Whenever I see someone I haven’t seen in a while the first thing they almost always ask is how was your trip? And I almost always start with “it feels like it was so long ago”. It’s like living in a whole different world when you’re in Uganda and coming back to Boston and being on co-op seems so different, that there could have been a year in between the two rather than just a month.
After I say this most people are like, “I want to hear all about it!”…But where do I start? I never know quite what to tell them. I usually ask “What do you want to know?” But that almost always gets me the response “everything” leaving me equally stumped. It’s hard to express what the trip was like in conversation, you can’t really do it justice in summary.
My biggest take away from my time in Uganda was how kind, generous, caring and open the people were there, and how lucky I am to lead the life that I do. Many Americans are selfish, myself included at times, and the generosity of the Ugandans really struck me because they have so much less than we do in terms of resources and access, yet they are always hoping, not just willing, but wanting to share.
Over the weekend I went to Newport with my roommates and we drove down Ocean Drive and looked at all the insane mansions there; I’ve been lucky to have a smooth transition back into my normal life, but seeing such extreme extravagance really struck me. There’s a part of me that was like I would love to have a beach house, of course not one of the mansions on Ocean Drive, but a nice little cottage where I could go and relax, and then there’s the other part of me that was thinking how ridiculous it is that so many people have multiple homes, while there are also so many people out there who don’t even have one, or they have a “home” which is really 8 people living in a building the size of my garage. Where is the justice in that?
I’ve always been the kind of person who’s thought that when you’re wealthy you should use your wealth to help those less fortunate than you, understood what it meant to be “wealthy”. Where I’m from I’m considered middle class, comfortably well off, but not “rich”, I don’t have a beach house or drive a fancy car or go shopping whenever I want; in Uganda I’d certainly be considered wealthy. So how do we decide what resources we allocate for ourselves and what we share to help those less fortunate than ourselves? This is a question I’m still trying to figure out.
Equality is a funny thing. Most people I know believe in equality. Many strive for equality. But do we really? We want everyone to be like us, but we don’t wish for equality if it’s posed in the opposite direction, in the sense that we could all be as poor as some of the people in villages I visited.
On a less philosophical and more of an observational note thinking back on the time I spent in Uganda allows me to understand how little I truly understood Kitovu Mobile before my trip. I think that that’s one thing our chapter truly struggles with and I hope that in the coming year we can do a better job educating our members about how amazing Kitovu Mobile is as an organization. While we work on the Water Sanitation and Hygiene project with them, that is only a small portion of what they do. I found Kitovu, and all of the people who work there, to be a truly inspiring and incredible organization. I was lucky enough to visit schools where Kitovu sponsors Orphans and Vulnerable Children, to go out into the field with the Anti-Retro viral Treatment team and to spend some time in Kitovu’s lab, but even that doesn’t cover half of what Kitovu does. They have such a powerful presence in the communities surrounding them and are always trying to improve and expand. The people who work for Kitovu are kind and caring people who are dedicated to improving the lives of the people in the communities they work in. They were also incredible hosts and took great care of us while we were there.
Our role as GROW interns involved a lot of observation. We were able to observe many different aspects of Kitovu, as I mentioned before, as well as what the people working on the Water Sanitation and Hygiene project are doing with our funding. The one thing that I wish had been different about my trip was involvement. It’s hard when you’re only there for a month, even though that sounds like a long time its really not, to do everything you need to do and everything you want to do. I think we covered most of what we needed to do, but I wish that I had had time to go and explore a little more of what I wanted to do. The observing was what needed to be done, and we can take what we’ve learned back with us and turn it into action in Boston, but I wish that I could have done more for the people there while I was there, although I think no matter how long I stayed I would still wish this.
One of my biggest inspirations while we were there was a girl named Tammy who we met a week or two into our trip. She was incredibly active in the community she was working with always trying to improve the lives of those around her through education and developing an understanding for their needs and how to accommodate what we know about hygiene and sanitation in ways the community could implement healthier practices into their regular lives. There are so many differences between their lives and our lives that it requires an integration of our knowledge and practices in a way that is acceptable and viable for these communities, rather than a straightforward implementation of our practices. We can’t just expect everything that works for us to work for them, but we can use our knowledge, our successes and our failures to put together plans for helping these people.
I believe that while I saw many heartrending and affecting things during my time in Uganda there is so much more that I was sheltered from. I would have really liked to deviate from Kitovu to experience the refugee camps and explore some of living conditions a little more to truly understand what is going on in the worst areas and who needs the most help. Despite the conditions most of the people I met also had a wonderfully inspiring faith in God. Every morning started for us with prayer and worship at the office, something you’re not likely to see here, that’s certainly not how my co-op starts everyday. I found the faith and confidence in the wonders of God and his love profoundly comforting and encouraging to strengthen my own faith.
I hope that I will always remember what I have experienced during my time in Uganda and to apply the lessons I have learned to my every day life. I hope that our chapter of GlobeMed will do everything we can to help these amazing people. I hope that this story inspires others to take action and to realize how lucky we all are to be born where we are born. I know that was a huge realization for me. Whenever I have a problem, before getting upset about it I now think of it in the grand scheme of things and tell myself that my problems could be so much worse, it helps me to appreciate the problems I have and the life that I live in a way that I wasn’t capable of doing before.