UGANDA/ AVSI: What We Learned from Rose Busingye
For an entire week in early March, AVSI-USA hosted in Washington, DC our dear friend and colleague, Rose Busingye, Executive Director of Meeting Point International. Rose is dear to us because her life and work has taught us so many things over the past years.
From Rose we have learned is that any issue facing a human person must be looked at from all angles. Specifically, we learned how HIV/AIDS, like so many other diseases, is not merely a medical condition but is connected to social, inter-personal and cultural issues.
Rose, a trained nurse, was working in the hospitals and clinics of Kampala at the outbreak of the HIV epidemic in the late 1980s. After some time, she left the clinic to work in the community with people infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. In sharing this turning point with us, Rose explained how she had come to see clearly the social and economic “causes” of HIV, but more importantly how she saw firsthand the drying up of the thirst for life among the sick. The difference between life and death was not due to medicine in the first instance. Rose witnessed a rebirth of the sick and poor when they rediscovered their infinite and inestimable dignity within relationships of genuine friendship and care.
Rose became convinced that her mission was to bring this gaze full of certain hope in the dignity of human life to as many of the extremely poor and sick as possible. Together with AVSI and a number of HIV-infected men and women in the Kireka slum outside of Kampala, Rose founded Meeting Point International. Over the years, not only has Meeting Point International grown immensely, currently reaching 4,000 adults and their families and thousands of children, but the organization has also been an important ally for AVSI in the large, USAID funded projects for Orphans and Vulnerable Children in communities heavily affected by HIV/AIDS. Rose has shown us what it means to put the whole person and child at the center of our work, excluding nothing.
Secondly, we have learned from Rose that our job as “development practitioners” is to accompany people in facing their needs rather than to solve their problems.
When anyone comes to visit Meeting Point International they are amazed at how much is going on, the number of initiatives and simply the number of people reached by the web of relationships which center on “Auntie Rose.” The level of “ownership” she has achieved is impressive, and it was not the result of a particular project design or set target.
The main difference is how Rose sees her role in the community. In her great simplicity, Rose speaks first about her “nothingness” before sharing any results of her work. Rose accompanies people to face their problems and needs, but also to speak about their desires, their hopes. Then they begin to walk together towards what is possible without letting go of the big desires.
From the outside the desire for a good house or a fine school for one’s children may seem too bold and ambitious. Rose is not about raising expectations or creating false hopes. The path she walks with her friends is towards the depths of the desires that emerge and a full, complete look at the surrounding reality.