Lessons from the Field: Immaculate

Spending Time with Immaculate in Soroti

One of the things I look forward to most whenever I visit Uganda is eating chapati. Before I returned to the US after a six-month stay in Uganda back in 2006, I attempted to learn firsthand how to create this flatbread from Immaculate, TCON’s infamous cook. Considering the only two ingredients in this flatbread are water and flour, one might presume that it is a relatively easy recipe to create. I had to sit through a handful of demonstrations by Immaculate, however, because without specific measurements I struggled to accomplish the right proportions of each of the ingredients. Now, over 5 years since I departed Uganda, I am still unable to master the art of chapati-making. In fact, I have given up trying and opt instead to get my chapati fix each time I visit Uganda.

I learned on this trip that Immaculate’s chapati is perhaps the best chapati in all of Soroti (the district where our Uganda office resides). So of course hers is likely to put my best effort to shame! In fact, Immaculate’s cooking in general is known to be exceptional. In a conversation with Immaculate on this recent trip I learned about how she began her own catering business on the side to fill her time and increase her income generation when she’s not working at the TCON house.

Immaculate’s story is one that highlights the limitations and shortcomings of relief aid and the potential that rests in development initiatives. A few years ago Immaculate developed a friendship with a woman who helped run our hospice facility. After learning the details of Immaculate’s life and her struggle to raise four boys on her own, the young American woman was compelled to offer Immaculate financial assistance so that her eldest son could attend a private school. Immaculate was deeply moved by the kind gesture and soon removed her son from the poorly performing government-subsidized school and placed him in the private school. The American woman paid for an entire year’s worth of school fees and promised to continue to provide assistance in the years to come. Unfortunately, the support fizzled out and Immaculate could not afford to keep her son in the school. When it came time to reenroll him in the government-subsidized school, the headmaster of the school retaliated by denying Immaculate’s son placement in the school. Eventually, after other’s advocated on Immaculate’s behalf, the headmaster conceded.

Ugandan Chapati Bread

Not more than a year later, another American woman temporarily moved to Uganda to complete an internship experience with TCON. This woman was equally as compelled to support Immaculate, only the assistance she provided propelled Immaculate to become more self-sufficient. This woman knew firsthand that Immaculate’s cooking was one of her greatest talents and suggested that Immaculate begin her own catering business on the side to earn extra income. The woman proceeded to purchase a few supplies in order to help Immaculate launch this business plan.

Finding The Balance: Aid vs. Development

Immaculate’s story illustrates how assistance that comes in the form of relief aid can perpetuate a state of dependency and can actually be detrimental to development and a progression toward self-reliance. On the other hand, assistance that comes in the form of empowering another to utilize her own abilities to improve her livelihood can lead to lasting change. It is the difference between offering a handout and offering a hand-up.

There are seasons and circumstances where relief aid is absolutely necessary and perhaps the first step toward development. But we simply stop there all too often in the non-profit realm. TCON has learned along the road that an aid organization can potentially be responsible for fostering dependency. That is not the type of organization we want to be. Instead, TCON is continuing to learn and develop strategies that ensure we are offering an effective hand-up to every woman we partner with.