‘If you’re hungry, you can’t learn’
Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2023/08/if-youre-hungry-you-cant-learn/
By Patty Huston-Holm
Hungry people dive into trash bins for discarded food that cats, dogs and birds pick over. They climb trees for fruit half-eaten by monkeys. They steal. They drink dirty water. They exhibit anger, hopelessness and desperation.
“You’ll do anything for a soda,” the Rev. Richard Mulindwa, coordinator of the Uganda Christian University (UCU) Church Relations Office, said, adding, “Prayer is important, but if you’re hungry, you can’t listen, and you can’t learn.”
The World Health Organization Global Hunger Index ranks Uganda at 41.4%, which means that more than 4 of 10 people living in the country are not able to meet minimum calorie requirements. They are in need of prayer, Mulindwa agrees, but they need more.
“You can’t begin a discussion about God when someone is hungry,” he said.
Mulindwa’s UCU Church Relations job includes teaching other pastors about delivering God’s message through technology, understanding land issues and awareness of food – the lack of it. Among many biblical reminders of the value of proper nutrition are that Jesus fed the disciples before teaching them and in Matthew 25:35-40 that says, in part, “For I was hungry…You gave me something to eat.”
For a half dozen years, Mulindwa, now an Anglican priest, has been practicing what he preaches about food. It started with a few visits carrying porridge for empty stomachs followed by an officially established Community-Based Organization (CBO) focused on bringing seeds to help people grow their own food. The CBO, with registration now lapsed, was named Tessa Community Development Initiative. Tessa is borrowed from Kuteesa (meaning “dialogue” in Luganda), which is the name of Mulindwa’s first-born son, now age 12.
“I plant alongside them,” he said of the visits he continues. “It’s amazing to see how a family can be transformed with a little help, love and support.”
Feminine hygiene, an increasingly common focus on teaching adolescent girls how to replace the rags and old newspapers they use with reusable pads during their menstrual cycles, is part of the initiative. In African culture, often blood is “taboo” and sex education for boys and girls is nearly non-existent, according to Mulindwa.
“There are seven girls in one location I visit now who are HIV positive and need special diets,” he said. “That’s food insecurity.”
Likewise and sadly, it’s food insecurity when girls bargain their bodies for it.
At the same time, the bigger umbrella is what Mulindwa calls “famine hygiene” impacting men, women and children of all ages. Famine can result in starvation, malnutrition, disease and even death.
Mulindwa, an orphan whose parents died when he was 12 and who lived on the streets for sometime when an aging grandmother was unable to support him, has first-hand experience with food deprivation and how he was pulled out of it. At age 17, he was taken in by an Anglican priest who “loved me, fed me, got me back in school.” Two priests, in fact, supported Mulindwa in his late teens to early 20s.
“God spared my life,” he said. “I was determined to give back.”
The positive influence of the two priests, Rev. Capt. Titus Baraka (Director of Words of Hope ministries) and now the Most Reverend Stephen Kaziimba, the Church of Uganda archbishop, are part of the Mulindwa journey into theology and formation. Mulindwa’s theological path is paved with multiple careers, which is a slow-growing trend among East African pastors seeing the added value of non-religious professional experiences.
Mulindwa’s undergraduate degree in development studies is from Kyambogo University. He has master’s degrees in public health and leadership (Faculty of Public Health, Nursing and Midwifery/Save the Mothers) and Master of divinity (Bishop Tucker School of Divinity and Theology) from UCU. He’s finishing his PhD in religious studies from the University of Pretoria, South Africa.
“Relating to people in multiple ways is an important part of bringing someone to Christ,” he said. “Churches don’t lack theologians; they lack other professionals.”
For Mulindwa, his profession in development enabled him to hone skills in grant writing while seeing further the needs for those funds . His passion in the Save the Mothers program connects to how his mom died from pregnancy preeclampsia (blood pressure condition), robbing him of a mother and a sibling. It was a condition that could have been resolved with better health care resources.
“Sixteen mothers die each day in Uganda from maternal related issues,” he said. “These are preventable issues.”
While recognizing multiple needs, Mulindwa, a married father of four, circles everything back to food.
“All that I studied now makes sense to me,” he said. “I realize there are so many people making mistakes because they lack food. I am grateful that God is using me not in narrow, expected ways, but in multiple ways.”
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