I did it. I really went to Africa.
I’ve always thought it was a fairly lofty goal, even considering the intense travel bug I’ve had for most of my life. But late last month, my husband and I boarded a plane bound for the dark continent.
It was a long flight; the world is a big place. And Africa is so completely different from the countries I’ve called home.
After a brief layover in Ethiopia, we reached our final destination: Uganda.
Gulu, to be specific.
Four years ago, Joe spent three months in the city, helping out with a brand new home for virtual orphans. Children of Hope has since expanded to house 15 kids ranging in age from a year and a half to 14. They are beautiful people, and the staff are devoted and amazing.
In all honesty, we didn’t spend thousands of dollars to go for any particular purpose. There wasn’t an intense need we were required to fill. We brought a couple of suitcases full of clothes and other items, but we really just went because we wanted to, we had the time and we didn’t know when the opportunity would arise again.
The kids were out of their minds excited to see Joe again, and I was welcomed with open arms.
Here’s a general overview of how we spent our time:
• weeding maize and beans on 20 acres of land COH owns
• watching the children sing in a special service at Watoto Church, where they are all regular attendees
• bathing in a bucket of cold water
• swimming with the children at a nearby hotel
• falling asleep to the sound of a generator, as there was no power for the duration of our visit
• shopping at a local craft market that supports people with disabilities
• listening to the kids sing at the top of their lungs every time we piled into the van
• visiting one of the few foreigner-friendly restaurants (it even had wifi)
• playing soccer in a field outside the city with plenty of village kids who eagerly joined the game
• welcoming a couple hundred neighbourhood children into the COH compound for an afternoon of games, songs, skits and snacks
It was glorious, but brief.
I caught a small glimpse of what life is like for those children; I caught a small glimpse of the enormous need in the area. Malnutrition, lack of education, disease, poor infrastructure … This nation – and its neighbours – could be so much more. They could have so much more.
And yet. The joy in their eyes is pure, even if it is fleeting.
Though I will be thrilled over every dollar donated to Children of Hope and its vision for the future, this trip made me ache for the world beyond its compound walls. I do not worry for the orphans and widows that have found refuge there; I am anxious for the half-dressed babies I saw wandering the dirt paths, gaping at the muzungo when I drove past. I wonder if they will ever go to school, if they will ever have the chance to be educated, if they will ever have the opportunity to rise above their current conditions. I don’t know if they can imagine a future that is different from their present.
So, I will dream for them.
It’s not about building skyscrapers and shopping malls, but constructing proper roads and sewer systems. It’s not about sending them to ivy league schools, but providing the opportunity to pursue any career they aspire to. It’s not about developing a culture dependent on western charity, but empowering a community in its own progress. It’s not about providing handouts, but equipping those who are eager for the chance to make a difference in their neighbourhood.
It’s not about bringing the American dream across the Atlantic, but carrying the hope that change is possible.
Our goal is to build a Village of Hope. In our vision, the land will eventually house a church, school, and clinic, along with the garden and expanded capacity for children. It will be sustainable, it will be self-sufficient, and it will be our best answer to the need in Gulu.
And I will be thankful for any part, no matter how small, that I can play in making that dream a reality. Not for Eric or Faith or James or Scovia, who are already supported and comforted and cared for; but, for all those nameless children peering at me through the doorways of their mud huts.