Why Clothes are More Important than Food

Talking to the children during a group discussion
Talking to the children during a group discussion

I strongly believe that any time you enter a community with the goal of “helping”, you should work closely with that community in determining what issues need to be addressed and how to address them.

One of the goals of my Fulbright project is to identify how the existing Hip Hop Therapy Project (HHTP) can be expanded or strengthened to better meet the needs of the children at HEALS. In order to understand those needs, I conducted group discussions with the children participating in the HHTP. During these discussions, I used games, role play, drawing, and storytelling to explore such issues as (1) the problems/challenges young people in Gulu face, (2) the priority needs of young people in Gulu, and (3) the children’s recommendations for meeting those identified needs.

I met with one group of 8-12 year olds and two groups of 13-18 year olds. Each group had approximately 10-12 participants.

Mingle, Mingle an introductory tool used to divide the children into working groups
"Mingle, Mingle" an introductory game used to divide the children into working groups

I am still in the process of analyzing all of the information I collected, but I wanted to share a few highlights from my discussions with you:

• The children cited reading books, learning traditional dance, learning break dancing, playing netball, and playing soccer as their favorite things to do for fun.
• All of the groups identified AIDS, Malaria, and Lung Cancer as being the diseases of greatest concern to them. The children said that they were concerned about these diseases because they had seen members of their community suffer from them and because you can die from these diseases.

Body Mapping

• The biggest problems/challenges that children face in Gulu were identified as: lack of school fees and scholastic materials, lack of clothes, war, poverty, death of parents, and child abuse.
• When the children were asked to draw “what a child needs to live and grow happily” and to prioritize those needs, all of the groups identified the following as being their most important needs: going to school, clothes, food, text books, school bags, pens, and shoes.

The children illustrating their needs through drawings
The children illustrating their needs through drawings

One of the things that struck me most during these conversations is the extent to which these children value education. They mentioned the following as reasons why having an education was so important to them:

“If we study, we can escape the war.”

“School opens your mind.”

“Going to school allows you to be financially independent and not have to depend on someone else to give you food.”

“It brightens your future”

The children also mentioned clothes as being very important to them. One group identified lack of clothes as a bigger problem/challenge than lack of food. They gave the following reasons for this:

“You have to wear clothes. If you walk around naked people will avoid you and you will be ashamed.”

“If you lack clothes, people can tell and they treat you differently but if you are lacking in food, only you know. Hunger is not detectable.”

“Without clothes, people ignore and shame you.”

The conversations I had with these children were very enlightening in terms of learning what they view to be their priority needs and how they would like to see those needs addressed. I am now in the process of meeting with parents and teachers to get their perspectives. Using these different points of view, I will be able to see how HEALS and the HHTP can better support these kids. More to follow…

3 thoughts on “Why Clothes are More Important than Food

  1. Melissa!
    I am so inspired chica by what you are learning from the beautiful students in Uganda! I was struck by how much the children value education as well–isn’t that so interesting when unfortunately, there are some kids here in the states that don’t value education as much or even realize what a privilege it is to be able to get a free education (at least through high school) in this country! Anyway, I really loved the innovative activities that you used to gather this data from the children including having them draw what they need to live happy and healthy lives–KUDOS to you lady :-)!
    Take care,


  2. I totally agree with what you are doing and how you are approaching your research. So often we don’t ask the affected people to address the issues as they see and we make the ASSUMPTIONS as to what should be their number ONE concern. I met with a professor earlier this week and she deals with public health and architecture and she brought up the same point. “Let the people ARTICULATE for themselves what they need”, how else can we begin to truly help??!!! Tu fais des bonnes choses ma chere. We should start our own non-prof;) Miss ya.
    Gros bisous,


  3. I wanted to let you know this is really great quality content. Well-written informative articles like this are just what I look for online. You have really done your research.


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