While in Africa, I was struck by the evolutionary stages of home as place. I have known this at a conceptual level – our sense of home and its manifestations develop through stages just as we do. But I hadn’t seen it so clearly or so starkly until now.
The best example was a visit to John, a Sawa Leader in a rural area outside Kampala. John began Agricstock Uganda a short time ago to support local women in food security by offering them some initial supplies and minimum training to get them started growing their own food. These women and their families live in extreme poverty, often without even the basic necessities of life for themselves and their families.
At the most primitive level, we visited a family with about 7 children, 2 of them infected with HIV/Aids along with the parents, with no hope for medical treatment. They live in the most basic shelter without water, plumbing or electricity. Food is scarce. The children don’t attend school because there is no money for school fees. This circumstance is repeated thousands of times in rural areas and slums all over the world. This is the starting point for John’s intervention with garden seeds and a chicken or pig.
A rung up on the ladder of development was our next stop at a small cement block house in a neighbourhood. Here, based on the start from John, Florence had been able to not only grow enough food for her family but to sell the balance to generate some income, enough to pay for her HIV/Aids treatment so she had recently been able to have a healthy child. She was part of a community group John supports in continuing to learn about household management and income generation. She told us her story of lifting herself out of despair and now having a vision of a brighter future.
Our final visit was to Cissy, one of John’s Chief Change Agents, a title given to those women who have not only overcome extreme poverty in their own families but who have enrolled other women in the community in doing the same, supporting them and teaching them best practices. Cissy began as the others but you wouldn’t know it today. There are several buildings on her property including the house, a couple of outbuildings, a small barn for storage and her cow, and an enclosure for the pigs. Chickens wander the yard along with her grandchildren who are all in school. Her original home, a derelict tin shack, remains as a reminder. Cissy has expanded her large garden so she can sell produce and support other women in the community. Although still primitive by North American standards, this home is dramatically different not only in its physical aspects but in the sense of pride and hope it represents.
All three of the women we met that day are powerful beyond our understanding. They have the will, the courage and capacity to envision a radically different future and make it happen out of the overwhelming burden of hopelessness. They each quietly, shyly, told us their transformative stories. I left wondering if I could do what they have done, to reach beyond the despair on behalf of others to achieve the impossible. One thing is certain: home for these women happens in community not in isolation. And it takes a selfless leader like John to, as he says, “get started from where you are with what you’ve got”.
There are of course many further stages of development in home as place but perhaps none so vivid as these first three in demonstrating how a sense of place can transform our self-identity and relationships. The ‘it’ of home as objective place has a profound impact on the ‘I’ and ‘we’ of our experience.