My sohmore year in high school I joined a homeroom called Watumishi. Our projects focused on the issues in Uganda, such as poverty, clean water, proper food storage and cooking, the education of children and adults.
During the school year we organized a trip to Uganda that would take place in the beginning of the summer of 2008. There were seven students and two adults that traveled on the trip. While we were in Uganda, our main focus was to create a partnership with the people in poor economic areas of the country. We stayed at a Catholic Retreat Center, run by priests that have volunteered to offer their services in poor disadvantaged countries.
We spent 23 hours on airplanes and in airports in two different countries, exhausted with the time changes, awaiting our experience. As we finally de-boarded our plane in Uganda, a day after we started our journey, culture shock set in. The sights, sounds and smells around us were nothing like the media had so commonly portrayed. The seven of us became lost in the world around us. The view of the landscape was rich in greens and wildlife. The sounds of the birds, mosques, and roosters challenged our American ears. I couldn’t understand how a country so rich in beauty could have so much suffering and poverty.
We had prepared medically for the trip, receiving multiple vaccinations not required in the United States. We had to educate ourselves on the safety of what diseases are rampant in the area and how to protect ourselves from them.
We did take a touristy safari tour and saw all the animals in untouched game park. I took hundreds of pictures just like any tourist would. It was breathtaking to see, but not as stirring as life within the village.
We spent our days helping the local people fix their houses and taught the children in the early education schools. We lived directly among the people and experienced life as they do. We quickly realized that they had no interest in accepting direct aid from us. They were more interested in learning the ways that they could help themselves. We taught them how to read, they taught us how to make ovens, pick bananas, cook dinner, and wash clothes without laundry detergent. We taught them school, while they taught us life.
While the area we were staying at was very poor and didn’t have many material things besides what they get from the land, they were rich in family, community and their care for each other. Something I will never forget.
We had collected, as a group, items for the local children such as soccer balls, jump ropes, toys, and books that we brought with us to give to the village. The people in the village were in such need for clothing items and shoes. I packed my suitcase with enough clothes for 3-4 weeks. I arrived home with just the clothes on my back and the shoes on my feet. I couldn’t leave for home knowing that I could go to the store anytime I wanted to and replace everything I brought with me. I had given one of our guides my pair of leather sandals. He was so grateful that nearly a year later, he sent me a letter that crossed half the globe.
When I came back to the United States I couldn’t leave the experience behind me and forget about it. The trip had been a humbling point in my life. It made me realize how we live in such abundance while others in world live with such little. I took for granted my life around me. I did not cherish my health, my family or what opportunities that have been given to me. What I saw and did in less than one month was nothing I would ever experience in my country or my own home.
While I was back in the states I decided to get more involved with my community, educating people in the area in which I live regarding the issues in Uganda. They suffer poverty, lack of adequate health care, parentless children and child theft with labor issues. I got involved with the Invisible Children Organization and helped in a fundraiser, raising awareness and money that was held at one of the local high schools. I slept in a box several nights at an organized event demonstrating the solidarity and understanding of those less fortunate than me that are living in desolate circumstances.
Our world is so big and diverse, it’s unfortunate for those who don’t take advantage of the experiences around us. I was fortunate to travel to Unganda, it has influenced me with the direction I would like my life to go. It started my life journeys of experiencing the world.
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