by Alli Kennedy
Benjamin House Ministries Summer 2019 Intern
Mary Nanyonga welcomes Susan (our Ntinda Child Advocate), Sharif (a volunteer and Ntinda sponsored child), and me from outside of her home and then hurriedly disappears behind a yellow curtain covered in floral print in the door frame to get something from inside. She reappears with something in her arms and motions for us to sit on the steps in front of her house as she spreads out a pink woven mat. Susan remarks on her youthful look and Mary's eyes light up as she laughs at the remark. Mary is small in stature, but I can tell she is strong from her build and the way she walks.
As we talk with her about her two children who are in the Benjamin House sponsorship program and her husband’s poor health following a boda boda accident, I notice a mountain of plastic bottles that look as if they’re going to burst from a multitude of sacks gathered together next to her home. I quickly learn that these plastic bottles are Mary’s livelihood. She spends each day walking through trenches and along roadsides with three sacks on her back to fill, hoping to collect enough to sell for a profit.
The nature of her work is cruel. People laugh at her like she is a mad person as they see her wandering around aimlessly looking for bottles. She’s lost respect from many people in her community because of her job. Her health is at risk each day as she digs through sewage and waste collecting plastic bottles in three sacks that she tries to fill each day. “I am constantly discouraged by their laughter, but I know God is with me because it’s a risky job and I never get sick,” Mary says.
She gets up to show us the collection of bottles she’s obtained over the last few months. She used to collect bottles on a small scale and send them to a factory, but the people she would give them to would cheat her out of money by using weighing scales that weren’t fully functional to measure the amount she had collected, or by giving her less than what she had earned from the profits from the factory. She decided that she wanted to buy her own scale so she could maintain the integrity of her business and have an accurate way of weighing the bottles.
Aside from a few times a week when her husband works as a boda boda driver for two hours at a time, Mary is the sole provider for her family. She smiles and tells us that the parents in her savings group, through the Benjamin House sponsorship program, lent her the money to get her scale, which she will pay back when she earns the profits from the plastic bottles that she has been collecting for three months. She will need 600 kg, or 1,322 pounds, of bottles, to earn around $135 from the plastic company. Until she reaches her goal, she will sell jerry cans and other large items she finds to provide for the every-day needs of her children.
Benjamin House Ministries' sponsorship program is benefitting her entire family through education and various programs. Mary attends a savings program and parents' group while her children attend the spiritual development program. She tells us with tears in her eyes how happy she is that she can send her children to school. “My child said to me one day, ‘Mommy, why don’t you just stop buying food for me at home and use that money to help me go to school,’ and that broke my heart,” Mary says with a heavy sigh. She couldn’t have even taken her children to a cheap school. Sponsorship is the only option she has to provide education for her children.
As I finish taking photos and talking to Mary, she looks at us with bright eyes, sacks filled with bottles over her shoulders, telling us she’s okay with whatever demands her job brings. Assuring us that she will find the number of bottles she needs, that she will someday expand to a bigger store where people will come and sell their bottles to her, and that she will have more room to contain the bottles she’s collected. Despite the ridicule and the risk of her work, she carries on with a joyful heart, striving to earn enough to give back to other parents in need, and thanking God for the courage to do her work each day.
Bucky Rogers, Benjamin House staff, and short-term missionaries