A Reminder of Privilege

This month I was lucky enough to be offered a small consultancy with an organization based in Kampala committed to preventing violence against women and children. They lead community-level activism and action aimed at shifting attitudes that inform power dynamics, gender inequality and women’s sexual decision-making abilities.

The organization conducted a rather large, multi-year randomized control trial to assess the impact of a community mobilization intervention to prevent violence against women and reduce HIV risk in Uganda, and subsequently produced a report on the (admittedly impressive) findings. The report is quite dense, particularly for anyone outside those well versed in the language of randomized control trials. My task is to simplify the report, cut out the jargon, and make it appealing for lay folk.

All this work can be done remotely over the next month.

I have admittedly enjoyed the opportunity to engage in remote work, particularly work for an organization whose mission I believe in so strongly. I spend my days working from home or from Nile River Camp overlooking the water, sipping spiced African tea and feeding my addiction to chips (French fries).

Yesterday a boy from the village with whom I am quite close, Igloo, visited my old home in Bujagali where I was relaxing for the evening. We talked about school, about what he wants to do when he grows up, and about my work. I told him I was no longer working for S.O.U.L. Foundation and was instead working remotely on this consultancy.

“You mean you just work on your computer? You can work from your home?”

“Yes, well, I don’t have a home at the moment so I work down at Nile River Camp or the backpacker’s camp next door.”

“You don’t have to go to office? You just open your computer and work? And you get paid for it?”

“Yes that’s correct.”

Igloo and his friend Ibra exchanged looks of disbelief that quickly dissolved to sheer elation. They laughed and laughed, absolutely amazed that there were jobs in this world that one could do from their computer at home, or from anywhere else one may choose to work.

In that moment, to them, it seemed as though I was the luckiest man alive.

Living in Uganda has been a daily lesson in being aware of my privilege and being grateful for the blessings bestowed upon me. Each day I am reminded that even though I grew up with very little, I was raised in a position of power as a lower-class, white, male American in the heart of California. I had food on the table, a roof over my head, decent clothes on my back, and two parents who took care of my schooling and pushed me to do my best in whatever it was that I wanted to pursue. I went on to receive a nearly free ride to university, was able to raise money to volunteer all over East Africa, attended one of the best schools in the country for my M.A., and now work 10,000 miles away from home, not as a migrant due to a lack of opportunities back home (as is the case with so many Ugandans working out of the country), but because I want to work here, and I have the ability to do so.

Today I sit overlooking the Nile River, sipping tea, listening to mixes from an incredible festival I was able to attend in South Africa earlier this year, wearing gym shorts from an academic institution most Ugandans can only dream of attending, and I am putting together a fascinating report for an organization that is paying me to do it all.

And I can’t help but feel pretty lucky.

In that same conversation, Igloo and Ibra asked me about the work that the organization does, and what I want to do for a job after this consultancy is finished. I told them that the organization I was doing this consultancy for, and many other organizations around the world, focus on bringing boys and men into the discussion around issues like domestic violence, gender inequalities, power dynamics between men and women, and other forms of violence against women and children.

The two young men listened intently, and enthusiastically agreed with me when I discussed how important this type of work is in Uganda and around the world. When I asked them their thoughts, they told me how in their culture men are taught that as men, they are superior to women, but that the two of them know this to not be true. Fresh off the heels of the respect earned for having a job that I could do remotely, I quickly felt their immense respect for my involvement in the movement for gender equality.

In that moment, I saw nothing but hope for the future of the men of this world. I was able to inspire them to expand their conceptualizations of what employment can be if they work hard in school, and they were able to inspire me about the future of my gender. And I can’t help but feel even luckier knowing that I have the opportunity to work with young men like Igloo and Ibra, two shining examples of the rising tide of male advocates and allies in the fight to reduce gender inequality and shift power imbalances in the right direction.

Here’s to dreaming of a whole new world of possibilities.