Ubuntu! A sense of humaneness, decency, and human dignity

This is part of the series Shore Stories: Life Along the Lakeshore, columns by local and former residents about their lives. 

In July, the Momentum Center celebrates eight years of service on the Lakeshore. We are a unique, collaborative community. We come from many different places, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We have different backgrounds, different hang ups, and different beliefs. 
Barbara Lee VanHorssen
But we are united by our conviction that we should be about something more than ourselves. We hear the call to advance the human cause and to summon the courage to demand that the voiceless be heard.


At our first Community Conversation, participants identified mental illness as the most urgent unmet need upon which we should focus. The Momentum Center for Social Engagement is a tangible manifestation of our desire to break down the stigma of mental illness, share our struggles, and remove the barriers that lead to isolation. 

Our work has been influenced and inspired by many voices and perspectives. About the time the Momentum Center opened, I had the opportunity to spend some time in Kenya. I was there to learn, to experience, and to grow. 

What I encountered was Ubuntu — “I Am Because We Are.” A word that in its simplest definition means humanity, in the sense of humaneness, decency, and human dignity.


The idea of ubuntu meets diversity most clearly in the fact that there are 42 different tribes that co-exist in Kenya today, respecting each other’s differences and finding unique ways to blend tribal tradition with colonial Christianity and evolving world views.   

Ubuntu is also the spirit that is helping people to survive and to unite in the midst of adversity highlighted by violence and poverty. 

Ubuntu is the force uniting women who are considered little more than property and helping them to claim their power, stand together, and support each other in the face of sexual abuse, rape and domestic violence. 
A group photo from a recent retreat for the Momentem Center's board and staff leadership.

And in the midst of poverty, Ubuntu reveals itself in the resourcefulness and creativity of communities pooling their money and loaning it to each other, creating funds that are able to pay school fees for children and the high cost of healthcare in a land where 4.9% of the population is HIV positive. 

Solutions are not easy or quick. They require an attitude of long-term commitment, which may be why there is no rushing in Kenya. No running frantically from place to place as I am apt to do. 

There is instead a recognition that neither our relationships nor our activities should be controlled by a clock. It is a call for all of us to be more fully present in each moment.

So I look at the Kenya I discovered, and what do I see? A mirror reflection of the Momentum Center. I see a group of people embracing diversity and embracing the best of world traditions, religions, and philosophies. 

I see a group of people who recognize that the tragedy of sexual abuse, domestic violence, and poverty is not just taking place on foreign soil, but right here in our local communities, right next door, right in front of our eyes. 

I see people claiming their power and finding their own voice in order to break the silence that keeps people oppressed and marginalized. 

And I see a group that understands the value of living in the moment. In THIS moment, I can think of no other greater need than for us to claim our common humanity and to embrace each other with all of our perfect imperfections. I extend the invitation to you to experience the Momentum Center, to learn from our resources, to grow in your relationship to self and to others. I am because we are. We are because I am. Ubuntu.

Barbara Lee VanHorssen is the Experi-Mentor of The Momentum Center for Social Engagement. She launched this unique social and recreational program for adults and teens with mental illness, addictions and disabilities.
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