President Donald Trump’s less-than-glowing generalization of countries across Africa and Haiti comes with little surprise. The president has said horrific things before.
While social media has had a heyday with comedic responses, what I find most sad is how much the president is missing. When he says these places are “sh-thole” countries, what he’s really saying is these places have nothing to offer.
Sadly, as a man who has had little in the way of discomforts, he has been robbed of the one thing that comes out of having nothing: grace.
You see, in these countries, when communities have very little in the way of economic means, other forms of exchange emerge.
When someone is hungry, there is always an extra bowl of rice and sauce to be shared. When something needs to get built, a collection of help and tools show up. When a child is without a home, an auntie will take her in.
What the president is missing out on is understanding how much of the good life has absolutely nothing to do with money. It has to do with connection, compassion and community. With the direction of our nation’s current policies, we’re at a sorry loss for all of these things.
One can laugh off the president’s comments as asinine. But what he doesn’t have is the amazing opportunity to have someone from one of those countries living in his guest room.
Ten years ago, I joined the Peace Corps and served two years in Uganda with an organization called Katosi Women Development Trust. This group of powerful women showed me more about life in two years than I’d learned in all my years before.
When you have nothing, you have to work harder just to have something. And when you have something, you share it with those who have nothing. It was an amazing lesson in grace.
Grace looked a whole lot like my friend Massy, a member of the organization, who took care of me when I was sick and shared porridge with me as she broke fast during Ramadan. When her son showed tremendous academic aptitude, it made sense to try to help him get into school at my alma mater, Berea College. Once he got in, I became a host parent during his tenure at the school.
Now, 10 years down the road, David Nakabaale has completed his undergraduate degree in computer science and is staying with me as he applies to jobs and graduate school. He is compassionate and thoughtful, he chops firewood and does dishes without being asked. In his spare time, he’s creating a database to keep track of KWDT’s projects, their members and groups.
He has a vision for expanding the internet back in Uganda, increasing access to knowledge, creating opportunities. He’s taking the world by storm. Whoever ends up employing him will have gained an amazing asset.
Growing up with no running water, electricity or a computer did little to dampen David’s desire for a brighter future. It only made him stronger.
As our president works to broaden his understanding of the world, I strongly encourage him to take a second look at the amazing group of people he just tried to sweep under the rug. They have a strong desire to succeed, to get an education, and create a better future for themselves and their families.
Most of important, they can offer a good lesson in grace.
Deborah Payne, a Berea resident, is director of Health Education for MedWater, which works on water projects in Ecuador and Uganda.