Enlightenment from Africa - My Family Travels

   After tireless efforts to persuade my parents, I finally convinced them that I was ready to experience a mission trip to Africa.  I traveled with a group of incredible people affiliated with Gulu Hope (http://guluhope.org/) and ranging from a fifty year old college professor to a recent high school graduate.  The most influential of these people to me was Kim.  Kim has traveled to over fifty-four different countries on mission trips and is always upbeat.  She is one of the most giving people I have ever become friends with, and she has inspired me to do more mission work.  Our destination was Gulu, Uganda.  Within that country, we flew into Entebbe and drove five hours to Gulu.  I stumbled upon the realization that while a picture may depict a situation, seeing, touching, and smelling the situation in Uganda is much more powerful than just a photograph. 

                  While in Gulu, we stayed at a hotel called JoJo’s Palace.  Although it was a very modest place, it was affordable and the staff was extremely friendly and accommodating. It is for this reason that I plan on continuing to stay there when I return to Gulu.  The purpose of our travels was to aid in building a vocational training school in a village within Gulu called Areaga.  During our stay, we cemented the floor of a school room with only a wheelbarrow and a shovel.  We also cleared the surrounding area of rubble and trash and replaced it with grass and flowerbeds.  Teamwork was vital to our task and also made the experience more enjoyable.  While in the village, I was stunned by the living conditions;  for an entire section of the village (roughly eighteen huts), only one small, slow-flowing spigot was available for their daily use.  I found the most astonishing and distinctive factor to be the smell of poverty; there is no smell like it, even the poorest areas the United States do not compare. 

                Though a huge component of our trip was to aid in the building of this school, the other opportunities are what affected me most.  The school we were constructing was directly across from another school for children ages four through seven.  Every time the children had recess, my friends and I would rush outside to play with them.  Many of the children would urge us to play soccer or spin tires with them; others just watched us in confused fascination; and still others were content just to hold our hands or sit in our laps.  These children do not have fancy playgrounds, but they use their imaginations and amuse themselves all the same.  One memory I will never  forget was the beautiful innocence in the children’s eyes.  Despite their  impoverished conditions, the people in Gulu are some of the most joyful  and benevolent I have ever seen.  When looking into the eyes of a starving child, possessions seem to be of no importance.

                The attitude that most of these people share reminds me of a story Sally told me.  Sally has a finch named Frank that was born blind, and oftentimes individuals make comments expressing pity for the bird.  Finally one day, Sally’s response was that Frank was content, not realizing he was missing anything.  That bird reminds me of all the precious individuals I met in Uganda; many of them never complain about their living situation and always appear cheerful.  In my own life, I hope to mirror even a fraction of that beautiful spirit.  I cannot wait to return to see my friends, continue in building the school, and visit all of the children. 

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