My Not-So-Normal Summer Vacation - My Family Travels

As the African sun ascends over the rooftops of Jinja, Uganda, I lie in my mosquito net-draped bed, never wanting to leave this country. These past few days in Uganda have been ideal. Well–maybe not ideal for everyone. Sure, the toilets are basically holes in the ground, and common munchies include fried grasshoppers. But, for me, I know that this is it. This is what I want to do with my life.

My family’s summer vacation last year was not the typical lay-on-the-beach-and-soak-up-the-sun holiday. Last summer, we decided to sacrifice our tanning time to pour into the lives of others. We traveled 8,879 miles for the sole purpose of changing babies’ diapers and reading children stories. Crazy? Not one bit. The children we longed so much to care for and dispense our love into were orphans, the majority of whom had lost their parents to AIDS and possibly had the virus themselves.

For almost all of my life, I have aspired to be a nurse missionary. I still remember listening intently to bedtime stories of brave missionaries serving loyally in exotic places. For many, the passion that they once had for the first thing they ever wanted to be when they grew up, such as an astronaut or president of the United States, loses its fervor at about 6th grade. But I never lost sight of my dream.

For this reason, I was especially excited about my family’s expedition to Africa. During the entirety of our stay in Uganda, I completely lost sight of problems in my own life and focused on just bringing joy to these precious orphans. It amazed me that despite their dire situation, the children were so optimistic. They shared the few toys the orphanage had with at least 20 other children, yet were more content than many kids I’ve met in America who own every toy on the market.

I became very attached to every child I met in the orphanage, enjoying thoroughly all the opportunities I had to read stories, push swings, play games, and feed toddlers. At the end of our visit, numerous children pleaded that I take them home with me. If only I could have. The final day of our volunteer voyage to Uganda was bittersweet. I had gained so much in just a few short days and really did not want to say goodbye. I was leaving part of my heart in Africa.

When people ask me about my favorite summer vacation, I have to say that my favorite summer vacation was not a summer vacation at all. It was a life-altering experience—a week of incredible personal growth and an opportunity to impact others’ lives profoundly. It taught me to appreciate life’s blessings and confirmed my calling. My African adventure was more than just a summer vacation. It was one of the most meaningful and pivotal experiences of my life.

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