I’ve had the good fortune to live and work in Uganda full time for the past 11 years. Two and a half years ago, I gave birth in Kampala to a rad little boy, called Lucas. He’s the love of my life. I write today because I was recently asked “What’s your biggest fear?” My answer? “Having to leave Uganda and raise my son anywhere else.” I want to elaborate on that.
Admittedly, I’ve never been a mother anywhere else in the world. I am, however, very pleased to be raising Lucas in Uganda. Since he was a newborn, I’ve been online following all kinds of mummy bloggers (it’s what you do when you’re up all night breastfeeding or pumping). The things these mummies complain about are insane. Or, rather, the things they complain about are simply not issues in Uganda.
1. Breastfeeding in public – In Uganda boobies are meant to feed babies, breastfeeding is completely normalized.
2. Letting kids be kids in public – Kids are full members of Ugandan society. When they cry/scream/generally meltdown, it’s considered normal and not a judgment on the mother. There’s always someone around with an understanding smile, stepping in to help.
3. Potty training – Just take off that diaper and guide him where to pee. I’ve never met a Ugandan kid not totally potty trained before the age of 2.
4. Having your kids within eyesight at all times or you get arrested (WTF is that?!) – In Uganda, kids run around, ride bikes, climb trees and generally have a great time. They don’t die if their mummies aren’t standing over them.
But I don’t want to highlight why it’s bad to raise kids in “the West”. I want to highlight why it’s AMAZING to raise kids in Uganda.
1. Ugandans live the “it takes a village to raise a child” adage. My kid has many adults that love and care for him. His world does not revolve around his mum. This takes immense pressure off of me. Lucas benefits as well. If I’m tired or stressed or working, I know he’s in good hands, not stuck with my impatience. He’ll be properly supported or disciplined. I will not be judged. He’s adaptable. He’s confident. He’s well loved by patient, peaceful people, who generally like and know kids.
2. Ugandan children are involved in all day to day work. They are not set in front of the tv or scheduled into “educational” activities. They learn from toddlerhood how to be a part of a household. Whether it’s burning garbage, washing plates, or peeling matooke, my kid is involved. He carries the lighter, he helps rinse dishes, he digs in the garden. He feels competent.
3. There is no difference between immediate and extended family in a typical Ugandan family. All family members have equal ranking. All your mum’s sisters are your mum. Your cousins are your brothers and sisters. It’s no big deal to share kids around the family for weeks or months. Kids get exposure to living with different people in new locations. Lucas routinely spends a week in the village or a week in Kampala. He comes back to Mukono refreshed and confident and excited to tell stories about the experience.
4. Kids of all ages play together, take care of each other, teach each other. They don’t need adult supervision. They need each other. And they sort themselves out! If one kid acts like a dickhead, he’s frozen out of the group. When he apologizes, he’s welcomed back in. My kid is learning how to behave in society by actually being a part of it.
5. No presents for every occasion. Christmas in Uganda is about food, family, and God. Not getting presents. Ugandans typically thank God, not ask Him (or Santa Claus) for stuff. Same goes for Easter and birthdays. I cannot emphasize how awesome this is, coming from a hyper consumer society.
6. Ugandans share. When we have new volunteers arrive, they may think Lucas is a little wild but they’re always shocked when they see him easily share. Kids learn by modeling – they do what they see. Ugandan adults share, therefore, Ugandan kids share. If there are 6 kids and 1 mango, everyone gets some mango. There is no joy in hoarding the mango for oneself.
7. My kid is growing up eating fresh, natural, largely organic food. Every day. Yeah, we still eat cheese, pickles, and other stuff that requires refrigeration (and packaging) but he more often than not refuses my food in favour of posho and beans. Further, he knows where his food comes from. He’s around when we slaughter chickens and goats and knows the “nkoko” in the compound is the same as the one on his plate.
8. Uganda has 12 months of “play outside in the fresh air” weather. It’s pretty much always between 25C and 28C. Perfection. Our garden always has something going on. Lucas carries a big stick and tries to knock mangoes off the tree. When a jackfruit is ready, he comes running with a leaf to wipe it down. He rakes the leaves off the grass every day. He runs, kicks balls, chases other kids – and is generally not bogged down with a lot of toys. Just don’t try to take away his boda boda.
Let me hope you’ve understood my point here: African kids should be raised in Africa. Lucas’ father is Ugandan. Lucas is Ugandan. One of his current favourite sentences is “Mummy is a ‘zungu, Lucas is a ‘ganda”. You see? He feels it! I want him raised here to appreciate the thousands of years of history, culture and tradition that is his. After reading this, I trust that you now know that a Ugandan childhood is not only valid, it’s awesome.
So, please, if you or someone you know is contemplating traveling to Uganda (or Africa or Asia or anywhere) in hopes of adopting some poor starving brown baby – STOP. Read this again and share it with your friends. Go spend some time (not just 2 weeks) in your country of interest. See that kids belong in their home environment. Learn that they don’t need anyone to save them. If you meet parents or guardians, during your travels, who are willing to sign away their rights to a child – do something to help that family. Don’t steal their child. Don’t remove a child from his family, community, language, culture, or country.
Want to meet Lucas and a bunch of other amazing Ugandan kids? Check out our website. If you like what you read, fill in our online application. The Real Uganda works with organizations that help families thrive in their communities.
Pin it for later!