Why I am raising my son in Uganda

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.

Issues like:

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.

digging2. 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.

wpid-20150107_144101.jpg5. 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.

maureen at KkobaWant 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.

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Why I'm raising my son in Uganda

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24 thoughts on “Why I am raising my son in Uganda

  1. While I was there working with your organization through GVN before Lucas was born, I met you and from what I know, what you say is true. I’ve watched the babies/toddlers/kids of all ages in the village I volunteered at and found the kids to be happy with what they had. That’s not to say they shouldn’t get more but I watched the “sharing” of food and toys. The imagination goes a long way and that’s sometimes what is missing here where I am. When you have something available to you when the mention of it has just left your mouth, there isn’t the same appreciation of things. As for the breastfeeding, the “morels” here sure get in the way of a happily fed baby. And, taking a pee is a taboo unless it’s in a vessel especially designed for such a thing….what ever happened to taking a good pee outdoors? Maybe one day I’ll return and see this cute little critter you call Lucas. Until then, peace to you, to Lucas and to all those who help you be the mommy you are.

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    1. Thanks for this Sami. I’m not totally sure I would have kept up the “on demand” breastfeeding if I hadn’t been here. Its so cold and weird to have to cover yourself. Potty training was hassle free too. Yay!

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  2. Wonderful piece Leslie,
    I’m not a child, but it’s what I loved most about my time in Africa, the sense of belonging, surrounded by people who gave a damn. Even though I was a Muzungu and only there for a period of time, I felt loved and respected by all the people that were part of my time there. I could actually just be me.Someone I know there said

    ‘I wish people would say it like it is, then we could get on with it.”
    Freedom.

    Why wouldn’t you want to go to Uganda.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. @Abb: I’ll let that pass because of how fantastic this blog post made me feel, so count yourself lucky for not getting whipped by the blanket comment. @Leslie: I’ve waited three busy days to read this blog post and I am quite emotionally stirred by it. I’ve got to share it with thousands of people so they appreciate what they have, and what made most of us what we are today. Blessings!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Beautiful story and great pics!! A lot of what you say is true. I live in California, and after reading this article, I wish it were more like the way you and your child lives in Uganda. It sounds a lot safer and more open! I understand why you’d want to stay and raise him in Uganda! I wish you the best and your son, too!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. We run an orphanage in Mityana…what of the thousands and thousands of orphans that have no family? They are better off living alone on the street? Still don’t take them from the country when the high unemployment keeps people from stepping forward to help care for the abandoned infants we are called to retrieve from swamps and latrines?

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    1. There’s actually a large Alternative Care community in Uganda that is recruiting and training local foster families. Further, there are very few children in Uganda that have absolutely no family. There are interventions that can be made that don’t involve taking children from their culture, language, and any possible reconciliation with family. International adoption can be used as a last resort, not a solution to our child care crisis.

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  6. […] Kids in Uganda are living a wonderful “old school” childhood. They play with little supervision and are largely peer or self-directed. They learn how to make decisions, treat others with respect, and take risks through play. Ugandan parents don’t spend money on educational toys and exercise equipment. They throw the kids outside and let them sort it out. Parents don’t settle the kids into some “craft” so they can get the dishes done. The kids do the dishes. This creates confident, civilized, and empathetic people. I’m actually quite outspoken about this topic and have written about it in the past. […]

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  7. Yeah it’s wonderful the way we where brought up I remember my grandma used to take something from you if you don’t share with athers she will take it from you and share it to your siblings or friends. The next time the first thing you do is share .and that tought me up to now no matter how small I do share thank you for the blog.

    Liked by 1 person

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