesture of solidarity. She then told another story that was shared at the launch. In Jinja, an elderly group which had benefitted from a microcredit did so well that the group became a lender to the microcredit institution! It all boils down to trust, she said, challenging the group with a question: “Are we trusting each other enough?”

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Spontaneously, a lady takes a note of Uganda shillings and puts it in a basket. People open their wallet and contribute. To my amazement their first expenditure is to purchase “What makes us human?” Then they decided to open an account at Postbank to keep the rest of the money. Health Nest Uganda will help them in the process. And maybe they will be able to mobilize some government money in support of their activities….

This all happened in a few minutes. Time had come to get to the main agenda: do some exercise to keep all the old people in good health!

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As Frederic Laloux stated about the book: “Trust makes ordinary people do extraordinary things!”

 

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