Saturday, April 18th
We resume the conference early in the morning with some prayer and singing. Yesterday, the focus was on information– alcoholism and its spiritual roots, pathology, treatment and recovery, and family dynamics.
Today we will see what our participants want to do about any of this.
Over many years in Africa I have learned that the most useless thing a Westerner can do is “help,” i.e. create a plan that makes us feel good but has no buy-in from the people who would be most affected. If there is to be a plan, it will have to come from them, and that is what today will be about.
We start by hearing from them what they got out of yesterday. For nearly an hour, a roomful of normally reserved Ugandans give articulate responses to all they heard. It is clear that they took in the information deeply and that several lights went on- addiction as illness, the ways families are affected and can make the problem worse by codependency, the problem of Law, the difficulties of church attitudes. I am again impressed at how well-spoken people are; English is their second language, but their speech is clear, elegant, and sometimes very moving.
We move into four areas of emphasis for further discussion that became apparent yesterday: the formation of AA, advocacy for children, changing the attitudes of the churches, and the need for further training. In each category I challenge the group to come up with all the questions they can think of, then narrow the field to the two most important: this takes the next hour. After a tea break, they divide into four working groups, each devoted to one of the areas of emphasis. Jay convenes a “model AA” group, complete with Big Book, and Mark works with the group focusing on changing attitudes of churches, while I pile in with the group on further training. The common task of all four is to come up with one concrete next step to advance the work, including a “by when” and “by whom.” They work on this up to lunch. Then they come together for the final push– presentation of their small group work, and revealing the concrete next steps.
This is the devil’s hour. Lunch has a universal effect on human beings- personally, I just feel like lying down for a good nap. But we point it out, sing a couple of rousing choruses, and just plow ahead.
It is an exciting afternoon. By three o’clock, two people have stepped forward to form the first AA group in Northern Uganda! Jay gives them each a Big Book and we all applaud. Each of the other three groups appoint a leadership team and agree on the next steps. When we adjourn, they stay in the room to schedule, exchange email addresses, and then pass on the information to us. Mark, Jay and I agree to keep in touch to support their work and make plans for an eventual return for a further training conference. Florence, the bishop’s wife, yesterday voiced to the whole group her strong feeling that this ought to be heard by every pastor in Teso. While that may be a big ambition, given the lights I am seeing in people’s eyes, I wouldn’t be surprised to see something even greater.