No Such Thing As Equal Opportunity

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Kaysha Ribao, American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine, Class of 2020

The red dust is everywhere: on skin and clothes, in the car and the air. Despite the rain last night, today was particularly dusty as we partook in another Family Planning Outreach event. Although we started in late afternoon instead of our regular morning start time, I began to understand why. It was the beginning of farming season, which means women work until late afternoon before returning home to complete chores. With farming composing their main livelihood, it was pertinent that we work around their schedule. 

Communication is key to any event, and Ugandan social media includes loud speakers and lively music. As we sat on the grass under the tree as our advertisement played in the small village, I spoke to Charity, a security guard at ACCESS who had joined us. She described her dream of becoming a nurse, and the reality that she could not afford the school fees, especially with five siblings. Costs (1 USD = 3,600 shillings) include 200,000 shillings for primary school, 300,000 shillings for secondary school, and 500,000 for university, not to mention the meager income for each family. She believes it is her responsibility to pass her dreams on to her younger siblings and support them in their endeavors. According to Deo, our driver, there is no such thing as loans in Uganda. It was then clear to me that there is no such thing as equal opportunity.

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Kaysha Ribao with Ahja Steele, medical student at Ross University School of Medicine, and James Ssewanyana, primary clinician at ACCESS Life Care Center as well as Co-Founder and Deputy Executive Director at ACCESS

As I make my way through Paul Farmer’s Pathology of Power, things are starting to make sense. Poverty is essentially the cause of the injustices I observe, as lack of resources push individuals to vulnerable situations in order to simply survive. Poverty excludes the poor from receiving an education, which is essential for finding a stable job and having influence in the community. It leaves individuals malnourished, which renders them vulnerable to sickness and disease. The village children caught my eye as they ran around playing and taking care of each other with muddy bare feet, yellow snot, and dirty clothes that barely covered their thin bodies.

These observations make me feel helpless and frustrated. As a systemic issue, poverty requires a systemic solution. Poverty pushes the poor to the point of anger or despair, leading to political upheaval and eventually civil war. War brings on violence, which further exacerbates human right violations – sexual assault, torture, displacement, and hunger. Deo explained that the war in Uganda left him orphaned, but that he was cared for by relatives, bringing meaning to the phrase “it takes a village to raise a child.” However, many others were not so lucky.

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