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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Parenting in Bundibugyo

At Friday hospital staff meetings, we alternate weeks between continuing medical education topics, and Bible studies.  One of the things I love about Africa . . it makes perfect sense to all concerned that the forum for scientific and technical information sharing, and for spiritual formation and growth, could be the same, because it is all about investing in staff as whole human beings.  I had just read the chapter in Proverbs about "train up a child" and so this week I summarized a pamphlet by an old-time teacher and writer, JC Ryle. called the Duties of Parents.  And it struck a chord.  We missionaries have noted the slide into semi-abusive rudeness amongst groups of kids on the road, or decried the increasing levels of thievery.  But I realized yesterday that the adults with whom we work are equally distressed.  Perhaps adults of EVERY generation look critically upon the young.  But the hospital staff at least believe that a seismic cultural shift has occurred.  They are mostly concerned about disrespect, which makes sense, since the veneration of elders (extending to appeasement of ancestors) is a central aspect of African tradition.  Many spoke of how they were raised, and contrasted the current state of affairs, the lack of proper greeting, kneeling, body position, tone of voice, obedience.  Ryle's book is very non-pc but eminently practical.  Habits formed in youth stick, so parents have the greatest opportunity to mold character.  He covers the basics:  love not anger, example not lecture, consistency not apathy-punctuated-by-outbursts of correction.  He builds on the foundation of regular Bible reading, prayer, and public means of grace.  It's good stuff.

Afterwards I've been thinking more about what I heard in the discussion, and what I've seen in 16-and-a-half years.  And here are some factors, from the staff and from me, that led to this behavioural shift.
1.  Population pressure.  More people.  More children surviving. Overwhelmed parents.  Less supervision energy per child.  Less space, less boundary for a family.  Bundibugyo continues to lead the country in fertility rates, and Uganda continues to lead most of the world.  There are just a lot of kids here, and more every day.  Peers become a relatively greater influence than elders, due to sheer numbers and time.
2.  War.  The massive displacement of the late 90's continues to influence culture now.  People were crowded (see #1).  They mixed up clans and tribes in camps, diluting distinctives.  Soldiers moved in, with money.  People were willing to do most anything for food, and less likely to freely share than before.  They did not have great hope for the future, making it less important to discipline children.  Who minded about niceties of politeness in a survival situation?
3.  UPE.  Universal Primary Education came in right after the war.  Suddenly every child was supposed to be in school.  Classrooms were impossibly crowded.  Infrastructure and staff expansion lagged far behind the explosion in school enrollment.  Throw a hundred kids who have emerged from an IDP camp into a classroom with one or no teacher . . and the bullies rule, the strong survive.  Education is great.  Taking children away from their parents and culture, and keeping them in chaotic unsupervised classes for most of their waking hours most months of the year may not be.
4.  Development.  We are becoming less isolated, more connected to the rest of the world.  Good.  But outside influences are very, very powerful.  A culture that has seen itself as backwards and inferior (an idea perpetrated by conquering tribes and colonial administration) quickly latches onto new styles and new ways, without always deliberating the cost.  Translation and literacy, support for dance troupes and traditional leaders by missionaries, all help, but have not kept pace with the rapid introduction of media.  Parents do not strive to teach and enforce a culture which they have been made to doubt.
5.  Cocoa.  Last but not least, the cultural changes have occurred at the same time as a major agricultural shift.  Cocoa requires less daily labor than food crops, and is much more profitable.  Parents are less dependent upon their children's physical labor. And more empowered to be away from home, spending their cocoa money.  Perhaps even some of the social security that was invested in having well-raised kids to care for you . . now rests on a good cocoa garden, which does not talk back.
6.  Freedom.  Good liberating truths can also have unintended harmful side effects.  As a culture becomes less fearful of spirits, ancestors, evil that lurks in the shadows, then there is less enforcement of social norms.  Good if those norms have been internalized, or if a different motivation (holiness, gratefulness, honor) pushes out the heart of fear.  But if fears diminish without a compensatory increase in faith and love . . then we are left with unafraid, self-centered, and potentially destructive individuals.

The youth are the single greatest resource of Bundibugyo.  They are abundant, and wonderful, and needy of guidance.  CSB provides the kind of structure and instruction they need, but that's only 340 out of over 100,000.  Older parents mourn, and need encouragement.  Midlife parents need to draw upon God's limitless grace, and be inspired by hope that their children are not lost. Those who were teens in the war years are now young parents, and if their generation does not reverse the slide into cultural dissolution, who will?  

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