It was the fall of my junior year and I just found out that I would be going to Uganda with fifteen other girls from my high school soccer team. I was filled with excitement as I thought about the adventure I was about to begin. We were to leave at the beginning of June, which meant that we had most of the school year to prepare.
It wasn’t long before I realized that going to Africa was going to be a lot of work. We had multiple fundraisers including a garage sale, Luau dinner and a mini soccer camp. We sent out numerous letters to our friend’s and family asking them to donate money, we visited businesses and ask them to donate and I spent a couple of weeks babysitting neighbor’s fishes, dogs and cats to earn money. To be truthful, it felt like I was constantly asking people for money.
In order to prepare, my team and I studied up on the history of Uganda. We read a book called Soldier Girl that went into depth about the war involving the LRA and a “possessed” man named Joseph Koney. We watched Invisible children documentaries that nearly broke my heart. We declared our group to be called “Goals for Girls” because not only did we want to teach the girls in Africa how to score goals on the soccer field, but we wanted to teach them how to make goals in their lives as well.
There were times when I questioned whether or not going to Africa was a smart idea. It required much dedication and was a little bit of a financial burden. But when it came down to it I knew that I’d been vey blessed in my life and it was my responsibility to share those blessings with others around the world.
When June fourth finally came my sister and I were buzzing with anticipation as our parents took us to the airport. We were to spend roughly forty-four hours traveling before we would meet up with everyone else in Nairobi, Kenya. Traveling was in and of itself an adventure. My eyes were opened to what the rest of the world was like. It wasn’t long until I realized that I wasn’t in nice little Provo town anymore. I can vividly remember standing in line to show the people my passport. The man in front of me attempted to show them his passport but the passport man said that because he didn’t have a visa he was illegal. He was just this cute old man trying to travel and things were going so wrong. It shook me to realize I have a very sheltered life and I began to feel guilty as I realized that I had been dealt a very good hand.
When our plane finally landed in Uganda I was shocked to find that it was green! For some reason I had always envisioned Africa being sandy orange. After we were well rested from our travels we headed straight to the first orphan school. The experience I had at this school is one I will never forget. The second we got off the bus we were swarmed with little African children as they began to hug us. The children didn’t say much, however, they would come up to us, take our hand and not let go until they absolutely had to. They loved having their pictures taken and even more they loved to look at pictures we had brought from home. They had their choir sing songs for us and in return we sang back to them “I am a Child of God”, a primary song from our religion. Singing that song to five hundred little African children was a life-changing event and made me realize that there is a life outside of the United States.
The second day we visited the sanyu’s baby home. When we arrived to the orphanage the little babies were getting immunizations. We were all pleasantly surprised to find that they were being given by the local LDS church!
I went inside the orphanage to find a baby to hold, when I saw a little girl smiling up at me I couldn’t help but pick her up. She was the most beautiful and happiest baby I had ever seen. Her favorite was when I would pick her up and raise her high; it made her smile so big. I held her for most of the time until I set her down to go play with the toddlers on the playground.
Once I got to the playground I found a nice little boy to play with but after about ten minutes it was time to go. Unfortunately, he refused to accept that fact. He was squirming and trying to do everything in his power to get back to that playground. I remember thinking that he was the craziest little boy I had ever met and was so out of control. Finally I got him to go back into the house where I gave him a toy that calmed him down, immediately after I told him I had to go he began to break into tears and would not let go of me.
I began to realize that once I left there would be no family for him to go to. He was all on his own and I was only able to make him happy for just a few moments. I thought about the fact that my family is my best friends and all the happy moments I have had with them, he won’t be able to have with a family of his own. Tears began streaming down my cheeks as he clung to my leg. We were crying for different reasons. He was sobbing because once we left he would have to go back to his makeshift crib with no family to hold him close. I was bawling because it had dawned on me how lucky I am to have a family and how tragic it is that at that time I couldn’t give more of myself to those children.
Throughout the first week we visited many orphanages, played soccer against many of the girls and learned a lot about the African Culture. I can clearly remember sitting on the sidelines of one of the soccer games when I began to talk to a couple of the girls from one of the schools. I noticed that they had book covers with famous people on them so I asked if they knew Beyonce. Instantly their faces lit up as they exclaimed their love for Beyonce, Chris Brown, Rihhana, etc. It dawned on me that although these girls live in poverty, they are still teenage girls who have the same interests as me. So we all started singing the songs and then pretty soon it started into a huge dance party! We taught them how to do the American dance moves such as the stanky leg and soldier boy then they taught us the “Bread and Butter”, which is a pop song popular in Uganda.
We continued on our journey and visited an orphan home deep in the jungle. The most inspiring girl I met in Africa was named Mary. She was a little ten year old who with her parents who started the orphanage. When we got off the bus she took my by the hand and led me to her bunk bed where we began to talk. I asked her questions about her life and whether or not she was happy with chores, fetching water, school, overall her life situation. I was humbled when I heard her reply yes with a smile to all of my questions. How could I ever complain about vacuuming the carpet or waking up to go to school after meeting Mary? I realized that I should be happy to at least have a carpet and a good education. Those children were living on mud and swallowing any bit of education they could get.
There are many experiences I had in Uganda that have changed my life forever. Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to describe the emotions felt and my experience I had in one scholarship essay. I left Uganda hoping that I was able to make a difference in the lives of the girls and boys I met in Africa but in the end they were the ones who made a difference in my life. The reality of their poverty and their willingness to forgive taught me what a classroom never will. The smiles on their faces are forever engraved on my heart.
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