Many of the questions on Uganda’s census are unimaginable in the U.S. and they say a lot about life here: Was your household’s economic activity affected by civil strife during last 12 months? What is the main source of water for drinking for your household? How far is the main source from your dwelling? Does every member of the household have at least two sets of clothes? Does every child in this household have a blanket? What is the average number of meals taken by household members per day in the last 7 days? What is your present marital status (Married monogamously, Married polygamous, Divorced/Separated, Widow/ Widower, Never married)?
Since February, I have been working as a Researcher for QED Group, the company responsible for monitoring and evaluation for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in Uganda. I have been doing research on various topics in Uganda and many of the things I have uncovered are startling. The depth and breadth of poverty are astounding. Not only the number of people living in poverty, but also how far-reaching the effects of poverty are in the lives of people. I have come to see in stark terms the brokenness of this place.
Consider that more than a third of Uganda’s citizens live below the international extreme poverty line of US$1.90 a day. Only 14% of households in Uganda use electricity for lighting. 71% of all dwellings have earth floors. 1 in 8 households have fewer than two meals per day. Living in poverty can’t be much fun but the human side of things is even more devastating. In a recent study, 78% of primary school children reported that they had experienced sexual abuse at school. 1 in 15 people in Uganda is living with HIV/AIDS and many have lost the battle. Nearly three in every five Ugandan women accept domestic violence. Epidemics and armed conflicts have left hundreds of thousands of orphans and 31,000 households in Uganda that are headed by children.
Between 2005 and 2009, for every three Ugandans who were lifted out of poverty, two fell back into poverty, illustrating the fragility of the gains realized by the poorest households. So what is the way out? Education? A typical classroom in the poorest fifth of schools has 116 pupils. Uganda technically has universal (free) primary education but primary completion rates were just 53 percent in 2011. In 2013, 1 in 10 girls reported dropping out of secondary school as a result of pregnancy.
The average age of a Ugandan is 15.3 years old and 70% of Uganda’s population is under 30 years old. At 31 years old, Andy and I are both old here. At current growth rates the population is doubling every 16 years. Not only are resources and infrastructure stretched thin as it is, but things are getting worse.
It is overwhelming, but God is at work in the midst of it. Andy is serving alongside great organizations serving the physically and spiritually poor, organizations that are working hard to address challenges now and to invest in the future. If it seems like he is always working on an orphanage, a school, or a clinic that’s because he always is. As one gets finished he starts another.
When we were preparing to come to Uganda we would sometimes get asked ”Why Uganda?” The answer, of course, is that this is where we feel God has placed us for this time. We might also add that Andy grew up in neighboring Rwanda and went to boarding school in neighboring Kenya and most people understood the draw. But it seemed like a number of people raised their eyebrows at Uganda because Uganda is 85% Christian. So, why go there? Surely there are other places more in need of the gospel. Unreached people groups are spread across the globe and there are people everywhere who are trapped in religions of false gods.
Over the last few months we have seen many examples of what we already knew to be true: Discipleship is sorely needed, though evangelism may not be. Though most Ugandans have heard the gospel of Jesus and claim to be Christian, deep relationship with Jesus is often lacking. 98.4% of Ugandans identify as either Christian (84.7%) or Muslim (13.7%). However, neither religion supports widespread sexual abuse in schools, alcohol disorders that are all too common, or the extramarital relationships that lead to the proliferation of HIV/AIDS. These behaviors are not supported by either major religion and more importantly they are not the mark of those who have surrendered their lives to Jesus.
Ugandans are proud of their country and they are passionate about changing it from the inside out. I have met countless young Ugandans who have a tangible sense that they are part of God’s plan for the future of Uganda. We feel blessed to have been called here, where we can use our technical skills to ease the burdens for Ugandans and, more importantly, and to remind them of the transformational hope that Jesus brings to the world.