The problem with traveling abroad is that you tend to meet people. Why is this a problem? Well, these people often work their way into my heart. I can’t seem to forget about them.
This year’s travels took me to Africa. We landed in the pearl of Africa—Uganda. Already feeling the pangs of jetlag, I fell asleep for the two hour drive to our beds for the night. My teammates joked that I could sleep anywhere as they watched my head flop left and right and backwards and upright again. After just one night of good sleep in a mosquito net-covered bed, I was ready to embrace all Africa had to offer me.
We met dozens of people those first days. Everyone was named Moses, or so it seemed. I immediately fell in with a group of young people all around my age, and that presented a huge problem. I was supposed to help lead and participate in a women’s conference, taking me away from these friends I’d just made.
Through crazy, last-minute turn of events, I was able to stay and learn from my Ugandan friends all week long. I spent part of every morning riding sidesaddle on a boda boda (motorcycle taxi) to primary schools in the rural areas of Namusaala with a member of the Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) team. My role, now, was to ask questions about the lesson that was just taught entirely in Luganda, one of many native Ugandan languages.
At each school I visited, the CEF team member would ask the students what they wanted the muzungu (white person) to pray for. Students rattled off things like books, paper, pens and pencils, desks, soccer balls, classrooms to be built as I wrote down their requests in my brand new notebook with my favorite pen. The very things I take for granted, they would sacrifice much for.
In the afternoons, we would take a long lunch break feasting on food prepared for us by some women in the village. Our “home base” was at Hope Christian High School. Students would spend the afternoon practicing English with us, studying, playing soccer or net ball and painting. Another connection made.
Thanks to the generosity of Staples Promotional Products, I was able to share hundreds of pens with my Ugandan friends. A majority of the pens went to the women’s conference I was supposed to attend. Each woman received a small care package including a handmade wash cloth, lotion, lip balm and a pen. While you can’t see the pens clearly in the photo, you can see the women's smiles—smiles full of gratitude.
The rest of the pens went to the teachers at Hope Christian. The response was unanimous: “Thank you very much.”
A small gesture of kindness from the company I work for made a huge impact on the lives of people in Africa. The headmaster of the high school asked me to share his thanks, “We are so grateful that the people of your company would want to help us in Uganda. Thank you for these pens.” No one could be happier than these teachers.
After a long week and a half of cold bucket showers and seat-less toilets, we experienced the extreme opposite of poverty, an overnight stay at a safari lodge. In true tourist style, we rode in safari vans and witnessed a beautiful part of Uganda not many get to see.
As our time in Africa came to an end, I received many heart-felt well wishes and said many heart-breaking goodbyes. Email addresses were exchanged, as well as stories and poems written for each other. There will never be enough words to describe this life-changing experience, but I can say that I am grateful that my biggest problem is missing my friends from all over the globe.