In 11 days, I absorbed, learned, and felt more than I could have crammed into even 11 YEARS of sitting in a classroom. In the days leading up to departure no one, no matter how experienced, could have ever fully prepared me for what was about to unfold. The best way I can think to adequately tell my story is to share my experiences through 5 life lessons I learned throughout those 11 days:
1.) Don’t just test the waters... Jump in, jump ALL in, head first and with arms wide open.
I can’t tell you how many “Are you crazy??” responses I got when telling people this would not only be my first trip out of the US, but my first time on a plane. “And you chose to go to Africa??” Absolutely. Why not? If you are going to put yourself out there, you might as well fully immerse! Thank goodness I had Kim and the rest of our team to walk me through customs, security, checking bags, how to pack a carry on, where to sit, different currency, navigating an airport, etc… but once I managed to step off that final plane in Entebbe, I was good to go! From the people to the language to the food and everything in between, I wanted to experience every corner of the Ugandan culture and jump into every opportunity presented.
2.) BE FLEXIBLE. And be ok with it. Find opportunity in the unplanned and unexpected.
Time? What time? The one time I knew was to be on the bus by 9:00am sharp. Other than that, I could rarely tell you what time it was.. Yes, dinners took approximately 3-4 hours on average and you may get your meal an hour after your neighbor does, but what’s the rush anyway? That’s an extra hour to have a conversation with Violet or Nicholas or any of the wonderful and welcoming Ugandan staff. That’s an extra hour to share an unforgettable memory or lesson learned from the day (like not to ask an employee if he is going to sell plots at the CEMETERY when he really works at a SEMINARY... Kim!) That’s an extra hour to challenge Mariah and Maj to a game of spoons or parade around the hotel in a t-rex costume. The possibilities are endless!
3.) Strive to be “rich” in relationships opposed to “rich” in materials.
I remember being intimidated and nervous about the thought of attending morning devotions. However, I quickly grew to cherish these times we had together for there was something in each devotion that everyone could relate to regardless of beliefs, religion, or spirituality. Pastor Paul’s words stuck with me about how American’s often see being “rich” as having an abundance of possessions or materials, whereas the Ugandan people are “rich” in their relationships and sense of community. I was amazed at the overall teamwork and care for neighbors in the villages. Food, water, and clothes were dispersed among those who needed it most, regardless of who the items were given to. I could not believe my eyes in Nakabongo when I handed my lunch to a young child who seemed as if she had not eaten a full meal in days. I turn around and she is feeding bites to 4 different children in between each bite of her own. There was no encouragement or prompting for this little girl to share with the other children, it was just a natural act of love and selflessness.
4.) Always keep that hunger.
Yes, I do realize the irony in this statement in that of course, I saw an abundance of (literally) hungry people. However, what I saw to shine through much brighter was the overall hunger to learn, grow, and provide. These kids were so grateful to GET to go to school, compared to hearing children here complain about how they HAVE to go to school. In each village, there were clear goals and plans to move forward: increasing test scores and grades, building school structures, organizing a library, increasing enrollment, etc. and everyone had their roles in making these plans unfold. The experience left me wanting to learn more, give more, and mostly do more myself. Little feisty Patricia has a big part in lighting this fire in my heart and I am eager to see where some potential project ideas may lead!
5.) Say “Thank You”.
Going into this trip, my thoughts revolved more around what I would be giving or how I would be helping... simply put, what I would be doing for them. Within the first 5 minutes of day 1 in the villages, this mind frame quickly changed. What I was given throughout this visit far exceeded any amount of food, clothing, or ninja turtle stickers I could throw in a bag. I left Uganda with much more to be thankful for than any of those I left behind. No amount of money or things could amount to the new perspective and appreciation I took with me. To the women in the villages, thank you for cooking us an incredible lunch spread each day. To the teachers and staff, thank you for sharing your students and your classrooms with our team. To the Ugandan team (Henry, Violet, Mariah, Maj, Nicholas, Ronald, Julius, and many more wonderful people) THANK YOU for welcoming us, protecting us, teaching us, and guiding us through each step of the way. To Julie, thank you for choosing me to join this inspiring and fun group of people. And to the rest of the American team, thank you for the unconditional love, support, laughs, late night chats, long hot bus rides, and countless memories… especially Jerry, who quickly talked me into this journey about 7 months ago over a nice date of signing mortgage papers ;) It’s funny where life leads you!
See you next time, Uganda!