Dear Auntie Chambu:Kizito, Houston
I'm 22 years old and just getting set up financially after my graduation from college. I have no debts because my father was a big shot back in Uganda and he paid for my schooling. He recently passed on and now his large extended family back home has been asking me to send them money all the time and I'm tired of it. I feel like he was taken advantage of and I don't want the same for my life. What can I do to make them stop?
Sharing what we have is an integral part of African culture; we believe in communal values such as hospitality and mutual care for other members of our society. The phrase "it takes a village" is actually put into practice as family, friends and neighbors make sure that no one is suffering. Foodstuff and other material goods as well as intangibles like our time are given generously to provide for those in need. It is not uncommon to see a group of villagers building a house for someone or repairing the roof of a leaky home. As a child I remember 'Uncles' and 'Aunties' in the village serving us food or giving us money to buy bread at school. Though not blood relatives some would even go as far as paying school fees or buying books for children whose parents were unable to do so.
I will never forget the day when a 'brother' sent me school information which eventually enabled me to come to the America. And as an extension and continuation of such communal spirit, I have personally sponsored a few people to come over to the United States myself.
I am sorry that you interpret your father's generosity as a sign of weakness and feel like he let relatives take advantage of him. Though you might be right to the extent that your Dad's open hands may have left his own immediate family wanting. But as long as he took good care of his wife and children, forgive him and the people he helped in kindness. He was a grown man. Respect and try to understand where your father was coming from.
I understand your perspective as you live here in the States- a culture which at first blush appears to revere rights of the individual above the community. Western societies place a great value on the things an individual has accrued, be it material goods, wealth etc. The mantra seems to be "If you work hard, you will pull yourself up by your own boot straps" or "You can either make it or break it on your own." The African society says "never mind what I may call mine, it will be my brothers if he needs it." Africans place a lot of value on molding and nurturing the community spirit. Yet dig deeper and you will see that same community spirit at work here in the US. I have seen the same sense of family and community among groups here: Italian families celebrating first communions, African-Americans summer barbecues and reunions, and Jewish bah & bat mitzvahs. Americans as a whole, are very generous people. So don't be fooled into stinginess by the bling-bling mentality you see in music videos.
So why should you help those poor people in back home (just like your father), you ask? I will give you four reasons:
1) You are blessed. Save the world by being generous with what you have been given i.e. money, material goods, encouragement and guidance.
2) A few dollars will go a long way to help a needy child stay in school or pay for his/her health care needs. For example, you can sponsor a child in school (fees, books and uniform) for less than 500 dollars per year. Imagine what lives you will change by just educating one person per family.
3) The level of poverty and suffering is so vast in Africa that every little bit will help improve people's quality of life.
4) Start a chain of helpers of your own. Help one who helps one who helps one and so forth.
And if you do just one of the above, I can assure you that you will feel so, so good----and truly be blessed.