What Cows Taught Me About Exclusion

In the wake of discussions centered on inclusion and what it means to be a part of a community that is inclusive, I have been reflecting on one of my own stories from my time living in Southwest Uganda.

From 2013 to 2014 I took a year off of graduate school to work as a Program Coordinator for a malnutrition project in Rukungiri, Uganda. We had a small team made up of nursing staff, nursing students, and volunteers and were tasked with providing inpatient and outpatient malnutrition services for Rukungiri District. As part of the program we inherited, we were managing two cows that were cared for by a herdsman. The cows had been approved to graze on pasture owned by the Catholic hospital that we were working at. The goal of having the cows was to produce milk to help feed severely and moderately malnourished inpatients.

One day one of the Catholic nuns told me they were kicking our cows off the pasture because they needed the land for their cows. An alarming proposition, considering milk from their cows was generating profits that went into their pockets. The Catholic church and the hospital then told us there was no other grazing land available and we would have to leave their land immediately.

As we were in the process of finding an alternative solution for our cows, the hospital administrator called me into his office and accused our herdsman of theft. I assured him that there had been no issues and asked for evidence that might support his accusation. He said it was verbal and the herdsman had to be fired on the spot.

Furious, but aware of my own role as an outsider in this community, I left to speak with the herdsman. Knowing that we had no other place to graze our cows and that we would likely have to sell them, we agreed on a few months severance for him and promised we would help him look for additional work. Alarmed once again, our herdsman told me, “You know I didn’t steal anything. They only want me gone because I am Protestant.” I was in shock. Over the next few months I learned of other similar situations in which the administration had removed staff based on religion.

In communities that hold high standards for equality, how are things like this happening? How will inclusion ever be possible if top leadership teams are sending a different message? Sadly, this has not been the end to stories such as this. We face these kinds of challenges in Rwanda and the U.S. as well.

However, I remain optimistic that TWB women value inclusion in their own bakery communities and are supporting one another despite their differences.

Thank you to our women in Remera who have shown me over the last few weeks how to stand up to those who don’t include others.

We need your strength today and everyday.